Marriage of two loves

As a child, Harun Rahman had aspired to become a photojournalist. He ended up producing documentary films on nature and wildlife, one of which won an award recently. 

HARUN Rahman was given his first camera when he was 12 years old. It was only a second-hand Yashica but he loved it. 

“I have always been interested in taking pictures and I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors,” says Harun, who is now 40 and co-runs a documentary filmmaking company called Novista with his wife Lara Ariffin. 

His interest in film and photography, which did not waver as he grew up, inspired him to pursue a degree in photojournalism when he was in his 20s. 

He went to St Cloud University just outside Minneapolis in the United States to do just this, but in the end he did not get a degree in the course that he had dreamt of.  

Early on in the photojournalism course, he had a number of opportunities to work in the radio and TV stations that broadcast to the little town near the campus, and his interest eventually shifted to broadcasting.  

“That’s how it all started – from photojournalism to radio to TV. I just switched courses to film production,” he says.  

After completing his studies, Harun returned to Malaysia with a keen desire to work in film but with no clue on how to start his career path. 

“I didn’t really have an idea of what I was going to do,” he says.  

He dabbled in freelance work, accepting any project that came his way. “I did a lot of Malay dramas but after two years of that, I had had enough,” he says with a laugh.  

Amid these long line of dramas, Harun had managed to find time for a different type of assignment: he became involved in filming documentaries and realised his true passion.  

For the outdoor-loving Harun, it seemed only natural to link his two enduring interests – nature and making documentaries.  

He became particularly determined to capture Malaysian wildlife on film. 

His zeal proved irresistible to Lara, a UK-trained architect.  

“He infected me with his enthusiasm,” she says, referring to his interest in documentaries.  

Friends since they were teenagers, the two recall blissful childhood memories spent outdoors.  

“I grew up with a forest reserve behind my house and it was my playground,” says Harun. 

Harun and Lara’s shared bond with nature blossomed into a bond for each other and the couple tied the knot in 1993.  

They run Novista from Lara’s childhood home in Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur.  

Perhaps it is only fitting that Lara and Harun should work out of a home office amongst the deep green foliage that surrounds the charming bungalows of Bukit Tunku. Despite their familiarity with their own backyard, it can still throw some surprises at them. 

“We were trying to capture images of a green hornbill for a project and chased all over the place looking for one. Then we came home and found it perched on one of the trees in our backyard,” Lara says with a laugh.  

Blessed with two daughters, Ilsa, 10 and Alysha, eight, Lara and Harun manage to simultaneously run their family and their business despite an erratic schedule.  

In Alysha and Ilsa, Lara and Harun recognise their love for wildlife and the outdoors.  

Other little girls may squeal at the sight of amphibians or reptiles but not Alysha and Ilsa who have accompanied their parents on their numerous excursions. 

The family love to travel and they have gone as far as Cape Town in South Africa.  

Lara and Harun are always careful to impress upon their children that when it comes to nature, it is not fear that should rule but knowledge and understanding.  

“I wouldn’t say that you have to be fearless to be an outdoorsy person. If you know what wildlife is about, if you know their habitat, then you have no problem,” says Harun.  

On one of their diving trips, husband and wife had to practise what they preached when they came face to face with a school of hammerhead sharks.  

“Let’s look it at from a shark’s point of view,” says Harun.  

“You’re going diving, wearing a brightly coloured suit and carrying a big tank. You’re noisy, cumbersome and blowing bubbles. The shark takes one look at you and goes ‘I’m not going to eat that!”  

In fact, he confesses, his biggest fear has nothing to do with hungry, wild animals or carnivorous marine life.  

“My biggest fear is that I won’t get the perfect shot!”  

Lara confirms this with a smile. “I’ve had to climb tall trees with Harun and balance on the branches just to get the right angle for the camera,” she says. 

The couple's love for their two daughters drives them to achieve more with their work through Novista. 

The desire to preserve, at least on film, Malaysian wildlife and heritage for coming generations stirs them to work on projects they believe in.  

The couple have handled subjects related to natural history and Malaysian culture and heritage for documentaries as well as still photography, working for clients like Tourism Malaysia, Marine Parks of Malaysia and Badan Warisan Malaysia. 

During the 18th Malaysian Film Festival held in June this year, a documentary by Novista called Temengor: Biodiversity In The Face Of Danger, won an award for best documentary.  

It was an independently financed film and took two years of their free time to produce.  

There were moments during the filming of the documentary that nearly broke their hearts, says Lara.  

“When we were on location (at Temengor), we saw the Rafflesia in full bloom but at the same time we also saw that logging was going on nearby.” 

Temengor failed to receive protection as a state park in 2003 and it is very likely the forest, along with the incomparable biodiversity that thrives within it, will soon be a memory.  

“The average Malaysian doesn’t even know what biodiversity means,” laments Lara. 

“It’s about everything around us, everything in the world’s ecosystem.”  

“There are many, many reasons to save a rain forest but only one reason to cut it down – money, “ says Harun, whose wish is that their documentaries will help educate and enlighten Malaysians on the amazing flora and fauna in their own backyard.  

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