A burdened mother in Butterflies Have no Memories (2009), agonising in Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012); a sinister-looking servant in Norte, the End of History (2013), a crude revolutionary in From What is Before (2014) – Kristine Kintana appears in most of Lav Diaz’s films. These occasional roles are only the small, visible part of a collaboration that extends to every aspect of the films. From producing to subtitling Kintara is an essential member of the Diaz team, and, beyond that, of the family of independent Filipino cinema, her contribution going from shoots to programming films in local festivals (Cinemanila, QCinema). In this previously unpublished text, she goes back over her collaboration with the filmmaker in the form of a book of hours: from month to month, from year to year, shoots overlap, film follows film, typhoons are unleashed, and a community emerges, cemented by mourning.
Manila, November, 2006. It was at Cinemanila International Film Festival 1, and there was me, whose initial job at the festival was just to print t-shirts, suddenly being tasked to man the projection booths as well. It was an okay job, with coffee in one hand, ensuring the battered 35mm prints don’t headloop and burn with the other. Then came the mini-dv tapes, all nine of them. How could I forget, of course Lav Diaz’s Heremias: The Legend of the Lizard Princess was the closing film of the festival.
Lav arrived. In black jeans and black shirt, he asked for black coffee. “No sugar. Sugar is bad for your health.” “It’s a nine hour film,” he says, “you can leave, get married, and when you return, the film would still be running.” “But its in mini-dv,” I said, “and I have to switch tapes every hour.” Oh well. Cigarette breaks and window shopping and more black coffee, and by 10pm, the film is finished and from the 26 people who entered the cinema, eight survived until the end.
Cut to February 2008. It was the National Arts Month 2, and now, we’ll be screening Death In The Land Of Encantos. Lav arrived, again holding nine mini-dvs and a Panasonic DVX camera. “This auditorium does not have a mini-dv player, right? Just use my camera for playback.” Okay. I’ll have the projectionist take care of it.” He didn’t stay for the screening and so I texted him that there were more than 40 who showed up, and 17 finished the film. Me included.
It was my first time to see a Lav Diaz film, and I was aghast. The beauty and destruction, the prose and poetry, Perry, Roeder, and Angeli – and Soliman 3, who was torturing Roeder’s character, while singing the national anthem… Afterward, I ordered black coffee after and resolved to follow Lav Diaz.
May of 2008 came, and I was hanging out with Khavn 4 as usual, and I was still gushing about Encantos, which we programmed in a community screening that April. Khavn might have had enough of me just talking about it that he drove me to Marikina 5 and we went to Starbucks, where Lav was, planning his next shoot.
Lav gave me the numbers of Dante, George, Malaya, Perry, and Angeli 6), and told me to contact them. “You’re now our production manager. We’re going to Sagada” 7, he said. “We’ll shoot The President of the Republic of the Philippines.”
I quit my job. I went to the bus station to meet with all of them, and then we went to the mountains of Sagada. You look like my eldest daughter, he said. Well, we are from the same town in Ilocos Norte 8, so maybe we’re related, I replied.
Lav is popular, but he’s not popular. Are you Lav Diaz, a foreigner asked hawaiian shirt wearing painter Dante Perez 9. No, he is Lav Diaz, pointing to the man in all black, hair pulled back in a pony tail.
Seventy-five counts, that’s when you start walking, Lav instructs Perry. Perry walks, acting as the pimp, Julian. Angeli is Alberta, his whore. Malaya is a nun, collecting alms for the poor. All in the sleepy town of Sagada. It’s how they coped, he said, the families of those that were disappeared, they go to a remote place and be someone else.
The disappeared. You don’t know if they’re dead or still being tortured. And you. The one who is here, who is still waiting for news, who is still clinging for hope. Who is trapped in this melancholy.
This film does not feel like « The President of the Republic of the Philippines ». We’ll call this film Melancholia.
We finished the film in August. After additional shots in Manila, Lav braving the typhoon and had to be strapped in a bridge’s pillar while the flood water is rising, the search for who will sing the song that he wrote for the film, and of course, we should shoot them. The disappeared. They’re in a battle in the middle of the forest. They can never return.
September and we’re suddenly in Venice Film Festival. Melancholia was the closing film of the Orizzonti section of the festival. Eight mini-dvs to a 200 strong audience, 50 of which stayed til the end. And we won. Grand Prize of the Orizzonti section. Call Alexis Tioseco 10, Lav said. He should be the first to know! Alexis agreed for us to shoot in his house, and apparently, we were the first ones to ever shoot there.
We went back to the Philippines and took taxis to our houses.
December and we’re in another province, shooting Butterflies Have No Memories for Jeonju Film Festival. It was in a mining town south of Manila, where Lav’s real estate agent grew up. Again, we were just five in the group. Lav shoots, I hold the boom mic, and Dante, Joel, and Willy 11) had a very long scene about that god forsaken mine. We were there for a week, probably more, and came back to Manila two days before Christmas, just in time for Khavn’s birthday.
