Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It's the season to watch movies I guess. As a movie fan, such news are like locating the holy grail - we live only to watch movies - great ones, bad ones, crap ones, fantastic ones. So when there's a few film festivals literally at your doorsteps - it should be great fun. So, if you don't know, today, begins the KL International Film Fest or KLIFF. Yes yes...a film festival, an international film don't know anything about it? Don't blame yourself, not many know about it...including industry professionals. Yes and Majid Majidi is in town to give a talk about story telling. When? Where? Whaaa? Well check out their website - - simple enough website - with schedules of workshops listed - mostly about animation and 3D - again the hope that Malaysia will one day be a global animation hub...but heck..there's no film screening schedule!! What's the point on having an international film festival when you can't get hold of the film screening schedule? I know there's about two dozen movies participating from all over the world - really unknown movies except for 1957 Hati Malaya representing Malaysia - but if someone wants to know what movies to watch, where's the info?
Unlike the First Indonesia Horror Film Fest - ScreamfestIndo starting today (the 28th of November) in Jakarta. An official offshoot of the ScreamFest Horror Film Festival in the US, the festival looks and sounds fun. Check out their website at Dozens of horror, thriller, fantasy, anime and sci-fi movies lines up for movie fans! It's really a festival for movie goers unlike KLIFF who was organised for whom?? The opening film tonight in Jakarta is Guillermo Del Toro's latest movie The Orphanage. And then the screening goes on and on for five days plus a workshop helmed by Indon director Rizal Mantovani and featuring top horrormeister Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator series). The workshops were fully booked weeks ahead.
And then a week later, in Jakarta, begins the 9th Jakarta International Film Festival - yes the ninth year! Ten days of movie watching!! Checkout their website at And surprise surprise - our neighbours are actually screening plenty of Malaysian movies - old and new! Look at the list of Malaysian movies to be screened: Bujang Lapok, Labu Labi, Laksaman Do Re Mi, Hang Tuah, Mukhsin, Chalanngai and The Last Communist.
Then the screenings of more than 40 movies!!! And movies of note - if you happen to be in Jakarta at that time check out the following movies - Hula Girls from Japan, La Vie En Rose from France, Sicko from USA, Persepolis from USA and Indigenes from France/Algeria. Just check out their screening list - you can just drown yourself in movies over the next two weeks in Jakarta at the Blitz Megaplex.
And the JIFFEST workshops are worldclass - participants of the screenwriting workshops stand to win more than 35,000 Euros for their work! Enough to complete or begin shooting their own masterpieces. This is what a true festival is about - getting the public - both general public and those in the local film industry to participate. KLIFF? Don't really know who they organised it for. Too bad we don't know where and when to catch any of the movies participating in the KLIFF here at our own backyard.

Al Fatihah - Hussein Abu Hassan Dies Of Kidney Failure

I was in Jakarta on the Monday morning of 26th November when I received an SMS from Den Wahab saying that Uncle Hussein had passed away that morning. I was saddened and surprised by that news. I had only met him a couple of weeks ago at an industry Aidil Fitri function in Ulu Kelang. He came with his son and my good friend Faizal, whom I've directed quite a few times (He was Jebat in my film Tuah). Uncle Hussein looked healthy and good at that function, walking by himself with a cane. When he was about to leave the function I hugged him and helped him to Faizal's car. Little did i know that that would be the last I would see of him.
To Faizal and his family, especially to Auntie Mahyon, my deepest condolences and my prayers to them and to Allahyarham.

Below is an excerpt of the news as it appears in the papers:

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 Nov (Bernama) -- Pelakon dan pengarah veteran terkenal, Hussein Abu Hassan, 70, meninggal dunia awal hari ini di Hospital Kuala Lumpur kerana penyakit buah pinggang dan beberapa komplikasi penyakit lain.

Anak bongsunya yang juga pelakon terkenal, Faizal berkata beliau menerima panggilan daripada pihak hospital pukul 5.30 pagi ini yang memaklumkan bapanya berada dalam keadaan kritikal.

"Ketika saya dan semua ahli keluarga tiba di hospital kira-kira pukul 6.15 pagi, doktor sedang memberikan bantuan CPR (penafasan) kerana jantung bapa telah terhenti sejak pukul 5.30 pagi lagi," katanya kepada Bernama di sini.

Beliau berkata apabila bapanya disahkan meninggal dunia, semua ahli keluarga termasuk ibunya, pelakon Mahyon Ismail berada di sisi arwah.

Jenazah bapanya dibawa balik ke rumah mereka di Taman Gombak Setia untuk dimandi dan dikapankan sebelum dikebumikan di tanah perkuburan Taman Ibu Kota, Setapak selepas Zuhur ini, katanya.

