Malaysian animated documentary picked as opening film for US film fest

Soon (left) receiving an award from actress Naomie Harris (who starred in Skyfall, Spectre, Moonlight) at the Campus MovieFest award ceremony.

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian Soon King Yaw's documentary, All I Did was Smile and Say Hello, on the rising discrimination against Asians in the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic has been selected as the opening film of the KQED Homemade Film Festival.

It was picked out over 500 films that were submitted.

Soon, who is from Sabah's southwestern Tawau, said he made the animated documentary because he saw the need to spread the message of solidarity amid the increased discrimination against the Asian American community.

"I was alarmed by the amount of hate and violence one can inflict on others based on the colour of the skin when the real enemy is the invisible virus," the San Francisco-based Soon said via email.

"As an artist, I try to process the pain by making art so that something beautiful can grow out of the experience," said the 28-year-old.

As an Asian in the US, Soon feels it is crucial that his work reflects his live experiences and spread messages of solidarity.

His film caught the attention of Randy Myers, former president of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle, who described it as "Soulful and poignant with its first-rate animation."

Soon, who went to the US on a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) exchange programme, is a multi-talented artist with numerous accolades under his belt.

He said his "creative journey" began in 2011 when he won "Best of the Best Gold Award" at the Malaysia Top 10 Young Artists Awards and received a full scholarship to study digital animation at The One Academy.

Soon's first taste of film-making was in 2013 when he directed the music video "FengDian" for 8TV's Ultimate Song Reality Competition.

He completed his bachelor of arts in cinema in 2018 at the San Francisco State University.

In 2017, Soon made his first short documentary, Something Carved And Real, which tells the stories of human scars through the use of watercolour paintings.

The film won the National Best Picture at Campus MovieFest and was picked to represent Campus MovieFest at Cannes Court Metrage.

"It was a life-changing experience at Cannes, an incredibly humbling one," Soon said, adding that his short films delve into a variety of subject matter, from acceptance and belonging to familial ties.

"Deep and personal stories inspire me," he said.

"I believe that there is tremendous strength in vulnerability. And I want my art to be a vessel of that," said the San Francisco-based Soon.

In 2019, he made My Mother, Myself & I, his first narrative short film in his mother tongue. It starred Liow Yin Yin, a Johor-born actress based in California.

The film had its world premiere at the Oscar-qualifying film festival, Cinequest 2019. Though it did not win there, it was invited to screen at Caamfest, the largest film festival showcase in the US for new Asian American and Asian films, and many other film festivals.

The short film was later acquired by PBS KQED Film School Shorts for public TV broadcast, said Soon.

Soon is currently working on a new project, When I See the Wind, a collaboration with Andrés Gallegos, an internationally-acclaimed Chilean cinematographer.

Soon's dream is to write and direct a feature film in Malaysia.

"It's either that or making a music video for Yuna. That would be an ultimate dream come true," Soon said.

"All I Did Was Smile and Say Hello" is available for public viewing on KQED Website at:

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