Posted: 26 Jun 2011 01:18 AM PDT
Filmmaking duo Ahmad Yazid and Lydia Lubon talk about their love for documentaries, and their latest provocative doc on the fugitive terrorist, Mas Selamat.
AHMAD Yazid and Lydia Lubon are more impressed with real life than with fiction.
Yazid's love affair with documentary filmmaking began much earlier than Lubon's.
Evidence exists in the form of a discoloured photograph documenting his three-year-old self with a Lego camera, which relatives say he carried around all day much to the amusement of onlookers at his aunt's wedding a long, long time ago.
During his childhood, he never tired of trailing his father, who worked as a cameraman stringing for Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM).
At age nine, when kids his age were playing video games, Yazid was glued to his father's editing suite. He soon started helping his dad edit videos and, when he was strong enough to carry the camera, he began filming.
Needless to say, no one in his family was surprised when Yazid finally said he wanted to become a film director. He's now 27 and living his dream, having co-founded local production house Rack Focus Films with Lubon, 32, three years ago.
Lubon, on the other hand, had her epiphany just after the advent of the new millennium. She was 23 and had just returned from Colorado, United States, after getting a degree in Communications.
Her mother had installed satellite broadcast television, Astro, in their Ampang, Selangor, home, and Lubon finally discovered the Animal Planet channel. "I'd always thought of filmmaking as a job for people who make fiction," she says, explaining why it was such an important moment for her.
Having made the transition from her teen years – when MTV and Beverly Hills 90210 seemed a lot more interesting – Lubon found that the documentaries about wildlife and the plight of critically-endangered species across the planet had a powerful impact on her.
Says Lubon: "The power of film and the fact that really important messages could be delivered in a very powerful way to someone who was totally unaware of a particular issue – that's what drew me. I just thought, I want to be a part of this."
Armed with a series of internships, stints as a production assistant and endless lists of game shows under her belt, fate finally placed her on the same set as Yazid. They clicked instantly through shared ambition and a similar outlook on life.
"We found common ground in the fact that we were both young and wanted to do something bigger than what we were doing then," Lubon shares.
Today, along with two new employees and an intern, they inhabit a nice airy white office space surrounded by jungle in Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur. When they started Rack Focus Films they were the youngest production house in Malaysia; today they're producing documentaries for international satellite television channels.
Their last few documentaries, Al Maunah: The Malaysian Arms Heist and A Brotherhood Of Bandits, were both aired on the Crime & Investigation Network channel, and Al Maunah was also screened on the History Channel. Both featured guns, men in uniform, violations of national security and truckloads of suspense, and were about the biggest arms heist to take place in Malaysia and the country's most notorious organised crime ring, the Mamak Gang.
Their latest documentary, however, is special, both due to the controversy surrounding its subject matter and Yazid's personal interest in exploring the psychology behind terrorism. Mas Selamat: The Fugitive Terrorist, which premieres on Thursday on the Crime & Investigation Network channel, will feature never before seen live footage of the arrest of a man who was once the region's then most wanted criminal.
The making of
It doesn't take a genius to guess that a man was behind the last two action-packed documentaries. Lubon and Yazid smile when asked whose idea the documentaries were.
Yazid is fascinated by guns, action and the psychology behind terrorism.
After Mas Selamat, leader of the Singapore branch of the Al-Qaeda-linked militant Islamic organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), was caught in 2009, Yazid couldn't resist pitching a documentary on the subject.
"The reason I chose this subject matter was because when I was younger I would idolise (the late Al-Qaeda leader) Osama bin Laden. I was in religious school and I thought the Taliban were great. But at the same time, while I held super religious views by day, at night I would read my Tom Clancy novels – Jack Ryan was my hero!" he laughs, referring to the terrorist plot-foiling all-American CIA agent featured in the Clancy novels.
Yazid's childhood was full of contradictions. He attended a Chinese primary school where he learnt to speak Mandarin and made lots of friends. At the same time, he was confused by his religious classes where he learnt that unbelievers would be condemned.
Then, on Sept 11, 2001, Yazid came to a turning point. If it hadn't been for the 9/11 terror attacks in America, Yazid says he may just have ended up somewhere very different in his life. But the visual of a passenger jet airliner crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and the haunting images of terrified people jumping out of the building changed everything for him.
"Back then, I didn't know any of this, it was not uncommon for people who came from where I came from, to believe that suicide bombers were martyrs," he explains. "But I made up my mind that day that I definitely wanted to head down the path of non-terrorism."
When Mas Selamat escaped from Singapore's Whitley Road Detention Centre in 2008 and resurfaced in Johor Baru where he was caught by Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Department, Yazid says he wasn't surprised.
"Johor was a hotbed of terrorism in the 1990s," chips in Lubon. A crackdown by the Suharto regime in Indonesia in the late 1980s meant there was a constant stream of hardcore JI leaders who fled to neighbouring Malaysia, settling in Johor Baru.
It was at the now-defunct religious school Luqman Al Hakiem in Johor Baru that Mas Selamat, a Singaporean, was caught and revealed to be Malaysia's – and the region's – most wanted terrorist.
Mas Selamat's escape in 2008 from detention on suspicion of plotting to destroy a number of Singapore's major landmarks, including Changi International Airport, had caused widespread panic during the year he was at large. The blogosphere was full of conspiracy theories. Singapore launched its biggest manhunt, with three of its telecommunications companies sending out 5.5 million MMS messages with warnings to the public.
Yazid says their documentary will help to set the record straight about the episode, and also provide some context to Mas Selamat's supposed transformation from regular father-of-five into a terrorist.
