Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema

IMG_1844-0.JPGNever forget, the first day of September.

Today marks the fifth death anniversary of Alexis Tioseco and companion Nika Bohinc. Young and in love, both were trying to make a difference until they were gunned down abruptly at his house on Times Street. They had a big space trying to fill in. He was 28 and she was 30. The murder still remains unresolved up to this day.

Alexis was a critic, editor, and a teacher. He had written a list of wishes for Philippine cinema and this particular event has been making the rounds in the Internet since the second anniversary of his passing:

1. Pick one wish from Alexis’ wishlist entitled: Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema.

2. Write about it on your blog or word processors. No specific length, style or approach is required.

For this post, I will write about this wish:

I wish more people saw Lav Diaz’s films rather than just respecting his stance, and using him as a symbol.

I am one of the many who are aware of the accolades being given to Lav Diaz and his films internationally. It’s all over the media, but almost no one pays careful attention to the invitation. Including me.

Reading rave reviews from critics worldwide doesn’t seem to convince me enough to actually take the initiative to watch his films, mostly consisting of four hours at minimum. I respect him, I acknowledge him, but I don’t really know anything about him. It’s quite hypocritical, isn’t it? To know but to never really know?

His shortest film, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, is a 250 minute run which, they say, tackles a Dostoevsky-esque plot set on the martial law backdrop. This film was tagged as one of 2013’s best films but I still somehow find a way to escape watching it despite the many chances being laid out in front of me. The mere thought of spending four hours inside the cinema is too much, I thought. I might sleep. Ironically though, I can manage to finish watching advertisements gathered in a single movie I actually paid for, eh? (Read: My Little Bossings)

Diaz’s films are, unfortunately, more acknowledged and respected in other countries than his hometown, the Philippines. Why is it so, you may ask? Part of the blame could be the stigma that films should run in the span of only two hours or so. Anything beyond that is dragging, at least that’s how I feel. Also, in the midst of locally successful mainstream films that offer formulaic romcoms, it’s quite a task to watch an intellectually stimulating film that steers away from the easy path.

Arguably, moviegoers’ main reason for watching films is not to appreciate the film making but rather to escape reality. This is evident in the box office record of films with the same plot, different names, and almost the same actors.

The problem lies on never trying the unknown. It is easy to conclude which films could appeal better to the audience and which films could score better in the box office but it’s often a risk to offer something out of the ordinary and wish for the mass audience to like it.

One of my biggest mistake is not trying the anticipated mistake of dozing myself off inside the cinema. I’ve heard others say that Diaz’s films are a form of slow cinema consisting of long shots but it’s never, for a second, boring. In fact, I hear them say it as a revelation in every scene. One may also say that careful attention should be warranted. All the awards it gained serve as a proof but all of these remain as hear says. I have never been actually there inside the cinema to prove it because I don’t want to give it a try. It’s as simple as that. And Alexis put it quite simply on his wish list.

For this reason alone, I can call myself one of the many who put Diaz on the pedestal without giving him the credit he deserves: the experience his films ask and the knowledge he is willing to impart through it.

On September 10, Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan will get its screening again but this time on a larger scale. Another chance is up there and hopefully it will not be put to waste. I’ll keep you posted.

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