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An Interview with KLEFF 2017 Winners: Special Merit Award Winner – The Master Weaver

An Interview with KLEFF 2017 Winners: Special Merit Award Winner – The Master Weaver

The KLEFF team caught up with one of our Special Merit Award winners, Eugene Chin from the Borneo Art Collective, who directed the film The Master Weaver, which was screened during the ASEAN Film Makers’ Night, KLEFF 2017. Check out our interview with this inspiring film maker as he talks about his films, involvement in KLEFF and challenges in film-making.

Eugene (second from left) and his team.

Hello Eugene, congratulations on winning the Special Merit Award!! How did you hear about KLEFF and what inspired you to submit your film to KLEFF?

I learned about KLEFF in 2013, when my first short documentary film, “Pulau Ubin”, was made. It was nominated for the “Best International Short Film Award” by KLEFF that year. In 2017, the Borneo Art Collective kick-started one of the most ambitious projects ever done in Kuching; a 30-day road trip across the northern part of the world’s third largest island, Borneo, in search for stories to be told. One of them is Indai Bangie, an Iban lady living in a remote longhouse located inland of the nearest town, Kapit. Indai Bangie later became the subject of our humble film, “The Master Weaver”. The overwhelming response received in the wake of the film’s release inspired us to seek a larger platform for its feature and that’s when KLEFF, an ecological-themed film festival which aligns with our goals and vision, came into the picture.

Can you tell us about your film and what inspired you to tell the story?

“The Master Weaver” features Indai Bangie ak Embol, an elderly Iban lady who is regarded by her community as a master in ‘Pua Kumbu’. A dying art, ‘Pua Kumbu’ is an Iban craft of textile weaving. Its decline is attributed to the dearth of apprenticeship, conservation effort and public awareness. Indai Bangi tells the story of her struggles, the visitations of spirits in her dreams, and her hopes for the art of their ancestors in “The Master Weaver”. Understanding the endangered nature of this traditional art was what inspired us to spark a dialogue with this film, to challenge the notion amongst the public that some traditions and aspects of culture might be old, but not obsolete.

The BTS of Eugene's team working on documentation for their film.

Were there any challenges in the making of the film? Can you share one with us?

Yes, there were. Our team comprised of members based in London, Stuttgart, and Singapore, and for us urban dwellers, the first few nights living in the longhouse with Indai Bangie and the other weavers needed some getting used to. We also had to make sure we charged our recording equipment every night before 10 p.m., which is when the generator; the sole energy source of the village, would be shut off. Despite everything, it was an exciting and adventurous experience for all of us; we took showers in the river together, and even climbed the hill to fetch wild herbs for dinner!

That aside, another notable challenge we encountered during the project was the language barrier between our team and majority of the villagers. Most of the villagers including Indai Bangie, did not share our common language of Malay and English, nor us with their native tongue, Iban.

As a result, we had interpreters working alongside us during filming and post-production to ensure that we got the translation right. One little hiccup in the translation to English subtitles after the completion of our film was a line by Indai Bangie; “I was married for twelve years”, which we had misinterpreted to mean “I was married at the age of twelve”.

Indai Bangie, a master in 'Pua Kumbu’, who struggles to preserve the dying art.

If you attended the KLEFF awards in 2017, how was your experience at the festival? Could you describe your audience’s reaction to your film? Did you think the audience understood their role in the issue highlighted in your film?

Yes, I attended the KLEFF awards night and found it to be an inspiring experience, which also allowed me the chance to meet many like-minded people with whom I share a similar passion. During the Q&A after the screening, I was surprised that many of the audience were curious about the art of Pua Kumbu. I was asked so many questions! A lady from France approached me after that, and told me she was moved upon seeing the film. I pondered that the intended purpose of this film was realized, and it motivated me to work for the cause most close to my heart.

Are you currently planning to make any more environmental/ community films? If yes, would you be able to share a bit of the plan with us?

Yes, I am. I’m currently in the midst of starting a community-related documentary in my hometown of Kuching, with the goal of representing the identity of Kuchingnites with the collective voices gathered.

What is your message to all the filmmakers out there about making environmental/community films?

To be honest to yourself in storytelling and be bold.

Some of the Iban residents at Rumah Gare longhouse during The Borneo Art Collective's journey in documenting 'The Master Weaver'.
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