By Ruben V. Nepales Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Lav Diaz’s nine-hour “Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos)” won the Golden Lion Special Mention award in the Horizons (Orizzonti) Documentary section of the Venice Film Festival on Saturday. The top prize went to “Wuyong (Useless)” by China’s Jia Zhangke. Diaz and Zhangke won against such name directors as Jonathan Demme and Julian Schnabel. Last year, renowned director Spike Lee won the award in this category for “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” “Long live Philippine Cinema!” Diaz proclaimed in his acceptance speech. “In spite of all the madness in this world, it’s still a nice place to live in. We still have cinema. We have the Venice Film Festival. I would like to thank all the people who worked so hard for this film for nine months.” Earlier, the cast and crew walked the red carpet. They were met by Venice Film Festival director Marco Muller who posed with them for pictures. Then he guided them inside the screening venue for the start of the “Encantos,” which was given the closing night honors. The new work of Mindanao-born Diaz, described in the festival website as “one of the astonishing new South East Asian auteurs,” bested entries by filmmakers from around the world, including name American filmmakers. Reviewing ‘Reming’ A mixture of documentary and fiction, “Encantos” tells the story of a fictional Filipino poet, Benjamin Agusan, who returns to his hometown in Padang, Bicol, in the aftermath of the destruction and tragedy wrought by Supertyphoon “Reming.” Agusan had spent several years in Russia on a scholarship grant. The jury of the Horizons (Orizzonti) Documentary section watched “Encantos” in two installments. Paolo Bertolin, who helped the festival by coordinating with Diaz, told the Inquirer that the jury’s screening for “Encantos” was held on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Diaz worked frantically to finish the film in time for the festival’s jury and public screenings. Diaz, Bertolin and the festival organizers heaved a collective sigh of relief when the “Encantos” tapes finally arrived on Tuesday. Sharing the film’s triumph in Venice with Diaz, who was also the cinematographer and editor, are production supervisor Laurel Peñaranda, production designer and actor Dante Perez, actors Roeder Camanag (who plays fictional poet, Benjamin Agusan), Perry Dizon (Teodoro) and Amalia Virtucio (albularya or quack doctor). Send-up to father Diaz acknowledged the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) for giving them travel grants and National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez for helping secure the group’s visas and plane tickets. “Encantos” mixes documentary and fiction. In an e-mail interview, Diaz described his film and his main character, Agusan: “I created Benjamin with no particular Filipino artist or persona in mind. My subconscious merely flowed with all the threads that ended up with the lead character in the nine-hour film. But, Benjamin’s journey is familiar terrain for the aesthetic traveler -- the search for beauty, real love, redemption, and for answers that could push humanity to greater heights.” He added: “The Russian bit is a send-up to my late father, although he never went to Russia. Yes, I know how it feels to be alone in distant lands -- I know about solitude and sorrow, so I know Benjamin Agusan.” Asians rule Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s sexually explicit spy thriller “Lust, Caution” was the surprise winner of the top award at the Venice film festival, just two years after he won with “Brokeback Mountain.” The movie is a World War II thriller set in Shanghai featuring long and sometimes violent sex scenes Lee has hinted were real. The verdict means Asian directors have won the Golden Lion on the Lido waterfront for the past three years. The Silver Lion for best director went to US filmmaker Brian De Palma, whose “Redacted” shocked audiences with its brutal reconstruction of the real-life rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by American soldiers in 2006. Best actress, actor Todd Haynes, one of six US productions in competition, scooped a runner-up slot with “I’m Not There,” his conceptual biopic about singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. In a bold piece of casting, Australian-born Cate Blanchett was one of six performers to play the singer-poet Bob Dylan at various stages of his life, and it paid off when she was named best actress in Venice. Hollywood star Brad Pitt was the surprise winner of the best actor award for his portrayal of legendary outlaw Jesse James in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” With reports from Laurel Lee Peñaranda and Reuters