Faizal berkata pada malam tadi, beliau bersama isterinya, Suhaila Sulaiman serta anak sulung mereka pergi melawat Hussein di hospital, dan arwah kelihatan ceria serta boleh bergurau dengan cucunya itu.

"Saya memang terkejut apabila dimaklumkan pihak hospital awal pagi ini sebab ketika kami melawatnya malam tadi, arwah boleh duduk dan kelihatan ceria walaupun sukar untuk bercakap sebab dia demam dan tekaknya berdarah," katanya.

Beliau berkata bapanya yang menghidap penyakit buah pinggang sejak tujuh tahun lalu, turut menghidap penyakit jantung dan paru-paru berair serta sering keluar masuk hospital untuk mendapatkan rawatan.

Hussein yang dilahirkan pada 1937 di Alor Gajah, Melaka meninggalkan seorang isteri dan tiga anak serta empat cucu.

Selain Faizal, dua lagi anaknya iaitu Dilla, yang merupakan penulis skrip drama dan Fairuz, penyanyi R&B terkenal.

Monday, November 19, 2007

From Kuali to Tuah

Lets skip a few years in my life.
When I began life as one of the pioneering members of TV3, I was made the station's first Programme Procurement Officer assisting in the programming of the station's first year's programming. I remember recommending a few programmes - Jewel In The Crown, Brideshead Revisited and David Copperfield's TV specials.
When they decided to create a Production Department with Sherkawi Jirim heading it, I applied for the post of Producer (eventhough I did not have any experience - only theory). I was successful and became one of the first two producers in Tv3 next to the late Karim Mohamed. We three were sent to London for a crash course - seconded to Thames TV and Granada TV for three months.
It was wonderful experience - especially with Granada TV when I was sent to observe a sports coverage of a live telecast in Manchester. I went to Old Trafford for a Euro Cup game between Juventus and Manchester United. I even managed to gain access (for a few minutes) into the backrooms when the teams were lined up - I met my hero Dino Zoff and much admired striker Boniek. Platini was also around. Manchester United? They were there....hohum (being a Liverpool fan I was not really inspired when meeting the Devils in person).
Can't remember the score but I remembered not being warmly dressed for the occasion. It was fall approaching winter and I was only wearing an overcoat. Typical Melayu lah. It got so cold that I had to go buy two beef pies to put in my pockets to warm my hands. Haha.
Anyway, returning home, I got to produce the station's first two in-house programmes - Kuali and Nona. For Kuali, I chose the elegant and beautiful Nazliah Ahmad as host. For Nona, I remember selecting former stewardess Furzanne as the original host.Picture above: Me (In the blue sweater) with Gary (my first Tech Producer) at one of the earliest shoots for Kuali.
My stint in TV3 lasted only three years as I had a disagreement with the management. So I left to join an event management company that organised the original defence show in PWTC. Nevertheless, the production bug was really tempting. I decided to become a freelance director. Luckily for me, my parents trusted my 'talents' and when RTM began its original drama swasta slots, I managed to persuade my mother to let me try my hand directing my first TV drama. She agreed and I wrote Karam Di Mata Karam Di Hati - starred Marlia Musa and the late Mahmud Jun. It was shot in 16mm film and finished in Hongkong at Mandarin Lab.
After that, I heard about a Hollywood movie being shot in Sarawak to be directed by John Milius. It was called Farewell The King and Nick Nolte was slated to star. I can't remember how, but I went to Jemima Studios for an interview and got the job as second assistant director.
They sent me to Kuching for the shoot - a three month stint! It was great experience - we worked with the best crew from England and Australia.
The Assistant Director was one Dereck Cracknell, who was the AD in the movie Batman. The First AD, Julian Wall was also an experienced AD and was involved in Gandhi, but recently I saw his credits as an AD in Bad Boys 2.
The DOP was Dean Semmler from Australia - he just received an Oscar for Dances With Wolves. His assistant, who I worked mostly with in the project, was one Andrew Lesnie (pictured below). Little did we know that he would one day helm a movie called Lord of The Rings and win an Oscar for Photography!
It was great working in a movie where money seems to be no object - especially with a director like John Milius (Conan The Barbarian, Red Dawn). I guess his directorial skills were mostly done during pre-pro with the storyboards because he is usually in his tent waiting for the AD to prepare things for him. When ready, we call the Guvnor (Milius) and he appears and says action! and cut! and then disappears back into his tent. He hardly mingles with the crew.
Nick Nolte was something else. He was a real pro when he was sober. When he wasn't he was a barrel of laughs. He had no airs around him. He would readily mixed with locals and the crew. He would stay back and even go out pubbing with us lesser mortals.The above pic: from left to right - John Milius (in dark turban) and Nick Nolte.
It was a great three months. I remember working with great colleagues - Merie Weismller (assistant to producer Eliot Schick) and Hoo Ee Kee (another AD Local) - now a big time TVC director in the region based in Jakarta. From what I'd gather Merie is now one of the most sought after unit still photographers in the industry having done stills for Letters To Iwo Jima and Blood Work.
Once back from Kuching, I was itching to direct my own feature. I had a screenplay in hand and showed it to my parents. The script was Tuah - a revisionist/fantasy screenplay about Hang Tuah.
They liked the script and wanted to produce it. So in 1988, I directed my first feature film. I didn't get casting rights as a first time director. My mom the producer chose Jamal Abdillah eventhough I preferred M. Nasir. It was hell working with Jamal.
Nevertheless, the movie got completed albeit with minimal budget. If you remember the final scene between Jamal and Faizal Hussin (as Jebat), you'd see the set design as being very minimal. There was no budget to go shoot on location so I had to settle (grudgingly) for a fantasized set. Unfortunately on camera it looked very bare and basic.
The making of the movie also had some very bad memories - whilst doing post at Mandarin Studios in Hongkong, the apartment we were staying in got broken into by some parang wielding robbers. The ransacked everything including all our cash. Luckily for us, they didn't harm me and my parents. But it was a traumatic experience!
The movie opened to lukewarm box office but didn't lose any money. It was invited to Montreal, Berlin, Tokyo, Fukuoka and Jakarta festivals. It won a Jury Award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Jakarta in 1989.
At the Malaysian Film Festival the same year, I pulled the film out of competition as I was sore over the previous year's results - A R Badul won Best Director for Oh Fatimah.
So much for making an impact in the local film industry.

