Q & A: LAV DIAZ

This entry was posted on October 1st, 2012

By Jan Philippe V. Carpio

NO END IN SIGHT[i]

An interview session with Lav Diaz on creative “dead ends”, quitting filmmaking, self-doubt, creative rebirth, creative process, and the inexplicability of cinema

 Lavrente Indico Diaz was born in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, Mindanao on December 30, 1958.  “Dubbed the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema”, he began directing in the Philippine commercial film industry in the 1990s, receiving attention for films with clearly independent, socially conscious and artistic intentions such as Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcyon and Hesus Rebolusyonaryo.  After leaving the industry, Diaz sought to create his cinema on his own terms.  Beginning with the five hour Batang Westside in 2001 which won the Best Asian Feature at the 2002 Singapore International Film Festival, followed by later films, such as the landmark near eleven hour Evolution of a Filipino Family, the nine hour Heremias Book 1, Death in the Land of the Encantos and the seven hour 2008 Venice International Film Festival New Horizons Best Film, Melancholia, Diaz has used his long form cinema to question the very nature of cinematic time and space, the inherently commercial nature of filmmaking, and most importantly as a possible tool for involvement, investigation, mourning, healing, remembrance, meditation, confrontation and action for his fellow Filipinos.      

Actress Hazel Orencio (also present during the interview) stars in Siglo ng Pagluluwal (Century of Birthing, 2011), Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012), and the upcoming Oryang.

Desistfilm: I saw Siglo a few weeks ago at U.P. (University of the Philippines Cine Adarna/U.P. Film Center). It’s your first long form film in 3 years since Melancholia (2008). Before Siglo, I know the pains and creative struggles you’ve had with Heremias (Book 2), Babae ng Hangin (Woman of the Wind/Corporal Histories) and Agonistes.

Lav Diaz (LD): (Laughs) Yes.  They are all unfinished works.

Desistfilm: Aside from the inclusion of scenes from Babae in Siglo, how did the creative process manifest in each of the works?  How did the unfinished works relate to Siglo?

LD: If you study the film well, there are three artists involved.  Amang Tiburcio (Joel Torre) was an artist before he became a sect leader.  The Photographer (Roeder) is an artist.  The central figure Homer (Perry Dizon) is an artist.  It’s a discourse on my issues from the last three years that I could not finish a work.  I will have to finish this work based on this problem: the chaos that happened to me why I couldn’t finish these films.

For example, Heremias Book 2 has been a work-in-progress for five, six years.  I’m undergoing the same cross again.  The same experiences I had with Ebolusyon (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004).  It took me ten years to finish it.  Every year I was agonizing over it.  One day, I just had to create these characters with these issues.  Homer is trying to finish Babae ng Hangin.  Amang Tiburcio has his distorted idealism on how to save humanity.  The Photographer has his twisted perspective of liberating somebody.  These are the three of the issues of being an artist.  You work on things that are not fulfilled and you want to fulfill them aesthetically, politically, spiritually.

The beginnings of the character of Homer came one day very early in the morning.  Around six o’clock I was sitting alone in Marikina in a Mini Stop[ii] waiting for Khavn De La Cruz (filmmaker) to go on a hike.  I heard these two guys talking about a coming storm.  Pham!  That was the inspiration.

I called up Hazel (Orencio) and Perry (Dizon) and said come here fast, we’re going to shoot.  So I forced them to go with me to Central Luzon and wait for the storm there.  When we arrived there, I created Homer.  I started creating this crazy woman character like a King Lear type.  This mad artist and this madwoman would meet in the end, and somehow a liberating ritual would happen there.

So I just wanted to play on that at first.  And it evolved some more after that.  So the usual: it became an organic process.  I started with those ideas: Homer, the Odyssey of the artist, the madwoman, where did she come from?  How did their union happen?  How did their playing off each other happen?  Rebirthing: I want to have a rebirth as an artist also.  How do I create that?  How do I articulate that visually?  That’s the impetus of the film.

Desistfilm: How does it relate to self purging?

LD: Everything.  It’s a purging: trying to regenerate your creative juices, trying to find some kind of rebirth.  It’s not a dead end actually.  It’s a really chaotic perspective.  One day you think about this thread and you follow it and at some point, you’re no longer inspired to continue following it.

It happened that way with Heremias.  The shoot could not be sustained.  Ronnie (Lazaro, actor) didn’t want to do it.  He became busy with other work.  I lost interest.  It was very hard to regain momentum.

The same thing happened with Babae ng Hangin.  I wanted to extend things because I’m thinking of other threads to improve the story.  But Angel Aquino (actor) wouldn’t do it anymore.  She wanted to remain within the original script we talked about.  Of course Bart (Guingona, actor) wanted to continue but it was a dead end with Angel.

With Agonistes, I didn’t like what I saw.  I didn’t like the film.  Although there are moments in the film, although some critics liked the rough cut, for me it’s so unfulfilled.  I was still looking for something.  I had to reshoot it.  The direction of the film changed.  It became Florentina Hubaldo (CTE, 2012).  I was able to fulfill what I wanted to fulfill in Hubaldo.

So somehow making Siglo started me again.  The issue of rebirth happened.  Regeneration happened.  But it’s a long, long process.  It’s a hard struggle.  It’s painful at some point.  There was a time when I wanted to quit filmmaking.   You feel like a fraud.  You ask yourself, what are you doing?

You have issues about the responsibility of the artist: Are you art for art’s sake?  Are you going to be an artist where your perspective is that you’re going to be a cultural worker?  Are you an artist for your ego only?  You keep working on these issues.

Desistfilm: You think it is fair to say that this is also self criticism?

LD: Of course!  It’s very much self criticism.  There is a big self critique.  You inflict those wounds to wake you up.  The concept that the artist is always creative is not true.  The concept that the artist is like a god is not always true.  Artists can be demons sometimes.  You’re a fraud.  You have to accept that you are like that.  Your enemy is always your ego.  One of the biggest battles is with ego.

Desistfilm: I recall the scene with Sir Dante (Perez, actor) and Perry (Dizon, actor).

LD: Their long discourse.

Desistfilm: Yes.  I know that’s the way that you talk and it seemed almost like you were putting yourself there in the scene.

LD: There was no plan.  I just write how things happen.  Hey, memorize this.  Then shoot.  Let’s not plan it like movie dialogue.  It needs to flow naturally.  There are a lot of mistakes.  Sometimes, the conversation goes somewhere else.  Make the characters real.  They’re just talking, having coffee.  You’re not making a movie or what.  They’re just having a discourse.  These are friends who are lost with the issue of being artists, the issue of being.  Can cinema be really a tool for culture?  Can cinema be a tool for interpreting life, articulating humanity’s issues?  It’s hard.  What is the use of cinema?  So I have to discourse on that but not in a very intellectual way, just in the normal way of conversing.  He’s not a teacher or a philosopher.  He’s just a fucking artist with a camera.  That’s how human the character should be.

Desistfilm: I’m not so familiar with King Lear.  I’m referring to meeting of the mad artist and the mad woman at the end of Siglo.  As I know how devoted you are to Tarkovsky, the scene seemed to also recall the meeting between Andrei Rublev and Boriska the Bellmaker.

LD: You cannot escape Tarkovksy.  It’s in the subconscious.  We’ve been watching Tarkovsky forever.  He is our god.  His praxis, his methodology, rubs off.  It comes off naturally.  For example, you really like an artist, you like (John) Lennon, you play him everyday.  When you make a song, there’s that nuance that’s evident.  That nuance is Tarkovsky.  That vérité is Brocka.  You can see things that have been influenced by other artists and some works.  That’s what happens.

Desistfilm: It seems similar with Rublev because I feel Tarkovsky was also questioning himself as an artist with that film.  Boriska said that beautiful line at the end, “I didn’t know what I was doing”.

LD: Regarding the bell, he didn’t know.  The kid pretended.  Wow.  That was magic.  You did something and you didn’t know what you were doing.

Desistfilm: So you were also talking about feeling like a fraud sometimes?

 LD: Of course.  The best part of the creative process is when you are questioning yourself and your work not just discoursing on some theories like cinema or what.  Most of the time, you do have doubts.  I’m sure of this.  Each artist has doubts about what he/she is doing.  There is this big fear that maybe this is wrong.  This won’t be beautiful.  It might be a big failure.  You always have that.  This cannot be avoided.  This is the battle: How to overcome that fucking fear?      That feeling alone, that state alone of fearing your work as to where you stand, is self criticism already.  You’re doing self critique because you stop and think.  It’s about your work, your methodology.  It’s about your self.  This is the greatest battle sometimes in your creative process and praxis.  And it’s hard when you are beaten and overwhelmed by the fear.  You will stop creating.  You will get blocked.  It’s very frightening.

Desistfilm: Was this your fear during the period of the three unfinished works?

LD: Yes.  I lost all motivation to finish any of them.  Venice (International Film Festival) wanted Babae sa Hangin.  I didn’t give it to them.  I felt, fuck I don’t like this film.  Paolo (Bertolin, festival programmer) said come on let’s show it.  I said, “The film is not good.”  The same thing happened with Heremias.  I said it wasn’t finished.  Alexis (Tioseco, film critic) said let’s show it.  It was screened in London.  And it worked.  The two hour cut.  He said, “This is fine.  They like it.”

Agonistes was shown in the film club of Alexis here in Metro Manila.  Some people wrote some good reviews.  I saw it as an aesthetically unfulfilled work.  For me, it’s very lacking.  Wiwat (Lertwiwatwongsa a.k.a. FILMSICK) from Thailand made this lengthy review about the film that was published in Criticine[iii].  And he really loved that five hour version.

That is a self critique.  Even if others like it and you don’t like it, you’re not quite sure.  You doubt your work.  You doubt your praxis.  You doubt your methodology.  You doubt your vision. And you doubt your own identity at some point.  In your eyes you’re just a motherfucking fraud.  You might as well go and just masturbate. (Laughter. Pause)

At least you’ll be able to get some release and you rest after.  You know, jerk off man.  That’s all you needed.  You don’t need fucking art.

Desistfilm: Visually, this the first time you used High Definition (HD) digital video.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you use shallow focus.  Usually you use deep focus.

LD: You can’t do anything about it.  Digital Video (DV) camera is deep focus.  But with the advent of these interchangeable cameras like these Micro 4/3rds, you can use the old lenses again.  And it’s exciting.  With Siglo I was using my old 35mm Canon lens that I used in the 1990s for still photography.  And I also have an 85mm lens.  I also mixed in the new with the Panasonic 14mm pancake lens.  With Hubaldo I used the same and the new Olympus 12mm.  They blended well together, a blend of the old and the new, deep focus and shallow focus.

Desistfilm: How did this help reenergize you?

LD: It’s a great time for filmmaking again.  You can articulate things again through cinematography.  Before, with advent of the Panasonic DVX and the P2, the lens is steady, you can’t change things unless you go for lens adapters.  This time it’s free for all.  The companies are coming out with great cameras.  It’s a revolution.  It’s up to you how you use them.

Desistfilm: Aside from shallow focus, I haven’t seen you use close ups, full shots and medium shots in a long time until Siglo.  What prompted you to do this?

LD: The lenses.  Before, it’s just good to be just there.  The DVX has that kind of feeling where it encourages you to just be an observer.  With the new lenses and cameras, you become involved again.  That was my experience.  Your mind starts measuring light, the sourcing of light, deep focus, shallow focus.  It helps.  It inspires you to try new things or exercise the old praxis at least.

Desistfilm: It was quite interesting to me because your first shot is a tight full shot of the cultists in the water in shallow focus.  I like how you showed the steadiness of the ritual, the repetitiveness, but the hands of the cultists waving on top of the screen were breaking the top of the frame.  The eye would get jarred by the hands.  Composition-wise, I don’t know if you’ve done this before, the frame seems more open.  In a sense that, even if you’re focusing on Hazel’s character, there is still an element that my eye is directed to and must acknowledge other elements in the frame which I also notice in your previous works.

LD: That’s a Jacques Tati influence.  You have to look at the whole canvas.  There’s still a story on the left side and the right side although you have this main action and main character here.  The lizard and the leaf in the other parts of the canvas have their own stories as well. You can wander and wonder.

Desistfilm: Batang Westside felt more like a self contained world.  With Ebolusyon and the later films, more and more you are allowing “real life” to mingle with “reel life” – even if it’s just the vehicles cutting the frame, and for example the scene at the convenience store in Siglo where a customer sits in front of the camera right in the middle of a scene between your actors.  How do you see this element in your work?

