Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema
March 15, 2009, 3:57 am
Filed under: Articles, philippine cinema

(Shorter version originally published as an addendum to an article in Rogue Magazine, extended final version which appears below published in Philippines Free Press week of December 13, 2008).

Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema
By Alexis A. Tioseco

I wish that the Film Development Council of the Philippines would understand the value of the money they’re given and consider going to Paris and spending P5 million of their P25 million allotment for a showcase given by a young festival an investment, and not just a vacation.

They support filmmakers with finished films to go abroad to festivals for the pride they bring their country—I wish instead they would support their films locally, and help them get seen by a larger Filipino audience.

I cry for the loss of Manuel Conde’s Juan Tamad films.

I cry for a country that can’t convince that one Filipino-American who owns the only known print of Conde’s Genghis Khan in its original language to return (i.e. sell) the film back to his mother country.

I cry for the generations of Filipinos, myself included, that can no longer see Gerry De Leon’s Daigdig ng Mga Api, and instead have scans of movie ads to admire on the internet (with sincere thanks to Simon Santos and James De la Rosa).

I mourn a heritage that has allowed through neglect the prints of Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos and Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata to turn flush sepia.

I cry for a Union Bank and University of the Philippines that conspire in apathy to let the master negatives of treasures produced by Bancom Audiovision rot in rooms only air-conditioned half the day and in cans untouched for years and years.

I pray for a city government or even enterprising and concerned theater owners to consider setting aside 50 centavos or a peso of a ticket for the preservation of our national audiovisual heritage. There have been flood taxes siphoned from movie tickets for crying out loud—this should be easy!

I wish Cinemalaya, which, thanks to the media and the government’s press mileage behind it, has a great festive excitement, would actually put their efforts in the service of Philippine cinema, and not their own self-involved attempt to start a micro-industry.

I wish filmmakers would stop listening to Robbie Tan.

I wish Cinema One, which takes more risks, gives more money and often produces better films than Cinemalaya, would actually give filmmakers some rights to their work and stop swindling them.

I wish Cinemanila, which has introduced to the country more great films than any other institution, doesn’t stop showing them on 35mm.

I wish Cinemanila would publish their full schedule in advance: it’s difficult to plot what films to watch when you don’t know which ones will show again.

I wish the Goethe- initiated Silent Film Festival, with live scores by Filipino musicians, would continue annually, and that one year they get to show a Chaplin, a Griffith, a Dreyer, and maybe a Vertov or Medvedkin.

I wish Lav Diaz would have larger budgets to maneuver and shoot with. And would work with the ace production designer Cesar Hernando once again.

I wish more people saw Lav Diaz’s films rather than just respecting his stance, and using him as a symbol.

I wish Raymond Red would get to make Makapili and/or return to making fantastic shorts in the experimental mode.

I wish Raymond Red would still get to shoot on celluloid.

I wish John Torres would sacrifice the image quality of his HDV camera for the special intimacy and spontaneity he is able to achieve with his 1ccd camera. Or get a smaller HDV camera.

I wish Mike De Leon would make another movie… please.

I wish Roxlee would get enough money to buy the time necessary to make an animated feature.

I wish everyone would buy a copy of Nicanor Tiongson and Cesar Hernando’s richly illustrated The Cinema of Manuel Conde.

I wish there were more books on Philippine cinema.

I wish a book series was started that published classic screenplays.

I hope Noel Vera gets to write his book on Mario O’Hara.

I wish a close study of the entire oeuvre of Ishmael Bernal were made.

I wish older commentators would understand: Lino Brocka is dead.

I wish younger filmmakers would understand: Lino Brocka compromised when he had to because he had to, and perhaps even, at times, too much. You are living in a different time. The excuse that Brocka made more than 60 films therefore you can afford your own mediocre ones does not hold water.

I wish we had less tourist cinema.

I wish we had less formula cinema—“real-time” anyone?

I wish Cinefilipino had put out Maalaala Mo Kaya with the reels in the proper order.

I wish Cinefilipino would have put our their Brocka titles with just a little bit of care and affection, providing some writing on the film or special features to contextualize them rather than just throw them out their bare to earn.

I wish Nestor Torre would open his eyes…

I wish the Manunuri books on Philippine cinema in the’70s and’80s would go back in print.

I wish the Manunuri actually cared about Philippine cinema today.

