Discovering Semenyih: SMLC’s Third-Year Student Documentaries

Three teams of third-year students from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures (SMLC) were tasked with documenting personalities in the Semenyih-Kajang-Broga areas for the Documentary Film and Documentary Practice module, which is offered by SMLC and supervised by Dr. Thomas Barker. This module aims to expose students to the fundamental theoretical as well as practical aspects of documentary filmmaking, with the students’ efforts culminating in short documentaries that capture the essence of Semenyih, embedded within its community.  These documentaries offered a first-hand glimpse into the everyday lives of those who live in Semenyih, and potrayed the diversity that exists in their community.


The Dog Keeper by Choo Tze Shien, Christobuge Pujanie Nimasha Fernando and Woon Xiao Rui

This documentary presents the heart-warming story of Madam Hoo, who runs a laundry business by day and devotes the remainder of her spare time to improving the welfare of neglected dogs. A typical day in the life of Madam Hoo revolves around ensuring that the stray dogs in the Kajang area are well-fed, tirelessly preparing meals for the dogs several times a day – with the first feeding session starting at dawn.  Juggling work and charity is no easy feat, yet Madam Hoo has maintained her daily routine for 13 years come rain or shine, driven by unwavering enthusiasm and compassion.

Taking her relief efforts a step further, she has even established a dog shelter in order to accommodate the growing number of stray dogs. Despite having to tolerate occasional criticism, her selfless efforts have garnered the support of the landlord of the shelter, who agreed to waive rental and utility expenses, as well as her family who provided financial assistance. In the documentary, Madam Hoo also introduces the first dog she sheltered and the circumstances under which she found it.

“We are all huge animal lovers and somehow, documenting Madam Hoo’s passion and love for the welfare of these stray animals struck a chord with our own affinity for animals,” commented team member Choo Tze Shien on the motivation that led his team to feature Madam Hoo as the subject of their documentary. Despite the challenges faced, Tze Shien and his team persevered, fuelled by a firm belief in their choice of subject matter: “We chose to do something that we were passionate about and were really interested in. Only by doing so, we could effectively connect with our subject and truly understand her, her beliefs and to some extent, her reality.”


The Patient Daredevil by Choy Siew Lim, Amirah Nadhrah Radzuan and Camen Teh

Mr Zaini’s laid-back hobby – fishing – belies his appetite for physically-challenging outdoor sports such as scuba diving and mountain biking. Nevertheless, he believes in striking a balance between both endeavours. A retiree and a self-declared ‘kampung boy’, the unassuming senior citizen reminisces on his childhood days spent in a village in Kajang lacking in basic necessities, during which his passion for fishing was cultivated.

Admitting to being temperamental in his youth, Mr Zaini reveals that taking up fishing was conducive to improving his character. He also advocates fishing as the ideal therapeutic pursuit to alleviate stress and temporarily distract oneself from the hustle and bustle of city life. On a more nostalgic note, Mr Zaini muses on the differences between urban and rural life as well as the changes that occurred in the locale from the past to present. Undeterred by sceptical detractors and past injuries, Mr Zaini continues to take immense pleasure in immersing himself in nature-oriented activities as they provide unparalleled satisfaction, a firm testament to his fondness for nature.

Having been rejected by two possible subjects, team member Camen Teh noted that her team was lucky to find Mr Zaini.  Despite the difficulties in finding a subject who consented to the documentary, Camen noted that the documentary-making experience was “very eye-opening from the beginning to the end …there is an interesting rawness in the interaction you get with the subject when things are left unstructured and unplanned.”


Semenyih, A Reflection by Siti Salmi Mohamad Zainury, Hannah Soraya Mohamed Hairi, Kim A Young and Lisa Sari Lutgen

This documentary charts Semenyih’s social and infrastructural development over time – through the perspective of local resident Encik Shahril, with mentions of the origins of our very own UNMC. Having spent his childhood in Semenyih, he relives fond memories of the modest town – memories of a time when crime rates were relatively low and communal relations were amicable.

The establishment of UNMC appears to have been a surprise to the local community, especially to Encik Shahril and his peers who were unaware of UNMC’s construction till its completion, yet the prospect of Semenyih housing a university appealed to the local residents. Interestingly, a portion of the land upon which UNMC currently stands used to be inextricably linked to Encik Shahril’s youth. Furthermore, Encik Shahril’s observations on the burgeoning town and the rise of housing developments in the locale evoke a nostalgic recollection of the small yet pleasant town Semenyih once was.

According to Siti Salmi binti Mohamad Zainury, a member of the team behind Semenyih, A Reflection, she and her team members managed to identify a definite story angle for their documentary from the start: “We envisioned an individual from Semenyih (preferably Semenyih-born) to reflect on the development of the place. We wanted the film to specifically focus on the place’s story from someone’s perspective.” Staying true to the aim of their documentary, the team handpicked Encik Shahril, who works as a dispatcher, from a list of potential candidates to be interviewed as he was born and bred in Semenyih and has been residing in Semenyih for more than three decades.

The team noted that they faced the problems of incessant interferences threaten to jeopardise the quality of their footage when filming outdoors, limited resources (they were equipped with the bare necessities of a camera, a recorder and a microphone), difficulties in building sufficient rapport with their subject, and difficulties in editing their raw footage.


By Choo Suet Fun


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