Local filmmaker Abdul Zainidi returns to the big screen with his latest movie debut that features an entire cast speaking in the Tutong dialect, dubbed the ‘Janda Sumo Ulot’ (Translated: ‘Worm and The Widow’).

The filmmaker won a pitching competition for the Southeast Asian projects at the Busan Asian Film School which earned him a grant worth USD2,000 to kick start the Worm and the Widow project.

The film also represents Abdul’s desire to raise the profile of the Tutong culture and its language, having been his home-district. 

Inspired by folklore and fairytales from the Tutong district, the movie tells the story about two outcasts, a differently able individual and a widow who would lean on each other to overcome social prejudices and pressures.

The character Ulot, according to Abdul, is a hearing-impaired man in his 20s who makes a living out of selling worms in the market. 

In the movie, Ulot is portrayed as the village fool. People would come to him with their problems or woes but is never taken seriously, so in the end, the man just takes it all in. 

“To relieve himself of his everyday problems, Ulot would enter the ground and stay there like the worms he digs up and would come back out again,” he explained.

The widow, nicknamed “the witch of the village” however is believed to have killed her husband and has been living reclusively alone in the middle of the jungle.

The filmmaker said that the storyline of the “Worm and the Widow” is drawn from tales his grandmother told him growing up.  

From supernatural entities to tales of missing people, these folktales were interwoven into his childhood memories, which would later serve as inspiration for most of his movies.

The filmmaker has always been drawn to the complexities of the human experience, a theme that he continues to explore through his films and writings.

The Brunei-raised director wrote the screenplay based on his interest in Gothic literature which heavily features elements such as isolation and how the eerie setting reflects the protagonist’s state of mind.

“Gothic literature such as Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Mary Shelley ‘Frankenstein’ has always been a big influence in my writing and cinematography,” he said.

Filming the ‘Worm and the Widow’ began in January this year and took place mostly in the Tutong district, where he turned his hometown, Kg Layong into a movie set.

“The distinct landscape and endless jungles in Tutong create such an eerie and ominous setting that compliments the Gothic theme of the movie really well,” he said.

“It is like stepping into a different world,” he added.

Surreal cinematography has always been a big passion and signature for the independent filmmaker. As evident from the ‘Worm and the Widow’, which departs from the linear narratives of conventional filmmaking and realism.

In creating the cinematography of the movie, Abdul drew inspiration from the avant-garde and dream-like imageries of film directors such as David Lynch and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

“A story can be told just from the visual image of a small crack on the wall to a pile of stones on the mountains,” he explained, adding that his style has always divided local audiences due to its layers of artistic and poetic messages.

Though he acknowledged that Bruneian audiences prefer quick entertainment, he hopes that with ‘Worm and the Widow” they can come to embrace the art-house style of the movie.

Behind the scenes

The movie highlights first-time actor and actress, Haslan Hassan, who like his character ‘Ulot’ is differently-abled and Norlinah Hj Abdul Hamid who plays the widow.

According to Abdul, he wanted to cast actors with the actual physical representations of the characters to add authenticity and depth to the movie itself, hoping to provide a platform for actors with different abilities, as they are seldom recognized in the industry. 

On working with a new actor and actress, Abdul Zainidi said that it may be the most challenging part of the filmmaking process.

“They had no experience in acting and being on camera before and since some of the cast are persons with different abilities, I also had to learn basic sign language to communicate better,” he shared.

Another challenge came in the limited budget the movie had, the 30-year-old added, however, the close-knit filming and passion of the crew had helped inspire him to continue with film production. 

They managed to complete the movie in about two and a half months.

The Worm and the Widow will premiere on November 7 at The Grandstand Cinema in Seria.

About the filmmaker

From in front of the camera to behind the scenes, Abdul Zainidi has always been interested in filmmaking. 

Being enrolled in a private drama school, Cours Florent in France for three years had enriched Abdul with the ins-and-outs of filmmaking and acting.

The 30-year-old also had a chance to play the role of Prior Walter in the production of ‘Angels in America’, which won him a Lesley Chatterley best actor award.

In 2013, he co-founded Brurealism Pictures a production house that aims to produce homegrown content beyond the conventional genre. 

Equipped with a digital Canon Camera, the independent filmmaker has produced and directed several short films, including the short film ‘Bread Dream’ that was recognised at the Cannes Film Festival short film in 2012; and Vanishing Children which was featured at the Sci-Fi London Festival in 2015.

When asked about the future, Abdul Zainidi said that he plans to continue his film career in full force, with a musical and a horror movie already in the pipeline. 

Ultimately, the filmmaker is hoping to bring his experience to the table to help out his fellow local filmmakers.

This article was first published on October 31, 2020 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 113

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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