I wish more of the Manunuri actually reviewed films instead of just giving out awards.

I wish the Young Critics Circle were actually young.

I wish the Young Critics Circle were actually critics.

I wish Francis ‘Oggs’ Cruz, Richard Bolisay, and Dodo Dayao would get space in the broadsheets, because they’re far more interesting than anyone writing there regularly.

I wish we didn’t have a cinema of the press (more on this soon).

I wish Noel Vera would move back.

I wish Hammy Sotto were still alive.

I wish Hammy Sotto’s manuscripts would get published.

I wish film preservation activist Jo Atienza was still in Manila.

I wish we had a fully supported Film Museum.

I wish we had a Cinematheque.

I wish the UP Film Center had better seats, and more important, showed better films.

I wish more non-filmmakers from the Philippines would get to travel to festivals.

I wish film were taught in high schools.

I wish we had more film lovers and less bureaucrats in important positions in the field of cinema.

I wish Teddy Co would get the recognition that he deserves for his selfless work.

I wish Teddy Co would write more as his ideas deserve to be recorded.

I wish co-ops would co-operate.

I wish Khavn De La Cruz would get to make his musical EDSA XXX.

I wish the Max Santiago feature would get made, and that shorts would finally come to my hands on DVD (Hi Marla!).

I hope Tad Ermitano never stops writing and playing in his cave.

I wish Lourd De Veyra would continue writing on actors and cinema.

I wish Raymond Lee’s UFO success.

I wish Albert Banzon would get more credit.

I wish we had more regional feature films, and more support for regional filmmakers.

I wish everyone would watch When Timawa Meets Delgado.

I wish someone would lower MTRCB rates for screening fees, especially for festivals.

I wish someone, anyone, would make a good, thought-provoking film about the Philippine upper class.

I wish Ketchup Eusebio would get more leading roles.

I wish Elijah Castillo would appear in a lot more films. Soon.

I wish Cesar Hernando would get to make a video transfer of his experimental short Botika, Bituka.

I wish filmmakers had some integrity and told Viva to screw themselves when offered another exploitation film.

I wish more people could see the film Bontoc Eulogy by Marlon Fuentes.

I wish Vic Del Rosario wasn’t presidential adviser on Entertainment, given the shlock they produce, and yes, that includes the films that starred First-Son Mikey Arroyo.

I wish Star Cinema would stop—just stop.

I wish there was a film library that people could go to in order to read books on cinema.

I wish the MMFF were not in the hands of the same people who install public urinals (admittedly useful).

I wish the MMDA didn’t call those circles and boxes Art.

I wish that MMDA Art wasn’t so much better than every MMFF film.

I wish a certain festival in December didn’t consider box office as a criteria for its main prize (which comes with rewards). We don’t give cultural awards to Wowowee, do we? Well, not yet…

I wish I could see how “commercial viability” was computed.

I wish Mother Lily didn’t have a monopoly on the Metro Manila Film Festival.

I wish Mother Lily took better care, or rather took care at all, of the good films she unwittingly produced in the past.

I wish Mother Lily would get to see Raya’s Long Live Philippine Cinema! …or maybe not.

I wish the Hammy Sotto-led Philippine Cinema in the ’90s book, with excellent interviews and a complete filmography of the decade, and which has been completed for several years, would finally get printed.

I wish all the old Mowelfund shorts—including the works of Regiben Romana, the Alcazaren Brothers, Louie Quirino and Donna Sales, Raymond Red and Noel Lim—would come out on DVD.

I wish a book would be written about all the Mowelfund shorts.

I wish a book on Philippine poster art would be released.

I always look forward to the rest of Nick Deocampo’s projected four-to-five volume history on Philippine cinema—at least someone is writing it.

I wish there were a pure film studies course available in the Philippines.

I wish that venues that are censorship (and therefore MTRCB fee) exempt would understand the vital role they play and take more responsibility.

I wish we had a regular film journal. Why don’t we? We have enough critics groups and awarding bodies.

I wish more film teachers were approaching cinema from cinema.

I wish R.A. Rivera would get to make his first feature soon.

I wish Quark Henares refrains from selling out again, because if he doesn’t, he has the potential to be one of the important ones.

I wish more people would get to see In Da Red Korner. It deserves to be reconsidered.

I wish Rogue Magazine would cut down their featuring of foreign films in the gallery section when there is so much to write about locally that doesn’t get covered in other media beyond sloppy journalism.

