Crack­ing the glass lens

Women film­mak­ers are telling women’s sto­ries at the Ikal Mayang film fes­ti­val. >

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MAY CHIAM star2@ thes­tar. com. my

UN­DER an inky and star­less sky, fam­i­lies crowd on mats, slurp­ing cen­dol and munch­ing on peanuts. Apart­ment blocks bor­der the field. On a big screen, a short film is play­ing: a teenage girl shov­els rice into her mouth, gulps down wa­ter, and lets out an enor­mous belch. The chil­dren erupt in laugh­ter. The film, Be­la­hak, is one of six films made for Ikal Mayang. In its fourth year, the film fes­ti­val cel­e­brates women film­mak­ers who tell women’s sto­ries. Be­la­hak – a two- minute film about a father and daugh­ter’s ap­palling ta­ble man­ners – is Nora Na­bila’s se­cond short for Ikal Mayang. “When talk­ing about this year’s theme

adat ( cus­toms), we tend to fo­cus on the big­ger is­sues,” she says. “We for­get about the ‘ lit­tle cus­toms’, like burp­ing and ta­ble man­ners - small things that the older gen­er­a­tion pass to the younger.”

The 26- year- old has writ­ten, pro­duced, and di­rected ten films so far. She has won a string of lo­cal and re­gional awards. But while the ac­co­lades are en­cour­ag­ing, Nora’s pas­sion is her real im­pe­tus.

As a teenager, she filled note­books with her nov­els. Book­ish and bright, the girl with the lit­er­ary bent no­ticed that most peo­ple were more drawn to TV than books. Un­de­terred and re­source­ful, she re­alised that her ideas could be ex­pressed in a more pop­u­lar form.

“When I was 13, I de­cided that I wanted to be a film­maker,” she says.

It was a dec­la­ra­tion to her­self and to the world. In an in­dus­try bereft of fe­male tal­ent, Nora dreamt of rub­bing shoul­ders with Yas­min Ah­mad and Steven Spiel­berg. She wanted to add a woman’s voice to the world of film, since she’d heard of so few fe­male di­rec­tors.

The dearth of women film­mak­ers has long been a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue in cinema. While the boy­cotted Os­cars un­spooled in Hol­ly­wood last month, sav­agely at­tacked for its lack of eth­nic di­ver­sity, crit­ics were more muted about an­other, re­cur­rent scan­dal: the lack of gen­der di­ver­sity. Only 24% of Os­car nom­i­nees were women, and no fe­male di­rec­tors were nom­i­nated.

In the 88- year his­tory of film’s most pres­ti­gious awards, just one woman has won for Best Di­rec­tor. It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs, one that shores up the widely held no­tion that women should be di­rected, not di­rect.

Cinema is a di­rec­tor’s medium; for all the daz­zling good looks of ac­tors and ac­tresses, their tal­ent, and the hordes of pa­parazzi that stalk their ev­ery move, di­rec­tors make away with the lion’s share. Af­ter all, it’s their artis­tic vi­sions that are acted out on screen and pre­served for pos­ter­ity.

Nora knows this, ex­plain­ing the need for women to grab the cam­era and cap­ture their sto­ries: “That is the rea­son we have Ikal Mayang. Be­cause of the lack of fe­male film­mak­ers, most of the sto­ries that are told stereo­type women as wives or moth­ers. We do Ikal Mayang to give women the chance to tell women’s sto­ries.”

Start­ing young

Vayshalini Devi is 16. The lanky teen sits hunched over, long limbs tucked un­der a bench. She is im­mersed in her thoughts, eyes fo­cused on a far­away spot. Py­ja­maclad chil­dren play tag around her, fill­ing the night air with shrieks.

Vayshalini stays still, weigh­ing her an­swers care­fully. Her first short film,

Wasiat Nenek Moyang, will be screened

tonight. It’s a charm­ing lit­tle tale about old su­per­sti­tions, set in a class­room where stu­dents whis­per in front of their lec­tur­ing teacher.

“My BM ( Ba­hasa Malaysia) teacher asked us to write about adat,” she says. “I wrote an es­say and a poem on pan­tang larang ( taboos). I was sur­prised when they called my mum and told us that my poem would be made into a film.”

While she con­fesses to a love of hor­ror and com­edy movies, what she re­ally en­joys is the act of cre­ation, the or­ganic process of breath­ing life into ideas. With a reser­voir of sto­ries in her head, she rel­ished watch­ing her poem make the leap from pa­per to screen.

