Hassan Abd Muthalib, father of Malaysian animation was the guest speaker at the August edition of Sharpened Word held on Saturday, August 20. The session, which lasted from 2pm till 5pm, was well attended.
Hassan or Pak Hassan is a self-taught filmmaker, film critic, artist and designer who directed the animated ‘Sang Kancil’ series and ‘Silat Legenda’, Malaysia’s first animated film. He has been in the film industry for 50 years and his works include the book entitled, ‘Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle’.
This edition of Sharpened Word was called a Short Film Fest, as that was the emphasis. Two short films were shown, ‘The Lunch Date’ and ‘Toyland’ before Hassan began his talk on ‘The Extrinsic and The Intrinsic: Secrets of Visual Storytelling’.
“A good film needs only three things. First, it must entertain. Second, it needs to have something to say, though films don’t deliver messages. And third, it depicts culture,” said Hassan.
He described the elements in the two short films to make the audience better understand. A good short film is done in continuous time, continuous action with a twist at the end. Continuous time refers to something that occurs in a few hours or a day.
“At the age of 75, one of the most famous directors in the world, Akira Kurosawa said that he was finally discovering what a film is about. Can you imagine that? A mentor of mine made me realise what film is; cinema is spiritual,” he continued.
As Hassan explained, he showed stills taken from films such as ‘Tokyo Story’, ‘Life of Pi’ and adds-on topics on films like ‘The Last Samurai’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 2’. This enlightened the audience.
When watching a film, every position has a meaning. That is why in war films, if there are two sides fighting, the one on the left will definitely win. The sky, in films symbolises spirituality or God. So does the colour yellow.
“For instance, ‘Lion King’ is about destiny. That’s why the sky is so dominant, and also the scene of stars in the sky. If a film is about destiny, scenes of stars in the sky represent it,” Hassan said.
“A good director speaks by involving the audience in the process of storytelling so both sides take on a journey to appreciate the story, from beginning till the end,” he uttered.
If a person’s face is dark on one side, it means he is the bad guy. And that explains Darth Vader from ‘Star Wars’. If a person is introduced from the back, it also represents a bad person.
Films consist of film grammar and film language. Film grammar is what we see. Film language on the other hand, is what comes out of the arrangement. The costume, the background and the colours, the framing of each scene, each represents a definition of their own.
When a character in a film is reflecting himself in a mirror, it means he is psychotically problematic. Circles in a film represent negativity too.
Many films are done based on paintings, which is something Malaysians still lack today. Study a painting then get the whole picture of a film after that.
“The secret is to follow the rules, break them then come back to the rules,” Hassan concluded.
After his talk, five short films produced by Ipohites were reviewed by Hassan. His critique was a definite eye-opener to the audience.