SPECIAL FEATURES #4: Anna de Guia-Eriksson talks Filikino

In our continuing series of interviews with London’s independent curators, Anna de Guia-Eriksson talks Filikino, a programme of classic and contemporary Philippine cinema, the Philippine film industry and recent audience responses to ALIPATO by Khavn De La Cruz at Genesis Cinema.


Filikino presents: TODO TODO TEROS at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC).
Filikino presents: TODO TODO TEROS at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC).

The next Filikino screening is: TODO TODO TEROS* at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC 18:30).

“Love and terror are the subjects of this intimate, videodiary-esque film. Using a mix of found footage and personal videos, documentation of his trip to Berlin and life as an adolescent in Manila, John Torres poetically spins narratives that fold in on themselves. An excercise in form, TODO TODO TEROS (2006) marked the arrival of a new, singular voice in Philippine independent cinema.”

> Links and more after the interview.


As we settle down to get going…

[Anna de Guia-Eriksson]:
…I did an interview with Khavn de la Cruz, the director who I showed at my last screening, which was great. It’s really good, but after I’ve recorded the interview and cut it, I realised that I would have to sit through 15 minutes of listening to my own voice and that really made me anxious. I just hate the sound of my recorded voice…

[RADIANT CIRCUS]:
The good news is this will go online as a transcribed interview, not as a podcast…

What happened was, I had to turn it into a DCP and I downloaded this software off the internet and it took ages to do it and of course my computer couldn’t read the file because it’s a different file format. And so it wasn’t until we were actually playing the interview at the cinema where I realise that it had slowed my voice down. So my voice came out really slow and deep. It wasn’t that slow that it was difficult to listen to. But it certainly made it a lot easier for me because it brought my voice “down”.

… That interview was for your screening of ALIPATO?

Yes, ALIPATO: THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER, which came out in 2016 by Khavn de la Cruz.

I didn’t get to see it unfortunately, but the description you gave was very evocative. I think you described it as a “headfuck of a near-future Manila”?

A “hyperkinetic mindfuck”, which I think works really, really well to describe the film.

I was proud to retweet it!

Thanks for doing that! That’s what the film is, it’s about these child gangs who live in this dystopian future of Manila – which really, if you’ve been to Manila or if you’ve been to the Philippines at all, it really isn’t that far from reality. I guess it just seems more futuristic with the aesthetic that he applies. He has a lot of these bright neon colours. All of the characters are hyper-realistic caricatures of these gangster characters. He has a fetish for the strange, which is something that he talked about in his interview. He’s very influenced by Philippine comics from the eighties and seventies and just anything that was loud, garish and very provocative as well as offensive. Which makes sense as Manila is like that. There are all sorts of contradictions, it’s loud, provocative, and offensive, attacking all of your senses at once; but there’s still a lot of humour in it as well.

I think that’s what really marks the Philippines too: life is very difficult for a large part of the population and can be very, very dark, but people generally are very nice and have a strange sense of humour about the stuff that’s happening around them. I think that informs his filmmaking.

You said before that this is a bold film and you were nervous about where the audience was going to come from for it. And also how the audience was going to respond to it. How did it go?

I think we had about 40 people turn up, which was really good. I didn’t think I was going to get half as many people, partly because he doesn’t have a big following here in the UK, although he does in parts of eastern Europe and other places in Southeast Asia.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to a lot of people who came this time, which was a shame, but I did notice that there were some young people who looked like they were Filipinos whom I hadn’t seen before. There were some regular faces I’d seen at the previous screenings and some older ones.

I’ve noticed that my audience tends to be very mixed, in terms of age range, background and nationalities. What I love about doing this is that I meet Filipinos, parts of the diaspora or kids of 1st generation immigrants, who come to the screenings to either learn about the Philippines or to feel a connection to the place. But there are also a lot of non-Filipinos who come because they are curious about the region, about the culture, about the type of cinema that we produce. Many, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos, don’t even know that we have a thriving film culture! And then there are film enthusiasts who know the films or the directors and are happy that someone is finally showing them! My screenings are a blend of people and motivations and the great thing is that it is slowly creating its own community, its own network. People have told me that they owe particular relationships to Filikino – being told this really warmed my heart!

The audience this time around surprised me. I wasn’t sure if people here are used to this sort of filmmaking, which is some might call crude in certain senses, if you’re coming from a Western perspective of “how cinema should be done” – which isn’t something that I believe in. But you know, understandably a lot of people do if you come from a very streamlined film culture.

Filikino presents: ALIPATO - THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER screened at Genesis Cinema (05 NOV).
Filikino presents: ALIPATO: THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER screened at Genesis Cinema (05 NOV).

I guess from that perspective, when I reflect on what I understand about Philippine film, you get presented two broad schools. There’s the social realist, Lino Brocka, weighty, emotionally shattering art film… And then there’s the exploitation industry where hundreds of movies were churned out a year. We don’t get wider reference points. What drives you to create your Filikino programme and how did ALIPATO fit in with what you are trying to achieve?

I wanted to show ALIPATO because it was an aesthetic that I hadn’t seen before in any Philippine films. I should say that I am not the be-all-and-end-all of Philippine cinema. This is why I started the film screenings: I was studying film at Queen Mary, where I learned a lot, but where I also realised that I knew very little about my own film culture. And I didn’t understand why, given that I grew up partly in the Philippines and part of my family is very much involved in film. I had various entry points into the industry and I didn’t know why I hadn’t had more engagement. I think it speaks to the extent to which my film education was informed (and regulated) by European and American films, and the mentality, very common in the Philippines, that ‘foreign is better’. Filikino started from a desire to educate myself and the more that I’ve done this, the more I’ve realised how little I know. Which is the classic thing, isn’t it?

We’ve been making films since the camera was first brought to the islands, then used as a tool of colonial oppression. So we really have a long cinematic history. I want to show that history, showing classics and also stuff that we’re doing now. In the past like 10 years or so, there’s been a real boom in the independent scene in the Philippines, producing loads of films as well as film festivals. So the domestic film industry is very productive, very much alive and it’s getting some traction internationally as well.

I’ve had about six screenings before this one. The first couple of those films were art-house films: PERFUMED NIGHTMARE (1977) and TURUMBA (1981) by Kidlat Tahimik. With those films, I was thinking a little more strategically in terms of what kind of an audience I could bring. I wanted to strike a balance in screening something accessible to the general public while showing something that might not have been shown at for example, the BFI or the ICA.

With ALIPATO I was thinking that I wanted to show something contemporary and narrative. Because I’d shown some classic art-house films and some documentaries. Then I showed INSIANG (1976), which was the one that you came to, and which is a classic, both in terms of the time that it was made, from the (so-called) Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, and the cinematic tools it employs.

Khavn’s film compliments the subject matter of INSIANG, depicting lives of Manila’s poor, but it is very different aesthetically and in construction of narrative. It’s not like a melodrama that has a set structure. His films are more experimental in form. And you have parts of the film that you can pick out as singular pieces in themselves.

Another thing about him is that there’s an energy to his films and to his character as well. You are drawn along with him into his films. He talked about his process: how he automatically produces stuff without thinking, which is a very interesting way to create. He is prolific, he’s made around 200 films. He’s a composer as well, he’s written poetry, producing a whole anthology of poems in two days. So he has this process of just writing, making stuff and not really going back and looking over things.

How does that resolve itself in his films?

It’s what gives you this energy, that sense of constantly moving forward in the film. He told us that he shot ALIPATO in four days, which is mad for a feature, but also knowing how films are made in the Philippines, I can totally see that happening.

I wanted to show ALIPATO because of this energy but also because of what I would identify as a sense of anger. I don’t think Khavn would necessarily agree with me saying this, but considering the subject of his films and the look of his films, you can feel this anger. He made two previous films both set in the same world of Mondomanila: ISQUATTERPUNK (2007) and MONDOMANILA (2011). Both, like ALIPATO, revolve around child criminals, who live in these harsh places, where all the odds are stacked against them and who have to do really terrible things in order to survive.

I sense anger in his expressing this fact regarding these people’s lives. That comes across in the violence that is shown, but also in his aesthetic. There is real pleasure in watching this film as well. I think that’s because of the way he characterises people and also stylistically. He uses a mix of slow mo and sped up shots and then… a reference for this would be Guy Ritchie who does these freeze frames, with a character coming in and then an explanation of who this character is, usually with a humorous, slightly grim, nickname and backstory.

