Malaysia Vs Covid 19: Director Zabrina Fernandez's Eye-Opening Documentary
How did your television career begin?
After graduating in 2001, I couldn't find a job in TV so I took a public relations job. Part of my job was to look out for newspaper articles about the company I was working for. During that time I stumbled upon an article about a news anchor called Joanne de Rozario. I really liked the sound of this woman and the work she did, so I emailed her. She wrote back and was gracious enough to remember me when a job opportunity came up. That's how I became a broadcast journalist at NTV7.
What 'pandemic projects' have you been working on?
My company Wildsnapper TV (cofounded with Zena Choo and Joanna Lee) just finished filming a supertele for Astro Shaw with director Kabir Bhatia. Called Kerana Korona, it's an omnibus telling an interconnected story about the lives of a few people during the MCO. There is a family that is falling apart; a young boy who tries to get his parents to fall in love again; a teenage romance; a doctor and her immigrant janitor; and two elderly neighbours who find friendship through gardening.
Tell us more about your new documentary, Malaysia Vs Covid-19.
Lina Tan, the producer, contacted me during the MCO and asked if I would be interested to direct a documentary she wanted to do. I jumped at the opportunity because I knew there were many stories that were waiting to be told in this unprecedented time.
What were you trying to achieve with this documentary?
I wanted to capture this moment in time by telling the stories of the people who were or are still affected by the pandemic. The core of it was to explore what the Malaysian spirit meant when we were in a time of crisis.
I wanted to explore what the Malaysian spirit meant when we were in a time of crisis.
— Zabrina Fernandez
How challenging was this project, given the restrictions?
In the beginning, it was tough to decide which story to feature, as we were doing so much research and unearthing so many stories. We also wanted to interview many doctors, nurses and frontliners to understand their struggles but the regulations around that were quite strict. We couldn't get many shots around the hospitals or speak to that many medical staff but we were grateful to be able to get a doctor and a nurse in the end.
How did it test your skill as a director?
The challenge was figuring out the SOPs because it was all so new back then. We kept the team small so we could practise social distancing.
Some of our stories were not within driving distance. For example, we had a story in Sarawak and another in New Zealand—figuring those out was challenging. Thankfully, technology is wonderful and we managed to connect with a camera operator and producer in New Zealand, and I directed remotely via Zoom.
Related: Mental Health & Reducing Anxiety From Social Distancing
How did social media influence the making of this documentary?
We wanted the documentary to capture what a big part social media played in transferring information, garnering support, keeping us entertained and keeping us connected during the MCO.
How long did it take to complete the film?
About six months.
The fighting spirit of the people I met was so overwhelming and inspiring.
— Zabrina Fernandez
Tell us about the backstory of the photograph above, which was taken during the filming of Malaysia vs Covid-19.
The lady in black is Puan Aiza. Her husband was a police officer who passed away from Covid-19. All his life, he wanted to be a police officer. He died a frontliner hero.
Aiza also had to get tested and found out that she too had Covid-19. She was quarantined in one of the wards at Hospital Kuala Lumpur where she met a woman named Siti. This photo shows the first time they met since they were in the hospital together, at Aiza's husband's grave.
Who or what impacted you most in the process of filming this documentary?
Every single person I've ever interviewed has had an impact on me, some deeper than others. In this documentary, the fighting spirit of the people I met was so overwhelming and inspiring.
I will forever carry a little of their fire with me to remind me that fighting the good fight starts with good people. It starts with you and me. That our life is really most meaningful when we use whatever skill we have in service of others; to better the community and the world.
After nearly 20 years in the film industry, what do you love most about your job?
My job has evolved now after having had a hand at different roles. Ultimately, what I love most is the ability to tell stories. Every project I work on, my focus first is always, "What's the story?". I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to meet a variety of people from celebrities to everyday heroes, and tell their stories. Sometimes, when coming up with a script, I draw inspiration from stories I've heard or the people I've met.
What's in the pipeline for you in 2021?
At Wildsnapper TV, we're in the pitching process for a few exciting projects. Also, I'm currently in the research and writing phase for a very personal story that I hope will be turned into a film in the next two years.
Related: Bend It Like Gurinder Chadha: 5 Ways To Better Malaysian Films