STOP10 Jul 2017: 'Azza' by Nur Shahidah and Eleaner Choo


Radicalization became a topic closer to home when on June 12, 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs detailed the first femal Singapore for radicalism under the Internal Security Act (ICA). On June 22, Channel 5 Talking Point explored the conflict families might face and the vulnerability of youths to becoming radicalized.

While these are very recent events, for a young girl Nur Shahidah – this was a very real subject for her over 10 years ago when in 2004, her father was subsequently convicted under anti-terror laws after leaving a hoax bomb under the seat of a MRT train. It has been many years and she has come a long way since then, but Shahidah decided to revisit and re-tell this very personal story in the film Azza as part of her final year project for her diploma in film and television at Temasek Polytechnic (TP). She took on the role of producer and worked with a team headed by director and screenwriter Eleaner Choo to bring this story to life.

Azza is one of the three short film projects commissioned by the S'pore Discovery Centre (SDC) as part of their collaboration with Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic for their annual Singapore Stories initiative.

The other two short films are Gallant, a film inspired by the Japanese invasion of Singapore and Rust Red, a film by a group of Ngee Ann Polytechnic Film & Media Studies students about how three characters cope with a looming end-of-the-world catastrophe.
Now in its fourth year, SDC will be screening Azza and the other two films exclusively for a year, starting 1 July, at iWERKS Theatre at Upper Jurong Road. For more information on movies screened by SDC, please visit http://www.sdc.com.sg

Admission is free for all Singaporeans and permanent residents.


Synopsis
A heart-wrenching story based on a true-life account of an 11 year old girl who faces a struggling period in her life, despite her young age. Confronted with the shock of her dearest father plotting a terrorist attack, Azza is thrown into confusion and tremendous stress. She has to fight the dilemma of exposing her father in the police investigations, alongside the aftermath when her mother attempts suicide and tries to kill the entire family. The power of kinship is accentuated as Azza draws strength from within and works towards bringing her mother back from the brink of losing hope in life.



SINdie had the opportunity to chat with both Nur Shahidah and Eleaner Choo,

What prompted you to tell such a personal and emotional story for your final year project? From a producer and director’s perspective?

Shahidah:
Personally, I felt that terrorism is a social issue that is seldom talked about in films. I also thought that the terrorist's family's perspective is never shown to the public. As this event happened to my family back in 2004, I felt that we could have had more emotional support from our neighbours and community. So I felt that making a film about it is a great tool to educate members of the public as we shed some light onto the struggles that the family faced.

Eleaner:
I’ve always felt that personal stories have a very profound effect on the viewers because it’s based on someone’s real life experience. An example would be Monster (2003) directed by Patty Jenkins which completely changed my worldview of a person. Hence, I wanted to explore Shahidah and her family's story, to use film as a medium to show the gravity of such a crime. Also before this project, I had worked with Shahidah and her family on another personal experience of theirs which created a bond between us. So I actually felt really honoured to have been given another opportunity to tell this story.


It was shared that auditions were tough especially in trying to cast for the lead role of Azza – was there something specific that you were looking for?

Eleaner:
The casting process was difficult because the role of Azza was very demanding. An adult would find huge difficulty in playing such a role, much less an eleven year old girl. The kind of events that happened in the film are very dramatic and they don’t typically happen to the general public. Hence, we had to find someone who is capable of understanding the character and emoting how the character feels. We were also looking for traits similar to the main character, like maturity and brightness. Also, due to the limited size of talent pool in Singapore, Shahidah and I had to resort to street casting other than reaching out to all the people we know in this line.

Was there any part of the story that you wanted to change? To perhaps reflect how you might have wanted things to be?

Eleaner:
There was actually a different ending for the film where the family reunites after Rashid serves his time in prison. However, after much consideration about the ending coming off too cliche and unrealistic, I felt it was better to send off a strong message about terrorism with the current ending in the final cut. 

Has there been any surprising receptions to the film? Either from the audience or perhaps family / friends?

Shahidah:
A lot of people were in disbelief when they realised it was a true story that happened to my family. Especially the part where the mother resorted to poisoning herself and her children.


For Shahidah - has your relationship with your family members changed in any way since working on the film?

I feel that making this film has made my family grow closer as throughout the research process, we had to speak to my mother and sister about the events that had happened back in 2004. As I was only 7 years old then, I did not have much memory of it but speaking about it when I'm 20 years old- it made me understand my family more and in turn love them more for what we have gone through.

For Eleaner – has making the film changed the way you look at your own family?

No because I don’t think I can compare the experience that Shahidah’s family went through to the difficult times in my family.

Now that the film is complete and screened, how do you feel?

Shahidah:
I feel that this 13 month journey has been worth it. Definitely went through a some emotional breakdowns but watching it on the big screen is a wonderful pay-off. Also, I am definitely very grateful to Singapore Discovery Centre for giving us this platform to make the film as it is reaching out to many people.

Eleaner:
The feeling is very surreal knowing that the film will be screened to the public soon. As I had watched the film countless times during post-production, for some reason, watching the film on the night of the gala event felt completely different. I believe it was due to the presence of a large audience and hearing their reactions.

What advice would you give to young storytellers? Either as producers / directors / any role in filmmaking.

Both
Do something you feel strongly about, even if it is somewhat taboo (find loopholes!) This will reflect in your work and will also double up as your "motivation" to keep on working on the project with the same amount of passion and energy.

All images courtesy of S'pore Discovery Centre

Watch the trailer here:



Go behind the scenes on the making of Azza. Various members of the production crew share their stories here..




Written by Ivan Choong
For the full list of July 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.



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