Creating a truly Sarawakian film industry
by Lim How Pim
SARAWAKIANS have succeeded in many industries but you’d be prompted to scratch your head if you were asked “ are there any film producers – or even one in the making – among us?”
If you still offer an instant ‘No’ as answer, it could mean you have conveniently left out Bjarne Wong, a local boy who has produced at least two films so far.
While many of us may not be optimistic about pursuing filming as a career, particularly in Sarawak, Miri-born Annie Goh remains a believer of the impossible.
A budding local producer and acting enthusiast, she has already started some foundation work towards producing an absolutely local film.
Proud to be a Sarawakian, she wants non-Sarawakians, if not the entire world, to discover what her homeland has to offer – from unique cultures, traditional musical instruments to local delicacies and what people from the Land Of Hornbills are capable of.
Becoming a director and a producer never crossed her mind until an actor friend Henry Thia from Singapore, posed her an intriguing question: Why don’t you go set up a filming company and start shooting all about Sarawak?
Despite her burning passion for acting, she had a hard time getting past her doubts about becoming a film producer.
“Is that a truly great idea? What if it does not work out the way I want it to,” she found herself asking.
It took her a while to figure it was worth a shot.
Charting A New Course
Heeding Thia’s advice, Annie decided it would be better charting a new course than following in the footsteps of others.
The moment she made up her mind, the formation of Star Crews Connection Agency Sdn Bhd’s (Star Crews) followed. She is now running the company with a couple of partners, including Thia and another Singaporean actor Alvin Giam.
“I hadn’t the slightest idea about producing films even though I’m intensely interested in acting,” Annie told thesundaypost.
She couldn’t be more grateful for the extensive assistance from both Thia and Giam who are now her best friends besides being in the business together.
“It’s a first step but a huge one, indeed. It has also dawned on me I should do something people here have not done before,” she explained.
From setting up the company to shooting her first film, she needed all help she could get – plus lots of her own effort.
Thia and Giam whom she came to know in the early 90s, are most generous with their advice, which, in many ways, cleared the obstacles for her to build a new career.
How she got to befriend artistes in Singapore is a long story. To cut a long story short, she thanked an employment opportunity at Television Corporation of Singapore (now MediaCorp) for her introduction to hosting and acting. She got the break when her father was receiving medical treatment in the city state many years ago.
Back then, she had always wanted to be an actress, saying “acting and hosting a TV show is what I enjoy very much.”
In 1993, she even entered a talent show – Star Search Singapore. But she will never know if she could have won after deciding to pull out of the contest to be with her mother.
“At that time, it was only mum and me. The thought of her being in Miri and me away in Singapore chasing my dream made me a little sad. So I withdrew and returned home.
“Deep down, I knew the chances for me to start an acting career in Sarawak were pretty slim. Good thing I never gave up.”
Notably, Annie made it through the preliminary rounds of the Star Search Singapore 1993 in which Ivy Lee was the champion.
This, however, did not get Annie down. She always knew what she wanted to achieve in life. And her steely determination led to her producing her inaugural 40-minute film about Kuching Life Care Society.
The purpose of the film was to create and heighten public awareness of what the Society does and how the community could chip in for a good cause.
She regarded the experience as key in the learning process for her filming team.
“It’s a win-win situation, considering we were relatively new and Kuching Life Care Society badly needed a mechanism to promote its works.”
Annie’s second film is set for release this December. Meanwhile, the company has to sort out some issues with the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia.
The Third Production
Even before wrapping up the second production, Annie is already working on the concept for her third, likely to be titled Life of Sape.
She couldn’t have been taken aback more than when learning there were people with no idea what a sape is.
The sape, carved from a single bole of wood, is a traditional Orang Ulu musical instrument.
“Local talents will be hand-picked for Life of Sape. In fact, the first batch of trainees in our company who recently graduated will take part in the film,” she revealed.
Star Crews operates an acting academy which had organised a two-month training course that turned out 30 graduates between six and 55 years old.
The graduates showed nothing but enthusiasm for acting, given the steep fee of RM5,000, not to mention the costs of flying into Kuching from Miri, Sibu and Bintulu every weekend over two months.
Besides Life of Sape, Annie looks forward to producing a film on the background and development of local basketball.
She revealed the film would feature friendship, kinship and relationship instead of the sport itself. As she already has two potential actors in mind, auditions will be held for the other roles.
“I have come across a pair of siblings who are local basketball players. We will probably approach them. An audition or two will do for the rest of the roles.”
For both Life of Sape and the basketball film project, Star Crews will collaborate with two other local companies – Borneo Media and Filming Sdn Bhd and Star Multimedia Lab – to make better pictures for audiences.
Annie believes there’s more she can do for Sarawak in terms of filming.
While setting her sights firmly on making more local movies, she hopes to garner as much local support as possible in this quest.