» Category: Interviews Connecting Asia and Europe through Film Tue, 22 Apr 2014 09:28:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Constructive criticism will make you reflect harder on your project | Interview with Ilang Ilang Quijano Wed, 08 May 2013 08:04:19 +0000 David Ocón has interviewed Ilang Ilang Quijano, one of the participants of ‘Catch-Tell-Transform: 4th Documentary Filmmakers’ Workshop’.

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Contributed by David Ocón

David Ocón has interviewed Ilang Ilang Quijano, one of the participants of  ‘Catch-Tell-Transform: 4th Documentary Filmmakers’ Workshop’. Organised in Manila, The Philippines from April to October 2013, this unique initiative gathers young promising filmmakers from Southeast Asia to enhance their skills and build new audiences for their work. The project is supported through ASEF’s Creative Encounters: Cultural Partnerships between Asia and Europe programme.

During my visit to the documentary filmmaking workshop Catch/Tell/Transform in Manila I had the chance to interview Ilang Ilang, a young documentary filmmaker from the Philippines. Ilang Ilang is a representative of the new wave of emerging documentary filmmakers in the country. They are working with issues and topics never before treated by local filmmakers, some of them even long forgotten by society. Her project “Mothers of the Cordillera”, a film about indigenous women in Northern Philippines, who resisted mining, construction of dams and logging in their ancestral lands, promises to rescue one of those long-buried stories.

Q: Why did you decide to apply for Catch/Tell/Transform?

I applied for it because when I finished my first documentary, I quickly came up with another idea for a documentary. Later on at a pitching workshop in Jakarta, I presented my idea and I had a very positive experience there, I felt I knew how to sell the story I was thinking about, but the workshop did not include any funds for development, it was more a pitching exercise. So when the call for this workshop came, I applied so I would have the chance to finally do my project since it also offers a seed fund and could help me in the development, something very important after selling your story.

Q: What do you expect to get from this workshop?

Although filmmaking is a part of my profession as a journalist, filmmaking is not my full-time work. However after the first workshop, I learnt a lot from the mentors there, especially from Bettina Braun, and I feel this second workshop would equip me with the knowledge, the skills and the experience to be able to do a better documentary film. The previous film I did I think it was a successful one in its own little way, I learnt a lot with it but there are a few things I wouldn’t do now. I feel there is a lot of room for improvement and I would like to practice and apply what I learnt in the first workshop by making another film.

Q: I attended your pitching exercise for “Mothers of the Cordillera”. The pitch raised a lot of attention from the mentors and the participants. They asked many questions, gave feedback and suggestions, but also constructive criticism. How do you relate to such criticism? Is it useful for you? Will you apply some of what you learnt from it to your script and production?

This is why I am here in the workshop, to test my ideas against someone else’s. To test if what I think could actually work. The criticism and the comments are very useful for me; they are something I can think about and I take them as part of the learning experience. I won’t apply them immediately; I will take some time for me to think about them before applying them. But definitely I am grateful for the comments and criticisms, as long as they are constructive. In the end, they will make you reflect harder about your project.

Q: Last year’s workshop you were all Filipino participants. This year you have co-participants also from Indonesia, Cambodia, Bhutan and Singapore. How has this changed the dynamic of the workshop?

I think the workshop is more interesting than last year because it has other young filmmakers from other Southeast Asian countries. Last year we were all Filipinos and among us we tend to be fooling around a bit and maybe be less focused. Being surrounded by filmmakers from other countries makes you be more open to other ideas, to other cultures and the stories are much more interesting for us because they are new and different to us. It also makes the workshop more challenging, you are more motivated because there are people from other nationalities and you don’t want to disappoint them, it all becomes more serious but in a good way, it feels more professional.

Q: Being such a difficult craft, with such limited opportunities to get funding for, why did you choose documentary filmmaking?

Documentary filmmaking is not the only professional path I am taking. I am also doing journalism and advocacy, so documentary filmmaking probably won’t be my only life path, it is difficult to live only from it. But I think that ever since I got into it I have been really interested in improving myself in the craft and I think it is a very powerful way of telling stories. I discovered that documentary filmmaking, although difficult, is very special and very unique, and I am not going to let go off it, no matter what. The workshops are there to remind you of that, to push you, they make you not forget that your are the filmmaker, also that you can choose the way in which you want to tell the story and that only you can make this film true and that you have the responsibility to tell and keep that story you have chosen alive.


Catch/Tell/Transform is a workshop organised by the Goethe Institut Philippines, the Embassy of France and the Alliance Française in Manila, in collaboration with the University of the Philippines Film Institute. It has the support of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).


David Ocón has served as Head of the Cultural Department at Instituto Cervantes’ centres in Ireland and China. Previously he was a Project Manager at the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), and a Communications Officer for the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centres (ENCATC).

He has taught International Cultural Cooperation courses since 2008 at University of Barcelona, and has published academic articles in several international specialised journals and co-edited a number of publications and art catalogues. At present he is an arts manager, consultant and researcher based in United Kingdom.

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Pitching Lab with Stefano Tealdi Fri, 03 May 2013 12:08:08 +0000 Siddharth Stefano Tealdi is not a run of the mill producer busy making his films in isolation. Instead, this charming Italian has strived for development of documentary culture in Southern Europe for over 15 years.

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Stefano Tealdi is not a run of the mill producer busy making his films in isolation. Instead, this charming Italian has strived for development of documentary culture in Southern Europe for over 15 years. He was recently awarded the EDN Award 2013 for his pioneering contribution to documentary films in Europe. He is the driving force behind the annual documentary networking and pitching event – Documentary in Europe. He also helps budding filmmakers pitch their projects at various film events across the globe. Our editor, Siddharth Chadha requested him to give our audiences – many of whom are aspiring filmmakers – a crash course in Pitching. Stefano Tealdi in this interview candidly spoke to us about documentary film in Southern Europe and his method to pitch a project.

SC: You have just been awarded the prestigious EDN award for your work in enriching documentaries in Southern Europe. Can you tell us more about how it all started?

ST: In the South of Europe, countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, documentary culture has become a black hole. There is no investment in documentary film, either from government institutions or broadcasters. Spain is better because some funds are available to make regional films, but there is lack of money and intent to make documentary films. Reasons for this are many but historically, countries in South Europe which experienced dictatorships in the 20th century are yet to overcome that era when documentaries were either made for propaganda or altogether banned. Italy’s famous filmmakers such as Antonioni, Rossellini, Fellini started out by making documentaries but when television came out, they thought that the documentary form will move to television and stopped making them. Documentary never got its full due.

When I started making films in 1995-96, I had to go abroad to find the funds where we were seen as poor filmmakers. We had to change this image and I founded Documentary in Europe, together with Juan Gonzalves who started Docs Barcelona. We bought broadcasters from abroad to Italy and Spain who immediately understood the situation of documentary in these countries. Initially we started by screening local talent but soon we started organizing business oriented meetings and pitching sessions which brought together two different sets of people – local filmmakers interfacing with decision makers.

SC: How did the filmmakers respond to international broadcasters? 

ST: At the first pitching session, a big fight broke out between the filmmakers who did not agree to what the commissioning agents were telling them. The commissioning agents were usually seen as the enemies or people who were opposed to the filmmakers. Discussions often broke out in verbal fights. However, both sides found importance in meetings and pitching. Eventually, a lot of talent that was not used to dealing with commissioning processes could emerge because of these meetings.

We started by preparing filmmakers with a pitch – what we call a PITCHING LAB.

The training programs worked out very well. We could anticipate and play out situations before hand. We could identify what was not working for the filmmakers – not in terms of their films but expressing their ideas. Eventually, a common language evolved between filmmakers and commissioning agents.

SC: Can you do a Pitching Lab for our audiences, many of whom are young and aspiring filmmakers? 

