“Where on earth is Brunei?” you may be asking. It is a small country bordering Malaysia, and according to the UN, it boasts the second-highest standard of living in south-east asia, behind Singapore. Also, its citizens are among the richest in the world, thanks to vast oil and gas reserves. The country is a tourist hotspot for shopping and eating. But there’s one thing missing…
A film industry. Unlike other Asian countries who have a thriving entertainment industry, Brunei is way behind, until one woman stepped up and decided to change that statistic.
The very first commercial feature film is set to be released from the tiny country, and what’s awesome is that it is directed by a woman! Her name is Siti Kamaluddin, and the film is called ‘Yasmine: The Final Fist’. No release date has been set at the moment, but it has been creating a bit of a buzz around the world on popular websites such as the Guardian, Indiewire, and Screen Daily.
These sites draw a likening to the film ‘Wadjda’ which was the first film ever to be released from Saudi Arabia, and was also directed by a woman by the name of Haifaa Al Mansour. Both these films are showing how women are the catalyst for breaking barriers in regions where they have previously been oppressed and not allowed a platform to raise their voice in any way.
‘Yasmine’ is the coming-of-age story of a girl who wants to become a champion at silat – Brunei’s hypnotic and dance-like answer to kung fu – despite her single father’s opposition.
It was made on a budget of $2million, with a $120,000 development grant from Brunei Economic Development Board. While they had a pretty decent budget for a feature, the process came with its own challenges. Brunei only has a population of roughly 400, 000 so they had to look elsewhere to fill roles on the film.
“I’m Bruneian, my line producer is from Malaysia, and it’s been a challenge getting extras. Normally you’d go to talent for this stuff but that doesn’t exist here, so we have to do it all ourselves: advertising, calling schools, sending text messages,” said director Siti in an interview with the Guardian.
Working with inexperienced crew is challenging, and it’s my first time directing a feature film, so all of us are going through this,” she adds. “It’s been a wonderful journey, but I’m not going to kid anybody by saying it’s easy.”
The lead actress is a Brunei local Liyana Yus, 20, who had never previously thought of acting as a career, but decided to give it a go.
“All of my friends have been asking me, ‘How did you get the part?'” she laughs shyly. “Being an actress never crossed my mind, but I thought I’d go for the audition and I got the part.”
In Muslim country where alcohol and live music are banned, it is a pretty big deal to see this film being made. It shows that women aren’t afraid of challenging the status quo and are willing to seek new frontiers. Feminism in its finest form!
Siti says the film is an important cultural statement about Brunei to the rest of the world.
“You see a typical Hollywood high school movie – it’s all about their lives,” she explains. “When Yasmine goes to school, she’s wearing a tudong (hijab). She has her boy problems, she fights with her parents, her grandmother eats ambuyat (a local delicacy) and lives in the water village and uses a water taxi [to get around]. I make it look really normal. Not like in a documentary-style film, but in an everyday setting. I just want to show that, yes, this is part of our culture, but actually, everybody is the same.”
The last film to be made in Brunei was in the 1960s was a guide on how to be a good citizen produced by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It seems the release of ‘Yasmine’ will change the landscape of the highly regulated broadcast industry there, and hopefully encourage a generation of women as well as men to be creative and turn to media as a powerful platform to raise their voices.
Forget any of the ‘Karate Kid’ movies, coz this film looks badass! Directed by a woman, starring a girl in the lead role, check out the trailer below uploaded by Origin Films: