‘Renai’, a tale of sacrifice and thanksgiving for Gawai and Kaamatan from Petronas
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
Petronas is back at it again this holiday season with another tear-jerking webfilm sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Celebrating both Gawai Dayak and Pesta Kaamatan, the film named after its title character, Renai, is set against the scenic backdrop of Sarawak and Sabah.
What also makes this webfilm special is that the director is Kenyah and the actors, Kelabit, making it a largely Sarawakian production.
Grab a tissue everyone
As a child, Renai who lives with her mother in Sarawak always feels neglected and that she receives little attention from her parents as her mother is always busy working and her father, a Sabahan, is away working as a porter on Mount Kinabalu.
It’s not until she grows up, however, when Renai begins to understand her parents and instead of growing up to be rebellious or resentful, she appreciates the struggle and what they had to give up to ensure she has a bright future.
A heartwarming story told from Renai’s point of view, it touches on the values of gratitude and hope which sum up the spirit of the harvest festival, celebrating the fruit of hard labour and determination invested each year into producing a bountiful harvest.
The meaning of thanksgiving
Launched by Petronas on May 25th to usher in the Kaamatan and Gawai festivals, director Philip Rom envisioned the webfilm as an atypical portrayal of Sabah and Sarawak, where both are often depicted as perfect tourism gateways.
“At the end of the day, we are not like that, we are just everyday people, living our lives,” said the 26-year-old film director of Kenyah descent.
“I understand that Gawai is predominantly celebrated by the Ibans and Bidayuhs, but having said that, I think it is for all native tribes as well because in the end I think that the message is all about thanksgiving and being grateful about your bountiful harvest,” he explained.
Focusing more on the human interest aspect rather than how the harvest festival is celebrated, the webfilm explores how these segments of the Sarawakian and Sabahan communities eke out their livelihoods and what they have to give up for their children’s futures.
“It is a moral story and I think that it is a film that has a value that is universal and everyone can sort of relate to it,” he said.
The cast of Renai
“I am really grateful for them because they are all first timers, having no acting experience,” said Philip.
Bubbly and bright, Anastazia Uding Bala who played Renai seems to live out her character in real life, playing the role of the bright, playful girl but also managing to express so much emotion on film.
Emilyn Sinangsi Ayu and Julian Lian Bala played the role of Renai’s mother and father respectively.
“For her parents, it was a bit tricky because although it was a small community, everyone was spread out. It was a lot of ground work, going around asking people if they were interested. A lot of them were shy initially, but slowly they opened up, and on screen they were really professional,” said Philip.
Also present during the webfilm launch was adult Renai played by 17-year-old Lydiawati Bujang who was wiping away tears by the end of the preview.
“I recalled the time we were shooting while watching the preview and the webfilm touched me,” she said.
Lydiawati’s Renai appears at the end of the film, in a classic homecoming scene.
Behind the scenes
While the cast were all of Kelabit descent, Philip said that initially the webfilm was supposed to be in Kelabit.
“It would have been nice, but the webfilm is for a mass audience,” he said, reasoning that while Kelabit is not a foreign language here in Sarawak, it might be distracting for a foreign audience.
“The audience will be too focused on reading the subtitles that you lose focus on the story itself. So, we tried to keep it simple and universal so that everybody could understand the context,” he said.
“And also, for the narration of the webfilm, we have somebody who is from Sarawak and you can actually tell from the accent. So, that is good enough to tell that it is from East Malaysia,” he added.
Touching on the livelihood of the people in Sarawak and Sabah, Philip said that he hopes to evoke the feeling of love which he thinks is the root of the film itself and is a universal value that everyone can relate to.
“So the idea or the insinuation of harvest in the film itself is not blatant where you see people planting or anything but it is a harvest for the parents because it is her coming back home, being successful and having graduated,” said Philip.
Taking place against the scenic backdrop of Bario, Sarawak and Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, the shooting proved to be challenging for Philip.
“For Renai’s father played by Julian Lian Bala, he had to climb Mount Kinabalu for his scene. So, he really did climb and carry a gas tank and people. So, it was a really challenging shoot,” explained Philip of Julian’s scenes which took two days to shoot.
“Even to go to Bario was challenging because of the logistics. We had to fly in the equipment and have four to six pickup trucks carrying the equipment, going on a 12-hour drive from Miri,” he added.
Shot over a month-and-a-half, ‘Renai’ was the first webfilm directed by the Kuching born film director of Reservoir World Sdn Bhd (a film production company based in Kuala Lumpur), who has mostly worked on commercials.
This year marks the fourth year Petronas has produced webfilms for the Kaamatan and Gawai festivals.
Also present during the launching of the webfilm was Petronas Senior General Manager of Group Strategic Communications, Zahariah Abdul Rahman.
“This year, we are taking a slightly different approach, by focusing on the core values that represent the meaning of Kaamatan and Gawai. Values such as hard work, determination, sacrifice and gratitude for the good fortunes that we have been blessed with in life,” she said.
Viewers can watch the webfilm starting May 26th on www.petronasofficial.com and a 60-second television commercial version of the webfilm will be aired from May 29th onwards.
Or you can watch it here: