The RM18mil epic period piece from the renowned filmmaker needs additional funds from FINAS for domestic marketing and promotions purposes.

It’s not easy being U-Wei Haji Saari. At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur last week, the prolific 60-year-old filmmaker recounted his troubles with the local film industry.

“This is just history repeating itself. In 1993, the word ‘jalang’ (slut) was omitted from my film title and it became Perempuan, Isteri Dan…,” began U-Wei.

“In 1998, people told me nobody was going to watch Jogho because the Kelantanese dialect was used widely in the film. But today, that perception has changed.”

Jogho earned its actor Khalid Salleh a best actor award at the 43rd Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan. Back then, Khalid became the first Malaysian actor in 41 years to win the award after the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee’s victory in 1957.

Apart from that, U-Wei’s Kaki Bakar was the first Malaysian film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. However, the film was only released locally in 2001 after being shelved due to financial constraints.

Today, it looks like the same thing is happening to U-Wei’s latest film, Hanyut. Completed in 2012, the film’s release date has been delayed since December 2013.

The period piece is based on the novel Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad. Published in 1895, the novel is about a Dutch trader who is obsessed with finding gold in Malaya. The film stars Australian actor Peter O’Brien, Sofia Jane, Diana Danielle, Adi Putra and Indonesian actor Alex Komang.

“We’ve always talked about wanting to produce Malaysian films that are up to international standards. I believe if you want to be international, then you must behave (accordingly),” noted U-Wei.

Shot on location in Pahang, Hanyut’s budget so far is RM18mil. U-Wei revealed that he had requested for an additional RM2mil from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) to promote the film locally. The request is currently under consideration by FINAS.

According to FINAS chairman Datuk Afendi Hamdan, they have not approved or denied U-Wei’s request for more funds. 

“We need to seriously consider the request as it is a huge amount. We have already provided U-Wei with RM2mil in 2010 under the Nationhood and Heritage film production funding,” said Afendi when met at the 26th Malaysia Film Festival post-party event in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, last weekend.

He added: “We also believe that when you’re making a film with an RM18mil price tag, you should have set aside funds for marketing. In anything you do, marketing is an important element to ensure your film’s financial success. We would have suggested for them to allocate at least 40% of the film’s production cost for marketing.”

“I’ve been looking for ways to release the film intelligently. I want to do the film justice, therefore, I need to promote it well. I don’t want Hanyut to end up like Kaki Bakar and Jogho,” said U-Wei.

Despite Jogho and Kaki Bakar’s critical success, both films were box-office failures in Malaysia. U-Wei admitted that as a filmmaker, he needs to learn how to distribute his films in the best way.

“We spend a lot of time learning how to make films, but I have realised that a film without an audience is incomplete,” said U-Wei.

FINAS acting chairman Dr Megat Al-Imran Yasin noted the corporation has to consider other filmmakers’ requests as well from the RM15mil Nationhood and Heritage film production fund.

Said Afendi: “FINAS is not Santa Claus. We are, currently, seriously considering U-Wei’s request. Before it’s approved, we need to show how U-Wei’s side is planning to manage the (additional) funds. We want to see full justification.”

He insisted that FINAS is not trying to prevent the film from getting released in Malaysia. However, he declined to comment on when FINAS will give an answer.

“We have a stake in the film as well and we want it to be successful. We’ve seen Hanyut ourselves and we can tell you that it’s a good film,” revealed Afendi.

Long way home: U-Wei Haji Saari has put off the release of his latest film Hanyut to wait for FINAS to approve his request for an additional RM2mil of funds.

U-Wei hopes to release the film by the end of this year once the request is approved. At the moment, Hanyut is being released in Indonesia in 100 cinemas this week. Just like Perempuan, Jalang Dan…, U-Wei said he has to grit his teeth at Hanyut’s title change to Gunung Emas Almayer for its Indonesian release. “I understand the need for it,” he noted.

For local viewers, it looks like Hanyut will continue to drift away at the moment. However, U-Wei – who spent 10 years developing the script for Hanyut before going into production in 2010 – promises that the wait will be worth it.

“The test of time is cruel. I’m really proud of this film. I want to market it as a local film with international standards. But for now, I have to wait for when the time is right.”