Bond of love

Shar­i­fah Amani weaves magic in her con­tri­bu­tion – Sangkar – to the Her­Story Films Project.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - By AL­LAN KOAY

Shar­i­fah Amani weaves magic in her con­tri­bu­tion – Sangkar – to the Her Story Films Project.

AC­TRESS Shar­i­fah Amani at­tended film school, yet she did not at­tend film school. This lit­tle co­nun­drum is meant to sur­prise, yes, as much as Shar­i­fah’s di­rec­to­rial de­but short film is meant to sur­prise, too.

Her lit­tle film weaves a kind of at­mos­phere of the un­break­able bond of love that tugs at and tick­les the heart to a joy-buzzer of flut­ters, much like what we have seen in the late Yas­min Ah­mad’s films.

Yet – and this is a big “yet” – the magic that Shar­i­fah weaves is wholly her own, not a mere car­bon-copy of her men­tor’s work. Her film is edgier and the ideal­ism de­cep­tively hides its sharp cor­ners.

The short film, Sangkar (Cage), is part of the Her­Story Films Project which brings to­gether five women artistes to make five short films that ex­plore var­i­ous is­sues re­gard­ing women.

The other four join­ing Shar­i­fah are Ber­nice Chauly (with Crea­tures, poem and mu­sic set to film), Mis­lina Mustaffa ( Still, a sin­gle-take tale of baby dump­ing), Crys­tal Woo ( Spir­ited, a vis­ual es­say about su­per­nat­u­ral love) and Mien.ly ( Happy Mas­sages, about a young girl forced to be­come a sex worker).

All the films will have their pre­miere in Kuala Lumpur at The An­nexe Gallery, Cen­tral Mar­ket, KL, to­day in a spe­cial launch that is open to the pub­lic.

Sangkar tells the story of a young girl, played by Shar­i­fah her­self, who falls in love with a school­mate and even­tu­ally makes the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice to marry into his fam­ily.

It is a sim­ple tale of things un­spo­ken, but in Shar­i­fah’s hands the film is given a clever nar­ra­tive that twists the past and the present to­gether to cul­mi­nate in an al­most shock­ing cli­max.

“The only ‘film school’ I knew was the ‘film school’ of Yas­min Ah­mad,” Shar­i­fah proudly de­clares.

Yas­min dis­cov­ered Shar­i­fah when the lat­ter was only 17, and cast her as the spunky, love­able Orked in Sepet in 2004. She then went on to star in three more of Yas­min’s films, Gubra (2006), Mual­laf (2008) and Yas­min’s seg­ment in the an­thol­ogy 15Malaysia, as well as a cameo in Mukhsin (2006).

Sepet won the 23-year-old ac­tress the Most Promis­ing Ac­tress award at the 2005 Fes­ti­val Filem Malaysia, while she nabbed the Best Ac­tress award for Gubra at the same fes­ti­val the next year. Since then she has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous lo­cal movies such as Gol And Gincu, Pos­sessed, Puaka Te­bing Biru and 1957: Hati Malaya.

Shar­i­fah prac­ti­cally “grew up” on Yas­min’s movie sets, learn­ing the ropes not just as an ac­tress but also grab­bing the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve how a film crew and movie pro­duc­tion work. The one big thing that Yas­min, whom Shar­i­fah and many oth­ers called mak (mother), taught ev­ery­one around her was to al­ways tell it from the heart, whether it was writ­ing, film­mak­ing, act­ing or any other cre­ative dis­ci­pline.

“Write what you know ... it’s all about in­ten­tion ... niat,” says Shar­i­fah. “Yas­min was very big on niat, why you want to do some­thing.

“You must al­ways be­gin on the right foot, with the right in­ten­tion. I learned that from her, and I learned so much from her as a filmmaker and as a per­son.

“When I met her, I was only 17 and was just learn­ing how to be­come a young woman. She had such an im­pact on my life.”

And Sangkar, from a story told by Su­san Bansin (Her­Story pairs up a sto­ry­teller and a filmmaker), is a story close to Shar­i­fah’s heart, a tale

is a tale of things un­spo­ken and the dy­nam­ics of about the push-pull dy­nam­ics of be­ing a woman in a Malay Mus­lim so­ci­ety, caught be­tween duty and as­pi­ra­tion.

“A part of me wants to break free, but I have a duty, as a young Malay woman in this world, as a Shar­i­fah, as the daugh­ter of my par­ents, as the golden child of Yas­min Ah­mad,” she ex­plains. “So I can’t give ev­ery­thing up and do what­ever I want. Some­times you have to stick by your duty.

“I love the whole ro­mance of the Asian and Mus­lim part of me which I will never let go. But I’m also a fem­i­nist. So there’s al­ways this tu­gof-war in me. So that’s why I en­joyed mak­ing the film and I wrote it the way I did.

“It’s about a young girl who knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it. But she is also duty-bound. It’s all part of be­ing a woman. It’s about choices ul­ti­mately.”

To re­alise her vi­sion she em­ployed the same peo­ple who worked on Yas­min’s films, such as the late filmmaker’s first as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Pete Ab­dul­lah who was Sangkar’s cin­e­matog­ra­pher.

Yas­min’s film shoots were like an­nual “fam­ily” gath­er­ings to which ev­ery­one looked for­ward.

“Af­ter she passed away, we all were kind of sep­a­rated and were work­ing with other peo­ple,” says Shar­i­fah. “That left some of us un­happy. So this is an­other one of my dreams, that every­time I make a film, I want to sur­round my­self with the peo­ple I know and love, peo­ple who work be­cause they love it and not be­cause of money.”

Her act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence gave her an ad­van­tage when it came to di­rect­ing. She un­der­stood her ac­tors very well and knew ex­actly how to get the best out of them. But the hard­est les­son for her was how a di­rec­tor has to make all the big de­ci­sions.

In the be­gin­ning she was still un­con­sciously wait­ing for the di­rec­tor to tell her what to do ... un­til she re­alised she was the di­rec­tor.

“That’s a lot of pres­sure, be­cause I’m a Gem­ini and I’m flaky,” she says with a laugh.

“I’m a per­son who is like ‘I don’t know, up to you, what­ever.’ I re­ally don’t make de­ci­sions well. But as a di­rec­tor you have to make de­ci­sions.”

In the end it was her time in the Yas­min Ah­mad film school that has shaped her into the artiste she is now.

“Ini­tially, when I wrote my script and gave it to my cin­e­matog­ra­pher, he said ‘ Eh, awak ni tulis se­biji ma­cam mak awak eh?’ (You write just like your ‘mum’),” she says.

“I don’t know any­thing else but to write that way, and it’s the only way I know how to tell sto­ries.

“I can never re­place her as a sto­ry­teller, but that is all I know how to do.” n Sangkar and all the other films of Her­Story Project will be screened and launched at The An­nexe Gallery, Cen­tral Mar­ket, Kuala Lumpur, tonight at 8pm. There will be live per­for­mances by Nu­rul Wa­hab and Shh ... Diam! plus a di­a­logue ses­sion afer the screen­ing. The event is open to the pub­lic and ad­mis­sion is free. The films will con­tinue on a road­show to Pe­nang and Sabah. For de­tails, go to her­sto­ry­malaysia.com.

Tug of war: Shar­i­fah Amani’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, Sangkar, be­ing a woman in a Mus­lim so­ci­ety.

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