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By Ruth L. Navarra Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--A Filipino graphic artist literally makes waves in Sony Pictures’ latest animation “Surf’s Up.” Armand Serrano confessed that’s he’s no surfer dude but, has worked the waves for the past three years as only geeks can — he studied and researched on the principles of water. It was necessary because he had to know how water moved and flowed so he could draw it accurately. “I also had to study foliage of a tropical forest because there was a scene in the movie where a character called Geek took in the hero Cody into his secret home,” he said. For the interiors of the forest, he drew inspiration from photographs he took while hiking in Palawan in 1992. “I would add Filipino flavor to my work anytime there is an opportunity. The Palawan inspiration was almost a default since ‘Surf’s Up’ required a tropical island. It could have been any of the other exotic islands in the Philippines,” he said. He added that being able to design the settings enabled him to add something personal in the films. “For example, I put my Darth Vader mug in a scene that I worked on in ‘Tarzan’ and I added my son’s name to the ice-cone vendor cart in ‘Lilo & Stitch.’ In ‘Surf’s Up,’ the Japanese surfer has Japanese characters on his board, which translates to ‘Hannah rules.’ Hannah is my daughter’s name,” he said. Serrano left the country for California in 1996 to work in a small animation company. A few months later, the company folded up but Walt Disney Feature Animation happily took him in. When Sony Pictures ventured into animation in 2004, he was one of the first few artists who took a leap of faith to join their roster. “Surf’s Up” is their first film. He lives in Culver City, California, with his wife and three kids. It’s nice to note that even if he’s been living in the States for the past 10 years, he still speaks Filipino sans the American accent. Engineer-animator When he was filling out his college application forms, his parents did want him to take any courses leaning towards like Fine Arts or Music. To appease them, he took a Civil Engineering course from University of Santo Tomas because he said the course still required drawings. But as soon as he graduated, he joined Fil-Cartoons, a Hanna-Barbera subsidiary in the country. This was where he met ex-pats who encouraged him to apply abroad. When he got to the States, he studied Layout Visualization and Background Design to supplement his animation know-how. “I love animation and filmmaking in general. Not only do I get to do what I love—to draw—but I also get paid for it and the world gets to see it, too. On top of that, I am able to use my talents to their fullest effect! It’s also a privilege to work with and learn from the world’s top-notch artists in this business. Hey, I’m creating cartoons — and it’s fun!” He was proud to say he had developed patience as working on one animation film could last for years. Quality takes time and it would show on the big screen, he said. “My work can be summed up into two parts: research and design -- and both are important. The best thing about my job is the challenge of conceptualizing, designing and building environments from scratch. Just the thought of having my handprint on the design of the film is very rewarding. It can be compared to an engineer or an architect’s satisfaction -- when a structure he’s been designing all those years has finally been completed.” “Surf’s Up” opens in theaters nationwide Aug. 15.
By Bayani San Diego Jr. Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Sleep-deprived, Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz’s mind was swirling with all sorts of “compelling” images: African-American girls dancing and chanting “Pen-pen de Sarapen.” An American school principal and janitress swaying to “Pinoy Ako [I'm Filipino],” the theme of the ABS-CBN reality show “Pinoy Big Brother.” And her film’s Caucasian cinematographer insisting on changing his citizenship to Filipino. Diaz, whose 2004 documentary “Imelda” won Best Cinematography in the Sundance Film Festival, was in the country for almost a month, to shoot scenes for her latest documentary “The Learning.” From controversial First Lady Imelda Marcos, Diaz is now training her camera on a group of Filipina schoolteachers who have migrated to Baltimore, Maryland, to teach in inner-city schools. Diaz, director of photography Gabriel Goodenough and sound man Paul Flinton were in the Philippines for three weeks (from June 19 to July 13) to capture the homecomings of four teachers: Dorotea Godinez of Cebu, Rhea Espedido of Sorsogon, Mary Angel Alim of Antipolo and Grace Amper of Cagayan de Oro. It was a whirlwind trip not only for the teachers, but for Diaz and her ragtag crew as well. “It was tiring,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview a week before her flight back to Baltimore on Friday. “From Cagayan we went to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. We spent some time in Bogo, Cebu. Also in Legazpi and Manila.” Her American crew, however, savored the sights and sounds of the countryside. “They couldn’t believe that, in their short trip, they saw the real Philippines,” Diaz recounted. Cameraman Goodenough, who had developed a fondness for Pinoy rock songs (like Alamid’s “Your Love”), told Diaz that he wanted to give up his American citizenship to become a Filipino citizen. “They’d have to build a new building just to accommodate his historic request,” Diaz said, laughing. She estimated that she had accumulated 759 hours of raw footage for “The Learning,” which is set to premiere in the Sundance film festival in 2008. Unlike “Imelda,” which involved only one person, “The Learning,” explained Diaz, would be more complex. “It’s an unfolding tale -- following multiple story lines.” She has been shooting the documentary for a year and a half -- trailing four teachers from recruitment to their adjustment period in Baltimore and eventual homecoming after a year in the US. Principal photography has been finished, she reported. “It’s almost in the can. I just have two to three days, to shoot the teachers’ return to the US.” Then, Diaz said, the hard work would begin -- in the editing room. “Documentaries like this are really fashioned in the editing room. Editing can make or break a film. Docus need to be nurtured in post-production.” In the editing room, she’s hands-on, she owned up. “I do the choosing [of scenes] because these are mostly in Tagalog and my editor, Kim Roberts, is an American. If Kim would watch everything that I shot, it would take her six months!” She compared editing this docu to solving a “puzzle.” Although she admitted that she was fixated on sleeping at the time of the interview, it was obvious that she was also making a mental list of “compelling” scenes as she gabbed with teachers Espedido and Alim at the Unitel office in Makati. (Tony Gloria of Unitel is producing the documentary, which was partly funded by the Sundance Institute and the Center for Asian American Media.) Diaz related: “Suddenly, I would remember: Ah, yah, we have footage of the principal dancing ‘Pinoy Ako’ [for example] … So I would include that in my list … which is not fixed, by the way. It may still evolve.” Gloria pointed out that a lesser filmmaker would have quit a long time ago. “She’s been shooting for over a year with very little resources,” Gloria said. “Fortunately, she feels strongly about this story. It’s been a journey for Ramona and the teachers.” So what kept Ramona in this exhausting journey? “I’m not a quitter. The thing is, something new was happening all the time. By the end, the teachers themselves were calling me about the latest developments,” she noted. To think that Diaz picked up this project because she had wanted to stay closer to home. “After traveling constantly with ‘Imelda,’ I got so tired that I wanted to stay put in Baltimore, where I live,” she recalled. While browsing through the newspaper Baltimore Sun, Diaz found out about the first batch of Filipino teachers who moved to Maryland in 2005. That was the seed of “The Learning.” “But I wanted to focus on the second batch of teachers, so I could follow them as they adjust in their new life in the US,” she recounted. In the process, the teachers became close friends of Ramona’s. “I know things about them that not even their own families know,” she quipped. When Fe Bolado, one of the teachers featured in the documentary, committed suicide last May, it felt like a major blow for Diaz. “It was traumatic. It affected the whole Filipino teachers’ community,” Diaz remembered. “There were lots of memorials and prayer groups.” Diaz also had to help the teachers cope with the nitty-gritty. “I had to find lawyers and take care of the insurance. Fe’s roommates had to find a new apartment. The body had to be moved from the morgue and shipped back to the country.” It was draining. She shared the highs and lows, the joys and tears of the teachers’ “unfolding lives.” She felt for Amper when the teacher came home and her own two-year-old son did not recognize her. She experienced Alim’s thrill when the teacher watched her African-American students perform the "pandango sa ilaw" dance and “Pinoy Ako.” Diaz related: “In the beginning, most of these kids didn’t even know where the Philippines is. It’s good for these marginalized students to get acquainted with a different culture through their teachers. It widens their horizons.” Diaz, however, did not gloss over the migration’s possible negative effect on the Philippine school system. “The good teachers are leaving. Filipino children are not getting the benefits of being taught by veteran teachers. But, we can’t really blame them. A lot of these teachers told me that if only they were paid enough here, they’d never leave.” Diaz pointed out that, as of the Fall of 2006, there were 400 Filipino teachers in Baltimore City. “A school supervisor was quoted in the documentary, saying that the US is getting the crème de la crème,” said Gloria. “The students are charmed by Filipino teachers because they’re so motherly.” In one scene, Godinez was grilling an African-American student who got pregnant, as if the teener were her own daughter. “Some of these kids have no parents to go home to,” said Diaz. “We have a no-touch policy in school,” Espedido said. “But it’s the kids themselves who embrace us first,” Alim said. “The kids’ faces brighten up when they hug their teachers,” said Diaz. Initially, the teachers encountered resistance. Espedido and Alim recalled that they had to grapple with culture shock. “I had to send a kid to the principal’s office and he was just on his first grade,” Espedido said. “I had to remind the kids not to break the glasses in pandango sa ilaw,” Alim looked back. “They found it strange that candles are used in dancing because they only light candles for the dead.” Espedido and Alim remarked that their students had described Filipino food as “nasty.” Alim related: “I brought them to a Philippine festival and treated them to halo-halo. At first, they said it was weird but they finished off the entire glass.” Diaz said: “You have to be tough. It’s a hard population to teach. But at the end of the day, you’ll realize that they are just children.” Although Diaz was the first to admit that the documentary was a challenging shoot, she would gladly relive the process of telling these teachers’ stories all over again. “In a way, it’s an homage to the teaching profession,” she explained. “This docu is a snapshot of our time. The theme is very universal. Filipinos are not the only ones flocking to the US, thinking it’s a land of milk and honey … only to discover it’s not always milk and honey.”
