Harlif Haji Mohamad
There had not been any Brunei movie released in the cinema until 2013 when we released our ﬁrst feature ﬁlm Ada Apa Dengan Rina.
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Brunei's first released film in Cinema
<Ada Apa Dengan Rina>(2013)
by Harlif Haji Mohamad
I started active in the creative culture ﬁeld back in the eighties with playing drum. I was a member of a family music band, Warisan (Heritage). Later I was recruited as a percussionist of the Radio Television Brunei (RTB) children band called Combo Do Re Mi. I was also an active participant in RTB children performing workshop and reality TV show where I mostly performed as a dancer, both Brunei traditional and modern dance.
Other than RTB, I was a freelance dancer joining the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport dance group which I had opportunity to perform Brunei traditional dance in foreign countries like Korea, Japan, London, Bahrain, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. I have always enjoyed promoting my culture as much as learning about others. My participation in RTB shows had exposed me to the TV productions. I started to be interested in video making and learned about videography from books. There was no video or ﬁlm making courses oﬀered in Brunei that time, so I took a course at Technical College in Brunei in Radio Television Electronic Services and learned the technical side of video making.
After graduate, I got a job as technical trainee at RTB Film Unit. It was during one of a drama TV production, the main actor didn’t show up, so the producer gave me that role. That incident had opened another door for me into TV acting. I was oﬀered the main roles in many other local TV dramas and international co-production tv drama under the Memorandum of Understanding - MOU between RTB and Mediacorp Singapore, TVRI Indonesia and Radio Television Malaysia. During the MOU drama productions, I gained a lot not only experience in acting but also technical side of it. I enjoyed observing how the foreign directors, cast and crew worked, the equipment being used and the working culture there. Many of those, I adapted and applied in my productions until today.
In 1996, I got another great opportunity to be a fellow of the ASEAN-COCI Workshop for Film and Video Students, a one-month short ﬁlm making workshop similar to the recent ASEAN - ROK Film Leader Incubator or FLY. That time, ASEAN only had 7 member states. This was a very signiﬁcant workshop for me. Having met other young ﬁlmmakers from other ASEAN countries and the hands-on experience inspired me to take ﬁlmmaking even more seriously. From that workshop, again, I didn’t only take back knowledge and experience, but also brought back my lifetime business partner. She was the delegate from Thailand, Ploy or now known as Nurain Abdullah, my producer.
I married Nurain in 1997, and 5 years after that I quit my job in Radio Television Brunei to found a production company together with Nurain in 2002. We named our company, Regalblue Production.
With Nurain’s education background in Mass Communication, mine in technical and creative, and our equipment, Regalblue Production was certiﬁed by RTB as an A category production company. We experimented and introduced new creative styles and technic in the Drama TV series and other types of TV shows that we produced. Some were well accepted by both station and audience. But some were rejected, or took sometimes before they were ﬁnally accepted. For example, using wireless lavalier for drama shooting, applied soft ﬁlter and editing styles.
In terms of manpower… that time, almost all other production companies hired foreign production crew and editors from Malaysia and Indonesia. When they got the project, they brought in crew and editor tempolarily just to complete the project. So, one of my company’s mission is to recruit and train local crew.
We wished to developed this to become industry and provide career for local people. One of our strategy, we employed 4 full-time foreign staﬀs in diﬀerent skill to help us train local, they were producer, cinematographer, editor and graphic designer. Today, these positions are ﬁlled with local manpower. We also had in-house training as well as working trip to expose local crew to ﬁlm shooting abroad and international event.Another mission of my company was to produce and release a feature ﬁlm.
The ﬁrst feature ﬁlm of Brunei was produced by the Department of Religious Aﬀairs and premiered in the cinema in 1968. However, the language used in the ﬁlm was Standard Malay, not Brunei daily language. After that, there had not been any Brunei movie released in the cinema until 2013 when we released our ﬁrst feature ﬁlm Ada Apa Dengan Rina. Before that, I attended some international ﬁlm festivals in Malaysia, Bali Indonesia and Singapore. There was no ﬁlm from Brunei. I met some Asian ﬁlmmakers and they all encouraged me to make one. I was so inspired to tell stories from Brunei through ﬁlm. Especially, Brunei language, no one had ever heard it on the big screen before. But before the digital evolution, the cost of ﬁlmmaking was very high and not aﬀordable for me.
