Production Talk - 'Shingaporu Monogatari' by Hafidz Senor

Hafidz was born in 1986. He made three short films while studying at Temasek Polytechnic. In 2005, he was one of the finalists in the inaugural Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award. He is a first-year graduate at NTU'S School of Art, Design and Media. In 'Singaporu Monogatari', stark, black-and-white shots of modern day Singapore are juxtaposed against grainy still photographs of wartime Singapore as the narrator, an eighty-year-old Malay man, recounts his memories about the Japanese Occupation. Based on conversations the director had with his grandfather, Shingaporu Monogatari is a compelling and sombre reminder of the war and the consequences it had on the people who lived through it.

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Lee Wong (L) : Can you tell us a bit about how and why you came up with this idea for your short film?
Hafidz (H): One afternoon, my grandfather and I talked about his experiences during the Japanese occupation. He was 14 at that point in time. We had a lively conversation because he was very detailed about what he experienced. Until today he still remembers some Japanese sentences and he's able to count in Japanese. Somehow I felt the urge to document his story.
L: Was it the first time you were talking about the past? I mean, his experiences during the Japanese Occupation...
H: Yes. For me that was the first time he talked about it.
L: Do you think young people (in Singapore) are generally apathetic about wartime history....
H: I'm sure the younger generation knows our history what our ancestors went through. We grow up in a different period, a different environment so they would not feel what the older generation went through. I guess we are very fortunate to grow up in Singapore, in a peaceful place. By making this film, I want to remember the people who passed away and the ones who survived. To remember their sacrifices.
L: Oh, I'm not that young and even I am unfortunately quite apathetic....
L: It says in your bio that you had made 3 short films when you were studying at Temasek Polytechnic. Can you tell us a bit about your earlier short films, are they different from Shingaporu Monogatari?
H: The three short films were dramas, writing a solid script is a difficult process. I had a difficult time trying to craft them. With Shingaporu it’s a different approach, it was loose, I had a narrative to begin with, and suddenly I had these images flying in my mind. I must mention that Shingaporu was the first time I enjoyed making a film.
L: Oh dear, what happened last time that wasn't enjoyable making a film...?
H: I wasn't satisfied with the outcome. I wished I had more time to write a better script. The script is crucial in any film. I felt I needed time to find inspiration.
L: And this time you were inspired by your grandfather. Besides photographs and conversations, how did you reconstruct the past and story in Shingaporu?
H: The main challenge for me was to make it short and good. It was a school project, I decided to settle for lesser than fifteen minutes. So I was selective in making a narrative out of my grandfather's memories. The film is a montage of everyday scenes, black and white still images I shot on film and old photographs. I decided to shoot at three locations, City Hall, Changi Beach and Fort Siloso. I read up a bit about the places during the occupation. In a way the images act as a bridge to convey the story. I had to complete the film in three weeks so I decided to shoot where it is accessible. (pause) As for the narrative, I wanted it be personal, the film is the essence of what my grandfather shared with me.
L: I see. Anything interesting or unusual happened in the making of this film?
H: The journey itself is interesting. Going to different locations, I walked a lot. I was surprised by the images I captured, especially at Sentosa. It's very much the same in life, sometimes mundane sometimes breathtaking. :)
L: Walking... definitely something I need to do more of, haha. Did this direction to a non-drama short film story have anything to do with your starting out in NTU's ADM (School of Art, Design and Media) course?
H: The project required us to make a film with a narrative. Just that. We could afford to be more experimental and adventurous. It certainly fitted me very well. And I had a story that lingered in my head.
L: The decision to study ADM at NTU, was it a natural progression after Temasek Poly? Tell us a bit about that...
H: It took me some time to decide. I enjoy art since young, I knew art was what I want to do. I wanted to work and gain industrial experience but my portfolio was not strong enough. The transition was a very smooth one. At Temasek Polytechnic the tutors emphasized a lot on ideation. It was very much about ideas they were not stringent on the script. It's very much the same at NTU where conceptual skills are pivotal, technical skills are just a bonus. In a way Temasek Polytechnic and ADM are similar. It certainly benefited me.
L: How old are you, have you done NS? (Don't mind me asking)H: I’m 23 this year. I was a combat medic during my time in the army.

L: How was it working with your classmates?
H: It’s not boring at all. We have a good mix of talented guys. We all have different strengths and abilities. We support one another. Art is a collaborative effort, you need other's opinions on your work.
L: Is this your first time competing in the SIFF?
H: Yes. I’m just blessed to be selected. To be chosen by Singapore's best filmmakers is amazing. When I received the news it was like a beautiful surprise.
L: How did your grandfather, family and friends react to your short film? I'm assuming some people have seen it....
H: They like it very much. My family and friends have been very supportive, although they felt odd that it's a silent film. Even my family suggested I add some background music and ambient sounds. The film is silent, with English subtitles. I thought it would be better that way. A voice over in Malay and background music would be a tad too distracting I feel.
L: Oh! It's a silent film....
H: :)
L: Do you have anything to add before my last question?
H: I wanna thank you and Jeremy at Sindieonly for this wonderful opportunity. That’s about it.
L: You're welcome!
L: Ok.... last question that I always like to ask filmmaker friends, don't take it too intensely or seriously... What are the top 5 films that you wish you made? (not top 5 fave films! :))
H: Sure.
1. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Julian Schnabel)
2. In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai)
3. Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow)
4. Gubra (Yasmin Ahmad) and
5. The Grizzly Man (Documentary by Werner Herzog).

Hafidz’s Shingaporu Monogatari is currently in competition in the Singapore Short Film category at SIFF.
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