Monday, July 27, 2009

Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysian Director, dead at 51

Yasmin Ahmad is a Malaysian director who died recently and unexpectedly after suffering a stroke during a planning meeting for an upcoming project. She was a talented artist with an extraordinarily ethical and humane world view that she expressed in her work. All I have seen are short commercials she did for the governments of Singapore and Malaysia, PSA type things done with rare artistry, but her movies have won prizes at film festivals throughout the world. "Mukshin" won a Crystal Bear at Berlin in 2007; she was on the jury for that award in 2008. Her films have been honored at festivals in Tokyo, Manila, Malaysia and Créteil, France which is quite an accomplishment for a director with only six feature films, one of which was released just a few months ago. Her movies aren't really distributed in the has used copies of "Mukshin" in Region 2 PAL format DVD--you can find that here while Netflix has it listed as "not yet available, release date unknown" for the Region 1 or 0 DVD.

I have seen a number of her commercials including "Funeral" a real gem which you can see at YTSL's blog at the url below.

This is a real celebration of the multi-ethnic society of Malaysia and of Singapore. The people gathered to celebrate the life and mourn the death of David are ethnically and (one imagines) religiously heterogeneous. There are couples of the same race and others of mixed races--like David and his widow. She looks, dresses and sounds Indian while the picture of David shows he was Chinese. The ethnic diversity of the mourners is taken as given--each of them was connected to the family in different ways but all are united in their grief. The elderly Chinese couple who are foregrounded toward the end of the piece might be David's parents. They are cheered and comforted by the first outrageous but then very loving speech by their daughter-in-law.

The audience (at the funeral, standing in for the audience watching on television) react first with concern--"has Mrs. Lee lost her mind with grief and is telling inappropriate stories at her husband's funeral" to relief "Oh, she is actually making sense" to laughter and finally to understanding. "Funeral" is a delightful, low key and effective statement that the important things in a person's life are the same not matter what their racial make-up might be.

YTSL has several of Yamin Ahmad's videos, Including "Funeral" here and a post about a personal encounter with her here.

Brian has reviews of Talentime and Mukshin. Another good review of "Mukshin" is here.

While this is beyond the stated scope of this blog Yasmin Ahmed's short films were so appealing that I wanted to point them out. She was a very special and much loved artist, all but unknown in the United States. One of the things I find amazing about her is that she was an executive for Leo Burnett which has been famous for as long as advertising agencies have been famous. Her commercials were made for important, high profile clients and show that creativity and sensitivity possible even working with formal and client-driven constraints.

I hope her films will soon be available in the United States.

1 comment:

  1. Hi ewaffle --

    Thanks to your post, I have been inspired to post a trailer of "Sepet" up on my blog. Hope you and your wife will go watch and find much to like about it.

    More re "Funeral": Yes, it'd be safe to say that David's ethnic Chinese and his wife ethnic Indian. (BTW, the actress who plays the wife is Jo Kukathas -- a Malaysian national who is a respected theatre director in her own right in Malaysia.)

    Re inter-ethnic marriages: FYI, Yasmin Ahmad's first husband was ethnic Indian, her second ethnic Chinese (as well as a professional colleague of hers).

    Put another way: she really did walk the walk, not just talk the talk.