Why it took Paul Soriano 3 years to produce Mañanita
Does he have in mind winning an award when making a movie instead of eyeing box-office? ‘For me, it will always be story first. To create films and to tell stories with an objective of winning awards, joining film festivals and box-office would be a crime.’
Why it took Paul Soriano 3 years to produce Mañanita
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Any day now, director-producer Paul Soriano will go to Japan keeping his fingers crossed as his film, Mañanita, competes in the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) starting on next Monday, Oct. 28. The theme of this year’s filmfest is “The World at a Glance.”

Starring Bela Padilla, the film took Paul three years to produce under his own company (TEN17P) and Viva Films, and he tells why in an exclusive interview with The STAR. It will be shown at the TIFF on Oct. 29, with additional screenings on Oct. 31 and Nov. 5, and will open in Philippine cinemas on Dec. 4.

Written by Lav Diaz, Mañanita casts Bela as a dismissed military officer who embarks on a journey to her hometown in search of the man who killed her parents. In the process, she ponders on the state of the world and the possibility of forgiveness after all the turmoil she has encountered. It is said that Mañanita takes inspiration on the “transcendental style of filmmaking” as it explores the story of its central character,

Mañanita is the song with which Cursillistas serenade members on the eve of their birthdays and the same name refers to cops in Davao who are said to use non-violent ways of asking suspects to surrender — yes, by “serenading” them.

Explained Paul, “The cops don’t want to kill. Instead of entering the house of suspected armed drug users, the cops are armed with guitars and they would sing. Suspects would surrender because they claim that lyrics of the song touch their souls.”

It’s not your first time to join an international film festival, so how different is the Tokyo filmfest?

“This will be my first time as a producer/director to participate in the main competition of an international film festival. I’m really looking forward to this experience. Being a part of film festivals is inspiring and is some sort of an education because you get to watch all kinds of films. When I’m at a film festival, I usually watch three to four films a day, and I get to talk and have conversations with other filmmakers from around the world. You get to listen, watch and experience cinema from all sorts of perspectives and that’s exciting for me.”

Why Mañanita as entry?

“My film Mañanita was created when I was watching the news one evening. I saw a feature on the Davao del Norte ‘Mañanita,’ cops who would serenade drug users and drug dealers early in the morning, which would force them into surrendering. Instead of using violence and force, they would make arrests through their use of guitars and by singing songs that had a message of forgiveness and hope. It was a peaceful way of apprehending these drug users and/or drug dealers. I found that idea fascinating and incredibly interesting. I right away few to Davao del Norte to meet them and start my research. It took me three years to produce this film.”

Is Bela the only choice for the role and why her?

“I’ve always wanted to work with Bela. She is one of my favorite actresses today. After I finally settled on the story and screenplay, I had only Bela on my mind. I was set to meet her as we were talking about an idea that she had and she wanted to pitch it to me; we actually plan to produce this idea of hers soon.

“Anyway after she pitched, I told her I had a project so I quickly pitched it to her and she said yes right away. Bela is the first actor to ever say yes to me without reading a script. It was the trust she gave me that day that inspired me even more and I knew this was going to be a special film.”

Do you have in mind winning an award when making a movie instead of eyeing box-office?

“For me, it will always be story first. To create films and to tell stories with an objective of winning awards, joining film festivals and box-office would be a crime.”

Director-producer Paul Soriano giving Bela Padilla (also shown at right) last-minute instructions before shooting a scene in Mañanita in which she plays a dismissed military officer out to take revenge on the killers of her parents.

Mañanita writer Lav Diaz is an international filmfest veteran. What pointers did you get from him?

“I have the highest respect for Lav. I’m humbled that I can even be associated with him. He is a mentor and a teacher to me. I have learned and continue to learn so much from him, not just about films or telling stories but about life and living. After many years of knowing him and collaborating with him, I’ve come to learn that we should control what we can, and let go of the things we can’t, and to just simply stop, look around and listen to your soul, observe and appreciate that every day.”

Were you faithful to Lav’s story in executing it?

“The story was a collaboration between Lav and me. After my research in Davao del Norte, eventually I found myself telling this story to him, which he loved and then we both created it together. What is great about Lav was that after he wrote the screenplay which, if I may say, was about eight pages long, he then allowed me to make it my own, which I did and I extremely enjoyed the process. This is one of the most personal films I’ve ever made, only because I got to tell the story the exact way I envisioned it.”

Educate us on what you mean by “transcendental style” of directing.

“To be candid, to me at least the Transcendental Style of Filmmaking is ‘to withhold,’ it’s unassuming, devoid of self-consciousness, has a strong sense of spirituality, and immune to the dictations of society. You capture and tell it as it is, allowing the mundane to move you. It’s the art of watching life, feeling time and participating in your own way, although my inspiration comes from the teachings of Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, First Reformed).

“I watched and studied his works and his philosophies for the last few years and it was a revelation to me. I related to it more than just a style of filmmaking, but more of a way of life. I feel that ‘transcendental’ is me as a person and as a filmmaker.

“Besides it being a story about a female sniper on a journey to revenge, Mañanita is a meditation on society and how it unconsciously manipulates us, a film told visually and also through song and music. The visuals were set up to capture what was being given to me, and my team and I carefully chose several original Filipino songs that have a strong sense of identity, exude passion and speak to the soul, so I’m hoping in one form or another that this film can speak to you.”

How different is Mañanita from your other films?

“It’s very different from my past films, as it should be. This film shows who I am today as a filmmaker, what the last 13 years of writing, producing and directing have taught me. I still have so much to learn, but when I look back and watch Mañanita, I will know who and what I was during that time of my life. I appreciate the complete trust given to me by my collaborators on this project and I feel it took me 13 years to earn that trust. This film is the result of my patience.”

If not Mañanita, what would be your obra maestra (any more “bigger dream film” cooking up in your mind?

“For TEN17P, we have around four to five films already lined up to go into production very soon, and the creative development will never stop.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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