Who here still remembers Hanyut?
RM18 million. That is the budget of this as-yet-unreleased film directed by U-Wei Haji Saari.
Before we officially begin, here’s a quick recap: Hanyut is the U-Wei Haji Saari film produced by Tanah Licin, a venture set up by U-Wei himself and producer Julia Fraser.
Based on Joseph Conrad‘s first novel, the film tells the story of Almayer, a Dutch trader struggling to survive in Malaysia at the turn of the 19th Century. His dream of finding a mythical gold mountain is challenged by his scheming wife, the colonial authorities, the political machinations of the local chief and Arab traders, and his daughter’s love for a freedom-fighting Malay prince.
The massively-budgeted film has a cast consisting of Peter O’Brien, Sofia Jane, Diana Danielle, Khalid Salleh, Adi Putra, Bront Palarae, Alex Komang, James Corley and many others.
Hanyut was never released in Malaysia; fans are still awaiting a proper announcement from the team.
It all began many, many years ago, back in 2009.
Hanyut first made ripples in the blogosphere six years ago, when news of the production surfaced. Back then, production house Tanah Licin was still casting for the film, announcing roles to fill through a (now-defunct) website called Finding Nina.
Finding Nina aimed to literally find Nina, one of the lead characters in Hanyut. Nina is Almayer’s daughter – the team stated in the casting call they were looking for a “young beautiful woman, ages from 19 -25 years old, who has the look of being mixed race (Pan-Asian)”. The role later went to Diana Danielle.
Media outlets soon picked up on the news and Hanyut made headlines throughout the years that followed. Pictures taken of U-Wei and his team down at Kuala Lipis and Pekan on reccie in December 2009 were posted up by Cinema Online in May 2010.
Filming took place in 2010, over a period of 10 weeks from May to July. Tontonfilem, which managed to catch several minutes of Hanyut at the (also now-defunct) Maskara Shorties in August 2010 described the film as a showcase of U-Wei at the “top of his form”.
What was released from the project over the years looked promising, so we waited and waited as the film got pushed further and further back. Two of Hanyut’s actors have already passed away, namely Alex Komang and Ramli Hassan.
The film received only one official release: it greeted audiences in Indonesia where it played in over 100 cinemas as Gunung Emas Almayer. It was also screened on a smaller scale in various venues around the world to highly positive reviews.
As of now, it looks like the film will never see the light of day. Social media promotion for the film has practically ceased, and we sympathize with whoever’s in charge of their Facebook account.
Based on hearsay, we can tell you that U-Wei has started work on his next project and there are no plans to release the film wide in the future. Why? We’ll leave it to the Tanah Licin team to tell us someday.
According to Aref Omar’s piece in the New Straits Times in November last year, Hanyut was funded through “a creative industry loan of RM10 million from Bank Simpanan National (BSN), a grant of RM6 million from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and a grant of RM2 million by National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS)“.
In any case, whatever the reason for the delay, we want to watch Hanyut and we won’t rest until we do.
So we asked around for thoughts on the film’s delayed release.
Maybe, just maybe, some of the fans could have decent solutions to propose. How can we obtain a copy of the film without breaking into U-Wei and Julia’s homes?
First and foremost, Wendi Sia of The Daily Seni wants to put forward her two cents.
I think [the Hanyut team] should tour the nation with the film and organise little, private screenings around the country just so people get a chance to watch it. I mean, we just want to watch it, we don’t care about anything else.
According to Wendi, a humble nationwide tour of the film will please the fans as well as followers of U-Wei’s career. She also thinks that it could resuscitate interest for a major release later down the line, once word of mouth gets in place.
We then asked Bernard Kung, soon-to-be Pegawai Tadbir Dan Diplomatik, currently undergoing training in INTAN. He was the die-hard fan who wanted us to buka balik this cerita because he’s quite tired of the wait.
Please do have a look at Hanyut‘s Facebook account in which excruciatingly limited info is released on when the film is out, especially the “we have something exciting to inform you guys” cliffhanger.
Also, I will pay a premium to watch it here. Maybe we can start crowdfunding to get money for him if he needs more for whatever reason; I’m sure people are willing to pitch in!
If it is indeed true that U-Wei is waiting for even more funds to promote the film as reported in The Star, we wouldn’t rule out a crowdfunding campaign. This could also double as a reliable gauge for anticipation as well as replenish the hype.