Ada Apa Dengan Rina was also our special project to celebrate Regalblue’s 10th anniversary as we began production in 2012. It was not easy to convince any parties at all. No one believed that the ﬁlm would really be shown in the commercial cinema, and run on the cinema regular showtimes. Well, we ourselves were not sure either. We distributed the ﬁlm by ourselves. Fortunately, our experience in producing drama TV helped us get though the censorship board smoothly. We only expected 30% occupancy, but turned out almost every shows were full for the ﬁrst few weeks. The ﬁlm was shown in the cinema for 7 weeks. Back in 2013, our theatrical release was also limited by the cineplex projection technology. There were total of 5 cineplex in Brunei at that time. Only 3 were equipped with DCP or Digital Cinema Package projection. Although the other 2 cineplex accepted our ﬁlm to be shown, but we could not aﬀord to make ﬁlm print. So our ﬁlm was not shown in those two cineplex.
All our eﬀorts paid oﬀ when the ﬁlm was very well received by local public. We saw family members from diﬀerent generations came to watch the ﬁlm together. They enjoyed watching Brunei locations and hearing the Brunei language on the big screen. Many of the senior audience told us they had not watched movies in cinema since 10 to 15 years ago, and now they came to watch our ﬁlm because of the Brunei language and the Brunei stories, Brunei jokes that they can relate to. The ﬁlm is deﬁnitely not a masterpiece.. we know that we need to learn more and improve.The fact that there had not been any Brunei movie released for so long, 45 years to be exact, the ﬁlm gained international attention and was invited to screened to international audience in Singapore, Laos-Luang prabang, Myanmar, Jeddah, Korea, Philippines, among others.
By attending the international ﬁlm events, my networking with other ﬁlmmakers expanded. And we always discussed about international co-production. When you look at the ﬁlm industry in all 10 ASEAN countries, the two smallest countries would be Brunei and Laos. I asked myself, how much do I know about Lao people and culture? And how much do Lao people know about Brunei? One of the bitter answer could even be, “Oh.. I didn’t know Brunei is also an ASEAN country” !
That’s when I identiﬁed the partner for our next project. This co-production ﬁlm would be a good cultural bridge between the two countries, Brunei and Laos. So our second feature ﬁlm, RINA2 is a Brunei-Laos Co- production ﬁlm. It was released in Brunei in 2017 and in Laos in 2018.
RINA2 was also screened in international ﬁlm festival in India, Malaysia, Laos-Luang Prabang, Jordan, and Korea. RINA2 won the ASEAN Spirit Award at ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards - AIFFA2019.
I always believe that people interaction and exchange are essential. We can constantly be inspired and inspire others along the way. When we started our production company, we did not know who to refer to. There was no sharing session. Everyone just do things their own way.
Currently, we see more ﬁlm-making related courses available in higher institutes and colleges. More youths enrolled in the course too. And since there is no ﬁlm oﬃce taking care of ﬁlm industry development in Brunei yet, we have been trying to organize the sharing session and networking among Brunei ﬁlmmakers. I hope by doing this, the next generation of Brunei ﬁlmmakers will develop faster, without having to go through so much trial and error like we did before.
I am also happy that, I am not the only one on this mission. Alright. I hope my story has entertained you somehow and make you know a little bit more about my country. Thank you very much.
When my wife and I started Regalblue Production in May 2002, we invested all of our savings in this business and at that time we had only one camera. To date the company has won four RTB awards for “Best Drama TV Series” and in 2013 we produced our first feature film entitled, “Ada Apa Dengan Rina (What’s so special about Rina?)". This film was self-funded and was the first to have used only local artists; and Bruneian dialect. At that time, there were people who had doubts about what we were endeavouring to achieve, but I firmly believed in this project and was determined to see it produced.
Our team effort was rewarded at the ASEAN International Film Festival & Awards (AIFFA) in 2013, when the film received international acknowledgement for the use of dialect by winning the “Special Jury Award” and was also nominated for “Best Comedy” and “Official Selection”. Our film has also represented Brunei in 12 international film festivals around the word.
We also started the first private recording studio in 2009; and was the only company selected by the University of Malaysia Sarawak, to provide an annual 12 week industrial placement for Cinematography students. We now also train students from IBTE MTSSR Campus and Universiti Brunei Darussalam.
Our mission is to keep on raising the bar in this industry. We want to continue recruiting and training local talent who have a keen interest in the field of audio visual production. And I am proud to say that we currently have 12 staff members, many of whom have been with us for many years. I believe that our family centred environment has helped us to grow from strength to strength. We believe that it is important for our employees to be happy in order to be creative. Therefore we care about our staff and respect everyone’s skills, time, talent and hard work. (From the interview with INSPIRE)