Filmmaker/director Nova Goh shoots for the stars

Ring lady Peluk Apeh with Goh (left)and his partner, Aerith Lee. Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh.

By Wilfred Pilo
Photos courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai

Portrait of Nova Goh. Photos courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

KUCHING, Jan 1: Talented documentary filmmaker cum director Nova Goh Khai Thai, 38, is currently taking a short break in his hometown here. DayakDaily recently met up with him to talk about his profession, the film industry that he got involved in since 2008 and his latest documentary — The Last Rings Lady.

Based in Sabah since 2011, this graduate from National Taiwan University of Arts (Majoring in Visual Communications) now has six major documentaries under his belt. His work have been screened at international film festivals in Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and in Europe (Lyons, France).

While studying and living in Taiwan for 10 years, he got involved in short film projects. `Red Rain on the Equator’ was his first full-length documentary filmed in 2008, and it was featured at the 2011 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (New Asian Currents Section) in Japan.

“I grew up in Kuching. At age 18, I further my studies in Taiwan and lived there for almost for 10 years. I came back home and stayed for about two years before setting up my base in Kota Kinabalu in 2011.”

Goh said his interest in visual arts and films started when he was young.

“I was a big fan of Pango cartoon comics. I read a lot of it when I was young, but I was not engrossed with the drawing of the cartoon characters but more of the storytelling. 

“One day, while studying at Chung Hua Middle School No 1, I attended a talk by renowned Kuching-born Taiwanese film director Tsai Ming Liang. He was the one that really sparked my interest in filmmaking. At that time, he (Tsai) just won some filming awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

“I was thinking that if a guy from a small town can do it, then why can’t I do it? Tsai was the one that really opened up the wall for me.”

Film Making

Goh squatting (in white shirt) directing his crew to take a shot at a subject. Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

Goh revealed that his foray into filmmaking started during his first summer holiday in the university in 2001.

“I considered it pure luck as my short film `Living in the unfathomable death of a heart’ made it to the final of the Golden Horse DV Film Festival in 2002.

“If you are a student, it is a big thing. I was the only visual art student at the university who got it. It was a sheer opportunity for me to pursue it.”

However, it was only six years later, in 2008, that he got a project from Hakka TV station. The station wanted to produce a mini-series based on a Hakka story.

“Since my mother is a Hakka, I had an idea of what story I wanted to do. With the support of the television company, I did a full-length documentary `Red Rain on the Equator’, and it  was screened at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.”

Goh (right) with his associates from Kota Kinabalu Film and Video Association. Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

This documentary is still being screened in Japan.

When Goh shifted his career base to Kota Kinabalu, he was a bit disappointed that his film project on illegal immigrants there did not take off. He disclosed that despite some setbacks, he reckoned moving to Sabah is the right move, so far.

There he met a few friends who were willing to work together to expand the film industry, complete with facilities and everything there is for making films, such as production house, producer and editors.

Eventually, 20 different film companies decided to build a film park in Sabah. They have secured a land measuring about 82,000 sq ft, and on it they intend to build a film studio post-production house, cafe, workshop and an event venue.

Goh (left) and Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah posing with Ring Lady Peluk Apeh. With them is his colleague Evangeline Thian and fashion designer Leng Lagenda (right).Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

“Sabah is very strategic and dynamic. China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are a few hours away. They have the natural environment, the mountains, the islands and the seas. In addition, the people there are easy to work with.”

Goh, whose ambition is to break into the international market, is optimistic about the project, and he knows where to get the funding and the people who can do the job.

“We can use local production to enter the foreign market. I am now working on a local story with 13 episodes. Finas (National Film Development Corporation) is funding 60 per cent, meaning I need to find the remaining 40 per cent funding from investors.

“But, yes, definitely my ultimate goal is to do this family story with a big production.”

Talent in Sarawak

In Sarawak, Goh opined that to get people into this industry, there is a need to nurture them young and to make them like watching films.

“We must create such environment and interest. We want parents to respect the profession and not just make their children became doctors, lawyers and engineers. We have more talent here as compared to Kota Kinabalu. 

“We have more artistic people, like filmmakers, poets, writers and singers. Gel them together and we will have the right talents for the film industry to take off in Sarawak.”

Goh (right) with his buddy Nixon Ong Kit Lun at Sabah Tshung Tsin Secondary School during a film shooting session. Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

Goh, who is also KK Film and Video Association vice president, suggested the formation of a film and video association to serve as a base to promote the film industry in Sarawak.

“We can be like Yamagata. It is now one of the seven filming cities in the world and a well-known venue for international documentary film festivals.”

Goh said he really wants the film industry to take off in Sarawak.

“Don’t look down on the profession. There is still the stigma that filmmaking is not as good a profession as a doctor, engineer, etc. People perceive this career as not in the same league, but when you go to film festivals, everybody gets the recognition and respect in our work.”

For this industry to work, all stakeholders must put in a concerted effort, he opined.

“My advice for young talents is not to get ideas from others, especially from the internet, but to start from the heart and ask yourself this question — What if you only live once and you want to make a film?

“The best is to look around you. Your family is a good starting point.”

The last of the ring ladies- film documentary

On the documentary ‘The Last of the Ring Ladies’, Goh said it took about four years to complete this project. It is scheduled to be released, distributed and aired in September this year in NHK Japan, KBS Korea and PTS Taiwan Broadcasting TV Channel.

“I stumbled on the ideas in 2015 after hiking to a village called Kampung Semban and met these ladies who decorated themselves with copper rings. 

Goh standing (back row, left) with the Last Ring Ladies production crew members and the ring lady after finish shooting the documentary. Photo Courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai.

“The place is very beautiful and natural and not many people knew the place, even the locals. With the dam being built and serve as a water reservoir for Kuching city, it is inevitable that certain things will be inundated and probably creates some socio-economic problems.

“With this kind of development, the affected people will lose their symbol, the identity and cultures and their way of life, especially the ladies. This gave me the storyline in the documentary.”

The future and his Profession

Goh revealed that when he is not busy pursuing a filmmaking project, he would immerse himself in advertising and branding his business.

“I manage two companies. One is into advertising and branding and another production and filming. I focus on both, but my passion remains in filmmaking. Somehow, these two professions are interlinked — so having the business in advertising and marketing helps me in the film industry, as well.”

Goh (right) talking to his cameraman while shooting a subject. Photos courtesy of Nova Goh Khai Thai

On the work he had done over the years, Goh regarded them as “very sincere” and from “the heart”, but he admitted there is always space for improvements along the way.

For Goh, he believed his journey is heading in the right direction and he gives 100 per cent in everything that he does. Goh can be reached at [email protected] — DayakDaily