Areel Abu Bakar: “We Owe It To Ourselves To Be Original In Our Filmmaking”

The ‘Geran’ director shares his thoughts on what makes a good film, wayward actors and winning awards…

‘Geran’, released in Malaysia and Brunei on October 2019, showcases the Malay martial arts silat gayong and tells the story of two siblings who set out to find their younger brother after he runs off with the grant to their land inheritance.

Directed by Areel Abu Bakar, the film was produced by Layar Pictures and Tree of Hope Productions and stars Namron, Khoharullah Majid, Feina Tajuddin, Megat Shahrizal, Fad Anuar and Azlan Komeng.

Gendang talked to Areel recently about the making of ‘Geran’, his hopes for the industry and him winning the “Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema” at the 19th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF).


What inspired you to write ‘Geran’?

My inspiration began when I was a cinematographer. I had waited some 10 years for a masterpiece to work on that would allow me to explore our own culture and current issues, but that did not happen. Hence, I came up with ‘Geran’.

‘Geran’ is based on a global reality, where a family disputes over land or an inheritance, while gambling and loan sharks are issues that are currently hot in Malaysia. So ‘Geran’ can be seen as a metaphor for the strengths and weaknesses of an institution if it is wrongly managed.


What kind of impact do you think your film made on the audience?

For me personally, a film is a very subjective matter. How a film affects the viewers, positively or negatively, depends on themselves. Our minds may interpret a message we receive differently, and it can be translated into good or bad.

For me, ‘Geran’ is a success in showcasing our silat culture internationally. Now they know that we too have our very own form of martial arts, and not just our neighbouring countries.

Photo courtesy of Areel Abu Bakar


What were the key challenges in making ‘Geran’?

We didn’t have a strong financial backing or support from any agency. We just did it ‘slowly, but surely’. And we’re grateful that we made it till the end; to the screening in cinemas. I really had to give my complete focus to finish my first ‘baby’, ‘Geran’.


Why did you become a director?

I became a director because I just wanted to contribute to our people a good piece of work on culture and to acknowledge our own identity.

Nowadays, we don’t have the ‘original’ look and feel when we watch Malaysian films. We don’t recognise our own identity. Some filmmakers just refer to foreign films and replicate that.

We must change that mentality and reform our industry. We owe it to ourselves. Just show what we have from this country; the world wants to see what Malaysia has to offer and not us copying from them instead.


What are the important qualities a director should have?

A director must have knowledge and soul. The director must have a stand in what he does and must know what he’s doing – not just to say “action” and “cut” with empty fulfilment.


Would you work with an actor if he/she has a bad reputation in the industry?

No. I will not hire this kind of person. And if this happens on my production, I would just send him/her away from our set.

Photo courtesy of Areel Abu Bakar


What are your hopes for the future of the film industry?

I just hope that all Malaysian filmmakers would find originality in our work, so that when anyone watches any film or drama, they know it is Malaysian. And I hope all filmmakers will come together for the betterment of our industry. In some ways, things are improving, so we need to really focus on making more quality films.


Why was the film released in Brunei?

I don’t know how long the film was screened in Brunei, but ‘Geran’ is a Malay movie with silat and I know Brunei also has their own form of martial arts, so it makes sense to share with them what we have. The promotion could have been better, though.


We’ve heard some people say that ‘Geran’ didn’t deserve the NYAFF award. What do you say to that?

I made the film not for any award, but when I received it, I knew it is just an appreciation from a foreign country. They acknowledged this film. It is something special from a Malaysian filmmaker and now they know we’ve got a unique type of martial arts here. Filmmakers just do our jobs and appreciation is not something we look for, but it comes when our work is of good quality.

Photo courtesy of Areel Abu Bakar


What is your definition of a successful movie?

For me, it is when the audience is happy and gains something good from the film. That is very satisfying for me. I know we can’t make everyone like our film, but we can create a new ‘journey’ for the audience. Filmmakers just need to do a good job for the audience to enjoy the ‘journey’ via the silver screen.



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  1. Such an impressive interview – I’m delighted that the director focused on being true to his country’s native identity without trying to replicate a formula from elsewhere and staying true to his ideas. Wish him the best as he takes on new projects.
    Having traveled to Malaysia some, seeing this movie will be especially interesting – plan to watch it tonight.

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