ST: Ok. Let me break it down for you in points –

No musts to a good pitch 

There are no real rules to making a good pitch – no musts to a good pitch. A film pitch needs a build up according to the story and according to the person making the film. It is a process that brings together these two elements. The rules for pitching a documentary and a fiction feature film are the same. There is no difference at all except that today in documentaries, we expect a teaser or a trailer, which could tell you what the film would look like. Sometimes it is not possible to make a trailer for a fiction project because of high investments involved.

Chose the right moment!

It is important to understand where one stands in the development process of the film. That is to say, one needs to pitch the project at the right time. If a pitch is made too early, there will be a chance that filmmaker does not have enough information. If the decision makers do not find any clear ideas in the project, they will not be interested. If one is already done shooting, the decision makers might see that the project is already so ahead in the process that there is little possibility to influence or change what is being pitched. Once decision makers have made up their mind about a project, it is very difficult to change it later. Filmmakers need to find the right moment to pitch their project – one that is neither too early, nor too late.

Make them curious!

The pitch should be involving and make the decision makers curious about the project. It should not reveal everything about the film. Keep the pitch short and seductive. Remember that people are not prepared to listen to detail in the first encounter. They are looking for the highlights of a project. Make a precise and clear presentation. It should focus on 4-5 points. The biggest challenge that comes out in our training sessions is – How to tell the story of your film in 5 to 10 minutes? One will never have more than 5 minutes for the pitch. It is important to use this time wisely and point to the highlights of the film. The decision makers should be left with a sense of, ‘this is interesting. I want to know more.’

Design your pitch with care

It is not enough to give the people an idea of what the film will look like. When you are speaking, people are imagining the film that they want to see. Try and use words, which help them see the film. You must identify your Characters and focus on how your story develops. The narrative arch should be constructed so that it brings you through a story till its end. You should give a clear idea of your visual approach in the pitch. For documentaries, it is important to be careful not to pitch before you have guaranteed access to your subjects. For this, one needs to build enough trust and that takes time. Don’t pitch for what you cannot film. In features, be sure that the project is both possible and feasible to do.

Pitching is collaborating

Think of the pitch as a moment when you are involving other people in your project. In a pitch, don’t always look for money but see other ways in which people or groups can contribute to your film. This may come in the form of collaboration, support or networking. My advice to youngsters is that not to be afraid of mingling with people and talking to them. They will definitely listen to you and people will answer willingly. Write what you do. Show them your talent; make a short film or a teaser. Express your thoughts immediately.

SC: What kind of events would you suggest that early career filmmakers should attend for their projects?

ST: When we started out, there was only the Amsterdam Pitching Forum for documentary funding. In fiction, it was only the big festivals – Cannes, Berlinale, which organized film markets. Today, there are a lot of events organized all over the world, which are accessible to independent and young filmmakers who have a good idea and a vision. I would suggest that as a starting out filmmaker, go to the workshop closest to you and start meeting people. Even if you don’t have a project, you can gain the basic knowledge about pitching by listening to other pitches, distributors etc. These events often have like-minded people at an early stage of their productions looking for collaborations and new talent.

SC: How has Internet impacted filmmaking, especially the production processes?

ST: Internet has changed the way we make films. It opens up the possibility of reaching out to the people who watch the films I make. I can get feedback, comments and connect to millions of my audiences through the Internet. Earlier, the only opinion on films that really mattered was that of the broadcasters.

Now, it is easier to involve audiences at an early stage of filmmaking. We did that with a film on the Jewish Harp by a young filmmaker from Sicily. In Italy, it is called Schiacciapensieri – literally translated as ‘Blowing thoughts out one’s mind’.  The Jewish Harp is a part of different cultures across the world but we were not convinced that this theme would appeal to the traditional mindset of the broadcasters. We immediately fell in love with the footage we saw initially, not only because the filmmaker is talented but also because this instrument is rather special and we do not know much about it.

Instead of taking this project to the broadcasters, we decided to make a website for it and start a $10000 crowd funding campaign. The pitch was to raise the money from audiences with the aim of reaching Siberia, where it is the national instrument, called Yakutzia. We not only got the money to shoot, but also a lot of feedback from our audiences. This gave us confidence to pitch the film at another event and now we have production partners in Austria, Hungary and Switzerland. This will be a feature length documentary, with a very simple tag line, ‘How small things in life can bring great happiness.’

SC: Personally, what makes you passionate about striving for your work? 

ST: I have the absolute privilege of doing the most beautiful job in the world – Telling stories through a visual medium. To get up every morning and fight to tell these stories is not easy, but it is extremely rewarding. Is there a better job? No!

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ASEF alumni collaborates on crowd-sourced project Thu, 08 Nov 2012 20:46:32 +0000 Siddharth Matrimania the film is a thrilling journey of two European filmmakers – Vincent Bitaud and Maximillen Van Aertryck filming through the great Indian wedding season. Their guide is Mahesh Shantaram, one of India’s top wedding photojournalists. The group came together after the 2007 European Forum for Young Photographers, that was organized by ASEF. Their latest documentary [...]

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Matrimania the film is a thrilling journey of two European filmmakers – Vincent Bitaud and Maximillen Van Aertryck filming through the great Indian wedding season. Their guide is Mahesh Shantaram, one of India’s top wedding photojournalists. The group came together after the 2007 European Forum for Young Photographers, that was organized by ASEF. Their latest documentary film project Matrimania is a great connection  between Asia and Europe through the much loved subject of weddings! In conversation with Siddharth Chadha, Vincent talks about the project, how audiences can support it and their film bringing together the two continents. 

Siddharth: Tell us about Matrimania, your latest project.

Vincent: Matrimania the film is a documentary film. We (me and my co-director Maximilien Van Aertryck) will embark on a thrilling journey through the great Indian wedding season. Our guide will be Mahesh Shantaram, one of India’s top wedding photojournalists. Together, we will bring a refreshing new perspective to a country that is emerging as a new global power. The title comes from Mahesh Shantaram’s award winning photography series, Matrimania, that’s been widely exhibited around the planet.

S:  How did you meet the others on your project?

V: I met with Mahesh Shantaram in 2007 at the Asia-Europe forum for young photographers that was organized by the ASEF in Ireland. We were 20 young photographers from across Asia and Europe, working on creating a new dialogue between our mutual cultures. In 2010, I met Maximilien Van Aertryck at the Cannes Film Festival. We instantly got along very well, and the year after that, we went to Scandinavia to make our first film together, Icebreakers. The film competed in many film festivals, including Visions du Reel in Switzerland, and the Hamburg Short Film Festival. In 2011, Maximilien attended a film workshop in Bangalore where he met Mahesh in person. And the three of us were eventually connected!

S: What motivated you at the Asia-Europe forum for young photographers?

V: The Asia-Europe forum for young photographers was a fantastic opportunity to meet amazing and committed people, and its main goal was to bring Asia and Europe closer to each other. How more successful could it be, as just 5 years later, we start this amazing adventure together, one alumni making a documentary film about the other!

S: How has your profession evolved since the Asia-Europe forum?

V: My post ASEF experience has been very good, I had the chance to develop my photography more, and could put up some exhibitions. My favorite was in Kiev in 2010 at the KievFotoCom, where I had the chance to show my Sleeping Beauties series and give a Master Class there, with the help of the Institut Français d’Ukraine. The same year, I went to the Cannes Film Festival to cover it as a photographer for the European Network of Film Association NISI MASA, and this when I met Maximilien and that the film medium started to interest me.

S: How do you fund your latest project?

V: Crowdfunding is a fantastic way of getting art projects funded with the help of the Internet community. Using dedicated websites such as kisskissbankbank or kickstarter, people can learn about new projects and participate in its funding if they like it. It’s a form of private sponsorship that is open to all, and people can start donating from just a single euro! The smart thing about it is that you put up a definite goal prior to launching your campaign (Ours is 6000 Euros in 30 days) explaining precisely how the money will be spent. If you do not reach the goal at the end of the project, then the project is not funded and people get refunded. This way, only valuable project endorsed by the whole community will be funded.

S: How can audience help in the project?

V: The community can of course help us by donating to the project! Every euro counts, and the more you can contribute, the most amazing rewards you will get in exchange. Speaking of rewards, Mahesh Shantaram was extremely generous and is offering limited edition fine art prints of his series Matrimania. So check out our project page right now!

S: How does Film connect Asia and Europe?

V: Cinema is one of the most universal language on this planet. Through the power of images and sound, anyone can relate to a story. You feel close to the characters, and this builds a very strong bonds between people that can this way discover that they share a lot more than they thought they would. And in a broader way, I think both continents enthusiasm about each other’s cinema is growing stronger every year. And ASEF is contributing in this, Matrimania the film being a great example.

You can follow the shooting of Martimania here! 


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Interview with Meenakshi Shedde – Behind the Film Festival Mon, 30 Jul 2012 19:31:19 +0000 Siddharth The ease with which Meenakshi Shedde connects with you, it almost feels like a good film gripping your attention from the first scene itself. A look around her house in suburban Mumbai – filled with film magazines, DVDs, film posters and a television set placed in the center of the living room tells you all about her passion for cinema. At the center, meeting Meenakshi is an encounter with a cinephile, one who breathes, drinks and eats movies, and the fact that she is the Winner of a National Award for the Best Film Critic in India, along with the you-name-it international film festival jury consults her for her 25 year vast wealth of knowledge and experience seems almost peripheral. In a freewheeling afternoon chat with Meenakshi Shedde, currently the India consultant to Berlin and Dubai Film Festival, we discuss a vast range of subjects including what’s ailing Asian film festivals and the philosophy behind good cinema. Here is what Meenaskshi has to share with our audiences –

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The ease with which Meenakshi Shedde connects with you feels like a good film gripping your attention from the first scene itself. A look around her house in suburban Mumbai – filled with film magazines, DVDs, film posters and a television set placed in the center of the living room tells you all about her passion for cinema. At the center, meeting Meenakshi is an encounter with a cinephile, one who breathes, drinks and eats movies, and the fact that she is the Winner of a National Award for the Best Film Critic in India, along with the you-name-it international film festival jury consults her for her 25 year vast wealth of knowledge and experience seems almost peripheral. In a freewheeling afternoon chat with Meenakshi Shedde, currently the India consultant to Berlin and Dubai Film Festival, we discuss a vast range of subjects including what’s ailing Asian film festivals and the philosophy behind good cinema. Here is what Meenaskshi has to share with our audiences –

S: You have just returned from the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czech Republic. What was the experience like?

M: Karlovy Vary is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and what is striking is its youthfulness. It’s an amazing feeling watching films surrounded by backpacking students from across Europe. The experience is both casual and passionate. This is the exciting aspect of some of European Festivals and this could be replicated in the East too, i.e. making sure youngsters feel welcome to come to festivals. The Czech provide subsidized passes, luggage rooms for travelers and they even opened one of their grounds for backpackers to pitch their tents because these guys do not have the money to stay in expensive hotels. Some film festivals in the world, especially in Asia, are obsessed with Hollywood stars landing up on their red carpets. It is almost like they are diffident about their selections and the ability of their audiences to appreciate good cinema. It is self-belief that distinguishes the average festival from the good one.

S: How has the festival circuit evolved during your association with it, extending 20 years?

M: Behind the scenes of a festival has always been about a lot of scrambling! But as festivals have grown in size and scope, the entire process has become hugely specialized. There are different kinds of technicians, artists, designers; film experts and consultants that now step in for different categories of work at the festival. Festivals are now competing to get good films at their events. In some ways, perhaps the economics and surrounding media hype are also swallowing festivals. The film festival is no longer a place to showcase your film alone. It is now about the film market and other film related events, such as master classes, seminars and discussions. Having said that, with the changes in the world economy, film festivals – which are always prone to budget cuts during recessions, have found it useful to survive by re-inventing themselves. Cannes Film Festival is a good case in point. It has never rested on its laurels and has always found something new to attract the best of the world at its event.

S: Young filmmakers would like to know from you, what is the best way to break in to the festival circuit? How does one get their film out there in the world to see and appreciate?

M: Most filmmakers realize that after they produce their film, the most challenging aspect of their work begins – Distribution. In countries like India, distributors are dogged by a colonial mindset and seek foreign approval to showcase local films. Recently, Kshay – a very good film, got a limited release in the Indian market because it did well on the festival circuit. Apart from constantly looking at good cinema, young filmmakers should always have the mindset that despite the persisting difficulties, this is a lucky time for them. There are new access routes to films, which just did not exist in the past. There are so many film festivals around the world, which could accept and show your film. But there are no short cuts to this, especially if you are short on money. One has to look at the festivals – see what kind of films they accept. You may have a good film, but it may not be what the festival is looking for. Every moment is an opportunity. You may be showing alongside a big film, but with the right effort, you could get audiences to see your films too. You have to believe in your own work and the audience’s ability to judge it honestly. Indian Aesthetics has a beautiful term to describe the relationship between a director and her audiences. The word is ‘Sarday’ which translates as ‘soul connection’. The relationship between the two is always one with kinship and empathy.

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An Interview with Brillante Mendoza, Part 2 Sun, 12 Feb 2012 02:31:51 +0000 The second-part of an exclusive interview of the much-touted enfant terrible of Pinoy indies, Brillanter Mendoza.

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Here’s the second-part of an exclusive interview of the much-touted enfant terrible of Pinoy indies, Brillante Mendoza.

EV: Now I would like to move on to The Execution of P. This has to be, at least for me, your most visual film. It’s the kind of film that even if you turn off the audio you can still understand what’s going on. How did you come up with that approach?

BM: It’s interesting you mentioned that because when I edit my films, and not just this one, I always turn off the volume to see if it still makes sense even without the sound. As you can see, most of my films have very little dialogue and I usually allow my actors to improvise. Film is primarily a visual medium so as a filmmaker, it’s important for you to know how to tell your story visually. The Execution of P is more challenging for me because it’s illogical for Coco Martin’s character, Peping, who’s studying to become a policeman, to verbalize his fear, his anxiety. He couldn’t even tell his friend, Abyong, because Abyong is part of all this, so he’s trapped. In the script it’s very easy to read that he’s getting scared and he’s nervous, but how will you show that on film? So I thought the only way is through the look on Coco’s face.

EV: I especially like the way Coco’s character changed in the course of the film. At the beginning he was this innocent young student and by the end of the film, he has practically become an accessory to a heinous crime. Furthermore, this crime has been committed by senior police officers so it’s like he has caught a glimpse of what his future as a policeman might be like. I think it’s interesting the way you established that.

BM: There were several details that I wanted to inject at the beginning so that the audience will empathize with Peping as the story progresses. The conversation between Peping and his live-in girlfriend at the beginning of the film suggests that they were having problems with money. We also see that in the restaurant scene where he pocketed the tip that was intended for the waiter. Then there’s the scene inside the van when he went out with his relatives, in other words, his family. Then later in the film he gets into another van with his friend, Abyong. That was a major turning point for him because inside this van is his new family, this group of corrupt policemen who are involved in drugs and prostitution.

EV: What I also find refreshing in your films is that you deal with serious subject matters and yet you always have a scene that’s very comical, but not in the traditional sense. There’s the pretty girl who dropped her dentures in Slingshot, the goat that suddenly “invaded” the movie theater in Service and here you have the municipal judge in Peping and Cecille’s civil wedding, played with perfect comic timing by Lou Veloso. Was that improvised?