"I was once brainwashed into thinking blowing yourself up is justifiable, so I've realised it's not really about the ideology itself, it's about education and the kind of people you're exposed to in your surroundings."
Yazid says he doesn't believe all terrorists start off as bad people, but are often a product of their environment.
"I wanted to explore that through the documentary. How he grew up, how he got into the movement and how sometimes life's hardships and the lack of a good basic education – I'm not just talking about religious education, by the way – can lead into things."
Aside from that, the documentary also shows how Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Department, which used to be a branch of Malaysia's Special Branch up until 2009, managed to gather enough intelligence to eventually capture the fugitive.
"This will be the first time video footage of the Counter Terrorism Department or any special operation by the Malaysian Special Forces has ever been released for public viewing," says Lubon, referring to live footage of the raid on Mas Selamat's hideout.
Malaysia's Counter Terrorism Department, which Lubon had never heard of until she made this documentary, has one of the best de-radicalisation programmes in the world and even advises the United States and Australia, according to the filmmaker.
"They find the radicals through intelligence gathering, detain them under the Internal Security Act and then de-radicalises them.
"One thing I've learnt during the course of this documentary is you cannot change strong ideologies, that's almost impossible. But you can help these people realise that just killing random innocent people is wrong and making suicide bomb attacks is not the best solution."
Most of the information about Mas Selamat in the documentary was obtained through expert interviews and open source information. The filmmakers did try to interview officials from Singapore but were instead referred to the Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs website.
They also tried to interview Mas Selamat while he was being held in Perak's Kamunting detention centre following his capture; however, the issue was deemed too sensitive at the time.
Another feature of watching the documentary is that it offers a sense of the danger that our Special Force officers put themselves in.
"It shows operations are risky for them, and they do risk their lives on a regular basis. They do these things that many Malaysians don't know about."
There is a touching scene in the documentary: grainy footage of the task force huddled together and reciting a doa (prayer) together before a raid.
"It never occurred to me that, to them, these operations are a really big risk," says Lubon earnestly.
"There's this one line that is our favourite, and that is uttered by one of the intelligence officers. He says: 'You know, these guys (the terrorists) are not afraid to die, but we are afraid to die. They only need one lucky chance (to blow us up), but we have to be lucky every time.' "
To catch Mas Selamat: The Fugitive Terrorist, tune in to the Crime & Investigation Network (Astro Ch 732). The documentary premieres on Thursday at 10pm; repeats will be shown on July 1 and 2 at 11pm, and on July 4 at 9pm.Full Feed Generated by Get Full RSS, sponsored by USA Best Price.
Posted: 25 Jun 2011 07:01 PM PDT
ATLANTA (AP) - Nick Charles, a former taxi driver who became CNN's first sports anchor and served in that role for nearly two decades, died Saturday after a two-year struggle with bladder cancer, the cable network reported.
He died peacefully at his New Mexico home, his wife Cory told the network. He was 64.
Nicholas Charles Nickeas grew up in Chicago, working late-night jobs in high school to help his family, according to CNN. He eventually went to Columbia College Chicago to study communications and drove a taxi to help pay his tuition.
He was still driving taxis in 1970 when he landed his first gig with WICS in Springfield, Illinois. That's when he adopted the name Nick Charles at the urging of his news director, the network said.
Charles later left Springfield to work at local stations in Baltimore and Washington and then began at Atlanta-based CNN on the network's first day on June 1, 1980.
He made his name before a national audience teaming with Fred Hickman for almost 20 years on "Sports Tonight," a daily highlight show that battled with ESPN for viewers. Charles became such a popular TV personality that Topps put his face on a trading card, CNN reported.
"We just clicked from the very beginning," Hickman told CNN in an interview. "In television, you always have personality conflicts. Nick and I never had one. Nick and I have always had a tremendous relationship."
Hickman said Charles was a "great inspiration" to him, and described his former colleague as a "tremendous storyteller."
"He could literally do a story about a horse and make you think this horse was like a person," Hickman said. "He could take boxing and turn it into something poetic."
Charles told CNN recently that boxing was "one of my loves," whether reporting on Muhammad Ali's later years or covering the ear-biting incident involving Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
With his well-coiffed, curly black hair and sharp-looking suits, Charles brought GQ-like style to CNN's broadcasts. But he also was known as a skilled interviewer who related easily to subjects while not being shy about asking tough questions.
"I think when people look back on Nick in years to come, they're going to remember - the hair," former CNN sports anchor Jim Huber quipped to the network. "He loved that hair. It used to just drive us crazy. But in all seriousness, I think they're going to look back on one of the great sports journalists of all time."
CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton said Saturday that Charles helped put CNN on the map.
"He brought intelligence, style and heart to his work - qualities that translated to our company and inspired those of us who were fortunate to work alongside him," Walton said. "His passing is a loss to CNN, to the sports world and to the fans and friends everywhere who were with him to the end of his extraordinary life.
In recent months, Charles served as an inspiration to many as he openly discussed his battle with cancer, with which he was diagnosed in August 2009. He made video diaries for his five-year-old daughter Giovanna to see in years to come.
"I'm a forward looking person but also a living-in-the-moment person," Charles recently told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whose special report "Nick Charles: No Regrets, Lessons from the Fight" will re-air at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. "So I wake up every day expecting to have a good day. It may sound trite, Sanjay, but life as you get older is about 20 percent of what happens to you and about 80 percent how you react to it."
Charles also is survived by three grown children from two previous marriages In an interview in March, he told the network his message was to "never give up on life" even though it's imperfect and filled with huge adversities. "People won't remember who you are or what you said. It's really about: Are you going to be remembered as a good person?" he said. "That's victory to me. That's success."Full Feed Generated by Get Full RSS, sponsored by USA Best Price.
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