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FEATURE: Meet the young filmmaker who’s representing the Philippines at the Cannes Film Festival |


FEATURE: Meet the young filmmaker who’s representing the Philippines at the Cannes Film Festival

Don Jaucian - The Philippine Star
FEATURE: Meet the young filmmaker whoâs representing the Philippines at the Cannes Film Festival

Carlo Manatad talks about his dark comedy, Jodilerks — which will premiere at the 2017 Semaine De La Critique — and why it’s an exciting time to make short films in local cinema. Photo by Krista Ortega


MANILA, Philippines - Nung una, hindi ko alam kung anong ginagawa ko, pero nung nagets ko na, sinakyan ko na lang kasi enjoy naman,” Angeli Bayani told me after an actress roundtable with CNN Life. Bayani is talking about her experience in filming Carlo Francisco Manatad’s short film, Jodilerks De La Cruz, Employee of the Year, which has the distinction of being the only Filipino selection in the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

It will premiere at the festival’s parallel sidebar, Semaine De La Critique, which aims to spotlight first and second films of emerging filmmakers and has had in its roster films by Wong Kar Wai (As Tears Go By, 1989), Guillermo Del Toro, (Cronos, 1993), and Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, 2011).

Bayani’s initial suspicion about her inclusion in the project comes from the fact that her filmography tends to veer towards the dramatic end of the spectrum. She’s hardly ever done comedy and Jodilerks happily falls under dark comedy, which might suit someone like Bayani since the subgenre deals with taboo topics played in a humorous light. And in this case, it’s about unemployment in the country.

“It makes us question circumstances in ways like ‘Is life really a bitch?’ To which I answer, ‘Yes, it is!’ but always with the recourse for choice,” shares Manatad over an email interview with Supreme.

Manatad is no stranger to the festival circuit. He’s known as an editor in the local film industry, with films such as Badil, The Trial, and I’m Drunk, I Love You under his belt. But he’s made a stronger impression as a filmmaker in his short films, such as Junilyn Has — which was selected for the Locarno Film Festival — about a nightclub dancer trying to learn new moves to attract customers during the Pope’s visit in the Philippines; and “Fatima Maria Torres and the Invasion of Space Shuttle Pinas 25,” a sci-fi short that won Best Comedy at this year’s 65th Aspen Shortfest in Colorado.

Jodilerks is about the titular character, a gas station attendant, and her last day at a gas station soon to be closed down. The short film was supposed to be a treatment to show to producers but it was submitted to and accepted at the Semaine De La Critique (International Critics Week). Jodilerks is played by Bayani, who is no stranger to Cannes herself, having flown to the French Riviera for Lav Diaz’s Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan and Anthony Chen’s Ilo-Ilo (which won the Camera d’Or Award) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Manatad discusses the film, about the character’s struggles, directing an actress used to dramatic roles, and why it’s an exciting time to make short films in local cinema.

SUPREME: The story centers on Angeli Bayani’s Jodilerks, an interesting name for a dark comedy character. Can you tell us more about her?

CARLO FRANCISCO MANATAD: (Laughs) All my past shorts have titles named after women. As for this film, I did not have any idea for the title up until the end of the post-production process. I wanted a name that was very Filipino (thus the surname “Dela Cruz”) but at the same time able to encapsulated the whole film. In Filipino, “lerks” is a colloquial term for crazy — something I consider the film to be. I added it to a familiar name and before I knew it, I was exporting the film bearing that title. Funny how things work out sometimes.

Angeli confessed that she was sort of confused the first few moments into shooting until she figured out your approach. How was it working with an actress so used to almost no direction — and someone who’s done dramas at that?

If she was confused, I was more confused and pressured. Ever since I started making short films, I would get non-actors to play the characters because they employ a more convincing approach to acting. Their lack of experience gives this very awkward slant, which I think makes it more (weirdly) authentic.

Having Angeli and Ross onboard the project made me rethink the approach on how I would direct them given that they are more experienced in terms of realistic shooting conditions, of the direction they get in the conventional sense.

For some weird reason, despite the pressure and the initial confusion, it was an achievement for me because it came to a point where she was unsure and would question a lot of scenes, which I tend to like because the perplexity shows and adds much to the buildup of how their characters develop in the film. And I think it worked out fine.