BM: Well, the dialogue was written in the script but I guess it’s in the way Lou played it. What I wanted to do in that scene is to comment on the whole idea of marriage and how some Filipinos take it for granted these days, like the municipal judge who married Peping and Cecille. Because getting married in a church has become so expensive these days, a lot of couples just opt for a civil wedding. I can imagine the municipal judge doing this almost every day for God knows how many years and it has become routine already. Even Peping and Cecille and their guests did not take it seriously anymore because they are already living together and they have a baby, so it’s purely for formalities’ sake.

EV: With that in mind, I think we can also look at The Execution of P as a reflection of how we Filipinos have come to bastardize certain institutions that we used to hold sacred, like marriage. There is also the institution of the police. We used to believe that the police are here to “protect and serve” the people but now some of them have become the same as the criminals that they’re supposed to hunt.

BM: Yes, that’s right. To a certain degree these institutions have failed us.

EV: I read Roger Ebert’s review of The Execution of P. He said that he liked Service but he found it hard to appreciate The Execution because most of it was so dark that he couldn’t see the actors’ faces. Why did you decide to shoot the film that way?

BM: First of all, for this film, the overall story and theme are more important than the individual characters. Peping is the only important character. For the rest, especially the policemen inside the van, I didn’t see the need to properly introduce them one by one. Whether we see their face or not is irrelevant, what’s important is that as soon as Peping got into the van with these murderers, it slowly dawns on him that he has made a mistake. He should have said goodbye to Abyong and gone straight home. But now it’s too late. So in other words, the situation he’s in at that point is more important for me than showing the faces of the actors.

EV: I guess some critics are so used to the Hollywood style where everything has to be well lit. But for me I think you did right with this film because it can be read as a metaphor for Peping’s descent into this dark and evil world.

BM: That’s right. Because I wanted to convey the idea that Peping lost his innocence that night. At the beginning of the film everything is well lit. We see Peping as a student studying to become a policeman, we see him with his girlfriend and their baby, we see them get married, it was all so innocent. Later in the film when he sees his friend Abyong he knows at the back of his mind that what his friend does on the side is not at always legal, but he was still too naive to turn down his offer. In the morning when they stopped at this small diner to eat breakfast, Peping asks Abyong if he can just take the taxi so he can get home right away. He’s not the same person anymore.

EV: I also appreciate the fact that the torture and killing of the prostitute took place in the basement of the house. Every time Peping walks down the stairs, it’s really a descent into darkness; it’s as if he is going to hell. Ebert also chided the film for its excessive depiction of violence: they beat the prostitute up, tortured her, took turns raping her, and then chopped her body into small pieces. Do you really think it’s necessary to show all that violence?

BM: Yes, because that was part of the story. But I don’t believe it’s excessive. I think their problem was not the quantity of violence but it in the way I showed it on film, because I wanted it to be as realistic as possible. In fact, during pre-production we watched a lot of gory Hollywood movies because we wanted to study the make-up and how the prosthetics would look like. Anyone can see that Hollywood movies have a lot more violence in them. The Execution of P is a children’s movie compared to these! But the difference is that no matter how bloody and gory these films might be you tend to be detached because you know that it’s just a movie. It may be violent, but it’s not realistic.

EV: And then there’s the production design again, the costume in particular.  Here in The Execution, Peping is wearing his school T-shirt that says on the back: “Integrity: once lost forever lost.” In the course of the film we see him lose not just his innocence but also his integrity. Is that how you see Peping? There’s no more redemption for him?

BM: Yes, because he’s already trapped. There’s no way out anymore. That is the consequence of his decision. This may be a way for him to make extra money for his wife and child, but his innocence, his integrity, they’re forever lost. Incidentally, that really is the actual shirt that students wear in that school.

EV: So you finally won the Best Director award at Cannes for this film. What’s more, you’re the first Filipino to win that award. How did it feel when they called your name?

BM: Everything happened so fast that when I look back now I still couldn’t believe it happened. People were clapping their hands, the cameras were clicking; I actually forgot what I wanted to say when I got to the stage.

EV: I understand that Quentin Tarantino, who was also a Best Director nominee that year, gave you a fan letter afterwards.

BM: Yes, it’s there (points to a framed piece of paper hanging on the wall of his office). He just wanted to commend my film. He said he liked it and that he thinks it was brave of me to do the film that way.

EV: So after The Execution of P your next film was Grandmother. What attracted you to tell this kind of story?

BM: I first read the script for Grandmother around 2007. At that time I couldn’t find a producer who would be interested and it even came to a point where I told the writer, Linda Casimiro, that I would just produce it myself. What attracted me to the story is that it explores the flaws in our legal system and, of course, the two main characters are old women, quite rare in films nowadays. There’s also the cultural aspect, in that we Filipinos have a certain sentimental attachment to our grandparents. We take care of them when they grow old.

EV: I think the most exciting thing with Grandmother is that you are able to bring together two of the most respected actresses in the Philippines: Anita Linda, who is like the Grand Old Lady of Philippine cinema, and Rustica Carpio, who is more associated with Philippine theater and literature and at the same time a highly esteemed university professor. So you have two powerhouse actresses with different acting backgrounds. Did you encounter any difficulties bringing them together?

BM: Not really. I remember offering the role to Anita Linda as early as 2007. I just wanted to see if she would be interested. She said she’s interested but the since it took me some time to find a producer I thought she forgot about it already. So when I finally got the chance to do it two years later, I was really touched when she said that she’s been looking forward to doing this. All that time she was waiting for the project to push through. Coco was the one who actually suggested Rustica Carpio when we were doing Slingshot. She didn’t know who I was and she was surprised with the offer because she’s only done a couple of films in the past so she doesn’t really see herself as a movie star like Anita.

EV: You shot the film in some of the most difficult places like Quiapo and Malabon where the streets are flooded even when there’s no rain. You have to ride a banca (small wooden boat) in order to get around. Did they have a hard time during the shoot?  

BM: Not at all. They were surprisingly healthy and strong for their age. The joke at the time was that they are actually aliens. It’s like underneath their skin is a 20-year-old woman. They’re even healthier than most of my staff even though they are fifty years older than them.

EV: Rustica even had to carry this old TV set and walk under the blistering heat.

BM: I wanted to remove the picture tube inside the TV because these old TV sets are quite heavy but Rustica refused. She wanted to feel the weight of the TV because she said it would help her with her acting. We shot the scene in a very busy street, with lots of cars passing through. Rustica’s face is not really well known so we hid the camera and did 4 or 5 takes because I wanted to see if someone will help her carry the TV set. I was getting worried and I kept asking her if she’s okay or if she wanted to stop. But she was fine, she did not complain at all. I guess it’s their instinct as actresses. When it’s time for the cameras to roll it’s like they have this unique ability to tap into this unseen life force that gives them the energy to perform.

EV: What about their acting methods? They both come from a very traditional way of acting in the sense that they have to memorize their lines and study their blocking. That’s the exact opposite of how you work.

BM: I already explained to them my method during pre-production. I told them that this is not a mainstream film where we do histrionics and have close-ups just for the sake of having a close-up. I encourage improvisation and I let them explore their character. If I sense that they are just acting and not being truthful to their character, no matter how good their performance is I tell them that I’m more interested in conveying an emotion in the most natural and truthful way.

When we finished shooting the whole film, Anita came to me and gave me the most touching and most memorable compliment. She said that she found my style liberating. She’s been acting for more than fifty years and this was the first time that she felt like a true artist. She finally had a chance to do what she wanted, to really improvise, understand her character and collaborate with the director. I was so touched, especially because it came from someone as respected as her. With Rustica, she came from the theater where every line and every movement had to be precise. But surprisingly, she was able to adjust to my method almost instantly. That, I think, is the mark of a great actress.

EV: In your previous films you seldom use close-ups. But for Grandmother, the most powerful moments are the close-ups. There’s just so much detail in their faces that it’s sometimes painful to watch.

BM: Because the story calls for it. Their face says so much about the kind of life that they’ve led, what they’ve been through. It’s like every wrinkle on their face tells a story. I never saw the need for close-ups in my previous films but for this one I really felt that it’s necessary.