Friday, November 9, 2007

People I remember in MFP

Its been decades but I do remember some of the people my father used to work with in Jalan Ampas. The one person I remember clearly was A.V. Bapat the art director for most of MFP's movie. If you manage to get a glimpse of the old Malay film posters - more than likely that was his handiwork (like the Raja Bersiong poster above). I like the way he painted his posters and maybe it did somewhat influenced me into wanting to be an artist. Uncle Bapat has long since passed on, and it would be sad that sometimes his contributions to the Malay film industry is overlooked.
As far as I know, he did sets, costumes and all art direction my father did when he was at Jalan Ampas.
I used to call him Uncle Gorilla because he was the hairiest guy I knew at that time.
If I am not mistaken he came to Singapore from India and was assisting the Indian film directors with sets and art direction, and fell in love with Singapore. I think he never left Malaya since and until the day he passed away in Kuala Lumpur about a decade back.
Another familiar character, viewed from afar was the studio manager, Mr Kwek Jip Chian or just plain Mr Kwek. He ran the studio. I remember him well because he keeps reminding me of Lee Kuan Yew.
Of course there's the late Uncle Jaafar Abdullah (picture above) who was the studio's main PR man. Uncle Jaafar remained in the industry until the early nineties I think until his final days with Syed Kechik Films. Jaafar would have been an excellent resource of information on the history of Malay films but I guess no one managed to interview him.
Another person close to the family was Pak A or Kemat Hassan. In the pic below, he is the one on the left with specs.He was my dad's assistant director in some movies and became very close with the family. In fact, most people would say that he was my dad's younger brother as he looked a lot like my dad. I remember him as a soft spoken kindly man. I think he passed away three years ago.
Of course there's all the other people who were our neighbors in Boon Teck Road - Jins Shamsuddin and his late wife Rahmah Rahmat, Wak Mustardjo and his beautiful daughter Ribut and many others - but I was that close to most of them (I was only four or five when we were staying in Boon Teck Road).
However, the Jalan Ampas family was a unique episode in the history of Malay films - one that was not repeated - even in Merdeka Studios. Most of the people in Jalan Ampas worked as a close knit family - from P. Ramlee to my father and to the other directors like Sudarmaji, Kadarisman and Omar Rojik. I hardly remember anything about Cathay Keris except when my mom left Shaw studio to work with Cathay for awhile and made movies with Nordin Ahmad and the rest of the Keris crowd.
The industry became more fragmented when Jalan Ampas closed down and most everyone went to Kuala Lumpur to be part of the Merdeka Studio set up. However, hampered with old equipment and lack of support from Shaw (they were still churning out black and white films when imported movies were in Cinemascope and Color), Merdeka Studios did not augur well of the ailing Malay film industry. By late 60s it was just a shell. The players in the industry too were not as close knit as was during the time in Jalan Ampas. So the inevitable happened. The Golden Age of Malay films died before the 70s.