By Veronica Uy INQUIRER.net UPDATE: Editor's note: Added link to winners' page. Thanks to reader Lynn for the link. ACTRESS Cherry Pie Picache has won the Best Actress award for her role in the Philippine entry "Summer Heat" in the recent 28th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) held from June 20 to July 1, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced on July 10. Citing the report of Philippine Ambassador to South Africa Virgilio Reyes Jr., the DFA said in a press statement that Picache was cited "for her sustained and controlled performance of the character of the gay sister, Jess, who despite her apparent cultivated masculine exterior betrays a softness which can hardly be seen but can be felt by all." The DFA said the DIFF was organized by the Centre for Creative Arts and funded by the National Film and Video Foundation, National Lottery Distribution Fund, Hivos, Stichting Doen, City of Durban, Ethekwini Municipality, KwaZuluNatal Department of Economic Development, with support from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, French Embassy, Goethe Institute, and other partners. The DIFF presented a selection of the best in cinema from South Africa, Africa, and around the world; some 300 screenings at 22 venues were organized across the Durban district during the festival period.
By Dexter R. Matilla Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Disney's new animated movie "Meet the Robinsons" is big in every way. Big cast, big-name voices, and big ideas all throughout. But perhaps none is bigger than the biggest character in the movie, Tiny, the Robinsons’ T-Rex pet. The obviously hard-to-miss Tiny steals the scene in one sequence, eliciting laughter once he speaks. The voice belongs to Filipino-American Joe Mateo. A Fine Arts Advertising graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, Mateo also co-wrote the script and did storyboard work for the movie, which is based on the book "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" by William Joyce. Already based in LA, Mateo said it was his wife, a former classmate in UST who was already working for Disney’s Art Classics Department, who informed him of a job opening at the studio. "It was an opportunity," Mateo said. He has since done artwork for such beloved Disney movies as "Pocahontas," "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Home on the Range." In the same way that Mateo's creativity landed him a dream job in Disney, Lewis (Jordan Fry), the main character of "Meet the Robinsons," gets the story going for this hilarious animated movie with his inventiveness and creativity. Left by his mother in an orphanage when he was still a baby, Lewis grows up to be a very smart kid and an inventor to boot. Not knowing why his mother gave him up, however, Lewis has a hollow feeling. Wanting to be reunited with her, he invents a "memory scanner" from a couple of household items put together. With Lewis’ plan seemingly foolproof, in comes the Bowler Hat Guy who steals the memory scanner. Voiced by "Meet the Robinsons" director Steve Anderson, this Bowler Hat Guy is from the future and possibly the worst villain there is. Back to the future An upset Lewis returns to the orphanage, where a teenage boy about his age appears out of nowhere. Introducing himself as Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman), he takes the young inventor on a ride in a space ship/time machine and brings him 30 years into the future where Lewis meets the Robinsons. There have been other animated movies about boy geniuses before, but "Meet the Robinsons" offers something different. Smart and engagingly witty with unexpected twists and turns, it peeks into what could or couldn't have been from decisions made today. And while failures cannot be avoided, it imparts what can be learned from them. For his part, Joe Mateo advises anyone who wishes to succeed in life to just "give everything you can." Other big-name voices in the movie include Tom Selleck, Angela Bassett, Adam West and Laurie Metcalf.