Film director Dain Iskandar Said is one to keep an eye on, especially after Bunohan was chosen to be Malaysia’s official submission to the 85th Academy Awards: Malaysia’s first since 2004’s Puteri Gunung Ledang.
The University of Westminster graduate is currently in the process of completing his third full-length feature, Interchange, which will premiere early next year. Interchange is set to be a supernatural thriller that stars Malaysian actors Iedil Putra and Shaheizy Sam, as well as Indonesian stars Nicholas Saputra and Prisia Nasution.
We managed to spend some time with the charismatic but humble Dain in Apparat Studios, on his day off from filming in Kuala Lumpur. We asked him several questions on filmmaking and scour his mind for opinions on the international market.
There is an intersection of your Kelantan and Western upbringing in Bunohan that is also evident in Interchange.
That I think has always been there. It just translates as different aspects because Malaysia isn’t just one thing.
There are many different aspects and angles that I can explore and make into stories; I simply stumbled into this one during research and thought it might be a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s set in a different culture. However, I thought that this might be interesting: I never experienced much of Sabah or Sarawak before but I thought it was a good angle to go with.
Was it an easier time making Interchange compared to Bunohan?
Bunohan has it’s challenges; this one too. Things in KL are not that easy: we have this animal – CGI – and there are specific ways to shoot with CGI and latex. It takes time.
The challenge was time, basically. And also the skills and techniques of people who know how to do things right. We will see the outcome in post-production to find out if we need to repair anything or add anything. All these things are because I don’t like to use CGI, I like to combine it with light shooting which I think is better as it’s not just total CGI.
What sparked the story of Interchange?
It was a picture. A photo in a book by a European ethnographer/anthropologist that traveled to Borneo. I saw the picture and thought this would make an interesting story.
What are your hopes for “Interchange” on the international market?
My hopes for Interchange is that the film will travel and be attractive to audiences abroad and for it to travel to different festivals.
It’s not so much that we aim at festivals; at the end of the day festivals are only a channel, a conduit, because it’s just another way for your film to get known in certain sectors and sections of the world. I prefer to go for festivals where there is a market and you make sales distribution and it feels much more like work. So my producer and I, we prefer those kind of festivals because at the end of the day you meet people who don’t even know where Malaysia is.
It’s not that we haven’t been in the news, but it’s not like everyone knows us as they do Korea and Iran. Iran had about 20 years of Iranian filmmakers making names for themselves at festivals.
We want the film to travel, we want the film to gain some kind of international recognition but that is just as important as wanting it to do well in Malaysia. At the end of the day, I make films for our local audience.
Do you think that the lack of recognition for Malaysia comes from a lack of local films produced?
No, I think there are enough films being made. It’s just a question of does the film translate well to international audiences? Does the film carry itself well in terms of technique and skill?
When it comes down to the wire, it’s a question of whether or not it’s a good film. It’s not a question of style, approach to filmmaking or box office takings. If it’s a good film, it gets picked up.
Do you have any thoughts on global trends?
I think it’s very difficult for me to say what the global trend is. Because the film industry is such a huge machine now, it’s no longer like the old days where each country has their own films and outputs. Due to access to information and the arrival of new technology in the last 20 to 30 years, film has grown with technological development.
What I’m saying is, even in Europe and everywhere else — I’m not talking about the US, I’m saying Europe because it’s like South East Asia and everywhere else — it’s pecah pecah, in terms of the kind of films that is coming out.
Every country will have its own problem whether it’s the market trends or audiences but you cannot discount the fact that there is a rise in the vast Hollywood Machinery.
It’s about mechanism of production; a question of if a country can produce high-quality, high end, huge budget films that more and more people can have access to. Then that country can begin to dictate the taste of the public. It’s a challenge of whether or not you can produce something faster, and at a greater rate. Those who can will overtake everything and set the dominant tone for films.
What do you right now define as a good film in this point of your career?
It’s all about context.
As a filmmaker, I am also a partner in my company with Nandita. She’ll take care of the market angle and most of the things in producing a film so I’m free to just write. We do work closely from the script stage and she understands the film and the story because she also had a hand in writing it. Then she knows what she can do with it.
From my perspective, I think I don’t know how you can define it. Every context, society and community is different. But there has to be a common base for people to recognize a good film.
How do you define what is good? You look at the context.
If you’re in Malaysia and you’re going to do Batman or a version of Superman, why bother when you know you cannot match the original? Why don’t you do something else? As [Jean Luc] Godard used to say. Essentially, when he writes he doesn’t just take a great novel; he takes a crap story and he makes it into a good film.
In other words, don’t try to make Batman when you know you don’t have the budget. Make something else which is more pertinent and can travel. The world is so connected; we want and would like to see films from other cultures.
Featured image is of (left to right) Dain Iskandar Said with Prisia Nasution (IVA) and Iedil Putra (Adam). Photo by Danny Lim © Apparat 2015.
This is an edit of an article which originally appeared in the Cannes Edition of our print magazine, issued especially for the 68th Cannes Film Festival. For more details on how to secure an issue, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.