Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
Abdul Kabir bin Zainidi is a Bruneian actor who is currently residing in Paris, France. He trained at the Cours Florent acting school in Paris from 2007-2010, where he won the best actor Lesley Chatterely Award in 2010 for his acting in a production of ‘Angels in America’. He is perhaps best known in Brunei as having the first Bruneian film selected into the Cannes film festival – ‘Bread Dream’ was selected for showcase in the 2012 short film corner.
Tell me about yourself.
Greetings. I am a Bruneian-born French-based artist called Abdul Zainidi. Granted, an unusual choice for a stage name but since arriving in Europe and mainly studying in England I have come to accept being called Abdul Zainidi instead of Abdul Khabir Bin Zainidi. Plus I was born with this name so to avoid further dismaying my parent's intentions, I prefer to keep my birth name as they had wanted. I feel it keeps my Bruneian roots and Islamic standing intact. At the same time the Zainidi name adds a touch of exoticism.
I consider myself truly an artist from Brunei, with my Bruneian short films made in Brunei 'Bread Dream' and 'Teluki' and 'Gagak dan Merak'. At the same time I am also a writer and I am influenced a lot by Gothic English and American literature and the writing of poets. Most of my work is rich in imagery and symbolism and draws upon symbiotics – I am influenced by Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith and Sylvia Plath to name just a few. (There are more where that came from and as endless as the bottom of a well in the middle of the North Pole). I recently shot sequences of a music video for a DJ from Lyon, called DJ Bobot Wallas and that diverted away from my usual standard surrealistic work. It was a good experience, and shooting in the heart of Paris at the Eiffel tower proved unforgettable as the people you encounter. These small comforts are what make the task of making films bearable. It is an occupation that I try to live by and have learned to love. Although it certainly does not come easy to earn a steady income as such – what can I say? It is more about the artistic recognition that comes when you are part of very few from a humble country trying to make a difference.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Abdul Zainidi, filmmaker.
Well on a general basis my daily routine consists mainly of getting up at least at nine in the morning because I feel the brain is active at this time and going jogging. Only during summer though as in other seasons I could risk freezing my talent and other nether regions of my body. I feel that artists should stay physically active and fit and this is accomplished through sport – I usually jog and swim and even partake in collective dance classes.
This may shock many people that know or follow my work but I rarely consume breakfast because I just don't feel the urge to glorify the most important meal of the day. I drink in its absence a sinful amount of coffee (an artist's beverage and filmmaker's ambrosia). Then if I have a shoot I consult with my actors or colleagues what time we are to convene and meet usually in the afternoon where I avoid eating completely. I only reward myself with lunch after a shoot. I feel that eating before makes me lethargic.
After a shoot, which could last for up to five hours, I then assess whether I am 'famished' and whether I have accomplished my objective for the day with a shoot. For me eating and making film are closely associated. There is a recurring theme of food in my work. I then return home after spending social time with friends / actors / collaborators. I don’t ignore dinner, on the contrary, I savour the feast as much as possible.
Being in my line of activity allows me to keep quite slim and active. Actually it is sport, moving the camera, processing the brain, resolving shots, following the actors with your lens. The myth is that actors exert more force than the filmmakers but in actuality it is the filmmakers who are more exhausted. Which is why I tend to sleep well after a good day's shoot - typically around 1 am in the morning, depending on deadlines.
Your work generally straddles and draws on your experience as a Bruneian and in France. How would you define a Bruneian artist? Conversely, do you think nationality has a place in art?
I feel that I represent a surreal, art-house, independent style of film movement from Brunei. As opposed to my other fellow Bruneian filmmakers who emphasize mainly action and comedy. I respect their work and suppose that residing abroad mainly in Paris has 'seeped' and 'leaked' itself into and shaped my work.
I am a fan of abstract art. I am influenced in equal measure by modern and contemporary art as well. The works of Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper are a few I am inspired by. Andy Warhol, Jean Basquiat and Yoko Ono are also artists I borrow some 'artistic tools' from. What I mean by 'artistic tool’ is that all of us artists - be we writers, painters, directors - we all have a certain feature that defines our work and just like in fashion, we all borrow and lend from each other and recycle it. In other words all artists are inspired by and borrow from each other. I have definitely borrowed, in my short films, the artistic tools of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Charlie Chaplin…to name a few. It is to an extent all acceptable and as the saying goes 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.' However outright copying identically a style is just plain plagiarism.
The sixth annual technology and entrepreneurship forum in Brunei, THiNKBIG Innovate 2013, is just around the corner, scheduled to take place on Wednesday 13th November 2013. The forum, themed “BREAKTHROUGH: Transforming Business through Innovation” will focus on how Innovation, Creativity and Multimedia have a role in driving the Brunei economy forward.
Confirmed international speakers to the THiNKBIG Innovate Forum include the following thought-leaders: Andrew McGlinchey, Head of Product Management, Google, Southeast Asia; Daryl Arnold, CEO of Newton Circus; Jonathan Buford, CEO & Co-Founder of Makible 3D Printing; Dr. Dina Ibrahim, Associate Professor in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, San Francisco State University as well as former Brunei National Rugby Captain, Steve Lai who currently resides in Singapore working as a Presenter and Senior Producer with Channel NewsAsia.
Steve will be involved in two sessions at the Forum. He will first join Dr Dina Ibrahim as a panelist on the topic of Emerging Trends in Social and Broadcast Media where they will together explore the power of the media in connecting people and its role in influencing innovation. Forum participants can expect to gain insights on how to leverage traditional and digital media to connect with new and old audiences, and also about the media’s role in building bridges between businesses.
