BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s first filmmaking college, the Mahakarya Institute of the Arts Asia, is slated to begin operations in February 2019 and is aiming to establish a sustainable ecosystem for filmmaking and creative content in the sultanate.

Located at the Plaza Athirah in Jalan Tutong, the institute is fitted with industry-standard equipment, which film director and co-founder of the school, Siti Kamaluddin, said will groom local content creators who can elevate the quality of the local media industry.

Mahakarya is currently offering a Diploma in Screen and Media, with two intakes a year, but only 15 places will be available for each intake for fear of “over saturating the market”.

“[For] the programme that we offer, the job prospects and pathways are limitless because in this day and age, content is a resource that will always be in demand, whether in terms of feature films, advertisements or even gaming,” Siti said.

The director — who has produced two feature films, Yasmine and Hari Minggu Yang Ke-Empat — added that Mahakarya wants to see students pave their own careers and be self-reliant once they complete their studies.

Siti Kamaluddin, Co-founder of the Mahakarya Institute of the Arts Asia posing in the institute’s main studio, where students will be taught film production. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

Mahakarya partnered with TAFE Queensland to help design the diploma programme, based on feedback from a wide variety of companies in the film industry.

“When they graduate in two years, there are a number of pathways they can take. One of them is to go straight ahead into the industry, to work for [production houses],” said Dr Alexander J. Fischer, dean of Mahakarya.

Graduates of the diploma programme can also choose to continue their education in Australia, where they can enter a degree programme at partner universities.

“So essentially, if you get accepted, you can get a diploma and degree in just four years [and] there are several universities that offer filmmaking,” Fishcer said.

The Mahakarya Institute of the Arts Asia’s sound production suite. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

A Bruneian screen identity

With the desire to drive better training and standards in the local film industry, Mahakarya said it wants to bring forth a new age, where there will be more content that is “undeniably Bruneian”.

“There has yet to be a Bruneian screen identity,” said Siti, who is the only Bruneian director whose feature-length films have been screened internationally.

“The country has not produced enough content yet to establish itself uniquely, because most Bruneians are growing up nowadays with foreign content.

“We’re watching Hollywood films, and TV shows from neighboring countries… There is just not enough Bruneian content for us to consume.”

Dean of Mahakarya Institute of the Arts Asia, Dr Alexander J. Fischer. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

While Siti acknowledged that there are filmmakers who are trying to showcase Bruneian identity on screen, she believes that it still is not representative of the whole Bruneian experience.

Fischer added that most local filmmakers fail to be “daring” enough to create content that is unique to their experience, instead replicating what they see in global media.

With this in mind, he said Mahakarya wants to create filmmakers who can get a better foothold in the regional industry, setting Brunei apart from neighboring countries.

“The pool of potential in this country is amazing and it’s just a matter of giving people the opportunity, which is why we want to help Brunei to develop not only its filmmakers, but the audience as well, because these will always influence each other.”