Winning an Oscar is every filmmaker’s ultimate dream. For Malaysian producers, Poh Si Teng and Cheyenne Tan, their ultimate dream may just come true, as their documentary St. Louis Superman has been shortlisted for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 2020 Oscars – out of a pool of 96 short documentaries.
Cheyenne Tan is the co-producer who hails from Kuching. Meanwhile, Poh Si Teng from Penang is the senior commissioning producer looking after the Americas for Witness-Al Jazeera.
Directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan, the documentary was making waves in the international film circuit even before being shortlisted for the Oscars – it won Best Short Documentary at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and premiered at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York City receiving the Special Jury mention. The documentary aired on MTV’s platform last fall.
So, what is this documentary all about? Well, St. Louis Superman tells the story of Bruce Franks Jr., a seasoned rapper (yes!) and an activist in Ferguson who was elected to an overwhelmingly white and Republican Missouri House of Representatives. He overcame personal trauma and political obstacles in passing a critical bill for his community.
Bruce was just six when he witnessed his 9-year-old brother being murdered in front of him. His brother got shot in a crossfire between two men arguing outside his house where Christopher was used as a human shield.
A prominent activist, Franks was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2016 and won re-election in 2018. Last summer, he announced that he would be resigning from the legislature to focus on his mental health and family, and, more recently, said he would be moving away from St. Louis. In an interview with The St. Louis American, Franks reportedly said, “I fought a lot of battles. Growing up on the streets. As a battle rapper. On the streets of Ferguson. Running for office. As a legislator. As a husband. As a father. But the toughest battle I fought was with myself.”
The project began when Teng, who is a commissioner and senior producer for Al Jazeera English’s Witness, reached out to Smriti after being so impressed by her work in the 2017 feature documentary, A Suitable Girl, about arranged marriages in India.
“She wrote back immediately and started pitching ideas for Witness, ” recalls Penang-born Teng on the beginnings of St. Louis Superman. She pitched Bruce’s story and brought Sami, another incredibly talented director and cinematographer to the project.
After finishing her last class in film school, 25-year-old Tan’s adventure into documentaries started when she answered an ad on Craigslist for an assistant to a journalist/documentary filmmaker. She was offered the job and started working with Smriti.
As for 35-year-old Teng, prior to making documentaries, she was an experienced video journalist and producer, working for top international news companies, The New York Times and Associated Press. During her stint at New York Times, she even earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Interview for the documentary, Flirting With The Islamic State, in 2016. Her directorial debut was a Malaysian documentary titled, Pecah Lobang back in 2008.
We congratulate Cheyenne Tan and Poh Si Teng for showing the world that no matter where you come from, your dreams are valid if you are willing to put in the hard work!
Oscars Nominations will be announced on Jan 13. The award ceremony will be held on Feb 9.
*Featured image sourced from the Malay Mail