Director: Batik Girl
Irwan Junaidy is a Malaysian producer and director. His directorial debut “Batik Girl” played in the category “Films from Afar” in the 2019 Florida Animation Festival, and he returned in 2020 as a judge for the 3D/CGI category!
FAF: Although "Batik Girl" contains a wealth of color, magic, and joy, it also deals with the overwhelming experience of coping with loss. What inspired you to pair the beauty of the batik cloth with the theme of grief in your film?
IJ: At its very essence, a batik painting is made of 2 elements, the lines that are made of melted wax and the colors that are applied using a brush. On their own, the wax lines are rather bland and when you apply colors on a cloth, they mix and bleed into each other randomly.
IJ (cont'd): However, when you use the wax lines and the colors together, the wax forms a barrier so that the colors don’t mix with each other. This allows the artist to control the colors and create the beautiful patterns and designs of batik.
This concept of having two distinctively different elements that can exist separately but when placed together, will work in harmony and create something beautiful became the guiding concept to the Batik Girl short film, and we wanted to really use that idea of two opposing concepts in the story, visuals and music.
IJ (cont'd): Metaphorically, the young girl represents the wild, unconstrained colors of the batik. After the death of her parents, she was distraught; her thoughts and feelings were all over the place. She didn’t know how to cope, so she started pushing people away and withdrawing into herself.
IJ (cont'd): Her grandmother represents the wax lines. Older and wiser, her grandmother is patient and supports her through her grief. Like the batik wax and colors, in the end they accept each other and create something beautiful together.
For the music, we also wanted to explore this idea of contrasting themes. In the real world, we used contemporary music while the batik world features more traditional Malaysian musical instruments. In the end we tried to merge the modern and the traditional at the final scene reflecting the two working in harmony.
Similarly, the young girl and her grandmother have opposing leitmotifs. The young girl sounds playful and free, almost disorganized and wild, but the grandmother sounds more grounded and structured.
FAF: The design of the batik cloth is such an important element in the film-- can you tell us a little more about your process incorporating it into the visual aesthetic of your film?
IJ: Batik Girl is based on batik from Terengganu, a state on the East Coast of Malaysia, which is known for Batik Lukis (hand-drawn batik). We specifically chose this batik for its vibrant colors and imaginative design that could become a medium for storytelling.
IJ (cont'd): We did a lot of research and talked to batik artisans and academics about all the different elements that we could use for the visual world-building of the batik world sequence. We discovered motifs found in batik such as Daun Berjalan (Creeping vines), Sirih Emas (Golden betel), Megamendung (Clouds) and many others that inspired us in the design and animation of the batik world.
IJ (cont'd): We also looked at the tools used in the batik making process such as the multi-spouted canting (the brass stylus instrument that is used to draw the wax lines) that allows the artist to draw parallel lines in one stroke and used this element to mimic waves in the sea. Aside from that, different finishing techniques, such as Batik Retak (where the fabric is crumpled to create cracks in the wax), were utilized in creating the rocky texture of the mountain.
FAF: What would you most like audiences to take away from “Batik Girl”?
IJ: Unfortunately, the batik industry in Malaysia is on a decline. Consumers prefer more modern, commercialized clothing due to its affordability and availability. We wanted to highlight the beauty and uniqueness of the batik art form, as well as push the boundaries of what batik can be.
IJ (cont'd): We also wanted to introduce Malaysian culture and architecture to the world. In the film, the grandmother’s house by the beach is based on traditional houses found in Kuala Terengganu – even the joints and carpentry are authentic and can be found in real life houses.
IJ (cont'd): Ultimately, we wanted to tell a story of hope. Losing a loved one is something everyone faces, and can be a very difficult time in their life, especially for a child. Even in times of grief, we wanted to show that love could be found in the most unlikely of places if we just opened our hearts to it.