LD: I call that praxis “insubordination”.  You do not subordinate cinema to the movement of the characters.  That is the tradition of Hollywood, the Philippine film industry and any commercial movie where they’re just following the movement of the characters.  When I started doing these long takes that was insubordination.  You just don’t follow the action of the characters only.  You just let life flow.  You can still see life there flowing around the characters.  It is insubordinating the canvas from the movement of the subjects, the usual and conventional praxis of Hollywood and the Philippine film industry.  In essence it is an anti-movie theory and discourse.

Desistfilm: How did this manifest with your earlier works?

LD:  It was already there in Kriminal (Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcyon/The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion, 1998) but it was not included in the screening cut.  The original cut was three hours.  Even though you are following the movement of the characters, you can still see life, things that are moving apart and different from the film.  If it’s just a movie, you’re just following the action of the characters.  If you’re just following the subject, you don’t see the whole canvas.  You don’t see spaces and time.

Desistfilm: It’s funny that you mention that one subject of Siglo is fundamentalism since there is not really much information or study given to the cult in the film.  What I saw more was that the film’s form was a critique of fundamentalism.  It’s ironic because people actually label you as a fundamentalist or extremist filmmaker.

LD: It’s a self critique also.  Fundamentalism will destroy you.  When you become dogmatic, you’re gone.  You stay on one side, in one box, you’re gone.  It’s same thing with our praxis.  My framework is not always the long take.  I don’t want to stay within that kind of framework.  I will adjust it to the story I need to do and to the characters I that I see.  Now you see a lot of close shots, medium shots, shorter takes, because that’s what the scenes need.  There will be long takes because it is needed.  It is not forced.  You can’t be dogmatic and insist that all my shots must be long takes with a big frame.  I don’t want to be part of that, becoming dogmatic within my own praxis, becoming stubborn.  If your cinema is liberated, you can use anything.  Any praxis is valid.

We’re actually planning to do an action film noir film which is so bloody (laughter). I don’t know what is going to happen.  And it’s a musical too where they will sing their lines, stylized but also at the same time with all these elements of film noir: a femme fatale, friends fighting over money, greed, fascism, revenge.  Everything happens at night in the darkness.  I want to play with high contrast, stark characters at the fringes and in the underbelly where they just eat each other and kill each other.  It’s all about hate and blood.  That would be a good film noir to do, but at the same time a musical.  There will be nuances of sadness.  They will have philosophies.  The lines will be poetic.  There will be contrasts.  I don’t know what’s going to happen.  It’s an experiment.  We are going to shoot in Virac (Catanduanes) where the ocean waves are high.  If someone drowns, bahala na[iv]. (Laughter)

Desistfilm: How was the experience shooting on location in Siglo?

LD: I was hiding in a sidewalk store in one of the shots.  They didn’t think Hazel was acting as a madwoman.  They thought she was a real madwoman.  She was lying down and singing.  There were two middle aged ladies right beside the store.  One of them was so angry.  She was saying, “Who raped this girl?  She’s very pretty.  The poor girl.” They really thought she was crazy.  I didn’t include that shot in the final cut.

Hazel Orencio (HO): A traffic enforcer was very kind.  He went up to me.  He offered to help me.  He said he wanted to feed me.  I was so surprised.  I thought they were going to tell me to leave.  They were very helpful.  It’s very touching actually because you expect otherwise and you receive kindness. The time that Lav cut the shot, I was thanking them for their kindness.

LD: (Laughs) There was also a big part of the film that I didn’t include where Homer’s daughter visited him.  They discourse on being an artist, his neglect of his family.  You’re always away from your kids.  I took it out because it didn’t work.  I tried putting it in.  After I watched it, I realized it wasn’t needed.  You have to sacrifice that.  It’s painful because there were many good moments but you have to make tough decisions.

Even Babae ng Hangin has many wonderful moments but I didn’t need to put them in.  There were many wonderful scenes with Bart and Angel.  Even the great scenes of Joe Gruta (actor) I couldn’t include.

Maybe later on I can cut together a ten hour version of Siglo.  Five hours of the madwoman.  She keeps walking and walking around the town, sleeping in the cemetery, dancing, standing under the rain in the cemetery, standing on burned bamboo reeds.