I wish the government would sponsor DVD releases of the surviving films of Lamberto Avellana, Gerardo De Leon and all other classics that still exist.

I wish FPJ Productions would again screen the footage of Gerry De Leon’s unfinished Juan de la Cruz (the icon, by the way, that was invented by this magazine).

I wish less filmmakers compromised.

I wish more filmmakers admitted when they did.

I wish we focused our attention more on audience education, development and literacy, than on dumbing down films to pander to them.

I wish Philippine cinema all the success in the world. . .

Two Articles
March 7, 2009, 12:08 am
Filed under: Articles, philippine cinema

On his blog Noel Vera recently mentioned my writing on local cinema being increasingly infrequent (I would link what he wrote but it included a highly slanderous remark!). It hasn’t been, I’ve actually been writing more frequently than usual, just less of it has appeared online. So for Noel if no one else I’ll post them here slowly.

To start, two articles I wrote for the local magazine Rogue have been published online.
(1) The Letter I Would Love To Read To You In Person (Column)
(2) When Timawa Meets Delgado (Review)

The first is written in the form of a letter, and was the article submitted when commissioned to write about my work in relation to Philippine cinema. It ends with a bit of a litany (according to Teddy Co), on numerous issues in Philippine cinema. An expanded version of this addendum was published in the Philippines Free Press, and I’ll post that version shortly.

The second is a review of the film When Timawa Meets Delgado by Ray Defante Gibraltar (he of the fantastic name), one of the best and most original Filipino films of the past few years. The title used for the article (Nursery Rhyme) wasn’t mine, and the instructions I gave for the use of stills (and effort I put to select and capture them all) in the printed version were not followed. But so it goes…

Articles have been added to the texts online section of this blog. More articles, this time ones written for the Philippines Free Press, to follow…

Epilogue ’08 / Postcards from Jakarta and Bandung
February 14, 2009, 2:26 am
Filed under: Articles, postcards

Two from Forum Lenteng. Jakarta, July 2008:



Three from Rumah Buku. Bandung, July 2008:




Was invited by HarryTuttle to participate in an e-mail round table discussion together with himself and a few other online writers (Kevin Lee, Andrew Grant, Nitesh Rohit and Edwin Mak) over at The Auteurs Notebook. My two contributions:


In the second I touch on the images featured above, which I took in Indonesia this past July.

Cinema du Reel 3: Interview with Lav Diaz
March 10, 2008, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Articles, festivals, interviews, philippine cinema | Tags: ,

This interview appears in French in the Cinema du Reel catalogue

The Agony and the Ecstasy:
Fragments of discussions with Lav Diaz on Death in the Land of Encantos
Part One: July 2007

Alexis Tioseco: One of the first films that you made was a documentary on street children. Though I haven’t seen the film, I remember well when you spoke to me about it in a conversation a few years ago. Recalling the work you told me, in a very emotional tone, that should you have the chance you would want to destroy it. You said that it was that film that first brought you to the United States, and that it was difficult to reconcile how you had benefited from the work with the fact that the lives of the subjects hadn’t improved. Now, with Death in the Land of Encantos, you are straddling the lines between documentary and fiction. You started out shooting documentary footage of the people of Bicol and their stories after the typhoon but decided to write a story around it. At what point did you decide to use fiction, and what made you decide to do this?

Are you weary of the ethical dimensions of making a documentary on such a tragedy, and feel it is only fiction that you can tell their stories? Do you still wish to destroy the early documentary on street children?

Lav Diaz: After reading a Philippine Daily Inquirer story about the aftermath of Reming (Durian is the international name), the strongest typhoon that ever hit the country in living memory, I decided to shoot some footage, not intently a full blown documentary; just record images of the tragedy, interview people, survivors, and give it to an NGO, the UN mission here, or any agency, foundation or institution that needed some footage. Maybe they can use it. I wanted to do something. I thought I could contribute with my camera. I was disturbed by the apathy of people outside Bicol. It was no big news to them even though they learned from the news about the tragedy. Ah, talaga, maraming patay. Maraming nalibing ng buhay. Grabe pala, ano (Oh, really, many people died. Many were buried alive. It’s terrible, no). Period. And they’d go back to the contemporary Pinoy inanities like what was happening with the national pastime Kris Aquino, [daughter of former president Cory Aquino and TV host of game shows] and her new husband and her pregnancy. I myself didn’t realize the magnitude of the calamity until I read some accounts.

