Sanif Olek, formerly a film student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies (Class of 1996) is now in the race to contest for the coveted Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film (2015). His Malay-language feature film Sayang Disayang (2013) is the first-ever Malay-language film to be selected by the Singapore Film Commission to The Academy for consideration.
Like many other graduate fresh out of film school, Sanif Olek had a desire to make science-fiction and detective genre films; blockbuster material which would captivate the hearts of the masses. Thus to start off, Sanif Olek had went on to work in the television industry.
However in 2006, after Sanif Olek made Lost Sole (2006), his first short film in the Malay-language, he experienced a change of mindset. Lost Sole tells the story of an elderly man who loses his valuable pair of sandals at a mosque and is led on a journey of self-discovery as he searches for it. The film bagged the award for Best Narrative Film (International) at the Rahmat International Shortfilm Festival in Iran and has travelled far and wide to places such as the Rhode Island International Film Festival in the United States.
Filmed with passion, Sanif Olek never made this or any of his films for the sole purpose of winning awards. Rather, passion is the element that fuels his drive to tell his stories. The awards, however, have helped him realise that there are “people out there who want to listen to your stories”. Lost Sole gave Sanif Olek a chance to really embrace his culture and ethnicity.
After Lost Sole, Sanif Olek made two other short films: à la folie (2008) and Ameen (2010) before churning out his first feature: Sayang Disayang. “Murni is a live-in nurse who works for Pak Harun, a lonely and bitter elderly man who continually harangues his caregiver. Murni tries to cook a Sambal Goreng dish that is exactly like the one cooked by the Harun’s late wife, but success eludes her. Despite this, Murni loves to sing in the kitchen, irritating Pak Harun further. What is the elusive ingredient to unlock the tension between Murni and Pak Harun – to remedy these broken hearts and bring them together to sing the same tune?”
Early films from Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige have inspired Sanif Olek to try to reach out to an international audience. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991) in particular is a film that defines what a “cinematic film” should be like–from the camerawork to misc-en-scene and blocking and sound departments.
Technicalities aside, it is evident that Sanif Olek is influenced by Malay music from the 70’s; a period of time when there were not many radio stations to choose from. This is evident throughout the film as Murni uses it as a way of relieving herself from the stresses of working for Pak Harun. He is also influenced by the food from his culture and he explains that Malay food is prepared and cooked with instincts instead of rigidly following a list with specific measurements of ingredients. In a similar fashion, this is how Sayang Disayang has been told and edited.
Making a first feature film; a dream for all aspiring filmmakers, is not without its difficulties. Sayang Disayang started production five years back. It then came to a standstill due to insufficient funds and online crowdsourcing was soon initiated.
When asked why it was difficult to receive funding, Sanif Olek said that there were not many Malay films in the market at at that point and time and that the reception towards Malay films was in a “grey area”. Additionally, despite having a good repertoire of experience in the television industry, as someone new to the feature film industry, “people are not confident of what you can do”.
After many difficulties, through perseverance and passion, post-production for Sayang Disayang was completed in October 2013 and has won several awards since its release.
For the inspired, Sanif Olek believes that it is utmost important for a filmmaker to know the rules of filmmaking before you can mix them around and break them. It is no doubt that Sanif Olek is one of the up-and-rising directors in Singapore. Do be sure to keep and eye out for his second feature film, Voluptas.
Koh Wei Zane is a Level Two film student and like Sanif Olek is an alumni of the Film Sound and Video programme from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Zane is not a robot.