Considering the political situation in the Philippines right now, and what’s been going on over the past year, I also felt that it would be something that audience members could see and draw parallels between.

How did they respond? You mentioned before that you had been worried about walk-outs…

Which didn’t happen! Everyone stayed… [laughter…]. Afterwards, a lot of people wondered about whether he had any ethical considerations in making this film. He worked with a mix of local actors and maybe only had one or two professional actors. The rest of the people were roughly from the area. In one of the first scenes you’ve got this naked kid running around and in other ones you’ve got a one year old smoking cigarettes and stuff like that. Difficult things to watch.

Filikino presents: ALIPATO - THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER screened at Genesis Cinema (05 NOV).
Filikino presents: ALIPATO: THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER screened at Genesis Cinema (05 NOV).

It was quite difficult to choose usable images when listing the film….

Exactly.

The audience picked up on those issues but did they express a particular view?

It was interesting. There were a few people who were wondering about whether he had thought about any of this at all, which he doesn’t. He doesn’t really entertain questions like that about his work. I guess that’s also part of the reality of making films in the Philippines and about the Philippines as a place: how much can you actually effect as a filmmaker coming in and making films about these people? I don’t mean that these aren’t questions you should consider as a filmmaker; you certainly should! But I think there exists a tension between your moral and ethical aspirations and the immediate reality you are dealing with, something which isn’t resolved simply or quickly. Certainly not in the course of making a film.

There were some other questions about if the cast had seen the film afterwards, which unfortunately I don’t think they did because there were only three screenings of this film in the Philippines.

The sad thing is that his films don’t get a lot of traction in the Philippines partly because of the system of distribution: with ALIPATO it was a nightmare. A lot of the main cinemas are owned by mall chains and they tend to show blockbusters, either American blockbusters or studio system, domestically produced blockbusters as well. They are very reliable, money-making machines…

And very well behaved…?

Yes, exactly, exactly. We also have a film censorship board. ALIPATO was only shown in three places because these venues are outside of the jurisdiction of the national censor board. One of these places was a big institution. You can show films there and they don’t have to first be vetted by the national board of censors. But that also means these institutions aren’t necessarily open or accessible to the people he shot the films with.

Who does he think the audience is for his films? There was clearly one in London the other day, but if you’ve already produced 200 and they’re not widely seen in your country, because of issues with distribution, where are they being seen?

I think it’s largely film festivals. When I spoke to him, he had gotten back from a retrospective that in the Czech Republic. I think various parts of Germany as well. He’s got a cult following. Even within the independent scene in the Philippines he’s quite an anomaly because he produces his own films. He is also quite critical of the independent scene in the Philippines. He started making films when you had to fund your own stuff and there was very little money. I think he’s been lucky enough that he has had the money to do these films whereas now, the growth of independent film in the Philippines has given rise to film festivals funding their own production. It is a system that’s in opposition to the studio system, but it’s a system in itself and something that’s kind of created its own…

… forms, expectations, and priorities? I’m guessing he just isn’t the kind of filmmaker who would fall easily into those…?

Exactly. He’s very much working to his own agenda, one of these guys who just works a lot better on his own terms. It’s also why he’s able to make all those films.

Finally then, how did your own film life begin?

My parents made films and were friends with filmmakers. I watched a lot of films growing up, from all over the place, and I owe this partly to them and partly to the thriving boot-leg culture in the Philippines. For most people in the Philippines, I think this is how our film education manifests itself: not in the cinema but on the streets in the marketplace, buying packs of ripped DVD’s.

Thinking about how I have been moved, educated, shaken by the films I have seen; considering the ways cinema has made me feel things, I think it is a powerful tool for precisely these reasons and I think this is also why alternative programming is so important. The narratives we see, we imbibe have a profound influence on the way we see the world and the way we choose to move through it. I see Filikino as participating in that.

… and that’s the meat of it.

Filikino presents: TODO TODO TEROS at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC).
Filikino presents: TODO TODO TEROS at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC).

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