BMW Shorties award-winning film 'Hawa' is not just about a zombie

"Hawa symbolises how racial discrimination, the virus, gets in the way of true unity in our nation," director Tan Ce Ding says

By Verinia Khoo | Published: 30 Dec 2016

Not just a zombie
Photo: 24fpsfactory

It's been a week since Tan Ce Ding's big win at the prestigious BMW Shorties event where his short film Hawa – about an zombie virus-infected girl named Hawa and a boy named Meng – earned him the Grand Prize as well as awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Sound Design.

It was Tan's first BMW Shorties win since participating in the competition every year since 2009. The Sunway University graduate began his career as a production assistant before working his way towards becoming a director. He now has over a hundred TV advertisements for many brands across various industries under his belt.

We caught up with the budding 25-year-old filmmaker to talk about his tear-jerking short film.

What does winning awards at the BMW Shorties mean to you?
The BMW Shorties is the longest-running and most prestigious short film competition in Malaysia, and the judges are renowned filmmakers in this region, so the awards meant a lot to me and my team. I hope the award will help boost my career and allow me to participate in film festivals outside Malaysia. I want to keep doing what I love.

How does Hawa relate to real life, and is there a reason you chose to illustrate it with a zombie outbreak?
Hawa symbolises how racial discrimination, the 'virus', gets in the way of true unity in our nation. We thought it would be interesting to set the story during a zombie outbreak because in that world, race would no longer be something that divides us. Instead, what would concern us more is the pandemic.

How long did the entire filmmaking process for Hawa take?
It took us about six months to craft the story, and four days to shoot the film.

From left: Edward Lim (producer), Tan Ce Ding (director) and Andy Darrel Gomes (writer) [Photo: Onion Kung]

What setbacks did you encounter while making this film?
It took us a while to write the script. At the end of 2015, we had a general premise: a boy trying to befriend an infected girl. Because the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, there were many possible plots. So we put ourselves in the shoes of the characters to understand what children would do under the circumstances and narrowed it down to this story.

Finding filming locations was challenging, too. What we wanted was specific: two houses facing each other, enabling the little girl to see what goes on in the front yard from her window.

What's your main goal when making a short film?
I always love crafting something fresh that has not been done before. For example, Hawa is not merely about a Chinese boy wanting to befriend a Malay girl. The setting was different – a zombie apocalypse. I like to bring out the human side of things, seen especially when the characters are under extreme situations.

A scene from Hawa

Is there a lesson we can learn from Hawa?
It is always about humanity. At first, Hawa never wanted to be friends with Meng. She had accepted her fate and waited for her transformation to come full-circle. Although she is physically alive, she's dead inside. But in some way, Meng sparked her empathy. In the end, although she had to lock herself away (just like in the beginning of the film), she did it out of innocent compassion for Meng.

What's next?
We want to focus on developing and expanding Hawa's script into a feature length. As I mentioned earlier, we had so many ideas for the short film, so now we may be able to dig deeper into the background stories of the main characters.

Follow Tan Ce Ding on Vimeo and on Facebook and watch Hawa below.

Related: Tan Ce Ding's 'Hawa' wins BMW Shorties 2016

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