Desistfilm: I recall the scene where Homer (Perry Dizon) is buying vegetables at an open market and film festival programmer calls him up just before he starts haggling with a vegetable vendor.  This scene seems very autobiographical.  I like it very much because it deglamorizes the artist.

LD:  We’re not fucking gods man.  There are artists who act liked gods and play gods.  “I am this and I am that.”  As if they aren’t human anymore.  I think this is bullshit.  If you get overwhelmed by your ego, I don’t know what’s going to happen to your work.  You might as well work on your ego.

Desistfilm: This is your first film Hazel.  Your background is theater, but I could see no theatricality in what you did.

HO: Thank you.

LD: It was very easy for her to enter into character.

“It’s a great time for filmmaking again.  You can articulate things again through cinematography.  Before, with advent of the Panasonic DVX and the P2, the lens is steady, you can’t change things unless you go for lens adapters   This time it’s free for all.  The companies are coming out with great cameras.  It’s a revolution.  It’s up to you on how to you use them.”

Desistfilm: How was the process in working with him?

HO: The truth is, I was washing my laundry when he texted me to come and shoot.  I thought we were shooting Oryang already.  I got scared because I thought it was Oryang already.  He said, just pack your things and come here and we’ll shoot.  He had given me DVD copies of his films so that I would get an idea of his creative process, but I ended up not watching them because the call to shoot was so sudden.  So I joined him and Tito[v] Perry (Dizon).  It was just the three of us shooting.

For the first take, I was saying to my self, “How come he’s not yelling cut? Isn’t my acting good enough?”  Of course, you’d be like that with your insecurities as an actress.  You’d be used to those directors who shout at you whenever you did something wrong.  I ended up being very happy working with his process.  I felt very fulfilled as an actress.  When you’re used to limited time and your movements are dictated, there is no artistry.  I realized that working with him, artistry comes when you work beyond your limits, when you push your limits.  You must give your all.  You have to be in the character completely.

LD: You don’t cut your character.

HO: One of things he asked me to do was to count fifty counts or one hundred counts before beginning a scene.  When I first started doing it, as most actors who work with him, I was wondering what it was all about.  I was skeptical about it.  Why do we need to count one to one hundred?  But after several scenes doing it, I noticed that when I did the counting that’s when I really got into the character.  In the long run, I do the counting whether he tells me to or not.

LD: Soliman (Cruz, actor) and the others underwent similar experiences using the counting to enter into their characters.

HO: But my fears were still there because we really did not discuss things unless it was during the scene.  So after my very first day we really talked.  He asked, “How was my experience?”  I said “Am I doing the right thing?  Am I doing something wrong?  You’re not saying anything.”  I needed to hear it.  Then it turns out, this really was his process.  I later became so enthusiastic about it.  It’s being.  I really enter into the character.  I appreciate myself as an actress and as an artist when I work with him.

So I can understand when Kuya[vi] Roeder and Tito Sol (Soliman Cruz), when he calls them to shoot, even when they have other projects, they really make time just to work with him because his process is so unique.

Before the Palawan shoot I was also doing household chores when he said we’re going to Palawan, make your preparations, I’ve already booked a ticket.  I was surprised as to how easy it seemed to just go and shoot.  It was morning when he called and we left for Palawan in the evening.

In the boat we were already shooting.  He planned that as soon as we get off the boat we were going to shoot a scene where I was crying as the boat leaves.  When we get off the boat we rushed to a used clothing store to get clothes and costumes.  Then we had to rush back to the boat to get the shot.  When we got back to dock, he set up the shot and told me to act in the scene.

As a new actor working with him I was expecting us to shoot in Palawan.  But I didn’t expect that we were going to shoot scenes on the ship.  It’s great.  It was an adventure.  There were only two of us shooting.  He was doing everything: cinematographer, director, location manager.  I was designing my own costumes and putting my own make up.

In Siglo, during my scenes with Tito Perry, there were no more than three or four of us around at a time.  Everyone was multitasking.  It helped that I had worked with Tito Perry before in theater.  Tito Perry is my senior.  I was scared that he was going to get mad at me if I did something wrong.  But it didn’t happen.  He really pushed me.  He really made me feel welcome as a member of Lav’s team.

Desistfilm: I haven’t seen Florentina Hubaldo yet but how was the shooting experience with that?