EV: You use close-ups in a different way. Normally in movies, directors do close-ups during dramatic moments when the actor will say something important.

BM: Yes. I kind of did the reverse. If you will notice, I used close-ups in moments when there’s no dialogue, because their face will say what needs to be said. Like when Anita saw the dead body at the funeral parlour. We didn’t need to see who the dead body was. What’s important is how Anita reacted. It suddenly reminded her of what she was going through at that moment.

EV: The most memorable for me was the restaurant scene. It was really the first time that they had the chance to sit down and talk about the case, but instead they had a lengthy discussion about arthritis first before quickly agreeing to settle the case. I think that’s very Filipino. We’re not good at being frank and direct; we tend to talk about mundane things first before we get down to business.

BM: It made sense to me to do it that way because it’s more realistic. These are old women meeting in a crowded place. I can’t see it as a confrontation scene where they will spout all these wonderfully written dialogue that audiences can quote afterwards. In a mainstream movie that’s probably what they’ll do. In the script, Linda Casimiro wrote some memorable lines for that scene. It was really very dramatic. But as we were shooting, I felt that the dialogue was not working. It’s good on paper, but somehow there’s something lacking when I watch them do the scene together. So I told them to just forget about the script and let’s just improvise. All of a sudden, something must have clicked in them because the scene came to life. It was so natural. And that’s the one we see in the final version.

EV: It’s different from mainstream films where writers are asked to verbalize everything just to make sure the audience will get the story. That’s why I look at the dialogue in your films as “anti-storytelling” because they don’t say what they really feel. But when you stop and think about it, that’s how it really is in real life.

BM: And sometimes the situation itself is already dramatic so it’s better for the actors to not verbalize what they feel. I’m also not fond of histrionic performances where you can sense that the actors are just showing off. I always compare my actors’ reaction to how people in real life would react to the same situation. But you have to understand that I don’t do these things just to differentiate my films from the mainstream. I just find this approach to be more logical and truthful so as far as I’m concerned I’m not doing anything new or different.

EV: Let’s talk about your visual approach to this film. Rain seems to be a visual leitmotif since it’s raining in almost all the scenes where we see the two grandmothers. It’s as if there’s this dark cloud that’s constantly hanging over them. What was your reason for doing this?

BM: Every time I think of a recurring image for my films, I first ask if it’s logical. In other words, I don’t want to put an image over and over again just for the sake of putting it there and saying to the audience that it’s a metaphor for this or that. In the script, it is already mentioned whether it’s raining or not or whether the streets are flooded so that was really our visual approach to begin with. But it’s also logical because the story takes place during the rainy season. So it is logical but at the same time I wanted to show how weak we are compared to the elements. No matter how important we think our lives may be, it’s really nothing when you look at life from a bigger perspective; so that became a metaphor for how our justice system treats the poor and the powerless, especially two old uneducated women. They are mere specs of dust when you look at the bigger picture. They don’t matter.

EV: The last scene is so powerful even if there’s no dialogue. The case has been settled and we see the two grandmothers leave the court house and go their separate ways. As they were about to cross the street, they almost lose their balance when two motorcycle cops escorting a politician inside an over speeding Mercedes Benz zooms past them.

BM: Like I said, people like Anita and Rustica’s characters don’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things. 

EV: For my final question, I would like to ask you about film distribution. Indie filmmakers get to show their films in festivals abroad and receive all sorts of recognition but we here in the Philippines have very little access to their films. So now there’s this growing perception that indie filmmakers are making films purely for the foreign market. You, on the other hand, despite winning in different festivals, made sure that all your films are locally available on video, even though they were never shown commercially in theatres. Do you find it important to make your films accessible to Filipinos?

BM: Yes, because I believe in sharing my films to my countrymen. I consider myself lucky for having found a local video distributor, but I know a lot of indie filmmakers find it difficult to make their films accessible, especially first-time filmmakers. I’m telling stories about the Filipino condition so it’s only right that Filipinos should have access to my films. It’s my responsibility as a filmmaker. I don’t want to be this snob artist who only makes movies for foreign audiences. I take the extra effort to reach out to the Filipino audience. I’m aware of the fact that most people are not interested in independent films so I take a grassroots approach. I try to show my films in various colleges and universities all over the country and I make it a point to be there as much as possible so I can interact with the students afterwards. It’s really very rewarding to hear them say that they appreciate the film. Hearing this from my fellow Filipinos, more than any other audience, is very reassuring and gives me the feeling that I must be doing something right.

About the Author

Elvin Amerigo Valerio teaches film and popular culture at De La Salle University-Manila where he also obtained his MA in Communication. A much longer version of this interview appears in the 2011 Fall/Winter issue of the Journal of Asian Cinema.

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Lessons in Film DVD | Official launch in Prague Tue, 06 Dec 2011 05:12:05 +0000 The Lessons In Film project, a multilingual DVD pilot project and research based pilot program, has been officially launched within the CILECT Conference 2011.

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The Lessons In Film project, a multilingual DVD pilot project and research based pilot program, has been officially launched within the CILECT Conference 2011 held from the 30th of November to the 2nd of December at the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, the Czech Republic.

Prof. Herman Van Eyken, Project Chair and Curator, presenting the Lessons in Film at the CILECT Conference 2011

Comprising a series of in depth interviews with some of the world‘s foremost flm personalities, this project was and initiative of the International Association of Film and Television Schools (CILECT) and it was co-financed by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). The project also benefited from the support of RITS, Erasmushogeschool Brussel (Belgium), The Puttnam School of Film, LASALLE College of the  Arts, Singapore, the Griffith Film School, Queensland  College of Art, Brisbane (Australia), The National Film and Television School, Beaconsfeld, UK and the Centro  Sperimentale Di Cinematografia, Rome, Italy.

Masters in their field, carefully selected from the  world’s foremost screen-writers, producers, directors,  cinematographers, editors, documentary film makers  and production designers the subjects were intensively researched and then interviewed specifically by other producers, directors, directors of photography, editors, documentary film makers, production designers,  in order to have them talk about the core of their craft and the personal choices they have made to succeed in their chosen field. These interviews were recorded live and edited into a 10 in 1 DVD-box and distributed not only to film schools but also circulated to all training centers and professional networks of independent film makers involved in this initiative.

The interviews were done by the students of the above mentioned schools and Professor Herman Van Eyken, Project Chair and Curator of the “Lessons In Film”, and presently head of Griffith Film School, Queensland College of Art.

Articulating the challenges to conduct these series of interviews but also their educational value, Prof. Herman Van Eyken underlined the following while addressing its audience:

“Do not consider this as an attempt to make cinema, nor documentaries, these are just assembled interviews, done by film students for other film students or young film professionals, with interesting film makers who wanted to share their core of their craft, and give it all away for free to all of you.

The objective of these interviews was to bring to light some insights on film making from professionals in the sector that are willing to share their experiences and provide some food for thought for film students or young film professionals.

Lessons In Film: List of interviews

For a short trailer and more information on the project please visit:


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An Interview with Brillante Mendoza, Part 1 Wed, 30 Nov 2011 02:25:43 +0000 Here's Part One of an incisive interview by film scholar Elvin Amerigo Valerio on the much-awarded Pinoy indie film director Brillante Mendoza.

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The year 2005 was a pivotal moment for Philippine independent cinema. Indie films, long relegated to the margins of Philippine cinema, finally gained mainstream acceptance via the opening of the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. The aim of the festival is to fund the works of new and promising filmmakers who can present a unique and innovative mode of storytelling without the repressive control of mainstream movie studios, albeit with less than half of the usual mainstream budget.  In the same year, seemingly out of nowhere, Brillante Mendoza burst into the indie scene with Masahista (“The Masseur”). Like other indie films, The Masseur did the usual tour of international film festivals but with relatively more success, winning the Golden Leopard for Video at the Locarno International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and the Interfaith Award at the Brisbane International Film Festival. In a country where most indie directors are in their twenties and early thirties, it was an impressive debut for the then-45-year-old novice.

