We sit down for a chat with Lin Ariffin, a Malaysian filmmaker based in Australia, on her film career thus far, the creation of Aussie Malaysian TV (AMTV), and why chocolates are essential to her.
For those who may not know you, how would you describe yourself in a sentence?
I am social, creative, diligent, ambitious, witty and a chocoholic! Chocolate calms me down when I am under a lot of stress!
Excellent! We have more to ask about the chocolates, but for now, what caught your interest in terms of films and filmmaking?
It runs in the family! My grandfather, Allahyarham M. Zain was an actor/comedian in the legendary film, ‘Labu Labi’ and ‘Nasib Labu Labi’, acting alongside Allahyarham Tan Sri P.Ramlee. He had always been my idol!
Beyond that, we noticed that you are a graduate of University of Melbourne, focusing on screenwriting. How did you end up studying there? Is there a particular factor that drew you to the university?
I’ve always had interest in scriptwriting. My sister in law, Anne Ngasri, spotted a collection of my scripts in my shop while I was running a handicraft shop. She convinced me to submit them to the television station, and one of them got approved!
How did that lead you to Melbourne, though?
After that, I took a scriptwriting course at SEMESTA, run by my mentor, Dr. Mahadi J. Murat, while I was back in Malaysia for a short holiday. When I went back to Melbourne, I decided to enroll in the scriptwriting course, followed by the Advanced in Screenwriting programme at the University of Melbourne. I was awarded a first class honours for my final exam!
Having gone through the programme, how useful was it in shaping your career thus far?
Yes, it has helped me a lot in opening my perspective to cater for a more diversified audience in Melbourne. It has connected me to some creative and inspiring people in the industry. That really helped broaden my horizon, and jump started my career in filmmaking.
Speaking of starts, we first know about you as the producer of the short film, ‘Kasut’. It was actually made a number of years ago, but it continues to garner a huge following online, counting nearly 500,000 views on YouTube. Tell us a bit more about the film, and how it came about.
‘Kasut’ was actually a script written for my final exam in my screenwriting course at the University of Melbourne. I was inspired to film the short after I finished the final exams. I could see the character come to life and it was an emotional story that I wanted to share with my audience.
What was the experience of making the film like? Filmmaking is never easy, so we imagine that there would be more than a few challenges that you faced along the way.
We had so much fun filming. Everyone in the team was easy and fun to work with. The only challenge I could think of was most probably of the bad weather. It was raining so heavily and we had to stop filming as it started to flood!
Cool! Literally. What about the good moments? Any scenes you regard as a favourite of yours, perhaps?
The filming in a school was one of my favourite scenes. The children were so cooperative, attentive and amusing. It was so much fun working with such young actors and gosh, how talented they were!
Even now, years after it was first made, it continues to rack up big viewing numbers on YouTube. What is it about this film that makes people connect or relate to it, even after all these years
People connect to emotions they have experienced themselves. I love stories that trigger memories of such experiences. A life event that may happen to anyone and anywhere in the world, a life event that they can connect and relate to.
Agreed. That’s the basis of storytelling, we suppose.
Honestly speaking, I am not a big fan of sci-fi or blockbuster movies. It does not connect to me on a spiritual and humanity level. I like stories about the ordinary life or a subject called ‘human being’ that keeps you grounded of who you really are, and the journey of life. That’s probably the thing that makes people feel connected after all these years.
Looking through your background, we also notice how you have event management experience. I wonder how much of the above would apply to that side of your career.
In my line of work, whether it’s in filming or event management, I would say I apply the same rule of thumb: being organised, disciplined, and incredibly patient! I mean, having lots of all of them. And again, thanks to chocolate for its calming effect!
Right now, you’re working on the launch of Aussie Malaysian TV (AMTV). Tell us a bit more about AMTV, and what your role is in the project.
AMTV is a show that projects the diversity of Malaysian culture in Australia. It features lifestyle, cultural events, current issues, health and well-being, career, food, hobby and parenting, amongst others. It provides the opportunity for Malaysians living abroad (particularly in Australia) to unite and connect to each other under one platform.
It sounds intriguing! And also, a lot of work.
Yes! I act as the producer, director, scriptwriter, co-editor and presenter. I would also like to thank my hard-working team members who have joined AMTV as volunteers: Shel, Sasha, Alvern, Isaac, Ayesha, Joshua, Musa, Frank, George and Iva.
At the same time, we also invite anyone who is interested to take part as a volunteer, either to be involved in the show or as a production team member.
You touched on this earlier, but is AMTV something aimed at Malaysians already residing in the country, or as a way to introduce Malaysia to Australians? Or perhaps a bit of both?
The target audience are both Malaysians residing in Australia, as well as Australians or those of other ethnic backgrounds living in Australia. We are more than happy to showcase our rich Malaysian culture to others residing here, which is why we decided to run the show in English.
We imagine that there would be a lot of Malaysians in the country, and this is quite an interesting and unique opportunity.
According to the 2018 Census, there are more than 175,000 Malaysians residing in Australia.
Wow. What is the response like thus far?
The response has been overwhelming! The Malaysian community across Australia are reaching out to us to show their interest and support for AMTV!
Getting away from the Malaysian context for a bit, Australia has a big population of diasporas from all over the world. We wonder whether there has been a similar effort for other communities in country, like the Greeks in Australia, for instance.
There are also other community shows from various cultural backgrounds such as Africa, Russia, Greece and others. Some only run for one or two seasons, while others have long-running shows.
Despite having a good political and economic relationship, in our opinion Malaysia and Australia have not really had a consistently meaningful exchange of cinematic texts and talents. Basically, Australian films don’t always screen in Malaysia (and vice versa), so I wonder what your thoughts and feelings are on this subject.
I totally agree. That’s why we are in the midst of organising the 2020 Malaysian Film Festival Melbourne.
About flippin’ time!
Yes! Our objective is to introduce Malaysian films to the Australian audience in a more systemic way, to encourage a more meaningful exchange.
There goes our next question, though! We wanted to ask whether change should be encouraged from the top down (i.e. through FINAS and Screen Australia), or whether it should grow more organically, perhaps through creating space for the appreciation of each other’s films.
FINAS and Screen Australia are actually talking with each other and created a cooperation agreement, but there is too little awareness within film makers about the other country.
I dare say that most Australians have never seen a Malaysian film, and therefore we aim to change this with the film festival.
Finally, let’s end on you and your films. If there is one thing you wish for people to take away from your films, what would it be and why?
The one thing I wish for is that they feel that they are not watching a movie, that what they are seeing on screen is… life.
Featured image credit: Medical Media Training