LD: I was working on the idea of CTE: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  During the process of the film I was struggling as to how will I articulate the character’s issue as well as contextually defining the struggle of our culture, our people, our country?  How do you articulate this malady from this individual to the whole malady of the country without being didactic?  It worked well with her.  She had a hard time.  The film was very physical for her.

Florentina was very fulfilling for me.  I think this is my most fulfilled work.  I can say that.  It was very liberating.  I feel so light.  So far in my praxis and my methodology, this feels like my most perfect cinema in my own opinion.  I was able to work with rhythm, repetition, dissecting, discoursing, dialectically the problems of our country with an individual without it being didactic.  I’m not forcing the issue.  This is the problem of the country:  Fascism.  Totalitarianism.  Animal Farm.  It’s about forgetting, the dialectics of forgetting.  It’s about torment.  It’s about this long malady.  Banging.  Repetition.  And you lose things, and the struggle to remain sane amidst all this.

Desistfilm: Since your early films you’ve explored the creative process, suffering, sacrifice.  Siglo seems to be one example of a synthesis of all these subjects.  What are your main interests in them?

LD: What is important to me is the struggle of the Filipino, the struggle of the country.  At the same time I will include my struggle as an artist.  Am I still relevant?  Is my process correct?  You question the issues of your country and you question your own issues.  It’s very personal at the same time you take into account the struggle of the culture you live in.  You have a dual responsibility to your art and self.  You have to question that process at the same time you place art in the context of social work.  You are a cultural worker.  You have to tackle the issues happening in your country and humanity as a whole.  The issues happening to the Filipino are universal.  They happen all over the world.  My issues as an artist also happen to other artists.  You involve all these things in the struggle for the truth.  You’re investigating.  You’re trying to explore things.  Is this true?  Is this honest?

Even with actors I want them to be very honest that’s why I don’t want to cut them.  I’m giving them that freedom within the framework of the canvas.  Sometimes I tell them to look at the canvas.  Look at it.  This is where you will live.  So they know what to do but at the same time they are free.  I’m liberating them from the clutches of the conventions of cinema making.  “We’ll do a lot of cut to cuts.  Don’t worry about it.  I’ll take care of that.  Your emotion, I’ll take care of that.  We’ll put music later.  We’ll put voice over.”  I don’t want to do that.  I want them to do it.  Give it to me.  Surprise me.  Immerse yourself in your character.  It’s better that way.  It’s more truthful.  It’s more honest for me.  We go back to theory of Kazan, the praxis of Jean Renoir, although Eisenstein’s montage is valid, my praxis is different.

The actor can tell me that this is lacking let’s do it again.  There are actors like Pen Medina, Joel Torre who are not satisfied.  Even though you’re having coffee five days later, they still question their acting.  They feel they’ve done something wrong.  They become much more involved when you give them that kind of freedom.  But when you do a cut to cut, they will leave it up to you as the director.

Desistfilm: They share the responsibility.

LD: Yes.  It’s all about articulating all these things and then, beneath it all, truth.  Is everything truthful?  You throw away all the film theories.  You can see if the person who did this film is honest or not through that huge canvas magnified onscreen.  At the end of the day, is your work honest or not?

JPC: I found some scenes in Siglo predictable.  For example I predicted when Hazel’s character gets raped.  I saw that coming but I what I did not predict was the intensity of the rape.  The structural, visual aspect of your work, the use of time I love very much.  Sometimes with the characterizations, I find them problematic.  Some parts of Homer I feet didn’t really work.

LD: Of course there are things missing.  I’m not doing a full character study.  I just let it flow.  I don’t follow the conventional where the character has a history and everything is clear about the character.  I don’t do that anymore.  We don’t even know these characters.  They are just there.  I want some kind of abstraction to happen.  Abstraction creates mystery or you can just have emotion instead of articulating a lot of things in the film.  “This is where the character came from.  This is what the character wants.  These are the characters mannerisms.”  Sometimes I just put down scenes of daily life.  The character is having coffee.  The character was out with some friends.  They meet on the road.  This is also part of insubordination: insurbodinating cinema from the old convention where there are full fledged characterizations.

It’s easy doing things like Kriminal (Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcyon/The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion, 1998) and Hubad (sa Ilalim ng Buwan, 1999) where the characters are full.  But with the long films, things became different.  It’s just a discourse on life.  I’m trying to understand life.  I’m not so interested in full fledged characters.

