Malaysian director to compete at Tokyo International Film Festival

'Aqerat', starring Daphne Low, is chosen from 1,538 entries to be in competition. Photo: Greenlight Pictures

Edmund Yeo whose first film, River Of Exploding Durians, was showcased at the Tokyo International Film Festival three years ago is returning to the festival this year with two projects. The 30th TIFF will take place from Oct 25 to Nov 3 at Roppongi Hills, Tokyo.

The first is Yeo’s second feature film titled Aqerat starring Daphne Low and Howard Hon Kahoe, which was filmed in Kelantan. Aqerat has been selected in the festival’s Competition section. Only 15 films made it to that final list from 1,538 entries from 88 countries.

“When I submitted the film for consideration, it was still a rough cut,” shared Yeo, who is in the midst of filming his third movie titled Malu (Shame). “I will be finalising the film’s cut next week.”

Told in Malay and Chinese dialects, Aqerat has yet to get a local distributor or release date in Malaysia. Yeo plans to take the film on the international film festival circuit, starting with TIFF where it is set for a world premiere.

Edmund Yeo's first film River Of Exploding Durians was also showcased at Tokyo International Film Festival. Photo: Edmund Yeo

Spiritual journey

Aqerat – like the Malay word Akhirat – means the afterlife in Rohingya. It tells of a woman’s journey into the depth of darkness and then finding herself again with some help.

Hui Ling goes to Taiwan to start a fresh chapter in her life, only to end up at the Malaysia-Thai border working as a human trafficker and becoming a participant/witness to the horrors done to the Rohingya immigrants.

“The film shows this character’s spiritual journey out of that darkness. It is also meant to create more discussion and dialogue about what is going on with the Rohingya immigrants. Malaysians are aware about the Rohingya issues but I want the film to open a dialogue in Japan, for example,” the director said.

When asked why he picked a female as his lead character, Yeo explained: “I was going to go with a male protagonist but changed my mind because I realised a female protagonist is closer to my previous works which are female-centric."

Also Yeo had read a news article about a kindergarten teacher falling victim to human trafficking ring and decided to incorporate it into the film’s theme. “I want my films to reflect current social issues, things that affect a contemporary Malaysian.”

Spotlight on Yasmin Ahmad

So it is only natural that his second project to be showcased at TIFF is a 70-minute documentary titled Yasmin-san. The central person of the documentary is none other than the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad.

Yeo was involved in behind the scene of the Japanese film Pigeon, starring Sharifah Amani, when he realised that the Japanese film community got their introduction to Malaysian films through Yasmin’s work. And then there is actress Amani, who had starred in almost all of Yasmin’s films.

“I was talking to them and became fascinated of their memories of Yasmin, which is why I did Yasmin-san,” explained Yeo.

For the project, he spoke to Yasmin’s friends, colleagues and family members.

“I had interviewed Yasmin’s mother before she passed away in April this year. And I got a lot of materials from the museum in Ipoh that commemorates Yasmin's work.

“I have never met Yasmin Ahmad. I hope I will do justice to who she was with Yasmin-san,” he said.

Besides Yeo’s two projects, the recently named Best Film at the Malaysia Film Festival, Adiwiraku, will also be screened at TIFF.

A scene from Adiwiraku which highlights the challenges students in rural areas face. Photo: Sol Pictures

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