This year, the or­gan­is­ers of Ikal Mayang ac­cepted sub­mis­sions from stu­dents. Vayshalini’s poem was the only one deemed fit for the screen. “Out of all the sub­mis­sions we re­ceived, hers re­ally caught our at­ten­tion. It was per­fect for the theme,” Nora says. She was as­sis­tant di­rec­tor on the set of Vayshalini’s film, help­ing the rookie di­rec­tor learn the ropes. Vayshalini was an ea­ger if un­sure ap­pren­tice, ap­prov­ing the script and cri­tiquing the ac­tress’s per­for­mance.

“At first I was ner­vous, but then all the cam­era­men and the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor en­cour­aged and helped me. I thought it was fun!” she re­veals. “I could make small changes and give sug­ges­tions.”

On lo­ca­tion in Pu­chong, she stood out in her uni­form, hav­ing rushed from school to set.

She looked on in awe as her story was trans­formed into liv­ing colour. “What I saw was bet­ter than what I had imag­ined in my mind.”

But the teenager is prag­matic, con­cerned with ex­ams, tu­ition, and school camps. For now, the fu­ture is to be worked to­wards dili­gently. She wants to be a phys­io­ther­a­pist, al­though she dreams of work­ing as a di­rec­tor part time.

“If I have good ideas in the fu­ture, I would like to di­rect. I think be­ing a di­rec­tor is hard, be­cause you have to be cre­ative and hard­work­ing. You have to cre­ate good films that can cap­ture peo­ple’s at­ten­tions.”

tough­ing it out

As a film­maker on the job, Nora un­der­stands just how de­mand­ing film­mak­ing can be. She stud­ied broad­cast­ing in univer­sity,

where she first tried her hand at di­rect­ing. It was tough work, tax­ing phys­i­cally and men­tally.

“When I first started, I used my own props, my own cast, my own ev­ery­thing,” she says, sigh­ing. She tire­lessly de­voted her­self to her first film, in­vest­ing heart and soul in it. Ti­tled Ibu Mer­tu­aku ( Kisah Kas­sim Se­la­mat Yang Belum Per­nah Anda

Tahu), it takes as its premise P. Ram­lee’s clas­sic Ibu Mer­tu­aku, cre­atively imag­in­ing the two years Kas­sim is sep­a­rated from his wife.

When she re- watched it again af­ter five years, she suf­fered the wretched heart­break ev­ery am­a­teur artist must when they re­alise the work is not as good as they thought. “I went back and watched it again. There were a lot of flaws, a lot of prob­lems. And I thought, ‘ Re­ally, did I make this film?’”

She sounds in­cred­u­lous, dis­be­liev­ing, though she ploughed through. Film­mak­ing is not for the faint- hearted; it takes nerves and guts of steel. Nora works at her craft, steadily per­fect­ing it.

Her sub­ject is the un­ex­am­ined life, the of­ten over­looked top­ics we’re happy to leave in the dark. “I like to dis­cuss is­sues peo­ple don’t pay as much at­ten­tion to, like is­sues of re­li­gion, tol­er­ance, and more taboo stuff.”

What­ever piques her in­ter­est is fair game, raw ma­te­rial to be taken and trans­lated onto the screen. The strug­gle is stay­ing true to her vi­sion, be­ing the calm cen­tre of the storm on set.

As the di­rec­tor, she makes the ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions. Still, she’s open to in­put from oth­ers.

“You have to be very hum­ble,” she says. “You have to want to learn, not just go, ‘ I’m the di­rec­tor and I know ev­ery­thing.’ When you’re on set with the ac­tors and di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy, you have dif­fer­ent sets of peo­ple who view your script with dif­fer­ent ideas. The chal­lenge is how to take all th­ese ideas on­board.”

Ten years from now, she dreams of go­ing global. She en­vi­sions her­self sit­ting at a di­rec­tors’ roundtable in Venice or Cannes. Maybe she’ll meet Spiel­berg, and tell the leg­endary di­rec­tor that she loved Schindler’s

List but can’t stand Star Wars. Who knows? Any­thing is pos­si­ble in the movies.

to watch the Ikal Mayang 2016 films, visit the of­fi­cial Youtube chan­nel of WOMEN: girls.

Nora Na­bila, the film­maker. — AZMAN GhANi / The Star

1 Vayshalini at the screen­ing of Wasiat

Nenek Moyang, her first film. — M. AZhAr AriF/ The Star



2 Nora has won a string of lo­cal and re­gional awards for her films.

3 Vayshalini had fun di­rect­ing her first film.

4 Be­ing a di­rec­tor can be chal­leng­ing as it in­volves work­ing with dif­fer­ent sets of peo­ple.

5 A screen grab of

Be­la­hak fea­tures Nora with her cast.

— Pho­tos: WOMEN: girls



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