Introducing Safwan Salleh, director of ‘Chalie’ and promising new entrant in the Malaysian film industry
BORN Mohamad Safwan Mohd Salleh in Gua Musang, Kelantan, this young man got to a good start when he became one of six filmmaking students in Astro Citra‘s ambitious telemovie extravaganza Karya 12.
Spotted on the set of upcoming regional thriller One Two Jaga starring Zahiril Adzim (Pekak), new Indonesian starlet Abigail Asmara (Setan Jawa), and celebrated Indonesian actor Ario Bayu (Soekarno), Safwan is the team’s official wrangler, loader and assistant editor.
He got the gig from Razaisyam Rasyid (director of CEO) shortly after starting work at post-production facility Technica Post.
“I rested a month after Chalie and then started looking for a job; I was very excited to work with experienced people,” Safwan explains in a holding room during the final day of One Two Jaga‘s shoot. Outside, director Nam Ron was shooting a fight scene in the rain with actor Amerul Affendi.
“I also learned that workflow is different in the industry. The experience has been quite difficult but it’s going to give me an advantage in the industry, plus the schedule gives us enough time for rest.”
Those who were fortunate to catch his full-length project on Astro Citra will understand The Daily Seni‘s expectations for this young man.
Chalie, his telemovie written by Junad Md Nor and starring Cristina Suzanne, showed a keen desire to understand Malaysian youth and all its interests, gleaning peeks of the independent poetry and literature scene among many other fascinations. Most interestingly, the film pushes its titular female character — a sheltered, unemployed, aspiring writer living with her husband — to check her privilege and deal with matters such as plagiarism and artistic confidence.
“I like community realism and want to show our lifestyle on film,” Safwan insists. “But I’m not very fluent in urban culture.”
“My concept for Chalie was modern life, or life in a time when old-school beliefs and stereotypes are no longer common. Anything can happen in modern life.”
Claiming to be influenced by independent American cinema, Safwan isn’t a fan of what he deems typical “Malay drama”. His films show a desire for representing the unrepresented and unearthing the unorthodox — Chalie’s amicable split from her husband for instance stems from clashing life and career choices, while her personality and relationships were drawn from Safwan’s own siblings and close friends.
Safwan prefers stories based on experience and the human condition, but he tends to lean towards darker themes in his shorter projects. One of them, Night Without Light, is currently featured as part of short film program S-Express which last month screened at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival.
Familiar faces in faraway places
None of this would have been possible without renowned Malaysian filmmaker Bernard Chauly (Pisau Cukur, Istanbul Aku Datang). Bernard was one of first few who spotted the young filmmakers talent, going on to serve as Safwan’s mentor during Karya 12.
“Bernard came to our university for a workshop, saw the environment, and felt that the students had the skills necessary to fight for a place in the industry,” revealed Safwan, a recent University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) graduate.
“He suggested the collaboration with UNIMAS so our lecturers got the students to prepare synopses. Soon, Astro was choosing three submissions from our lecturer’s shortlist for a pitch session. I was surprised to have been chosen and was quite nervous during the session,” he shares.
Several months after pitching his story, Safwan was sent to Bernard’s workplace to assist and learn from the award-winning director.
Mentor Bernard’s submission to Karya 12 meanwhile was the contemplative and essential Eropah Here I Am. Shot in Greece, the predominantly English film stars Bront Palarae, Nur Fazura, Lila Baklesi and Aziz Capkurt.
It is the sort of entry to expect at film festivals; spanning two hours in length, Eropah Here I Am follows a divorcee at a refugee camp amidst one of the world’s worst crises in modern history.
Bernard’s movie is a stunning exploration of isolation, empathy and loss by the Aegean Sea. It’s also one of the most arresting telemovies we’ve ever seen on television, and we’d like to share it with you.
Both Chalie and Eropah Here I Am will be screened at The Daily Seni’s film screening program from 17 – 18 September at AFINITI, Nusajaya. Curated by our team of film writers old and new, this edition of (1+RE)DISCOVER will feature 16 films across two days and give attendees an opportunity to catch a new edit of Bernard’s Eropah, Here I Am.
As for those who want to know more about Safwan Salleh and meet him in person, we’ll see you in Johor next weekend!