Two thousand and nine, and there were a lot of deaths.
There were a lot of films too, but those films morphed into something else.
April and its the Holy Week. We went again to the mining town, this time, with Raya Martin 12, filmmaker couple John and Shireen 13, and editor Lawrence 14 with girlfriend Wyna. It’s summer. We’re filming by the beach, and everyone wanted to come.
For two weeks, we shot actors Angel Aquino, Bart Guingona, and Joe Gruta. We filmed the Moriones Festival 15, where everyone wears a Centurion’s mask and haunts for Jesus. There were also lots of bed scenes. Intense bed scenes. But Angel was a nun, and Bart was an ex-convict.
June and Lav found another inspiration. I know the next part of the story. Its World War II and the Japanese have occupied us! So, we trooped to another town, looked for old houses, shot Anna Abad Santos and Yutaka Yamakawa. We shot, and shot, and shot.
Babae ng Hangin. Woman of the Wind 16. It’s Angel and Anna and all the secrets over the years.
Dante built a village and the Japanese burned it down.
Then Dante’s wife died. We all paused.
July and something happened. Lav has a new story, and no, we won’t continue Woman of the Wind. Not like this.
Off we went to another province. This time, I’m a frail woman dying of tuberculosis. Noel is my father and he has devoted himself to taking care of me. Willy and Joel were construction workers who are seeking burried treasure. They dig and dig and dig. And then I died. They burried me there.
Such a good, simple story, right, Kints? Lav asked me. We’ll call it Corporal Histories.
August and Lav left for New York.
The eve of September 1, I got a text message from Khavn, and everything changed.
Alexis and Nika were murdered.
Everything was bleak. Everything went black.
2010 and we tried again.
Lav was trying to finish Corporal Histories. But now, we’ll call it Agonistes: Myth of a Nation.
We rented a Sony HD camera because his DVX100 was already failing. We shot Evelyn Vargas 17) as a mother peddling her daughter Marife Necessito 18) to men in heat. We shot in the mountains for a week.
And we tried. We shoot, and Lav would edit, and we’d view it, and it looked good. We took the mini-dv tapes to Film Center in UP and we screened the work in progress it to 50 people. It was a two and a half hour cut and they said it was good.
But we were still always thinking about Alexis and Nika, and what Alexis said that Lav could be introduced to the public. Could be more accessible. Like Butterflies Have No Memories. Why not make a series? 15 one hour films? That idea never left Lav.
But of course, we still shoot. And write proposals for grants. And sometimes, we get the grant. Make an announcement. We are open for auditions for the The Great Desaparecido 19. Let’s look for Oriang 20. And we did. There were a lot who came. Big actresses from the mainstream, friends from the theater, all kinds. But no. None of them will do. And then Hazel Orencio 21 walked in. We had to stop ourselves from high-fiving each other. This tall, dusky, woman looks the part. Acts the part. There.
So, I unearthed the script, photocopied it, wrote down the page numbers and the sequence numbers, and we’re all excited. And then we paused again.
Being with Lav, you learn how to stop. Take a break. Walk by the river. Have long talks over coffee. Discuss family recipes and your latest crush.
The new year came again. And Lav bought a new camera. The Panasonic AF100 has interchangable lens and is really the independent filmmaker’s dream camera. Let’s go. Let’s wait for the storm. I didn’t come.
They went to another province, Perry became Homer, the filmmaker, and Hazel was part of a cult.
I visited Lav when they came back and saw him editing. He was editing Homer editing the film Woman of the Wind. Lav is meta.
The six hour Century of Birthing premiered in Venice that September. But there was a big catch. It was already 2011, and technology has advanced, and we have to screen it in DCP. From being relaxed and screening films in mini dvs, now, there’s this?! In just the three years that we didn’t play there, suddenly… Lav became the first Filipino to have his film screened in DCP.
November. Lav came back and is still excited with his new camera. Let’s reshoot. We’ll go back to the province, film you dying with tuberculosis, and Joel, Willy, and Noel is digging for treasure.
January, and we’re still filming Dante, the abusive father of Hazel, who peddles her to men in heat. Late January, we premiered Florentina Hubaldo, CTE at Rotterdam.
September and we were in a province, screening Florentina to students. Moira Lang 22) approached, and said, let’s shoot. It’ll be the first time since I’ve known him that Lav will do a film with producers. Its time that the crew gets paid properly. Yes, let’s shoot, he agreed.
Conditions. It will be four hours. It will be in color. I’ll get Larry Manda 23 to be my Cinematographer, Lav said. We’ll shoot with Red Epic. Oh, and we have to shoot by January, because we’re submitting the film by March.
