Singapore | 20min | English, Balinese | English Subtitles | DV
- Singapore Short Cuts, National Museum of Singapore 2011
- Jakarta International Film Festival, Indonesia 2011
- Thai Short Film and Video Festival, Thailand 2011
- Singapore Short Film Festival, Singapore 2010
‘Daniel Hui displays a sensitivity to the general ambience that surrounds her, and I am not just referring to sound. There is a great sense of intimacy with her and it is not established from the incredibly tight shots but from the way the camera lingers on very day-to-day details of her life, sometimes without even anything happening throughout.’ – Sindie
A Balinese housemaid works in a home that is not her own. She is the invisible class in Singapore, an unseen population for whom the land is merely transitory. In part a reaction to Eric Khoo’s No Day Off (2006), the film is a collaborative effort whose aim is for you to simply look at her—because, after all, choosing what to see and listen remains the most political act we do every day.
One day, I was wandering around Bukit Timah Shopping Center when I chanced upon rows and rows of maid employment agencies. “50% discount off a maid!” one said. “Only $400 starting pay!” another said. The maids (mostly Indonesian, some Burmese and Thai) were lined up outside the stores, sitting on chairs. One of them gave me a nervous smile. At that moment, I couldn’t speak. Like many Singaporeans, I too, feel guilty for the conditions of maids in this country.
You see, my family does employ maids. I don’t like it, but they do. I was practically raised by one; my mother was too busy providing for the family when I was a child. She is my second mother. I love her and miss her every day. I owe her everything, and she owes me nothing.
That was why I’ve always felt uncomfortable with Eric Khoo’s No Day Off. Yes, it’s a well-made film. Yes, its stories are too often true. I was moved by it too. But I felt that it demonizes middle-class society to the point of making the maid a martyr, just like the donkey in Au Hasard Balthazar. How is that any different from the maid agencies in Bukit Timah Shopping Center? One sees the maid as a saint, the other sees the maid as a product. Neither sees her humanity.
Making Rumah Sendiri taught me one thing: let people speak for themselves, never speak on the behalf of anyone. Of course, it’s important to remember that the camera is looking at the person. It is, after all, always the filmmaker’s point of view. But that shouldn’t have a bearing on who and what the person (or thing, or place) is. To me, that’s the meaning of respect.
Yanti is a very dear friend of mine. She’s been there at my lowest point, and I’ve been by her side to comfort her. I wish we could see each other more often, but now we live 8000 miles apart. I made Rumah Sendiri with her collaboratively. She would tell me what she wanted to do, and I would shoot her, directing her actions slightly. The song at the end was her idea. I asked her to think of a song from her childhood. She chose that one. I didn’t know what it meant until I got it translated by a friend in the U.S. When I understood the lyrics, I cried. It was what she wanted to say to me, to us.
There’s still a lot to be done regarding maids in Singapore. Besides our barbaric habit of mistreating them, we should all be in full support of the proposed bill granting them a day off. To see them as human beings means to acknowledge their leisure, their sexuality, and their freedom. They should not be chained to capital. But before that, we have to learn how to see them. And maybe that’s what cinema should be after all, learning to see the right way.
Daniel Hui is a filmmaker and writer. A graduate of the film program in California Institute of the Arts, his films have been screened at film festivals in Rotterdam, Hawaii, Manila, Seoul, Bangkok, and Vladivostok. His writings have been published in prominent cinema journals, including the Cinematheque Quarterly of the National Museum Singapore. He is the contributing editor to the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) online journal, Cinemas of Asia. He is also one of the founding members of 13 Little Pictures, an independent film collective whose films have garnered critical acclaim all around the world. He recently won the Pixel Bunker Award for International New Talent at the Doclisboa International Film Festival for his début feature film Eclipses.
Country of production: Singapore
Production Companies: 13 Little Pictures
Running length: 20 minutes
Year of production: 2010
Language: English, Balinese
Original Format: DV
Screening Format: Digibeta/MOV File/DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Ni Luh Sri Suyanti
Photographed and directed by Daniel Hui
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