Crowdfunding is one of those highly popular buzzwords you’ve been hearing a lot in the past 3 years – just last year a man got $55,000 from Kickstarter to make potato salad.
Third, we revisited our discussion with Grace Chin who shared with us her thoughts on FINAS director-general Kamil Othman‘s appearance at The Cooler Lumpur Festival this year. Kamil was part of a discussion titled Where Is the Great Malaysian Movie? A Conversation with Kamil Othman which promised no-holds-barred conversations on Malaysian cinema.
Grace has worked with creative producers in Malaysia, and she agreed with Kamil on the role of producers in filmmaking, singling out Malaysians such as Nandita Solomon (Bunohan, upcoming thriller Interchange) and Sharon Gan (Lelaki Harapan Dunia) who have built quite a reputation as dependable forces in the profession.
Taking her words into account, we felt that the anger towards Hanyut‘s delay has often been misfired, frequently aimed towards U-Wei and FINAS when in reality both parties were merely responsible for the artistic and financial side of things. Shouldn’t it be the producer who is in the hot seat when films get pushed back like in this particular instance?
Hanyut‘s producer is Julia Fraser, who prior to this collaborated with U-Wei on Buai Laju-Laju. She’s no unknown; Julia shares a Golden Globe with producer Julie LeBrocquy and director Siddiq Barmat for Osama, the Afghan film released back in 2003. She has moved to Singapore recently.
What exactly does a producer do? To what extent is a producer responsible for when it comes to releasing a film in cinemas? We’ll have answers to these questions soon, so keep an eye on our site in the meantime.
Is it ethical for a developing country to spend RM18 million on a movie?
Given the imminent furore over Hanyut’s budget should it continue being put on indefinite hold, we want people to think about the financial aspect of things.
How much public funding should go to filmmaking?
Malaysia is a developing country with a number of disparities – education, income and healthcare come to mind – and there are plenty of avenues that need work. You can do quite a lot with the RM8 million in grants that went to Hanyut (which is a mere 0.3% of the RM2.6 billion that went towards 1MDB).
Also worth considering is the fact that the number one film of all-time at the local box office is The Journey, which made RM17.17 million.
Even if Hanyut made this much at the box office, it would still incur a significant loss once you take into account that only about half of box office takings go to the filmmakers (the other half goes to the cinema). For Hanyut to be able to break even based on domestic cinema alone it would have needed RM36 million at the box office – more than twice what The Journey managed.
This brings us to a series of questions: was the decision by the government to award this amount of money unsupervised to a production made in the best interest of the rakyat? Was there nobody from BSN, MOSTI or FINAS checking in from time to time, making sure that the movie will eventually be released to box offices? Is there anybody accountable at all for the never-ending delay or will there be zero repercussions if the film never gets released?
We needed someone to indulge us in this line of thought on ethics so we spoke to writer and freelance video editor Sebastian Ng who had some strong words.
We shall leave you with his thoughts and we look forward to hearing yours as well.
Well, it was probably an idea worth pursuing for that kind of money at that point of pre-production. But given our present hindsight, there are much better things to spend that kind of money on (but hindsight is hindsight lah).
On the other hand, were there better Malaysian movies that could have been made these last few years? I haven’t seen or heard of one.
Movies can be important for developing countries. One major benefit is that they inspire the people. Whether it’s to encourage people to think for themselves that, I you can make it in life (through feel-good movies), or to inspire with past events (using history as teladan, with some constructive nationalism sprinkled into the mix).
But when you have a censorship board like ours, might as well don’t bother at all, because then you make films like Ombak Rindu and Suami Aku Ustaz and inspire a regressive (or irritated) society instead.
In which case, better to kill the film industry and move those tens of millions to NGOs that can help save at least a minority of our students from our self-proclaimed “world-class” education system. Or better, use that money to fund thousands of students to pursue further education overseas, so that they can come back with a more global perspective on things.
Then maybe 10 years from now, we will actually have enough matured and sophisticated members of society to form a sufficiently large core audience that can support a small film industry. Only then we should resuscitate the industry, one that is actually interested in telling technically exciting and socially conscious stories about our country and its people.
Otherwise, if you don’t have an audience that is willing and/or capable of engaging with local films, there is no film industry anyway.
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