New York-based Malaysian filmmaker Dharius Zulkefli started big and aims to go bigger

WHO says that young Malaysian filmmakers can’t make it on the international scene? Before the age of 30, Dharius Zulkefli has already earned several awards for the movies he has directed.

His first win was for Best Editing, for his short film Kun Fayakun, a film inspired by a conversation he had with his parents. It was then followed up with the award for Best Family Drama for his film The Selfish Ones at The Manhattan Film Festival 2018.

The New York-based Malaysian film director is well on his way to make it big in the international movie scene.

Because of the pandemic, he is now back in Malaysia, and we took the opportunity to have a chat with him about movies, filmmaking, and about the man himself.


What does filmmaking mean to you?

“Movie magic! Films have a way to make people forget their problems. I saw this in my father recently, he is a stroke victim. When he watches movies he tends to forget his problems and his condition, even though it is just for a moment.

“Movies have the ability to do this for everyone. If I can help someone like how these filmmakers and movies have done for my family, it would truly be an honour.”

Why go international instead of staying local?

“For me, it was about learning. I wanted to see what the Americans were doing that was different compared to our skillset. I’ve always been a fan of American cinema, and felt that if I could go there, work and most importantly learn, I will become a better filmmaker. The filmmaker I want to be.”

What are your thoughts on the local film scene versus the American film scene?

“I think there is a lot of potential in Malaysia, so many stories to be told by amazing artists, but we need to loosen our censorship in order to grow. Of course I am not saying that everything needs to be shown onscreen but we should be able to tell stories about certain sensitive subjects and topics without the fear of the movie getting shelved or suffering from backlash.”

What have you learned since that award you won four years ago?

“If you have an idea that you truly believe in, a story that you feel that really needs to be told, people will help you tell that story, it is with that passion that the story will come to life. You have to really want to watch the movie that you make because if you don’t enjoy it, who will? It can’t just be a job.

“Your team is your family, no one will give everything on set than those who love you. Cherish them, always.”

What do you think is the future of film and filmmaking?

“Unfortunately, despite my love for going to the movie theatre, the future of film is streaming. Streaming companies are the new studios, and they will create original shows and movies for their platform. Hopefully movie theatres don’t completely fade away.”

What is the ideal movie experience to you?

“Nothing beats going to the movie theatre. It is a very communal experience enjoying a movie with everyone, people you know and people you don’t. You can’t enjoy a movie that way if you are sitting at home on your laptop or TV. Nothing comes close.”

What are the films that inspire you?

“This is a very difficult question, because I love all movies. I can watch the same movie many times and not get bored. The film I’ve probably watched the most is Rocky (1976). But it’s not just about the story itself, it’s also about what it took to make that movie happen. A truly underdog film that took home the Oscar.”