As a director Mendoza might be considered a late bloomer, but he is not exactly new to film production. He started his film career in the mid-1980s as a production designer, working for controversial directors such as Chito S. Roño and Tata Esteban. By the 1990s, Mendoza left the movie industry and started what would turn out to be a very successful career in television advertising, paving the way for him to put up his own production company. Founded in 2005, Centerstage Productions signalled Mendoza’s return to filmmaking, with The Masseur as its first production. Mendoza would then demonstrate his prolificacy by directing eight more feature films within the next five years. More importantly, he would indeed live up to his name (Brillante means “brilliant” in English) by being nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for his movie Serbis (“Service”) and eventually winning the Best Director award at Cannes the following year for his unapologetically brutal Kinatay (“The Execution of P”). With that victory, Mendoza was able to once again secure a place for Philippine cinema in the world stage.

As a whole, Mendoza’s cinema ― with its vision of poverty, sex, and urban alienation ― owes a lot to the late Lino Brocka. Indeed, ever since Brocka made Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (“The Nail of Brightness,” 1975) and his Jaguar (1979) became the first Filipino film to compete in Cannes, these themes have become a common fixture in Filipino films. At the same time, traces of 1940s Italian Neorealism (of which Mendoza is a big fan) are also evident in Mendoza’s works, particularly in Manoro (2006), The Execution of P and most especially in Tirador (“Slingshot,” 2007). Thus, his films can be seen as a 21st century appropriation of Italian neorealist aesthetics and the socio-political themes previously explored by Brocka. But unlike Vittorio de Sica and Brocka who use characters as metaphysical symbols and view poverty as a consequence of war or a corrupt government, Mendoza sees poverty as an everyday reality. His characters are what they are not because of war or because their government has neglected them; it is simply a fact of Filipino life. Indeed, Filipinos have been surrounded by poverty for so long that they have grown accustomed to it.

As of this writing, Mendoza has just finished his ninth feature film, tentatively titled Bitag (“Trapped”). Inspired by real events, the story is about the kidnap of foreign tourists by the notorious bandit group Abu Sayyaf in the southern part of the Philippines. The film explores themes which are seldom touched by Mendoza’s contemporaries, and yet this is an issue that continues to torment the country. The idea for the film has been playing in Mendoza’s mind years before the cameras started rolling. But what truly sets the film apart is that it stars Cannes Best Actress winner Isabelle Huppert (Violette Nozière, 1978; The Piano Teacher, 2001), the first time an award-winning international actress will star in a Filipino independent film.

I first interviewed Mendoza in 2010 while I was doing research for my graduate thesis on Filipino independent films. I have interviewed him several times since then. The following are excerpts from my conversations with the award-winning filmmaker:

Elvin Valerio (EV): I’m here to discuss your aesthetics as a filmmaker. Specifically, I want to focus on four of your films, namely: Slingshot, Service, The Execution of P, and Lola (“Grandmother,” 2009). But first, let’s talk about the medium that you use. The weapon of choice, so to speak, of Filipino indie directors today is digital video. You, however, would sometimes switch to the more expensive 35mm. Is video really your preferred medium or is it because video is a much cheaper alternative to film?

Brillante Mendoza (BM): I really prefer video over film. Yes, video is more financially accessible and the new hi-definition video cameras that are coming out can present images that actually look like film. But for me, video is also very liberating to use in terms of mobility. It really fits my style as a filmmaker. I can’t imagine shooting Slingshot on film because I was running after the actors most of the time. But there are other films, like Service specifically, that I want to shoot in 35mm because it is a tribute to cinema.

EV: Let’s now discuss Slingshot, your fifth film. I actually look at Slingshot as the first Brillante Mendoza film in the sense that it firmly established the style that you will use and the milieu that you will constantly explore in your succeeding films.

BM: I’ve always been attracted to that kind of environment and Slingshot served as a reason to finally delve into that world. At that point in my career it was something new for me.

EV: The English translation of the title, while accurate, doesn’t really give justice to the film because “tirador” is also street slang for “backbiter” or “traitor.” I guess that’s what you actually meant.

BM: Yes, because the film deals with con artists and petty thieves. “Tirador” is what they’re called in the slums.

EV: One of the scenes that really blew me away was when Julio Diaz and Coco Martin had this argument about the bicycle which quickly turned into this big fist fight that looked so real; and the hand held camera added a sense of immediacy to it. It’s like you achieved this whole new level of realism. How did you stage that scene?

BM: First of all, I have this thing about fight scenes in movies. Somehow, most of them never seemed real to me. You can already tell that it was choreographed. I have seen people fight in real life and it’s never the way they do in movies. So I have to find a way to do it as realistically as possible without hurting the actors. Before we shot the scene, I told everyone that whatever happens they should not stop and that they remain in character until I say “Cut.” Then I approached each of the actors one by one and gave them instructions which the other actors do not know about. For example, I told Julio Diaz that he should do everything he can to try and hit Coco. Then I said the same thing to Coco. With the young boy who played Julio’s son, I told him that no matter what, he should try to stop Coco from hitting his father. With Jacklyn Jose, I told her that she should do everything she can to stop Julio and Coco from hitting each other. So for that scene, each actor has a different objective which the others do not know about.

EV: At one point, it even appeared that Julio unintentionally hit the camera.

BM: Yes, and I kept that shot because it added a sense of realism to the scene. That fight scene is my favorite because I felt that it came out exactly as I envisioned it.

EV: Another scene that I find amusing is when Angela Ruiz’s character, Tess, drops her dentures in the sink and it went all the way down into a small dirty canal at the side of the street. I like the way she reacted, that sense of frustration. How did you find her?

BM: I just thought that this was something you don’t normally see on film – a young actress losing her dentures, and a real one at that. Angela was among those who auditioned for the part. I was looking for someone who’s pretty but has dentures and is willing to remove them on film. I never seriously thought that I would actually find such an actress but there she was.

When we shot that scene, I reminded her of what her character has gone through in order to pay for those dentures. She had to lie and steal and risk her life. So when her brand new dentures literally “went down the drain,” I told her that we should see that sense of loss. Her neighbours might not take her seriously but for her, it’s the one thing that makes her complete, that makes her feel beautiful. Angela understood that and gave a very convincing performance.

EV: I think we can see your excellent use of “non-actors” with Benjie Filomeno. He played the father of Jiro Manio’s character, Odie, and he was simply fantastic. Considering that Jiro is a brilliant young actor, he really fared well in their scenes together, especially in the opening scene when the cops came to their house and they had to pretend he’s sick.

BM: Benjie was an artist whom I met way back in the 80s. He used to hand-paint those huge movie billboards that were so common back then. I hired him as one of my artists when I started doing production design for TV commercials. I already cast another actor for that part of Jiro’s father but unfortunately he got sick so I asked Benjie if he’s interested. He declined because he obviously knows he’s not an actor. But I assured him that I will not ask him to act the way it’s done in mainstream movies. I just told him, “Do what you feel is right.” So I did not really teach him how to act. Acting is not something I can teach because I believe it’s purely instinctive. For me, acting is all about feeling and not about performing. I treat all my actors the same way, regardless of whether they are professional or not. I’m not the kind of director who’s into giving grand instructions to my actors. Like I said, everything is instinctive. I don’t even block my actors. What I do is just explain to them what the scene is about and see how they would translate it in terms of blocking and movement. I even allow them to improvise with the dialogue, although there are specific lines that they should not forget.

EV: So, you’re not strict when it comes to dialogue?

BM: Not really. Because I believe that dialogue should be flexible. The essence of a scene, for me, is not always dependent on dialogue. Film is a visual medium so sometimes it is more important to focus on what we see rather than what we hear. The really good actors do not need words to communicate the essence of a scene; the expressions on their face and their body language are more than enough to convey that.

