After the International Festival Premiere of the Malaysian ‘Songlap’, CUEAFS’s Antoniya Petkova sat down with director Effendee Mazlan for a quick chat about his film and future projects.
Antoniya Petkova: Yesterday was the premiere of ‘Songlap’, how do you think your film was received by an international audience, especially since there are a lot of language specific details in the film and maybe they didn’t translate well into English?
Effendee Mazlan: I think we’ve explored poverty through the use of language. For example, the older brother Am expresses his defiance towards Mama, his employer, through the speaking of a dialect, even though he understands and speaks a little bit of Chinese – which we find out from the scene where is beaten up by Mama’s employees. Some words can hardly be translated in English as they can gain a different meaning. But I think it did ok.
AP: There are a lot of serious issues in the film, but there is not a lot of background explanation. For example, why the characters have the life that they have? Why their mother left and where their father is? Was that something you did on purpose?
EM: Yes, that was on purpose as I think that this part is not important. I went straight to what was happening at that specific time, at that moment. I wanted people to judge considering the current situation, not what happened in the past and this also means that the film is opened for adaptation.
AP: What I noticed about the film is that there is no happy ending; it’s just a sort of suggestion of what’s going to happen. Why did you decide to leave it open for people to think and feel whatever they want?
EM: I think it’s more interesting this way. Most of the time we don’t know where life will lead us.
AP: The things in the film are very serious, like abuse, incest, prostitution, drugs. Is that typical for Malaysian cinema – to be very serious, very dark, and socially aware?
EM: The television programs and also the Malaysian movies brought these issues at the surface lately. Prostitution, drugs have been portrayed in the movies. Of course, the important task is the way we write the issues, but they are current issues in Malaysian society.
AP: The Udine Far Eats Film Festival has been focused on films that have a lot of music. Do you see music as in important part of your films or do you think that the actors’ performance is more important?
EM: I think both are really important. Acting is extremely important, but the music completes the acting.
AP: Is it difficult to find actors for a film that is so based on performance, rather than dialogue, and chemistry between the characters, and how they convey drama?
EM: Most of the Malaysian actors also worked in TV drama as they cannot survive acting just in movies. They have developed some habits like over-the-top performance, intonation, and they have a fear of silence. It is hard, as films as different from TV.
AP: I know you used to work in television before, so how hard was the turning of ‘Kami: The Series’ into a film?
EM: Of course the transition was hard for me, but I and the actors had to learn how to do it. We [him and Fariza, his wife and scriptwriter of both ‘Kami’ and ‘Songlap’] knew very well what we wanted and what we didn’t want from this film.
AP: In your future projects, do you think you are going to continue exploring realism or maybe go for fantasy/ comedy?
EM: My wife and I are movie lovers and we would like to explore different things. We need to move on, not to repeat ourselves. I want to do a romantic film; we have already planned some projects as we are definitely going to continue to work together. We don’t direct other people’s work, we just direct our writings.
AP: So is it difficult to work together, combining the personal and the professional?
EM: We fight every day on set, but out of the set we don’t have any problems. The actors have sometimes a hard time with us. Our job is to make them look good and we are trying really hard to do this possible. The important thing is that at the end of the day, we are all happy.
AP: You had a lot of luck with ‘Songlap’, being able to cast the actors you had in mind, with Shaheizy Sam being available and out of a contract with Metrowealth. I know people in Malaysia are very superstitious. Did all these happy coincidences make do the movie better?
EM: It was a blessing in disguise. We managed to get some actors and the chemistry was great between them. Everything went fine at the end of the day. I also had a lot of luck with my previous film. It’s very hard to cast teenage actors. We had to cast fresh actors; just one of the girls has had previous experience in acting. Hopefully, I’ll have luck with my next projects as well.