And I am really attached to Bicol. The last shoot of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino was shot in Ligao and Guinobatan, Albay, and Rawis in Legazpi City in November of 2004. And a big part of Heremias, Book Two, about seventy five percent was shot there August to October in 2006. Some of the shooting sites and places where we stayed during the production were really ground zero during the typhoon; villages like Guinobatan, Daraga, Arimbay, Sto. Domingo, Padang, Pawa, Rawis, Cagsawa.

When I got there, it was hell. The smell of death was everywhere. All you could see was utter disarray, devastation, destruction, insanity, pain, sadness, unbearable suffering. Villages were gone, hundreds of people were buried alive, hundreds were missing. Pompeidom, worse than Mayon’s 1814 onslaught. It became a point and shoot exercise because everything was a part of the tragedy; it was just everywhere. You shoot in silence, trying to make sense out of the devastation. By then, a documentary was taking shape and initially, there was a subconscious thread that I was following, visiting the places where I shot the two films, and visiting friends. I was like… this was where we shot this scene, and we put the camera here. Now, the trees are gone, the road is now a river. The lead actor walked here, we followed him. The road is gone, it is now covered with sand and huge rocks, unbelievably huge rocks, some are bigger than nipa-huts [small homes constructed out of bamboo], and you wonder how the typhoon was able to carry them down. Many dramatic scenes happened in this house, now half of the house is gone; the owner says they almost drowned. I am reenacting the camera movement, imagining the characters are still there, and I am doing a take two or three of a certain scene. It was a very depressing exercise. I was thinking of doing juxtapositions—scenes from the two films and the remnant of the calamity in the locations where we shot them and of course, the whole tragedy as expressed by people we interviewed and those who got involved in the two productions. This became the initial mise en scene of the work, a shoot-edit exercise that’s taking place in my head.

Back to Manila after a week of shoot, I watched the footage. It was harrowing. I couldn’t sleep. I decided to take a different approach, a mixture of documentary and fiction. I already had a story in my head and wrote an outline. We contacted three theater actors, Roeder, Perry Dizon and Angeli Bayani; two local non-actors, the painter Dante Perez and Sophia Aves, played major roles. I just told them we’d do improvisation. I selected four people to work with me for the sound, design and stills. I was the cameraman. It was just a small unit. The first weeks, we used a tricycle [to get around] but eventually [we] got a cheap van. I was writing the script while we were shooting. I wrote the script at night, usually at dawn, and before breakfast, they were reading the scenes for the day. I chose the buried village of Padang as the central location of the story. We shot the film in six weeks within the months of December and January. I added more scenes this May, June and July in Pila, Laguna and Makati. I’ve been in the cutting room the last three months. The film could run seven to eight hours to nine hours. Initial reactions to the work? The Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam International Film Festival gave post production support. Toronto invited it with two scheduled showings; one will be an installation in an art gallery. Venice might get it, too. But I am not sure if I can do a final cut by August. Again, I am struggling and battling with its structure and content. It is becoming a fierce aesthetic battle because the story keeps evolving and, again, I am a slave to the discourse: theory versus common sense, intellectualizing versus being simply tactile, romanticizing versus just being honest about it The form is constantly changing that is why I couldn’t stop shooting, I couldn’t stop viewing and viewing and re-cutting the initial cut and I am dead tired, numbed and bored. I actually erased the whole first cut, a seven-hour version, in utter exasperation and anger and started from scratch again. But I am not complaining. The deed did me good. I was able to exorcise myself from being trapped in a post-pit of robotic editing.

