May 29, 2013

Obscured Histories goes to Edinburgh

A day before my birthday, Chris Fujiwara, artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, announced this year's festival program. My fourth film, The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children, will be featured in the World Perspectives section. 

May 26, 2013

Summer film camp, 2013.

The SOCSKSARGEN Center for Film Arts, Inc., with funding support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, recently organized the first ever Gensan Summer Film Camp held at Water Gran Beach Resort, Bawing, General Santos City with moi as workshop director. It was five days of sun, beach, cinema, 5 mentors and 22 students filmmakers melding into one unforgettable experience. 

It's moi emphasizing a point in the directing class.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Participants execute a scene for their directing exercise.
LET'S PARTY! Whoever said learning is boring has no sense of humor.
My cinematographer Coicoi Nacario and I demonstrate how we execute a scene together.
And then we partied some more.

May 25, 2013

Norte, a new page in history

Four Filipino films are in Cannes this year. Un Certain Regard section features Adolf Alix's Death March and Lav Diaz's Norte, End of History, while the Cannes Classics presents a restored version of Lino Brocka's Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag. The parallel section, Directors Fortnight, screens Erik Matti's On The Job. All four films have premiered in the Festival. While Matti's opus has cornered the market, it is Diaz's masterpiece that critics are raving about. Pulitzer prize-winning critic Wesley Morris, in his Grantland article, describes his first Diaz encounter:

"Not one of these film professionals seemed terribly compelled to spend four hours in the dark after sitting for 110 minutes looking at a sunless Midwest. It was a warm, sunny day. Best, perhaps, to explore that, instead. But I found myself drifting toward the lobby, anyway, past a woman in a gold-and-cream ball gown who was having her photo taken, and into the theater. Doing this was entirely involuntary in a way that's never happened to me. The festival director, Thierry Frémaux, brought the cast to the stage, including the woman in the dress, then the director, a small stylish veteran named Lav Diaz. I was hoping they wouldn't notice that the house was maybe half-full.

They took their seats, the lights went down, the movie came up, and I sat there. Two-hundred-fifty minutes later, the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life. (Note: I've actually never clapped for a movie before.) When Diaz made his way back inside the theater to join the cast, the applause grew, and the whistling and cheering commenced. You always hear Cannes stories of 20-minute standing ovations, but I always seem to miss them. This didn't last 20 minutes, but it was long and special, yet didn't feel remotely adequate thanks for what had just been given to us."

May 11, 2013

Prambanan Temple, 2012

Beyond tall trees, the towering spires of Prambanan Temple slowly come into view. My heart leaps in excitement as the car decelerates before the stoplight. I am in Yogyakarta for a week now. It is my last day. After the frenzy of the film festival which closed last night, my hosts decided that I do what any ordinary tourist do in this city, that is, visit its renowned temples. My flight to Jakarta leaves in four hours, so instead of visiting the more famous Borobodur Temple more than forty kilometers away, we head to the temple ruins in Prambanan which is just fifteen minutes away from the airport.

The light turns green. Our car picks up speed, turning to the left. Before we penetrate the street leading to the site a billboard of a man with striking Arabian features wearing a turban, his mien saintly, and beard bordering his face greets us. Deka points to the billboard and throws a question. “Do you have habibs in Mindanao?”

“What is a habib?” I ask. 

“A habib is one who claims that he is a descendant of the Prophet,” Deka replies.

“We have those all right, plenty of them,” I retort as our car makes its way to the gate of the temple. After Deka pays the parking fee we enter the vast parking area. Cars are a rarity in these parts as tour buses rule much of the concrete space. We stop in a shaded area. I leap out of the car in eager anticipation.  The sky rumbles, gradually turning into the color of gunpowder. Kristina retrieves an umbrella in the back of the car while Ema takes the box of donuts that we picked earlier in the gasoline station. As we walk to the ticket booth, Kristina turns her attention to Deka and Ema. “When we get close, please do not talk to Teng in English. Be silent for a moment. Just stand there and act like locals.” Kristina explains to me that the entrance fee is different for locals and foreign tourists. Foreign tourists pay double.

Slowly we walk to the ticket booth, eyeing each other in silence as though we are about to commit unspeakable acts of terror. We try our best to suppress a nervous hilarity as Kristina negotiates with the woman in the ticket booth. The woman looks at me with suspicion. For a second I get jittery. Deka gestures to me as he squats on the pavement. My expression turns quizzical. “Javanese people like to squat like this,” he says. Okay, act like a local, so I imitate him. Ema’s body shakes as she tries to contain her laughter. “You are squatting all right, but you are speaking in English. It will still give you away.”

“Ssshhhh,” Deka and I hush her.

Kristina signals to us with the tickets in her hand. We walk to the entrance gate and line up like school children. Kristina hands over our tickets to the gatekeeper who feeds them one by one to a machine. We hold our breaths.  The gatekeeper gives us the green light. 

