Zooming in on 3 denizens of Cebu’s film scene
By Patricia May P. Catan
TODAY’S local filmmaking scene is kept colorful and alive by Cebuano filmmakers and writers alike who with their passion for film allows the Cebuano filmmaking industry to flourish despite the lack of attention and appreciation it needs from locals. But in recent years, Cebuanos are slowly embracing locally made films and that’s thanks to schools and institutions that strongly support this form of art. Filmmakers, writers or even just film enthusiasts aren’t the last to support the local filmmaking scene, too, and here to express their passion for film and why they do what they do are five established personalities in Cebu’s filmmaking industry.
Keith did not get into filmmaking but filmmaking got into him. He often tells himself after successfully finishing a film that it will be his last one, but even after 11 years, he’s still struggling to make another film.
The struggle in making films is in fact what he enjoys most. “The bigger the budget, the tougher it gets,” shares Keith. He adds that this is why people should learn to appreciate short films since filmmakers get the most freedom in making these films.
In his many years in the filmmaking industry, Keith, 36, likens genres to boxes and shelves where vendors put items to sell. Not limiting his creativity, he makes his own films outside of those boxes. “It’s 2018 and I believe the Filipino audience have been thinking outside of those boxes as well. I can say that since I am also an audience,” shares Keith, who is behind gems like Lily, Iskalawags, Uwan Init Pista Sa Langit, and Babylon.
Being a full-time filmmaker is what he hopes for but can’t yet. He pays the bills by making client works. Although this is the case for most local filmmakers, Keith’s goal in filmmaking is simple: make films and pay the bills.
Through his films, he wants to tell the audience that cinema is not all about superheroes or kilig. “It can also be about us Cebuanos and Filipinos. We are the superheroes,” expresses Keith. According to him, the Cebuano filmmaking scene is young and strong. He hopes that more Cebuanos would make time to watch local films. “Cebuano films are actually worth saving up for to watch on a weekend,” he remarks.
With a filmmaking style that’s just distinctly his and finding his own story and film as his inspirations, Keith is flourishing in his own right as a filmmaker. From an established filmmaker, Keith says that no film is easy to make, which is why aspiring filmmakers must be willing to embrace the struggles that come with it. “It’s the struggles that make the film,” he reveals. Keith continues that soon-to-be filmmakers must also live a life outside of filmmaking to find stories to tell.
Niño Justin Tecson
Justin was always fascinated by stories even as a child. In his younger days, he’d often daydream in class or play pretend with his childhood friends as if they were in a movie or video game. Filmmaking later on became something he was interested in. Justin first wanted to become a comic artist but he grew to love filmmaking because of high school projects.
Today, it’s inevitable for Justin who loved stories as a kid to enjoy the writing part of filmmaking so much. For someone who was drawn to stories way back in childhood and now writing his own is like a dream come true for young Justin, even when he personally believes that writing is one of the hardest parts to get through in filmmaking.
The challenges of filmmaking doesn’t end there for he finds the sustainability of filmmaking as a career path a bit of a challenge especially for independent filmmakers like the 22-year-old Justin. “In independent filmmaking, there is hardly any money. I think I stand to lose more in that kind of arena since I have observed that the chances of a filmmaker like me to have a breakthrough are slim, and even if I do make it, I feel intimidated or often discouraged by how glossy the filmmaking industry is,” he says.
He adds that if a filmmaker wants to succeed in the industry, one must have the grit in order to survive. Justin admits that he struggles with this trait but he’s trying to develop it as he hopes to create or add into conversations about social issues that plague daily lives. “There are unbelievably a lot of talented people in our local scene and these talented individuals are making history one step at a time. I’m glad to be a part of that even if it’s an insignificant part. I hope these talented people create positive waves of conversations to address the ills of our society,” he continues.
Justin’s film, No Seguir, which they submitted to Cinema One’s C1Minute is one of his favorites. “The conversation it sparked no matter how little is something I’m happy to be a part of. I aspire to create more conversations with the films I make whether it pleases people or not,” shares Justin. Justin’s style in filmmaking is very conventional in the sense that he always tries to give people what he thinks they want. “I’ve been trying to explore bolder styles but I have yet to actually make a film that isn’t “people-pleasing”,” he adds.
Justin, who is a firm believer of not being limited to genres, still finds himself leaning towards black comedy and that inspiration only strikes out of the blue like a eureka moment for him. As a filmmaker, Justin focuses on one goal alone, and that’s to create or write a feature-length narrative.
Paul was studying literature at a university in New York and wanted to become a writer. But what got him into film was because of his girlfriend at that time who was involved in the underground film scene there. She started introducing Paul to different filmmakers like Richard Kern, Nick Zedd and some other Super-8 people. His interest in film took a turning point when he enrolled in a class on French cinema. “I took a class on French cinema and saw Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. I think that was really the turning point when I saw that film had all the same power of literature that I loved,” says Paul.
Despite being unsure whether he wanted to make films or write, Paul worked as a professor of cinema studies at the University of San Carlos Fine Arts. Paul says that he has done his best to make cinema his livelihood where it involves filmmaking, sometimes teaching and often takes the form of writing.
Speaking about genres he finds interesting, Paul thinks genre in general is conceptually interesting because none of them are fixed. He adds that they keep mutating and becoming weird hybrids. But horror is one of his favorites in a more traditional sense with its capacity to allegorize such a wide array of contexts like family dynamics, political critique and sexual politics. Crime films or police procedural come second. “This genre seems to be picking up speed right now in the Philippines and I recently wrote a screenplay for Keith Deligero in this genre that is being produced for Cinema One,” shares Paul.
As a film enthusiast himself, Paul’s favorite films changes over time. “In general, the films that have marked me the most are projects like Godard’s Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and a very special film called Classe De Lutte, which was made by a group of factory workers in France in 1968,” he shares. Paul is also a big fan of Keith Deligero, John Torres, Khavn, Lamberto Avellana, Lino Brocka, Celso Ad Castillo and Ishmael Bernal in the local scene. “But that’s really just like the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg,” continues Paul.
Taking context out of D.M. Estabaya’s newspaper article in 1958 where he wrote that what killed the Visayan movie industry is capital, Paul believes that this is still true and is one of the many challenges of filmmaking in Cebu today. “There are reasons investors are not flooding money into local vernacular films. They obviously think that the national appeal of such films is not there,” remarks Paul. He continues that this is quite a parochial view of how people understand a nation and its multitude of cultures. “Once a film in Bisaya leaves the Philippines, it becomes a Filipino film. It doesn’t matter what language it is, although films from regions and peripheries may have a bit more cultural capital internationally than say the dominant national films in Tagalog,” stresses Paul.
According to Paul, he thinks that it’s worth pointing out also that today, the challenges are mitigated a bit because the previous generations of Cebuano filmmakers had to deal with film stock and labs and editing equipment etc. whereas today, there may still be a few technical items that are more accessible in Manila, but for the most part, Cebu can be technically autonomous.
But what makes the Cebuano filmmaking scene exciting is that it’s thriving. “Cebuano filmmaking is happening with Binisaya Film Festival and all these activities in universities just like how it is in other regions in the Philippines.” shares Paul. With his work in cinema, he hopes to achieve the kind of advocacy where people learn how to read films, see them as mobilizations of critique, as well as how these spectators mobilize their own critical analyses of the films they watch.