RANAU, March 12 — The world premiere of Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus took place in Kampung Bongkud, bringing together villagers and members of the creative community together for a celebration like no other in rural Sabah.
An acclaimed storytelling franchise from Australia which compiles local stories from rural towns through a film residency, Big Stories Small Towns reached out to Kampung Bongkud and Kampung Namaus in its first ever Malaysian venture. Both villages host subsistence Dusun communities comprising mostly farmers and plantation workers.
The multi-platform web documentary project was helmed by filmmaker Nadira Ilana who spent a year collaborating with locals to create a series of short documentaries and photographs.
Over the course of the launch last Saturday, sports, traditional games, exhibitions, workshops, craft markets and competitions were held in the village during the day.
Presenting notable Sabahan creatives such as punk collective Pangrok Sulap and local craftsmen Tamu Tamu Collective, the day’s events saw villagers from all walks of life enthusiastic to win prizes and learn new creative skills.
The main draw of the night however were fourteen short documentaries created for the project. From folk tales to aspirations for the future, Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus investigated a wide range of subjects relevant to the community.
“Big Stories is unique because these filmmakers decide what story they want to tell. We work very closely with them — it’s a participatory community filmmaking project,” stated Sabah-native Nadira post-screening.
“Kami wajib bekerjasama dengan komuniti dan juga mesti menayangkan filem-filem ini kepada mereka dahulu.”
Themes explored across the short documentaries include faith, hope and culture.
In a touching series of four short pieces on religious leader Pastor Numin, the transformation of a local wayward into a community builder tugged at the heartstrings of many viewers.
Elsewhere, residents bring friends along to fish at a familiar pond in Ladies Gone Fishing, while Geluing’s Gang of Tough Guys follows a group of men as they visit the forest to hunt for food in an effort to relate to their ancestors.
Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus commenced in 2015 but was affected by the 6.0-magnitude earthquake which shook Ranau last June. As a result, shooting was delayed for four months after the earthquake.
One film addresses the incident: Jaria’s Little Earthquake‘s titular resident recalls the first time she felt tremors and panicked, calling for God to the sky.
The franchise also encourages community members to delve further into filmmaking. This edition witnessed four residents from the Bongkud-Namaus community involving themselves more deeply as community filmmakers of Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus.
Villager Faustine ‘Ebba’ Thomas chose to capture a fellow resident’s strong entrepeneural drive in Julita’s Enterprise, while young musician Andrew Zozenno Yusip provided amusing insight into local society through We Wanted To Be Like Miles Davis. In the film, his band debuts live jazz at a Ranau restaurant.
Village chief Bindang Mantakag also played a big part, depicting a sacred pact made between Kampung Bongkud and sister-village Kampung Namaus.
His film Origins of Our Village invoked Dusun mysticism and brings figures like the bobolian (a Kadazan-Dusun high priestess) into awareness.
Prior to the screening, Bindang stressed the importance of introducing Dusun culture to viewers and younger generations in order to keep it alive and well. As such, he expressed his gratitude to Big Stories for selecting his village for the project.
“Big Stories membawa impak yang sangat bagus untuk kampung ini,” spoke Bindang humbly. “Kami sangat terbuka hati dan gembira dengan pelaksanaan yang berjaya ini dan kami berharap Big Stories lebih membuka mata dunia kepada kami.“
Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus marks the first time anyone in Kampung Bongkud has been involved in film.
Situated 140km away from Kota Kinabalu, Kampung Bongkud was first founded in the 50s and was later modernised by British missionary Trevor White. It is also home to Camp Bongkud, one of three permanent volunteer accommodation camps built by Camps International in Sabah.
The village caught attention of Big Stories thanks to the campsite, which over the years has seen volunteers and students around the world coming in to aid villagers and experience the region’s biodiversity.
Premiering at the village hall after dinner, Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus observed a strong crowd. Those who saw familiar faces during the screening broke out in laughter, whoops and claps, while some who noticed themselves on screen for the first time were moved to tears from the experience.
Post-screening, Pangrok Sulap auctioned a two-metre, meticulous woodblock print inspired by the elements which contribute to Sabahan village culture and lifestyle, made in collaboration with locals.
The print was eventually purchased by Datin Fazar Arif for RM1000, a sum of which half will be channeled towards helping single mothers across both villages.
Later, a karaoke session was held in two sites within the village, made merrier by large urns called tajau, filled with traditional rice wine. Kampung Bongkud’s residents drank and took turns to sing until midnight, when the launch of Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus finally came to an end.
“I love that Big Stories, Small Towns removes filmmaking from big cities and presents opportunities to forge better understandings amongst urban people who may have preconceived notions on what living in the village is really like,” explained Nadira.
“In taking the time to get to know the villagers and also by involving them directly in the filmmaking process, we’ve made extra efforts to not objectify them as has been the culture of portraying indigenous people in film and TV by most outsiders. I want people to realise how complex and sophisticated life in the village can be, just as much as in the city.”
Nadira, who received the Justin Louis Award at the 2013 Freedom Film Fest for historical documentary The Silent Riot has been one of few, prominent advocates for honest depictions of Sabahan culture in mainstream media.
She is currently working on her first feature film Wilderness, developed at the 2011 Berlinale Talent Campus.
Also present at the premiere were representatives from Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus presentation partner and main launch sponsor National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS). Guests of honor include Parti Bersatu Sabah‘s Datuk Dr. Othman Minudin, Division Head of Paginatan, as well as former State Attorney General and Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah Tan Sri Herman Luping.
The fourteen documentaries will appear online soon, but organisers are also keen on bringing over Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus to Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur for educational purposes.
It was further revealed that the Malaysian leg of Big Stories is set to be the first in the international franchise to boast its own web domain, suggesting further installments in the future.
Funded by the Australia-Malaysia Institute and the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Big Stories Small Towns has accumulated international acclaim since its inception. It took home Best Community Interactive Award in 2012 at South by Southwest (SXSW) and proceeded to make the official selection at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).
Big Stories Bongkud-Namaus was launched in Kampung Bongkud, Ranau, Sabah on 12 March 2016.