Norte was the first Lav film in 15 years that has color. It was the first film that the story was not his, and he collaborated with other scriptwriters. It was the first film that he had lapel mics. It was his first film that was submitted at Cannes. It was just four hours. And it worked. It got rave reviews all over. And when it finally hit Manila as the closing film of Cinemanila that December, it played to a standing room only crowd. I was moved to tears.
May, while they were still in Cannes, our best man, production designer, actor, the blue straggler, Dante Perez, suddenly died. A book ended and another one began.
Now, Lav does not rest. December, he was already shooting again, this time with a smaller GH4 camera. They shot for a long time. December, then April, and up to June. July, we premiered to a packed cinema in the Philippines and August, From What Is Before won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. It was screened again here September 21, the anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law, and the 1,200 seater theater was filled.
There were two projects after, and I could go on and on about camera and statistics, about the new additions to our team, the new producers, the big actors, but all in, the core is the same. The message is the same. And at the end of the day, we still drink black coffee and talk about family recipies.
|1↑||1. The main international film festival, created in Manila in 1999.|
|2↑||2. Philippine National Arts Month is a multidisciplinary arts festival held every February since its creation by President Cory Aquino in 1991.|
|3↑||3. Perry Dizon, Roeder Camanag, Angeli Bayani and Soleman Cruz, actors in Death in the Land of Encantos (Lav Diaz, 2007).|
|4↑||4. Filmmaker, musician and poet, Khavn de la Cruz (Quezon City, 1973) has made over fifty films since the late 1990s, and is the founder and director of the .MOV International Digital Film Festival.|
|5↑||5. Marikina, a town in the metropolitan area of Manila (commonly called Metro Manila), where Lav Diaz lives.|
|6↑||6. Dante Perez, George Vibar, Malaya Cruz, Perry Dizon and Angeli Bayani, actors in the film Melancholia (Lav Diaz, 2008|
|7↑||7. Sagada, a town in Mountain Province, in the Cordillera region of the Philippines, is known for its tribal peoples who hang their coffins from the cliffs..|
|8↑||8. Ilocos Norte, a province on the northwest coat of Luzon, is known as the home turf of the Marcos clan. It is the setting for the film Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz, 2013).|
|9↑||9. Artist, actor, artistic director and set designer Dante Perez (1957–2013) was a regular actor and close collaborator in Diaz’s films.|
|10↑||10. In 2005 film critic and programmer Alexis Tioseco (1981-2009) founded Criticine, a journal specialising in the cinema of Southeast Asia. A major figure in independent cinema in the Philippines in the 2000s, in 2009 he and his companion, the Slovenian critic and programmer Nika Bohinc, were murdered in their house in Quezon City (Philippines).|
|11↑||11. Dante Perez, Joel Ferrer and Willy Fernandez, actors in the film Butterflies Have no Memories (Lav Diaz, 2009|
|12↑||12. Raya Martin (Manila, 1984) has made over twenty films since 2004, including A Short Film about the Indio Nacional (2005), Independencia (2009), and How to Disappear Completely (2013).|
|13↑||13. John Torres (1975, Philippines) is the director, among others, of Todo Todo Teros (2006) and Lukas Nino (2013). Shireen Seno (1983, Tokyo) made Big Boy in 2012.|
|14↑||14. Lawrence Ang, editor of numerous films on the Philippines independent scene, where he works at Quiapost Productions.|
|15↑||15. This folk and religious festival takes place every year during Holy Week on the island of Marinduque. The population wear Roman soldier masks to evoke the centurion Longinus, who pierced Christ’s right side with his lance before converting and eventually dying a martyr’s death.|
|16↑||16. Title of an unfinished project by Lav Diaz, referenced in his film Century of Birthing.|
|17↑||17. Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel, a producer and actor, notably, in An Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution (Lav Diaz, 2011|
|18↑||18. Marife Necessito, actress, among others, in Evolution of a Filipino Family (Lav Diaz, 2004), Heremias (2006) and An Elegy from the Visitor from the Revolution (2011|
|19↑||19. Film project inspired by the death of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan movement, which drove the Filipino uprising against the Spanish colonists in 1897. He was killed by his rival Emilio Aguinaldo. At the time of his retrospective at Jeu de Paume, Lav Diaz is finishing this project titled Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.|
|20↑||20. Gregoria Alvarez de Jesus (1875-1943), also known as Aling Oriang, founder of the women’s wing of the Katipunan movement. She was married to Andres Bonifacio, with whom she had a child, and died in 1943 during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.|
|21↑||21. Hazel Orencio (1986, Philippines) is the coordinator of Sine Olivia Pilipinas and since 2011 has appeared regularly in Diaz’s films, notably in the lead role in Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012).|
|22↑||22. Moira Lang (née Raymond Lee) is a producer and actress, notably of/in Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz, 2013|
|23↑||23. Larry Manda is an editor and lighting cameraman. He has worked on Burger Boys (1999), Norte, The End of History (2013) and Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2015–16).|