The characters of your short films are culled from interesting backgrounds. For you, what usually comes first? The character or the setting?

I would like to think that my films stem from both the characters and the setting they are in. My aesthetics come from stories grounded in reality, where everything is concrete but treated in an unconventional approach. Realism derived from real stories, real people, real events — the bigness of which we tend to overlook most of the time. These seemingly small stories are actually bigger than the city they are in — even bigger than the universe we are in, in my opinion. We just don’t recognize them for varying reasons.

My films also take a voyeuristic approach in looking at middle class workers and how they deal with their everyday struggles in the most mundane ways, but with punches of the whimsical and the truthful for the most part. I have always been fascinated with this certainty — that behind the monotony and seeming dullness of people’s lives, there are very unique stories resting under the ordinary, and there is a way to extract lightness from situations — to distill reality with strangeness, to temper the attention with emotion, and to moderate emotion with humor.

You’re known as an editor, but you’ve been steadily building a number of short films to your name. How do you think your directorial style is being honed by the medium?

Editing and directing, for me, is a great combination of skills for a filmmaker, especially if you started off as an editor who eventually delved into directing. It makes you see scenes and narrative flow differently, since editing is the actual stitching together of elements to complete storytelling. Also, the experience of working with different directors, each with different approaches and mindsets in filmmaking, unconsciously influences me on how to think within formulas and outside the box.

I think the exposure helped me develop a different approach to making shorts. Years of observation and immersion gave me a practical understanding of limitations that the form presents — running time, plot restrictions, character focus and elaboration, to name a few. For instance, I was able to observe that the more complicated a short film gets, the more it suffers. There may be exceptions, but for the most part, given the limits, a short film should have that conciseness and simplicity to it. I think what makes my shorts different is how I approach a simple story. Most friends consider my films weird, which I take as a great compliment because I am striving to make something different, though not for the mere sake of making something different.

Do you think short films are overlooked in the Philippines?

Yes and no. Yes, because there is an unspoken perception that short films are less important compared to feature films. This is apparent in the limited exhibition opportunities for short form filmmakers, and the limited reach in terms of advocating knowledge and interest in short films. Filmmakers in the country tend to go straight to doing feature films, which is not at all bad.

But I personally think that short films make way for a different brand of storytelling, which is a good platform to develop directorial style and vision, especially for those who want to eventually delve into feature film work. I think short films are still considered part of alternative cinema in the country, but despite this, there are efforts to push the art form and expand its reach slowly, so somehow, I think short films are starting to make themselves felt and noticed.

It takes a village to send a film to international film festivals. Is this also the case for other filmmakers you’ve met abroad?

It’s very different, in a good way, how some parts of the world treat short films. There is following, support, and extensive appreciation for the short form abroad. For instance, there are sales and distribution companies specific to marketing short films, which means there is an audience and they cater to that audience. Short form filmmakers receive almost the same treatment, backing, and accolades as their full-length counterparts.

When I meet filmmakers outside the country and I ask what their day job is, most of the time they would answer that they are short filmmakers by profession. And I find it amazing because there is this perception that the pursuance of art and the practical cannot be reconciled, especially in Third World countries such as the Philippines. I personally have to have a day job in order to pursue my passions. But they have it as their full-time work and that is awesome! My hopes for that possibility for our local filmmakers are not dampened though. Especially now that somehow we can sense movement in landscapes and content development, and the support for the industry and its players is building up.

How do you think our short films differ from their international counterparts?

That’s the interesting thing with interaction or the lack thereof between cultures and how people classify things. In the trivial sense, there are differences technically (more advanced techniques, sensibilities, culture, etc.) and maybe in terms of how the treatment is made. But ultimately, a film works because of its core: the story.

I find it very interesting to grasp how people view works that (are derived) from another culture, or another set of norms. People tend to comment on films because they are close to home, or sometimes because they are too foreign to understand, or maybe just plain absurd for their liking. There are instances where you are explaining the reality of the film to people and those people would think you are just f*cking with them. But in truth, a lot of the storytelling and the experience merely dwells and depends on how we are as people. There will always be differences, but they are all fundamentally universal. The difference would only eventually reveal itself in how we understand content, and how willing we are to discuss and interpret outside our sensibilities and our version of the familiar.

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Tweet the author @donutjaucian.

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