PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s entry to an international film festival which ended in France yesterday, has won for director Yasmin Ahmad the top prize and a cash prize of ?3,800 (RM19,380).
The film Sepet, about the love between a Chinese boy and a Malay girl, took the Grand Jury Prize at the 27th Creteil International Women Directors Festival, beating nine other contenders.
“I feel humbled,” said Yasmin when contacted in France.
“I told my mother not to expect me to win anything, I didn’t expect to win with all these films from Brazil, Spain, and the United States competing. I thought ‘Habislah’.
“Malaysians tend to think that as long as we have competed, it’s the best that could happen. Isn’t that so?”
Recalling her reaction to the announcement, Yasmin said: “I was nodding off, and then I heard 'Malaizia'.
“When I went on stage, I asked ‘What did I win?’ And they told me it was the Grand Prix of the Jury.
“I asked again, ‘Is it a good prize?’ And they told me it was the top prize. I was flabbergasted.”
Yasmin said she would have been happy just to win a special mention.
“I thought Sepet was too light a film to win, given that art films, are usually very ‘heavy’.
“My husband said a lot of art films are about people suffering. On the other hand, my film is a jolly little film with plenty of laughs and tears,” she said.
“After the screening of Sepet, there was a discussion and people asked about the film.
“I said, ‘Look, life is more than just about suffering. I did charity work in India before, and I find people who are suffering also look for a reason to laugh.
“I said I hoped there was room for some sweetness in life and in films.”
Yasmin said a foreign woman who saw the film told her that while the world has painted a dark face of Islam, Sepet showed that Muslims were gentle, lovely and funny.
“They said it was refreshing to see a film that was so unashamedly sentimental without being dishonest.
“They laughed, but not as quickly as Malaysian audiences. Some things went whoosh over their heads. I told them some things were specific to Malaysia, but some in the audience said a lot of things in Sepet were also universal.”
The Malaysian entry beat films like Mak Yan Yan’s Butterfly (Hong Kong), which was the opening film at last year’s Venice Film Festival; Juliet McKeon’s Frozen (Britain), Alice Andrade’s French-Brazilian collaboration, All Hell Let Loose and US entry Dirt by Nancy Savoca (who made Dogfight with the late River Phoenix in 1991.)
Yasmin said winning the prize has motivated her to get on with her next project, tentatively titled Gubra.
“I want to make my next film quickly. My father fell ill two years ago and I made Rabun which was dedicated to my parents, and he’s well now.
“I have this feeling if I make more films they’ll last longer. But I also make films for everybody. Malaysians have a lot of stories to tell but not many people are telling them,” said Yasmin.
Sepet, has so far collected RM500,000 after four weeks of screening nationwide.
“It has exceeded our expectations,” said Dominique Hee, senior marketing manager of Buena Vista Columbia Tristar Films Malaysia, the local distributor of the film. “I’m happy it’s getting recognition abroad.”