Here’s some good news to ring in the new year!
A short documentary by two Malaysian producers was just shortlisted for the 2020 Oscars.
Photo: The Star
St. Louis Superman, produced by United States-based Malaysians, Teng Poh Si and Cheyenne Tan tells the story of Franks Jr, an activist and rapper who ran for the 2016 Missouri House Of Representatives and won. Franks Jr decided to run after the shooting incident of an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown Jr., by a white police officer.
The 25-minute-long documentary, directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan, went up against 96 other short documentaries, and made it to the top 10 list for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for the 2020 Oscars.
Teng told the StarLifestyle in an e-mail interview that they never thought their short documentary would made it this far.
“Our intent was to learn from our subject, Bruce Franks Jr, and to make sure we tell a story that is true and fair to him and those affected by gun violence and systemic discrimination from the state.” Teng wrote.
Teng who works as commissioner and senior producer for Al Jazeera English’s Witness, was inspired by the 2017 feature documentary, A Suitable Girl, about arranged marriages in India, directed by Smriti. They then brought in Sami who is a gifted director and cinematographer and Tan, who’s originally from Kuching but is now based in Los Angeles, who joined the team as co-producers to tell Bruce’s story.
Tan started her journey in creating documentaries right after film school, after seeing an ad on Craigslist for an assistant to a journalist/documentary filmmaker that led her to work alongside Smriti.
Teng on the other hand is an experienced video journalist and producer, working for The New York Times and Associated Press. She has even earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Interview for the documentary, Flirting With The Islamic State, in 2016 during her time there and have also directed and produced her first documentary, Pecah Lobang, in Malaysia back in 2008.
When interviewed by the StarLifestyle on what advice she would give to aspiring Malaysian documentarians and filmmakers, Teng said to “surround yourself with people who aren't from where you come from, and who you might strongly disagree with. Learning often comes not from being proven right, but from being proven wrong. That's a good starting point to find stories that you need to tell, and to understand the world for yourself.”
As for Tan, she is currently working on another documentary with a more local flavour.
“I think there are still so many Malaysian stories that are waiting to be told and I’m dying to see it from the perspective of the Malaysian people... It’s important for us to start telling our own stories and to support other filmmakers who are telling the stories of the marginalised, discriminated and oppressed communities in the country.” Tan told the StarLifestyle.
Way to go Tan and Teng! Way to make us Malaysians proud! We can’t wait to see what’s in store from these two amazing film producers.
By: Siti Farhana Sheikh Yahya