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