EV: I also like the idea that the place is surrounded with campaign posters of different politicians promising to deliver economic progress to their constituents and yet, what we see in the film is exactly the opposite.

BM: We shot the film during election season so those posters were real. I decided not to remove them so we can get that sense of irony. The people in the slums no longer believe that voting for these politicians will actually make their lives better. Election in the Philippines has become one big farce. That’s why we have that scene where they all line up to receive money from some politician in exchange for their vote.

EV: And of course, the film ends with this huge political rally.

BM: Yes. Again, what we hear are just empty rhetoric. They talk a lot but they don’t make sense so nobody listens anymore. People are just waiting for whoever movie star is appearing onstage.

EV: Let’s now move on to Service. One of the aspects of the film that really struck me was the production design, especially your use of the movie posters and hand-painted billboards. They seem to be commenting on what’s happening in the scene. How did you come up with this approach?

BM: Since my background is in art direction, I look at design as an integral part of the film. It helps in telling the story, in revealing something about the characters and the world they live in. An interesting thing happened while we were scouting locations. When we saw that old movie theater in Pampanga, it was really this dirty decrepit structure with a lot of graffiti on the walls. We all agreed that this place is perfect as it is. Even the name of the theater, Family Theater, is perfect for the film, right? Unfortunately, when we came back a few months later to shoot, the owner thought it would be a good idea to have the whole building repainted. It was so clean! We had no choice but to repaint it and make it look old and dirty. Then I realized this is actually good because I can choose the color I want and the kind of graffiti that would reflect the story. So it gave me more room to create this world for the characters. I want to audience to be able to almost touch the dirt and feel the heat and really look at the posters and graffiti. Hence, the movie theater becomes another character.

EV: These old art deco types of movie theaters are actually more common around Manila and even the kind of story that you’re telling is something we can easily imagine happening in Manila, but you shot your film in Pampanga. Was it your intention to shoot it in the province or finding the right movie theater is more important?

BM: First of all, Service was supposed to be my second film, which means the script has been around for quite some time. In the early versions of the script, the story actually takes place in Quiapo because, like you said, there are a lot of old movie theatres around Manila. But when I was looking for locations and doing my research around the city, somehow I couldn’t find the right one. That’s when I realized that the theater is more important, so I began looking for old theatres outside of Manila. We went to different provinces like Batangas and Laguna until we finally saw the Family Theater in Pampanga.

EV: So I guess the Kapampangan dialect was added later on? All your actors sounded so convincing, especially Jacklyn Jose and Gina Pareño.

BM: Yes, it was only added after we decided to shoot in Pampanga. They all had to practice and learn how to properly pronounce the words. With Jacklyn it was easy because she’s really from Pampanga, although she’s lived in Manila for a long time. She still knows the dialect but she had to relearn the accent. Gina’s character is more difficult because her character is from Ilocos and they speak a different dialect there, so Gina had to learn two dialects. In the script, her character would mix Ilocano, Kapampangan and Tagalog when she talks.

EV: Service is your first film co-produced by Didier Costet. How did the two of you meet?

BM: Didier is this French film distributor whom I met when Slingshot competed at the Morocco Film Festival. When I won the Jury Prize, he came up to me and offered to buy the international rights of Slingshot and The Masseur. So we talked, had dinner, and that’s when I told him about my next project, Service. He became interested so I asked him if he wanted to invest and he did. When I submitted Service to Cannes, I did not tell him about it. It was only after the film was accepted in competition that I told him. He was pleasantly surprised because he had no idea at all. He co-produced all my films after that.

EV: Service is also a departure visually from the cinéma vérité style of Slingshot. The milieu is basically the same and there is still a lot of camera movement, but it’s more restrained; the pace is slower. You have a lot of these long takes where the camera just follows the actors as they go up and down the theater and there’s hardly any dialogue. Was this something that’s already indicated in the script?

BM: Not really. It’s something I thought about when I was planning the shots. It’s how I interpreted Armando Lao’s script. A good example is the opening scene where Roxanne Jordan’s character, Jewel, is getting dressed and she stands naked in front of the mirror and stares at herself. Some critics said that it was unnecessary and a bit exploitative. But the thing is Armando never wrote it that way. He simply wrote that Jewel is getting dressed. The standing-naked-in-front-of-the-mirror was my idea. But I only did that because it was from the point of view of the child who was peeping through the half open door. It was a metaphor for the film: this sense of voyeurism. The act of watching movies is like an act of voyeurism and we, as the audience watching Service, are also voyeurs.

EV: In a lot of ways, Service is like an homage to a bygone time when people would go to a real movie theater, not the ones inside the mall, to watch films. There’s this shared experience among the audience.

BM: Yes, it is a tribute to that golden age. That’s why the decaying building is symbolic to what’s happening now. There are no more movie palaces, just the ones inside the malls. You can even just download a movie and watch it at home. The ritual of going to the theater is gone.

EV: When I read the reviews for Service, most of the Western critics pointed out that the street noise – and we hear it almost all throughout the film – can be a bit irritating at times, especially because the film has very little dialogue and 95% of the film takes place inside the theater. What was your intention for doing that?

BM: First of all, it only seemed logical because the theater stands along a very busy street with lots of traffic. Second, because there is hardly any musical score, the street noise became part of the overall sound design of the film. Finally, the fact that we are inside the theater for the most part made it seem, at least for me, claustrophobic, so I needed to hear that sound. I wanted to suggest the fact that they are in the city. It gave a different dimension to the film.

EV: I agree. In fact, the way I see it is that there’s this whole other world outside that they don’t care about. They’re trapped in this make-believe world of movies.

BM: Precisely. It’s either they are not aware of what’s happening in the real world or they are aware but they just don’t care. The world outside is changing and they are too blind to see it. Time just stands still when you’re inside the theater.

EV: I find the last part of the film, where a goat suddenly finds its way inside the theater and disrupts the audience and all the sex that’s going on inside, very funny and amusing. Where did you get the idea for that? 

BM: A few years ago I read in the newspaper this incident that happened in Cagayan province. It was raining heavily and somehow a crocodile found its way inside an old movie theater. I think the theater was located somewhere near a lake. It took a while for the people inside to realize that there’s this crocodile crawling on the floor. Naturally, using a crocodile would be a bit extreme for the film and since my film takes place in the city, it’s impossible for a crocodile to suddenly appear. So we drove around and saw that there were a lot of stores selling goat meat and live goats. So now it’s probable that a goat will escape and find its way inside the theater.

About the Author

Elvin Amerigo Valerio teaches film and popular culture at De La Salle University-Manila where he also obtained his MA in Communication. A much longer version of this interview appears in the 2011 Fall/Winter issue of the Journal of Asian Cinema.

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French attraction: Interview with Yves Cresson of Bayoo Asia Fri, 11 Nov 2011 12:26:11 +0000 The number of Chinese projects filmed in France has multiplied in the recent years. What motivate Chinese crews to come and shoot in France? meets with Yves Cresson, the associate manager of Bayoo Asia, a production company and media consultancy specifically directed to Chinese productions willing to work in France. Could you tell me [...]

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The number of Chinese projects filmed in France has multiplied in the recent years. What motivate Chinese crews to come and shoot in France? meets with Yves Cresson, the associate manager of Bayoo Asia, a production company and media consultancy specifically directed to Chinese productions willing to work in France.

Could you tell me more about how and why did you create Bayoo?

I created the company in 2000. Bayoo has two main activities. Bayoo TV works as a media consultancy for radio and television projects; Bayoo Asia, co- managed by Chinese writer director WANG Fang-Hui, is specifically directed to the development and the production of Asian film and television projects.

At the time, we observed that the audiovisual market in China was developing at a quick pace with the opening of thousands of new  TV channels.This development brought a strong demand for content. In the last few years, Chinese productions slowly opened themselves up to the outside. Since we had a managing team coming from both China and France, we knew we could take advantage of those new opportunities and help Chinese production companies to shoot in France.