“The woman in the booth asked me if you’re Malaysian,” Kristina tells me after we walk a good distance from the entrance gate. Unable to contain ourselves, we burst out in rambunctious laughter. Excitedly I walk in haste, leaving my hosts behind. Up ahead, tourists snap pictures against what I presume as the temple. I could not see it from where I am as trees line the walkway concealing the ancient structure. Before I could get a glimpse of the temple, a giant billboard explains the restoration efforts in the site. In May 2006, a massive earthquake shook central Java causing huge damage to the temple. Large pieces of debris, including carvings, were scattered over the ground. The temple was closed to visitors until the damage could be fully assessed. The temple reopened its gates several weeks after the earthquake. Restoration continues to this day. 

My hosts catch on. I rejoin them. The four of us climb the stairs to the temple in reverent fashion like the drag queens surmounting King’s Canyon in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. I could actually hear musical score swell in my ear as we inch closer to the temple complex.  I gasp in awe of the colossal structure before me. I am transported to another world.


Prambanan Temple is a 9th-century Hindu temple compound dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and is one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia. It is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture, typical of Hindu temple architecture, and by the towering 47-meter-high (154 feet) central building inside a large complex of individual temples.

According to sources, the construction of this royal temple was probably started by Rakai Pikatan as the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty’s answer to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty’s Borobudur and Sewu temples nearby. Historians suggest that the construction of Prambanan probably was meant to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Central Java after almost a century of Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. Nevertheless, the construction of this massive Hindu temple signifies that the Medang court had shifted the focus of its patronage from Mahayana Buddhism to Shivaist Hinduism.

A temple was first built at the site around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan and expanded extensively by King Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom. According to the Shivagrha inscription of 856 CE, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva and its original name was Shiva-grha (the House of Shiva) or Shiva-laya (the Realm of Shiva). 


“Do you want me to take your picture?” Ema volunteers. I shake my head. It is one of those rare moments of rapture that I have not experienced in years. It is like a pilgrimage to a holy site. Taking pictures to capture it seems sacrilegious. I inhale the heavy aroma of the air as I enter one of the temples. I close my eyes as I touch the cold grey stone as though validating this sublime event. I open my eyes. A bull stands in front of me, frozen in time. Carefully I extend my hand to touch its head, imagining what it would be like if it sprung to life. 

I emerge from the temple, facing the main temple of Shiva in the middle of the complex. Unlike the other structures, security guards keep watch over the temple. It is surrounded by steel barrier. Badly damaged during the earthquake, engineers and archeologists are working hard to make the structure stable. Tourists can enter the temple provided they wear the protective headgear. My fear of earthquake prevents me from going inside the temple. 

I walk to the temple on the right. The walls are adorned with panels of narrative bas-reliefs. “It tells the story of Hindu epic, Ramayana,” Ema briefs me. “I know the story,” I tell her. “How come you know this stuff?” Ema is surprised. “It was part of Asian literature class in sophomore high,” I explain. “We didn’t have Asian literature in school,” Ema laments. 

I walk some distance from the temple to admire it from afar. Suddenly I hear the azan, and then another, and one more, like a beacon that signals to everyone that the hour has come. The call to prayer reverberates from all corners of the surrounding areas of Prambanan. Then a thunder roars. I snap out of my revelry. I realize that though Indonesia basks in the glory of its rich multicultural and multi-religious heritage, it is a Muslim country. In fact it is the largest Muslim country in the world.

Kristina calls to me. It is time to go. We walk under the canopy of tall acacia trees. I turn to take a last look at the temple.  The wonder and excitement remain unabated. Then it starts to rain. 


I’m quite disappointed the Manunuri (that is, the Filipino Critics Society) snubbed my film Qiyamah in their annual awards’ major categories, and chose to recognize the film’s technical achievements for production design, cinematography, and sound design only.

The critics group, ironically, has its own share of criticisms, the most conspicuous of which is its shunning of mainstream cinema. There is not a single nomination for any mainstream film this year, not even in the technical categories. Director Erik Matti, whose newest film On The Job premieres at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes this May, tweeted a reaction: “Mainstream doesn’t equal mediocrity. Commercial doesn’t equal stupid. In the same manner, indie doesn’t equal important or cheap.”

Blogger/critic Francis Cruz offered more insights on the Philippine film awards scene:

"[T]he Urian seems to live in an imaginary world where only indies are shown in the malls. Mainstream films are hardly ever nominated, even for the awards covering technical craftsmanship, which is admittedly the Achilles’ Heel of the indies, as professed by many write-ups circulating in the net. The Urian, however, is really a private affair and their decisions are reflective not of the pulse of the masses but of the individual politics and taste of the members. A quick look at any year’s roster of nominations would reveal surprises that would raise accusations of lack of taste and abundance of liberties. Perhaps the most glaring of the accusations would be that the members of the Manunuri have become so out of touch of what is current, they no longer watch films in the theaters and only wait for screeners to reach their lap. Despite the accusations, the Urian remains to be the country’s most believable awards. Whether or not they are now only riding on the prestige of what was a very glorious past is really another question."

Cinephile John Ariel Rojas hopes that, “the Manunuris will be more scrutinizing and reflective of what their awards stand for.”

Oh, well.