Senior blues
EXISTENTIAL BLABBER - Kara Ortiga () - March 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Some non-commercialized pure lambanog packaged in a Sprite bottle from Batangas, a lazy playlist of Billboard chart songs, and news that two of my closest high school friends, Maita and Sarah, had passed some medical schools, equaled an untimely celebration late Sunday night. It was nostalgic, the three of us celebrating victory. We were the very same kids taking experimental first sips of alcohol in the park during high school, feeling rebellious and slightly stupid. Suddenly we were toasting to future plans in the making. The blues of being a senior in college began to kick in, very slowly. Everyone around me is stuck in existential limbo. I ask Maita, “When we were in high school, did you ever picture yourself being the way you are now?” She says, “I imagined myself doing more…” to which we both respond with a brief, pensive silence. At that moment, the familiar looming feeling of uncertainty began to creep in. Perhaps Jerrold Tarog’s Senior Year might have affected me a little bit more than I had intentionally expected.

More painful, for me, than anything else, is what I felt after watching Senior Year. Jerrold Tarog, director/scriptwriter/editor/musical scorer of the film also made two other indie films Mangatyanan and Confessional, and the recent 1/3 of Shake Rattle and Roll XII. Once more, he takes a different route in film genre with the creation of Senior Year. Though the story on the surface is approached with quick wit and light comedy, there is a little bit of a cynical hopefulness in between the lines. The film follows the personal stories of 10 different characters, all seniors from a private school. Each character embodies the same kinds of people we had to deal with during those high school days…the inevitable stereotypes but in a much more real and honest depiction. The portrayal is so natural, in fact, because Tarog actually based the stories of the characters on real people. The dialogue, short and sweet, is heavy with meaning. For Senior Year, he takes filmmaking methodology to new heights.

Inspired by the methods of production done for the movie City of God for example, in which the scriptwriting only began after the children were put through workshop, Tarog sent surveys to about 300 students asking them about their personal lives and handpicked the most interesting of the bunch. After the 300 were cut down to 10, he put them through a workshop that he facilitated for about two months, and then did he only begin writing the script. “Kung anuman yung kwento ng buhay nila, dun ako na-inspire na magsulat ng script.” Tarog says the characters of the ’90s show Freaks and Geeks inspired him in the character development.

A graduate of the College of Music from the University of the Philippines, Tarog says a lot of his music defines the storytelling. “In terms of structuring the script I get lots of inspiration from musical forms.” He says music is an integral part of the scriptwriting process because both film and music are time-based art forms. This allows him to treat scriptwriting as one would compose music. With roots and background as a musician, Tarog believes that filmmaking is only a sideline of his love for making music. “I have this long list of films na gusto ko matapos. Once that’s done gusto ko bumalik sa music. Feeling ko musician lang talaga ako na na-sidetrack sa film dahil it’s a calling for me, but once that’s done and I’ve said everything I need to say, I’ll go back to music.”

The prequel to Senior Year is the short film Faculty, which Tarog made for ANC’s AmBisyon 2010. In Faculty, the character of Che Ramos is first introduced to us, as she clashes about education with another teacher. Her resignation from teaching in college was due to an injury her student incurred in a rally she strongly encouraged her to attend. The short went viral on the Internet, and makes a strong statement about the education system. Though Senior Year takes a much different tone from Faculty, the transition and development is fluid, and very telling.

As much as Senior Year is a film that highlights the prime moments of anyone’s growing up, it is also a film that reminds us that senior year will always be just that: a living memory of everything you once thought was so important. It is a collection of stories, heartaches and victories. It is just that one moment in your life you will never really have again, and ultimately, fear revisiting come high school reunion time. Tarog’s outlook on life, though tainted with slight skepticism, is also full of hope. He believes that we really only change “in small increments. But in the bigger picture…” he says, “paikot-ikot lang tayo.

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Senior Year is now showing in SM cinemas nationwide.

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