COMMENTARY: Letter to a Mindanaoan Indie Film Student

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/30 July) — Thank you for the request for an interview. But I must tell you, though I acted as juror of the Caraga region GAD student independent film festival I am not a full time indie filmmaker but more of an avid film enthusiast.

I did make short films and documentaries and they are far and few in between my writing career. I love films, more so making them. They are not just escapism to me and I celebrate life when I’m out shooting with a minimal cast and crew.

I wrote and directed them. I cannot direct if I didn’t write the script myself. I would be embarrassed to the scriptwriter if I didn’t get his intention right.

A little bit of my journey. I had my first short film when I was 11 years old in 1973. My grade five teacher gifted me with a camera. She and my mom encouraged me to make a movie and I did. It was a short black and white with no sound. The audience was my family. We had a big white cloth serving as screen. Whether it was good or bad I could not recall. But that started my addiction to the movies.

I watched Tagalog and English movies. I didn’t like Chinese movies because they keep fighting and flying all the time. I wanted a real story.

College time, I was reading and translating film scripts but only as a personal endeavor. My favorite scriptwriter was Ricky Lee and I tried and failed to attend his script writing workshop.

Like everyone else, I thought the movies were only made in Hollywood and Manila until I discovered the Japanese, European and South American films. I found them extraordinary in terms of being personal, small and deep.

The term Indie film was unheard of but looking back now, the documentaries done by Neil Fraser like “Rustling of the Leaves” were memorable. (Fraser was based in Ozamiz city, had a film studio and trained NGO workers) To me, they were giant films.

I also followed Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal’s movies. I remember “Himala” got a standing ovation, the first movie I witnessed. You probably don’t know these people as you hardly have any knowledge of film history.

I think you should. It will give you a better perspective.

In the early 90’s I had my Indie film break when an NGO commissioned me to do a series of people stories. I teamed up with a cameraman, gathered aspiring actors in urban and rural communities. A local woman humbled me. I thought I had one scene humorous but she said, “This is supposed to be funny?” I learned to get real and listen.

Decades later, I never got into film-making again. I thought I was not good anyway. But I missed it. To me, it’s the most wonderful job in the world.

Then the Indie film movement finally dawned. It was exciting. It was tiresome to see commercial films too long that the ones Brillante Mendoza and others make were inspiring. I was back on dreaming of wanting to make indies my own. I did one and a few documentaries but always far and few in between.

Let me tell you, this is your chance, your moment. Film is the language of the times. Your generation is lucky to have it. Think of yourself as a storyteller. Do a story of the people where you live in. If you live in Surigao area, tell the stories of the people surviving with the mining industry. I want to do a story of a high school classmate who disappeared in the big flood of Cagayan de Oro.

We should make films that connect us. Make it both personal and social. It’s a little bit easy because you experience it. Now if you have done a body of work and be acknowledged near and far, don’t lose the fire but please keep your feet on the ground and hold your attitude in wraps.

I once chatted with a Davao-based indie filmmaker whose film reportedly got raves in Europe. I asked him for an interview and he said something like he didn’t need it because the Italian press was elbowing each other to interview him.

But i see the passion, the excitement in all of you and get re-energized with the spirit of your enthusiasm. I don’t care if the films you make come in varying qualities, good, bad, needs improvement. Enjoy the job. Be the hell of a Mindanaoan film-maker. (Ramon Jorge Sarabosing is an artist-writer based in Butuan City.)