Steve will then participate in a Masterclass on Creativity together with Siti Kamaluddin (right), Managing Director at Origin Films and Film Director of Brunei’s first-ever commercial feature film, Yasmine. The Masterclass, titled “Thinking without a Box”, will revolve around topics such as How to think and work creatively, Where does creativity come from, How to best nurture workplace creativity, and Creativity boosters and killers.
In the lead up to the Forum, Steve shared about his humble beginnings growing up as a “kampong kid” at the old flats in Ong Sum Ping, and then in Manggis Satu. “I remember chasing falling kites around Manggis after school. My parents still live in that Manggis house built on stilts and it is where I call home.”
Prior to joining Channel NewsAsia in March 2012, Steve worked at ESPN Star Sports as a presenter for Sportscenter Asia and Sportscenter India, as well as, working as a broadcast journalist for the 24hr channel ESPNews. Steve, whose first job was as a Bellboy at The Brunei Hotel recalls, “I made my first step in front of the camera in 2009, as a part-time presenter for News at Ten and World News on Radio Television Brunei.” When asked, “Where does creativity come from?” Steve replied, “Freedom. Freedom to think. Freedom to act. Freedom to fail. Freedom to try again.”
For more Forum information, visit the Asia Inc Forum website here.
At 6:15 on a Sunday morning, I am at school. I take a few moments to shake the lethargy from my sleep-heavy limbs, climb out of the car, and head past five or six huge 22-seater buses, their drivers and teachers holding clipboards, consulting important looking documents.
I smile and wave at some of my friends, who look as bemused as I am sure I must. We summon the energy to grumble at how early it is, but it is mostly token grumbling, as insubstantial and brief as the coolness of the morning. We enjoy the novelty of the situation in our secret hearts. We are assigned little jobs – “Distribute these flags”, “Check for loiterers in the toilets” – and sent on errands – “Panggilkan prefek atu”, “Can you make an announcement to gather the students in the waiting area? Thanks”.
By 6:30, more people have arrived and my fellow early risers and I melt away into the crowd, remaining as inconspicuous as we can until it is time to get on the bus. Climb in, headcount, and we're off!
A few selfies later, I am watching the roads fill up as we approach Bandar. Daring Indian bus drivers make new lanes, squeezing into seemingly impossible gaps to get us ahead in the traffic. Old Haji bus drivers in their white caps “tsk” at the impudence and impatience of young drivers today. Impudent and impatient young Malay bus drivers behind their indifferent sunglasses look for opportunities to switch lanes, Kristal FM blaring from the radio. We all watch other faces in other buses and try to guess what schools they are from. I turn to glare at a squeal further down the bus that turns heads and the squealer, embarrassed, stops her frantic waving at a familiar face passing by, reaching instead for her mobile phone.
Near the Royal Regalia building in town, we are dropped off. Teachers and students swarm around the big buses like the small dinosaurs did around the mammoths in Pixar's “Ice Age”. Policemen halt us and wave us forward. We head out, not knowing our final destination, but watching for a familiar uniform in front of us, the faces of teachers we know. I keep an eye on those around me whilst chattering away with my friends. I am careful not to be a trailblazer. Our school move out and take up our positions – in front of the old Post Office building jostling for space, then in front of the old Bolkiah Cinema under fading posters, and are finally moved to in front of Standard Chartered Bank. We stand, squat, lean against convenient surfaces and eye the Dairy Queen. A serious debate arises concerning the merits of a cold DQ over a hot egg burger from one of the many street stalls.
A Maths teacher walking past overhears and calls out in passing, “Get both lah! You can afford it, what.” The girls and I exchange good-natured mutters about how men never seem to understand about diets.
Gossip ensues. Once in a while, sirens sound and students rush to their feet, eager to show their patriotism and do the job that we have gathered here to do. Hopes rise, and fall, dashed. Gossip resumes. Repeat.
At 9:30, THE cavalcade arrives, flags wave madly, we are marched in the SOAS field and out the other side, near the Yayasan complex. Everyone is issued one bottle of water and one packet of mostly rice and one piece chicken. We eat, rest, gossip and gripe our way through an hour. Then I rouse the troops and we and march them back to the buses and school.
When we alight at the end of the journey, I remind the students not to leave any personal belongings in the bus. They check, patting pockets to reassure themselves that they have their phones and wallets.
“Cher, can we go home now?” a few ask as they climb off. I nod my head and answer in the affirmative and mobile phones are whipped out, dexterous thumbs move fluidly over touchscreens and they disperse.
I climb into my car, happy at an easy day of work well done, content to enjoy the rest of my Sunday.
Editor's Note: Mason Cooley once said, "Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are." You have just read a story by Joyce, a sneak peek into her world and some of her experiences. Who is Joyce? I asked her to share a little about herself.
She is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”
The sharia penal code announcement has thrust Brunei into the global news spin cycle. Reports and comments have been polarized. I will be watching the next cycle closely. Have an opinion about it? Share it in the comments section below.
Brunei plans to introduce stoning, flogging & severing limbs into its justice system | http://t.co/MPCxX3pu6Q— TIME.com (@TIME) October 22, 2013
Brunei announces strict Sharia law including death by stoning for adultery http://t.co/eOfQcMTe8D— HuffPost Religion (@HuffPostRelig) October 22, 2013
Death by stoning and severing of limbs to be used as Islamic punishments in Brunei, Sultan announces http://t.co/hSrKqD4k9W— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) October 22, 2013
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