My argument is that cinema is still very young.  It’s a very young form.  We can still do so many things with it.  We can play with a lot of genres, with a lot of structuring.  We can even change our praxis.  At the same time it’s very powerful and takes a lot of responsibility.  You must be responsible about what you’re giving, what you’re doing, what you’re creating.  Even though only a few people watch a particular film, the effect is still so great.  And I’m not just talking about cinema only.  I’m talking about all art, the cultural movement.  Cultural works are more important than politics, than religion.  Art is more important in educating people, in pushing people to greater heights.

Desistfilm: Are you trying to explore abstraction that will somehow be melded with the natural life of people?

LD: Yes.

Desistfilm: Because abstraction is in conflict with the actual.

LD: Of course.  It’s experimentation.  Well I’m not going to abstract art.  With abstract art, it’s emotion first before intellect.  This is a very difficult contradiction.  With this new cinema that I am going into, I am following a genre but at the same time you are deconstructing the genre.  Maybe that’s the better word: deconstruction not abstraction.  I don’t know, but for now I want to use the word abstraction.  To have no control over characters, you’re just following threads.  You always have a thousand and one threads for one character, for a story, for an image, for a plot, for a narrative.  You can just choose and follow it.  Everything is valid.  It will work depending on which thread you follow.  We were just having fun with the characters at first.  Then later we became serious about it.

HO: Actually the original story of Siglo wasn’t about a cult.  The original characters and studies for the film were product promoters in malls.  Later it developed to preachers on the bus.  The song used in the film also started out as a joke.  It was collaboration between me and Lav.  I contributed the chords.  Lav contributed the lyrics.

LD: Sometimes I just think about it one evening, I want to do this scene.  I write it down and I tell the actors, memorize this, we’ll shoot this tomorrow.  They themselves could not follow the flow.  That was the reason I had fights with Pen (Medina, actor) before.  Pen wanted a history.  He would ask me, “Where did this come from?” I took that away from him.  Let’s just do this.  He was so angry at me.  We wouldn’t talk during the Ebolusyon shoot.  He wanted to know where things were going.  It was just organic.  Tomorrow, we might go somewhere else.  It was a long battle. Pen was bad mouthing me because of that.  He wanted to know what was going on.  He wanted to know what his character was.  But I’m still in control.  This scene that I’m adding is still part of that fucking character.  It’s still part of the whole.  There are a lot of abstractions.  It doesn’t seem to connect but it’s still connecting, insurbodinating the canvas from the conventions.  We don’t just follow actions anymore.

Just look at the scene.  That scene might be something that you can experience as independent from the film.  That’s part of life.  Everything is independent.  Beyond that space you’re sitting in, there are so many stories.  And cinema can be that.  That’s the new cinema.  I’m shooting you, but I can follow the story of the person behind you because this is part of your flow.  You’re connected to that.  You’re only separated from each other by two feet.  That’s still a story.  I’m just using the words abstraction or insubordination for lack of proper words for it, but it’s all about space that is part of the whole.  There are many holes and gaps.  It’s up to you as an audience member to fill them up. What you fill them up with is your emotion.  That’s abstraction.  You don’t need a story.  You just need emotion.  And it’s about you, your own struggles.  Aside from the struggle for the truth, all there struggles are actually struggles against time and space.

But at the end of the day you still don’t understand cinema.  You’re like Homer.  When they ask me about cinema, I answer, “I don’t fucking know about cinema.”


[i] The inspiration for the title was from an interview of Thai filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul by Monica Delgado published in Desistfilm 01.
[ii] A local 24 hour grocery and convenience store.
[iii] An online film criticism journal on Southeast Asian Cinema founded by the late film critic Alexis Tioseco.
[iv] The expression refers to Bathala, a pre-Hispanic Filipino deity and leader of the gods.  The person saying the expression surrenders what he/she cannot control in life to the will of Bathala.
[v] Directly translated to English as “uncle” but often used as a term of endearment and/or respect for an older male figure who is not necessarily related by blood to the speaker.
[vi] Directly translated to English as “big brother” but often used as a term of endearment and/or respect for an older male figure who is not necessarily related by blood to the speaker.