Adding fiction became an imperative as I wanted greater discourse; the enigma of the majestic and imposing Mayon volcano, which was one of the major actors in Encantos by the way, offers a great metaphor for beauty, nostalgia, love of country, corruption, power, humility, death, destruction, redemption, truth, the thesis of suffering and pain as the greater truths of existence. The decision to include fiction is an aesthetic decision. And [it is] very personal, too. Even though I believe that a straight documentary would be very, very strong, my dread of doing it goes back to the documentary on street children and the still unfinished Sarungbanggi ni Alice (Night of Alice). Again, I felt like I was an intruder, a trespasser— an opportunist capitalizing on other peoples’ miseries. I didn’t want to go through that guilt trip again. Also, I wanted to experiment on form and have better control in the direction of its content. I wanted to balance it. Doing fiction puts you on so many levels—an observer, a critic, a philosopher, an empathic creator, a participant, the suffering poet, the man who loses everything. You are creating characters and their stories. Adding fiction somehow pushed my camera’s perspective in a different position. Shooting the documentary parts was like going to the battle zone. This was reality. No ifs and buts. You could be selective with your shots, with people whom you will speak with, but this was reality. You see things but then you wouldn’t know what’s going to hit you. The experience of immersion, or the pain of immersion, has the characteristic of the unknown. You have no control over it. At times it was so immediate and we could not control it. We’d be weeping in an instant. With fiction, there was some control. You write the treatment, the dialogue, have discourse with the actors, do rehearsals, chose the angles. You prepare. But during dramatizations, especially when the actors are truly immersed, then it would be a totally different dynamic. Just the same, you’d be weeping in an instant if a scene hits you.

Also, with fiction you destroy all the cushions of the man with an irresponsible camera that records, turns his back, goes home, edits the scoop and waits for the next calamity, for the next scoop, who treats recording miseries as just a job, because you are actively engaging with it.

The documentary on street children? Do I still wish to destroy it? No. I’ve come to terms with it albeit I’m still haunted by the memory of the street children that I interviewed. The year was 1992. Where are they now? It is now 2007. Did they survive at all? I cringe at the thought. You think of reality and it’s horrors. Hunger. If they are still alive. You think of questions: have they become criminals? The system is still so corrupt and feudal. You can still see hundreds of street children. Poverty is still the biggest issue in our country. Neglect is still a big issue. Irresponsibility remains a big issue. Apathy has gone to cancerous proportion. The sons of the motherland are still killing the sons of the motherland. The motherland is becoming a vast wasteland. The cross remains. The pinoy pathos is getting darker.

And I don’t know if that documentary is still extant. I haven’t heard or I haven’t seen the people who commissioned it.

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Mathieu Ricordi/ Ekran/ 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

The Slovenian film magazine Ekran (Girish previously posted the English version of an interview with Adrian Martin that appeared in their pages), which I’ve had the privilege of contributing to previously, has a review of the film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in its latest issue. Translated to Slovenian for print, the article was written by filmmaker, astute critic, and good friend since high school, Mathieu Ricordi. An active member of the notorious a_film_by mailing list, I believe Mathieu, when he does write, to be on equal level with some of the finest writers on cinema today.

While his article is essentially a critical review of 4 Months…, it also makes some intriguing arguments relevant to contemporary world cinema discourse (and dare I say, extremely relevant to Philippine cinema today).

For the privilege of those without access to Ekran — published in the Slovenian language, but with an extremely international contributor base that includes Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber and may soon have selected articles in English or their original language on their website — I post Mathieu’s review here. Your thoughts?

The review:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Framed between an opening image of two goldfishes in an aquarium and a closing image of its protagonists behind the glass window of a hotel restaurant, the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is primarily concerned with entrapment. Given that this feature is the most recent recipient of the Cannes Film festival’s top prize, the Palme D’Or , it is an especially entombed type of entrapment─ ensnaring its central premise, characters, and technique into a fixed political malaise, boxing out narrative dimensionality, artistic transcendence, and a complex worldview; all the while narrowing the possibilities of its purposely imposed tendencies towards realist cinema. In fact, one could spot the film’s dogmatic preoccupation with this particular sort of entrapment as another branch on the Cannes Palme D’Or family tree− whose new millennium roots have been particularly anchored in the enshrinement of cramped cause celebre pieces. Recent Cannes Laureates include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 which saw the director assemble a rigid decoupage of news-clips and biased interviews to simply re-affirm an ever growing disenchantment with George Bush’s handling of America and foreign policy, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant which used a national tragedy of teenage school shootings as the basis for a withdrawn exercise in test-tubing civic destruction─ fleeing any sociological inquiring in the process─ and Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a psychologically uncomplicated retort against British imperialism with implications on current situations in the Middle East. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days takes its place among these films in the tunnel of morbidity and crude anthropological display, cashing in on the politically correct viewpoint of finding grievance with totalitarian institutions/governments and the suffrage of the people living in these conditions.

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Texts Online
December 3, 2007, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Articles

I’ve compiled some links to articles I’ve written that are online here.
(this also appears under “texts online” in the pages section on the left)