We produced our first big project, Dreams Link, in 2006.Dreams Link, a television drama series broadcast on the network Hunan TV was a big success in China. Around twelve hours out of the forty hours of the show were shot in France. Bayoo Asia was signed as executive producer on those episodes and was in charge of setting up the budget, casting, scouting the locations. We even made some changes to the screenplay.

In your opinion, what are the reasons that bring Chinese crews to shoot in France despite the cost of shooting abroad? Can the recent implementation of the TRIP (Tax rebate for international production) incentive by the French government explain this rise of popularity?

Although I am very pleased with this decision, the Tax rebate for international production does not have any impact on the number of Chinese companies coming to France. Most expenses on those films  are under one million euro, so they are excluded from this incentive. We are speaking about completely different scales: in China the average budget for a feature film will be between $300 000 and $3 million. A television drama of thirty episodes costs between €2.5 million and € 3.5 million. In France, one television film would cost between €800 000 and €1.2 million.

I told the French Film Commission, that this incentive targets mostly American film productions but will miss out foreign productions which have lower budgets. I hope that the TRIP intiative will be adapted to the emerging countries economies, because those countries might be leading the world economy in the future

Shooting abroad and more specifically in France can be a real competitive advantage for a Chinese television channel which has to compete with thousands of other networks. France is synonymous with an idea of luxury and exoticism. This combined with the exceptional locations and landmarks makes it particularly seductive for Chinese productions.

… But they could go to other European countries, what does make France so special?

This is true. During one of our last projects, the production team was supposed to film in Italy and then, at the last minute, they decided to switch the location back to France. We have many competitors in this market, but I believe we also have unique assets. We have the Eiffel Tower, The Champs Elysées , Montmartre…We also have the support of a very large Asian Diaspora, among them 600 000  are Chinese .Nevertheless, Chinese productions have to support a very high cost when deciding to go and shoot in France ,that is why the film-shooting conditions are often very precarious.

While we are on the subject, what differences do you find between the French and Chinese way of making films?

France has a long history in cinema, with rules and corporatism which China is not familiar with. Chinese crews are more homogeneous than French, when needed every person of the crew would give a hand on the film set to speed up the filming. For instance, on one film set, I remember watching the makeup girl walking with her case in one hand and a Dolly track in the other. You would not usually see that in France. Chinese crews would work every day of the week whereas naturally in France we had to limit them to at least six days a week. Part of Bayoo’s job is to adapt the Chinese requirements to the reality of the   French legal and social context. In that sense, we have to impose some restraints on the Chinese production companies but we also request the French work force involved to be more flexible and accept much less comfortable work conditions than on the French productions.

(At that very moment, a young brown hair woman gets in the office and interrupts our conversation. Yves Cresson introduces me to Cécilia Halatre, a French actress who has a small role in Jacky Chan’s  next feature Chinese Zodiac and is about to fly for Beijing to film  some more scenes for the film.)

Cécilia, I would like to get a feedback from your experience on the Chinese Zodiac set.

In the film I play the French friend of one of the leading characters, but apart from this I do not know anything about the story! Since my part was very small they did not give me a screenplay and I had to communicate in English because no one would speak French. But overall it was a very fun experience I would say. As Yves said; they were all supporting each other, all the time and there was also a lot of improvisation on the set compared to typical French film sets.

Back to you, Yves, how do you see the future of Bayoo and the collaboration between French and Chinese productions?

In 2011, Bayoo produced two TV dramas of thirty episodes each, Wenzhou in France about the Wenzhou community in France and Nos années françaises , (Our French years), a big budget television series about the time spent in France in the 1920s by key founders of the Chinese communist party to be broadcast on CCTV1. We also served as line producers on Jackie Chan’s feature Chinese Zodiac. We are currently working on the preproduction of a documentary Le Siècle des Lumières, about the Age of Enlightenment in France to be broadcast on Beijing TV.

Nevertheless I cannot predict the future. In my opinion the Chinese cultural industry is developing at the same pace as the rest of the economy. They do rely on a very large domestic market but are also interested in expanding into foreign countries such as France. China has a very large potential audience and many resources but often lacks knowledge of some media and business habits. This is where companies such as Bayoo can play an important role

What about working with other Asian countries?

For now, because of our experience and background we only want to concentrate on China, which is already keeping us very busy.


About the Contributor

Aurite Kouts is a filmmaker and journalist based in Paris. She  is currently producing a feature documentary about social enterprise in the UK and collaborating on different projects to be co-directed with the French documentary filmmaker Bernard Louargan.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward | A conversation with film maker Tania Sng Wed, 30 Mar 2011 04:40:32 +0000 The Asia-Europe Foundation met up with one of its alumni, Singapore-based film maker Tania Sng, to learn about her latest projects and what her plans are for the future.

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‘A film is such a collaborative medium. It’s about people. And I love people. That’s why I work in film. I have moments where I want to be left alone and I have moments where I crave creativity with others.’

And so says Singapore-based creative centipede Tania Sng, an Asia-Europe Foundation alumna. Over lunch, we talked about what she’s been up to and what her plans are for the future.

Looking Back

In 2005, Tania travelled to Europe with 10 other female filmmakers from Asia, to connect with their European counterparts and industry professionals. They started off at the 27th Créteil International Women’s Film Festival – organised in partnership with Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) – followed by visits to Paris and Berlin. A fruitful two months of screenings, conversations and roundtables ensued.

With a focus on Asia, the Film Festival also screened a number of Tania’s films, offering its audience an interestingly diverse take on the region. Tania underlined the importance of an event like this: the chance to meet with a variety of people from Asia and Europe, can be described as ‘the start of great friendships and potential collaborations’.

A conversation with film maker Tania Sng

‘When you go all the way to another country, you see what other people see,’ she said. As an Asian filmmaker, she could share her films with a different audience – namely a European audience, which is usually more vocal about their opinions and analyses. It helped her to understand if she communicated her thoughts well.

Moving Forward

The trip to Europe opened doors. There was now a ready pool of filmmakers that she had befriended during the trip. And she became even more excited and more confident about collaborating with people from other cultural backgrounds. Tania continues: ‘Film is such a collaborative medium. It’s about people. And I love people. That’s why I work in film. I have moments where I want to be left alone and I have moments where I crave creativity with others.’

Since 2005, Tania has had several accomplishments: she directed the short film “Jane”, the story of a successful Singaporean businesswoman who contemplates her life’s choices. Another interesting collaboration was “Lucky 7″. This film-omnibus, sequentially directed by seven different filmmakers, brought Tania back to Europe. The film was included in the film programme of the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2008. Concurrently, Tania ran her own company Aquafire Productions, producing videos for the corporate sector, for almost 10 years.

Last year, she curated three photography exhibitions for Singapore-based theatre company Theatre Works. She was also part of the inaugural Experimental Film Forum in Singapore’s art house The Substation, where six of her older experimental films were showcased. And she was behind the costumes for part of the Australian feature “Triple Happiness”, directed by Aaron Wilson.

What are her dreams for the future? Most of all Tania wants to do the little things – those things she never had the time or opportunity for before. She also wants to put herself in new situations where her learning curve is steep. That is where true creativity emanates from: new situations and places, all contribute to fresh ideas. They help an artist find new spaces for the mind. It means more room to explore the nuances of life.

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Video: Top Thai filmmaker interviewed Tue, 08 Mar 2011 22:29:22 +0000 Jeffrey Withaya Campbell This is an interview with aclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. He directed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives, which won the Palme d’or at Cannes, Europe's top film award.

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This is an interview with aclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. He directed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives, which won the 2010 Palme d’or at Cannes, Europe’s top film award.

The interview was filmed at the 2010 Sitges Film Festival in Spain. The video comes courtesy of  Casa Asia.

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