THROUGH THE VIEWFINDER
There’s no straight line to success, says first-time director Zahir Omar.
His maiden feature, ‘Fly By Night’ was four years in the making before it got its ‘lucky break’; the movie was among 24 selected from 365 submissions to receive funding by the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Cinema Fund last year.
“Our resources were drying up at that time,” says the 36-year-old filmmaker. “The post-production funding from Busan was very important in reinjecting hope into team.”
In October, the Mandarin-language crime thriller got screened at the festival, the region’s largest and most preeminent, giving Zahir and the film more valuable exposure abroad and in Malaysia.
My first time on set, when I saw the cameras, the trucks, the people and the chaos - I thought that this is it. This is where I’m supposed to be
“I believe opportunity moves in a circle. So, you just have to be ready when it comes,” says Zahir. “It’s all about timing - what you know, what you have trained for. You (must be) at that point where you are skilled and sharp enough to know it (the opportunity) is coming and grab it.”
Zahir built his career mainly in advertising as a TV commercial director, having worked with Yasmin Ahmad at one point. (He even had a role as a VCD seller on the late director’s movie Sepet).
Those ten years in commercial filmmaking were invaluable ‘flying hours’ in preparing him for the director’s seat at the main screen, says Zahir.
“I’ve always wanted to do films. My father tried to steer me away from filmmaking.” says Zahir with a laugh. His father was a commercial director too. “My first time on set, when I saw the cameras, the trucks, the people and the chaos - I thought that this is it. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Zahir describes his filmmaking style as 'vivid, mildly shocking but never intrusive’. Fly By Night, featuring producer-actor Bront Palarae, Sunny Pang and Jack Tang, is a stylised Malaysian gangster film, one that is not lack of gore and blood on the floor.
“You push the boundaries by how you tell the story. Your intention is the most important place to start,” says Zahir.
“But if you do it for the sake of controversy, what’s the point? As a filmmaker, you have a lot of responsibility and ‘superpower’."
“For me, my superpower is connecting to people, making them feel less lonely but if you use that power to make them feel more isolated, more separated, then as a filmmaker you are responsible for that,” says Zahir.
Watch the full interview below, where Zahir talks about his next movie, a Satay Western, also featuring Bront Palarae. He also shares why he felt more nervous having his movie screened at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival than at Busan.