Unity in diversity

The cast and director of the webfilm UNI (from left) Jalimasari, Elvin Romeo, Ismail Kamarul and Lee Qi at the film’s launch at the Petronas Twin Towers. – Photo by Art Chen/The Star

IT’s a story that spans 45 years, from its incorporation on Aug 17,1974 – the national oil and gas conglomerate that has made its way onto the global stage as the only Malaysian corporation listed on Fortune 500.

Petronas, known for its stable of evocative, meaningful and memorable ads that feel more like mini-films which never fail to strike a chord and spark conversations among Malaysians, has reinforced its spirit as a truly Malaysian entity once again with the release of its latest webfilm UNI on the same day as the company’s 45th birthday on Aug 17,2019.

The five-minute 50-second webfilm, directed by accomplished film-maker Ismail Kamarul, depicts the tale of two vastly different young men immersed in university life at the same institution – the shy, hesitant Roger Junior Buang (played by Elvin Romeo) from Sabah who has a bumpy start in his interactions with the more rambunctious Ridzwan Salleh (played by Jalimasari), who hails from Kedah.

Ismail, who co-wrote and produced award-winning Chinese film Guang in 2018, was commissioned by Petronas to produce the thought-provoking UNI, bringing his tally of producing films and ads for them to 15.

“This is special to me because often times, when you look at a mass media approach to the subject of Hari Kebangsaan, it’s always been peninsula-centric, ” he shared at the launch held at the Petronas Twin Towers recently.

“What I like about this film UNI is that it touches on the differences in the cultures of East Malaysia and Peninsular Malaysia.”

The webfilm also features acclaimed actress Jo Kukathas as the stern lecturer who pairs Roger and Ridzwan together for an important assignment, and actress Lee Qi who inhabits the part of fellow student Jen.

“The film is based on very real insights when East Malaysians travel to Peninsular Malaysia and they get a bit culture-shocked in seeing how we do things, ” said Ismail, who previously spent a month in Sabah and Sarawak purely for research after producing films celebrating the Gawai and Kaamatan festivals.

“I think that taught (me) a lot about my own ignorance, about what I don’t know, and it’s a shame, so this film highlights those issues, and I like that this time around Petronas is looking at that, to have this conversation now, rather than what we are used to.”

Said Petronas senior general manager of group strategic communications Zahariah (Liza) Abdul Rahman: “The webfilm explores our colourful dynamics as a multicultural society and how at times, it seems our differences appear to overwhelm us, yet, it is those differences that actually bring us closer together.”

The title UNI is related to unity, she said, adding that “Petronas would not be here without the support of all Malaysians.”

“I think a lot about what I would want Malaysia to look like when I celebrate my 45th birthday, ” said Ismail.

“And I hope we are more understanding of each other and of each other’s differences, ” he said, echoing the theme in the webfilm.

“In the end, there’s a whole ocean between us, and I think focusing on our differences is what makes us stronger – and I’m not just talking about differences racially and culturally. I’m talking about the introverts and the extroverts, the dreamers and the doers, the scientists and the artists. That’s what we need to focus on.”

To ramp up the triple celebration, the oil and gas giant organised a concert against the backdrop of the iconic Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur on the same night of its 45th birthday celebration, graced by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a glittering line-up of 45 Malaysians artistes and performers through the ages, including M. Nasir, Ella, Jaclyn Victor, Amy Search and Ruffedge.

Petronas’ 45th anniversary celebrations, themed #BersamaMerentasZaman and #OurTimeTogether, is the first of a longer celebration that includes a stunning digital LED screen installation at Suria KLCC, a showcase called Tree of Tales, as well as the first Petronas Time Travel Truck that promises an immersive video experience as it travels to 22 different locations across 10 states – until Sept 14,2019. Both initiatives chronicle the story of Petronas from 1974 to the envisioned future.

The webfilm is available for viewing on Petronas’ Facebook page and YouTube channel.

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