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Thiyagaraja Nabs Best Music Video At LAIFF Awards, Talks Current Plans And Festival Filem Malaysia Furore
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Thiyagaraja Nabs Best Music Video At LAIFF Awards, Talks Current Plans And Festival Filem Malaysia Furore

by Deric EctSeptember 21, 2015

BACK in August, Malaysian filmmaker Thiyagaraja made waves at the July edition of the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (LAIFFA), taking home Best Music Video for his work on Emerald Portal‘s “Structures”. We first wrote about the Taiping-born lad back in Cannes after stumbling upon his short film, Trail, in the Court Metrage.

We managed to speak to him about his win at LAIFFA weeks later and got him to reflect on the experience.


“Honestly speaking,” Thiyagaraja began, “I wasn’t thinking about winning or losing that much because I didn’t want to be affected by it once I do win or lose.”

“That’s what sports are for. Film festivals, to me, are more of an outlet for these babies to see the light of day. Getting people to watch your stuff is the most important thing.”

To the young filmmaker, the biggest benefit of a festival win is the exposure. He hopes that the LAIFFA award will lead to more people discovering the band and inadvertently get a glimpse of his own style as a filmmaker too.

“On the visual side of things, I wanted to show something unique and narrative-driven,” he states.

Written, directed and edited by Thiyagaraja himself, the sexy, mysterious and contemplative music video takes place in the desert and in the city, and boasts a fair bit of murders. Watch it and see for yourself just how far this local talent has come ever since his humble days as a student at the New York Film Academy.

As reported back in May, Thiyagaraja was in the process of getting things together for his sci-fi short film Than All Else Ever, which stars Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts – father to young actress Emma Roberts and brother to Academy Award winner Julia Roberts. It’s starting to do the rounds and will be submitted to all relevant festivals before the public gets to see it.

“The reception so far has been pretty good but I feel the end product falls short of its own ambitiousness and that’s something the shadows of the night will haunt me about,” he laments when asked about the film.

Than All Else Ever tells the story of a space excavator named David Galloway who has to retrieve a stolen space pod with a suicidal ex-captain. He goes through some turbulent emotional times and ends up making a very difficult choice in space. Make sure to keep an eye out on the film’s Facebook page to receive updates.

At the moment, Thiyagaraja is preparing to shoot another short film in Los Angeles. This time however it’s going to utilise Bahasa Melayu – something he hasn’t tried yet in his career. Titled Menunggu, the piece chronicles two separate events in the life of a Malay man dealing with heartbreak, existentialism and ambition.

Given that he’s still doing good work all the way over in Los Angeles, we asked if young Malaysian talent are just more welcomed over there in California.

“I don’t know too many Malaysian filmmakers who are killing it here in LA but I’ll tell you about the ones who could definitely be the future of our industry,” Thiyagaraja divulged, “Roger Liew for example, he just shot a short called The Nomad and I can’t wait to see it – he’s done some pretty great stuff and he’s one to anticipate.”

“There’s a Malaysian actor by the name of Amir Rahim who’s been in a multitude of things from short films to commercials to broadcast television, and there’s also this music composer that I will be working with, Rendra Zawawi, who has done some awesome stuff back home and worked with some notable people.”

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As for the best thing he’s seen recently, look out for Joshua Oppenheimer‘s The Act of Killing and its companion piece, The Look of Silence. Both critically-acclaimed documentaries are about the mass killings in Indonesia from 1956-1957 aimed to rid the country of communist influence.

The Act of Killing in particular was an internationally-renowned film (it has won 63 awards and was nominated for another 74 at film festivals around the world) which went on to receive an Academy Award nomination.

Lastly, in light of Kamil Othman and Festival Filem Malaysia (FFM)‘s stance on the Filem Terbaik Bukan Di Dalam Bahasa Melayu category, we got Thiyagaraja to share his views on the matter.

He believes that it’s a “politically tricky” situation and that FFM’s decision is rooted in the rejection of Western influences as well as the need for the committee to preserve tradition. He compares it to the Academy Awards, an organisation which has often forgone sci-fi and action films.

“It’s a product of cultural insecurity,” Thiyagaraja believes.

“It’s understandable to a certain extent but the medium of film should be a reflection of our realities, and the reality is that non-Malay output and languages are a huge part of our country’s identity.”

He also states that the situation shows denial on the committee’s side, and that if we can overcome this denial then we could be as socially advanced as most European nations.

“Opening your mind and broadening your scope means you will be able to embrace your identity,” he notes wisely.

“Take all the things you’re ashamed of and face it. Therein lies traces of art.”

About The Author
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Deric Ect
Deric is contributor and former managing editor of The Daily Seni.

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