Film­maker Dain Said gets in­ter­na­tional ac­claim

From his boy­hood ad­ven­tures in cinema, dain Said is to­day recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally as the di­rec­tor of the crit­i­cally-ac­claimed buno­han.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By ALLAN KOAY en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

GROW­ING up in small town Tumpat, Ke­lan­tan, in the 1970s, film­maker Dain Said, as a boy, ea­gerly awaited the trav­el­ling cinema that came to town ev­ery now and again. The two guys who brought the magic lan­tern and big screen to town would give out “sekla” (cir­cu­lars, or leaflets) from their lorry, an­nounc­ing the night’s of­fer­ing, of­ten also blar­ing through loud­speak­ers urg­ing the res­i­dents to come and see the film.

Sit­ting in his home in Kuala Lumpur now, Dain laughs when rem­i­nisc­ing about the old days and re­call­ing the fun times he had back then be­ing in­tro­duced to the magic of cinema.

“They didn’t have cur­rent films,” says Dain. “They showed old films, be­cause it was cheaper. This was some­time around the 70s. I saw Ben-hur, which was made in the 20s. I was like, wow! That was my first mem­ory of cinema.”

From the days of watch­ing clas­sic epics from half­way across the world, he is to­day pre­sent­ing his own film to au­di­ences half­way across the globe. Dain and his pro­ducer Nan­dita Solomon have just re­turned from the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (TIFF), where his ac­tion-drama Buno­han was screened to the pub­lic and also in­dus­try play­ers.

Dain and Nan­dita went there as a lit­tle­known team of di­rec­tor and pro­ducer, along with their Los An­ge­les-based co-pro­ducer Tim Kwok. Then some­thing quite ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pened. The re­sponse from the first two screen­ings of the film had been good, but what was bet­ter was when Va­ri­ety re­viewer John An­der­son was in the au­di­ence.

Trac­ing the ar­che­typal vi­o­lent story of fathers and sons to The God­fa­ther, Viet­namese di­rec­tor Tran Anh Hung’s films, and even Bib­li­cal and Shake­spearean ori­gins, An­der­son goes on to say in his re­view that Buno­han is “... a fight film with echoes of King Lear, and a ghost story about liv­ing peo­ple who oc­cupy the edge of ex­is­tence.”

An­der­son went on to praise the film’s pace and mo­men­tum, even de­scrib­ing ac­tor Faizal Hus­sein as “the Jack Palance of Malaysia”.

That amaz­ing re­view started get­ting the lit­tle film from Malaysia no­ticed by in­dus­try folks, crit­ics and the gen­eral pub­lic, and Dain be­ing recog­nised on the streets.

“There were in­stances where peo­ple stopped us on the streets,” says Dain. “A cou­ple of kids walked past us and kept star­ing at us. We looked back, and they looked back, and they kind of went, ‘ You’re the di­rec­tor of that film, Buno­han, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said they loved the film. That was kind of nice.”

Right af­ter TIFF, Buno­han went on to screen at the Fan­tas­tic Film fest in Austin, Texas, where it gar­nered a full house (prob­a­bly due to the Va­ri­ety re­view and pos­i­tive word from other pub­li­ca­tions and web­sites). There was re­port­edly a queue at the box-of­fice of peo­ple want­ing to see if there were ex­tra tick­ets.

Not bad for a lo­cal film set in a bor­der­land that has to­moi fight ac­tion, wayang kulit, a dead Ho Yuhang, and a wo­man who turns into a croc­o­dile. Although some things were cul­tural-spe­cific, says Dain, for­eign au­di­ences still man­aged to di­gest the drama and ac­tion, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the fa­ther and his sons, and the back­drop of folk­lore. Surely, the story about strained fa­mil­ial ties and es­trange­ment, and the poignancy when tra­di­tion is washed away by the cur­rents and tides of time and moder­nity, should have a uni­ver­sal res­o­nance.

“They un­der­stood the story,” says Dain. “There were cer­tain cul­tural nu­ances that they might not have got­ten, but they trans­lated it through their own cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences. One blog­ger wrote about Il­ham liv­ing on a boat, and he re­ferred it to his own Amer­i­can cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, which was Mi­ami Vice where Don John­son’s char­ac­ter lives on a yacht!”

Dain ad­mits they had a slow start, but af­ter the sec­ond screen­ing of the film and the Va­ri­ety re­view, things started to roll a lit­tle eas­ier.

“We had a re­cep­tion, and we could only have a small one (for in­dus­try and me­dia peo­ple),” ex­plains Dain. “What was re­ally nice was that the peo­ple we wanted to meet did come, and they stayed till the end. They didn’t have to be­cause there were 15 par­ties go­ing on all over town. But they did and it was great.”

And then there was the un­ex­pected lo­cal el­e­ment that added to the TIFF ex­pe­ri­ence, and brought some cheer for Dain dur­ing the Aidil­fitri sea­son. A fam­ily from Ipoh that ran a restau­rant in Toronto cooked din­ner for Dain and gang and also laid out the food for the re­cep­tion.

“They said, ‘It was Raya re­cently, so let us make some ren­dang for you!’” says Dain. “They were very, very proud that a Malaysian film was there. Their sons are also re­ally into films and had done film stud­ies and worked on small pro­duc­tions. The food also helped to bring peo­ple to our re­cep­tion and got them to stay!”

I ask Dain if the en­dorse­ment from Va­ri­ety pro­vided some kind of vin­di­ca­tion af­ter the times of uncer­tainty he and his team have had to face, and gave them even more con­fi­dence to forge ahead.

“For me it’s not so much that,” Dain replies. “I’m sure other film­mak­ers also face this. I’ve worked on this for a long time, I don’t ac­tu­ally know what it means. When that kind of ac­co­lade comes, it’s very ... strange. I don’t know what to make of it.

“But of course, one is happy. Emo­tion­ally I’ve been liv­ing with (the film) for so long, I don’t know how to judge it any­more.”

Snakes and leeches

For a while, it seemed one couldn’t es­cape news about Buno­han. Al­most ev­ery week, some­one was ei­ther re­view­ing the film or in­ter­view­ing Dain. And thanks to one online in­ter­view, ev­ery­one be­came in­trigued by “heat-seek­ing vipers”. It prob­a­bly made a lot of peo­ple want to visit the vil­lage in Ke­lan­tan where the movie was filmed, to see if there were in­deed such snakes.

There are, Dain con­firms. The vipers and gi­ant leeches were some of the big­gest con­cerns of film­ing in the bog on the east coast, and dur­ing the mon­soon too. He re­lates how a doc­u­men­tary-maker friend of his once en­coun­tered one of these vipers on a night shoot. The snake, sens­ing heat from the guy’s hel­met-lamp, shot for his head, but thank­fully only grazed him.

Scary stuff, but such things only con­fer upon Dain the ti­tle of “mav­er­ick di­rec­tor”, go­ing fear­lessly into the un­known to cap­ture the real thing, much like one of his film­mak­ing he­roes, Werner Her­zog, who’s known to ven­ture into the re­motest places on earth to shoot a film.

And like Her­zog, Dain’s not stupid. No one goes into these things un­pre­pared. His team had con­tin­gency plans in case of emer­gen­cies, the near­est hos­pi­tal and clin­ics were noted, and even lo­cals fa­mil­iar with the wa­ter­logged area were hired to keep ev­ery­one safe.

Few di­rec­tors to­day would bother get­ting

buno­han

Nitty-gritty:

di­rec­tor dain Said pre­par­ing a scene with ac­tor Faizal hus­sein. dain was not afraid to get down and dirty him­self to get that per­fect shot or to help his ac­tors do it right.

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