Jin Craven has experience in a wide assortment of fields. Image source: secondavenueproductions.com

Interview with Jin: The Story So Far

Happy New Year! We’re going to kick things off with an interview with Jin, the film’s producer and director.

We hope this interview brings you up to speed on the film’s progress, and some of the creative decisions Jin’s had to make over the course of creating the film.

What stage are you at in the film’s development?

Early post-production. This involves discussions with the video editor, firming up editorial lines, paper edits, visual pulls, and then producing a rough cut.

Have you achieved everything you wanted to with the film so far?

I think I have the material I need to make a compelling film, even though I wish I could have gone this place and that, filmed everything on my wish list. But I have plenty of wonderful material, and this is real-life documentary and not scripted fiction. I chose to allow the film development phase to “breathe”. Doing that, there is more room for unexpected developments to accommodate, since Zakii leads an active life. But then we’ve also had the chance to capture material that allows us to share certain truths about Zakii, his art and contemporary life that takes the film to a better level.

How has the film’s story developed during its creation? Have any new angles or ideas been thrown up that you’ve wanted to incorporate?

I started with a modest premise of a niche art documentary. My intention was to raise awareness of a little-documented but very talented artist in Southeast Asia, and put his creative development in context of his environment and globally.  Very soon, however, I realised that there was potential for so much more. I see this as a socially significant film, whose key subject happens to be an amazing artist. It is the character of the man that fascinates me – and my crew, for that matter. So now I have these questions: What drives us along certain paths in life? What inspires you to aspire? For some of us – why do you want to be an artist? I am inviting viewers to understand the creative life and oeuvre of Ahmad Zakii Anwar using this framework in the film. Yet viewers can have that space for personal reflection, too.

What has been the most difficult aspect of the film? What has been the easiest?

You mean besides not going insane with workload as producer-creative director-business owner? Well, ethical aspects of dealing with certain subject matter, combined with logistical aspects of making pre-production/production plans with an artist subject who marches to his own beat – that was a challenge that taught me to truly embrace the documentary filmmaking experience and respond accordingly! On the other hand, Zakii has generously given me an array of exciting personal photo archives for use in the film, all captured in very high digital quality – an amazing privilege.

 

Jin and Zakii on location in the Leake Street tunnel, London.

What would you like to see happen in the near future?

Of course, a near-term goal is to get the film packaged as soon as possible. That means getting to picture lock, then putting all the bells and whistles on, such as desired colour grade, original music, captions and titles, and so on. Sign off poster artwork, too. To be presentable for the film festival rounds! But… before that, I’d follow up on distributor contacts who’ve asked to see the rough cut version…
Having said all this, getting the film shaped the way I want it is the priority – deadlines notwithstanding.

What have you learnt throughout the process?

That patience is a virtue! Hmmm…and that you can never have enough cloud storage space…. In our era of international projects and collaborative work models, virtual media sharing, discussions and back-ups is very much part of project flow. So it is with this film throughout. For the editing stage, using new technology beats the old method of sitting for hours over many days in a freezing basement surrounded by chunky editing machines. But you can’t get away from the face-to-face. For a film that dwells, among other things, on changing social values, my experience confirms the truth that we mustn’t forget the art of staying human.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the process?

That I’m still alive.

What advice would you give to yourself at the start of the project?

Some elements of the film may be controversial to some people; there were certainly people who advised me against touching on certain issues. Yet exploring these dimensions is so essential to a deep understanding of Zakii’s work and of our contemporary life generally. I would like to have been less wavering in those early days, and got to this point of conviction a whole lot sooner.

What advice would you give to a young film maker starting out in their career?

I’m not in a position to do that! But maybe one thing I might suggest is: know yourself and therefore the kind of work you want to make, and the kind of filmmaker you want to be. Find your purpose.


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Zakii Film OfficialInterview with Jin: The Story So Far

Comments

  1. Robert Martin

    I would like to know more about the directors comments concerning potential controversial aspects of the film that she wishes she come to grips with early on. Are these issues sexual (sexuality), political, religious? What issue is she referring to specifically?
    I suspect that these issues are among those that make Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s work so compelling.

    1. Jin Craven

      Dear Robert

      Thank you for your thoughtful question!

      I agree with you – Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s art is intriguing because it reflects his honest creative responses to his environment and there is much more than meets the eye in his work; the film offers clues to what lies beneath.

      In more conservative societies such as Malaysia, other parts of Asia and the Middle East, Zakii’s imagery can rub against current social, political and religious thinking. Even in matters of film distribution, there are requests to be discreet about representations of the body and “religion”/“politics”. This contrasts with the attitude found in more open societies elsewhere in the world; the film sheds light on this very real gap that is sometimes overlooked in more liberal societies.

      Given recent global events, I asked myself how my principal subject’s safety might be affected when exploring issues related to sexuality, religion and politics – because sadly, dangerous irrationality does currently prevail in matters of identity. Early discussions with a mix of people actually yielded some fearful responses! Others were encouraging. But in my view, Zakii’s work is philosophically and socially significant, and very timely – that contextualises his masterful craft – such that all the elements need to be examined holistically and truthfully. Indeed, this complex richness is what serious artists can bring to the tableau of life in challenging preconceptions/conceptions/misconceptions as we try to make sense of ourselves and this world.

      I hope this answers your question, Robert, and I’d love to hear your further thoughts or questions if you wish to share them here.

      Sincere ‘thank you’ for your continuing interest in the film!
      Best wishes,
      Jin

      1. Robert Martin

        Dear Jin,

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful answer. I see upon
        reflection that my question was rather naive given the complexities
        of your assignment and the often contradictory values you must
        be balancing. I am sure you must feel at times like making a different
        film for each of your varying stakeholders!

        I own two rather large Zakii works: one a smoker series oil/acrylic? painting and the
        other a charcoal male nude. Both are tantalizingly ambiguous and that
        is what drew me to them in the first place. The smoker hints at an absence,
        or perhaps a secret that cannot be shared. The smoker is on the left facing
        away from the viewer, there is an empty Chinese chair highlighted on the
        right. Ambiguous anticipation hovers over the scene. The nude is
        ambiguous in a different way. He is sensuously floating facing downward. Most people
        do not see it as a nude at first, but rather often say first they see clouds on a moonlit
        night. (Sorry I cannot seem to attach the images here)

        Being a gay man myself, I view these two paintings to a certain extent within
        a gay context. I realize however that Zakii may not have been referencing sexuality at all, or
        that sexuality was just one of many themes. For example, I suspect that Islamic proscription
        of nudity is a greater theme to Zakii in the charcoal nude than sexuality.
        But I am certain that I am not alone in appreciating Zakii’s works from
        the vantage point of sexuality while at the same time not overlooking the
        wider philosophical, social and religious impact of his work.

        I wish you all success on your valuable project.

        Robert Martin

  2. Jin

    Dear Robert

    I much enjoyed hearing your thoughts – thank you for sharing.

    Indeed Zakii’s art operates at many levels, with sexuality / sensuality being one of them. Similarly, atmosphere and ambiguity are signature touches in Zakii’s work, with deliberate intent. It has been an exciting journey exploring his environment, symbolisms, inspirations and ideas through the film! They are indeed very relevant for our times.

    What a pity we are unable for now to see images of the Zakii works you have. If you get lucky with attaching them eventually, you’re always welcome to post them here! I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’d love to see them…

    Thank you so much for your best wishes and welcome support!
    Jin

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