Review: Hamster Wheel by Danial Azeez @SeaShorts


Brunei. Land of rich oil reserves. The occasional news about its royalty. And more recently, the introduction of Sharia Law. Makes one wonder what filmmakers in Brunei wrap their heads around? What stories interest them or what fascinates filmmakers there? The 2019 SeaShorts Film Festival in Melaka took a step further to ensure there were film entries from each of the 10 countries that make up ASEAN. The Bruneians did not disappoint and programmer Nurain Abdullah put together a basket of nine short films for S-Express Brunei. Part of our single-dip series of shorts films from each of the 10 countries, we spoke to filmmaker Danial Azeez about his film Hamster Wheel.

Hamster Wheel is a genre short film that seems a hybrid between a thriller, horror and even a zombie flick. It tells the story of a young man who is trying to forget about his relationship post-break up. But the shadow of that relationship clings on to him and it is almost literally represented by the presence of a doppelganger. The doppelganger, zombie-like in its presence, and chillingly single-minded in its pursuit of the protagonist, becomes a target for the protagonist's violent chops. Note that at this point, the film has already crossed at least 3 genres, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell who was the real McCoy and who was the doppelganger. Perhaps that was intentional?

Director Danial makes no secret about his love for the action/thriller genre from the film's preoccupation with action. Poor girl, you were not the reason why he could not let the relationship go! He loves himself too much, if I were to offer a tongue-in-cheek interpolation of the film. The film could up the ante on production design, fight choreography and gore quotient, though it did offer a novel take on dealing with a break-up, mostly from a lad's point of view. 

Danial answered a few burning questions from us about the making of Hamster Wheel and filmmaking in general in Brunei.

How did you get into filmmaking? 

I was always interest in movies and series since I was a kid and after high school I took a gap year just to figure what I wanted to do. Filmmaking wasn't really an ideal path but I cant seem to see my self doing anything else other then serving coffee in a cafe, not that I wont enjoy serving people coffee I just enjoy it more if I have my own coffee and drinking all 15 cups on set. Luckily for me I am in a local film production company (Filterworks productions) that provides opportunities for something I can continue create whether its short films, series or a comedy sketch. 

What is the film industry like in Brunei? Also how is the independent filmmaking scene like in Brunei? 

I would say it is growing because the of the number of Bruneians  who have a huge interest in movies and that helps create an impact in the film industry, having Bruneians showcasing their films in festivals around ASEAN countries helps us feel like we can be part of this industry. 

How did the idea of doppelgängers come about in this short film about dealing with a break up? 

The idea behind this concept was that the protagonist tries to hide his insecurities and deals with a-lot of self sabotage hence the multiple versions of himself, so I tried to make it visual. The girl is a huge part of why he is in that loop of self sabotage, he blames himself on why the relationship didn't work. This is a non linear story line so the ending isn't really an ending, you can even hear the same creak of the wooden candas (a local utensil we use to eat ambuyat) from the beginning and the end. 

Are you a fan of certain genres? This film seems to cross a few, including action and horror and even zombie... even though it is not exactly a zombie in the film. 

I don't have a specific genre, but if I would have to choose - Quentin Tarantino. That's an interesting perspective on the protagonist being a zombie, not gonna say you're wrong because I believe when you publish a film its no longer yours its the viewers - the audience take on the film, I find this more interesting than when a story is straightforward. So yea sure it's a zombie film. 

What kind of genres or styles are popular amongst independent filmmakers in Brunei? 

Horror, comedy and horror comedy. 

What are the biggest challenges facing independent filmmakers in Brunei? How do these films find funding? 

Depending on the filmmakers but I think maybe resources like location or talents for me at-least are difficult. Hmm funding? What's that? Hahah... umm I would say go to a small but known film production house and pitch them your idea and if they love it and trust you, they might just provide you equipment with crew and some food and maybe their talent pool and I think that's a huge help already. 

In the light of Brunei introducing harsher laws for things like sexual misconduct, is there heavy censorship in Brunei? What type of content usually gets censored? 

Oh tough question, not sure I am the right person for this question. The censorship practice here is kinda tricky like I don't really know. Sometimes it just take one person to say " Woah I feel like that is wrong to show, let's complain", then that would cause it to be censored. The touching of the opposite sex i.e. kissing, touching hands, sitting on the same bed in a bedroom even though you are actually married to the person whom you're acting with, no mention of the royalty, politics, religion and that's what I know so far, I might have missed out on some. 

Interview by Jeremy Sing

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