Freeman Cebu Entertainment

‘Norte’ actors extol Lav Diaz’s directing style

Vanessa A. Balbuena - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Inspired by an episode of the GMA-7 News and Public Affairs program “Wish Ko Lang” about a prisoner whose wife stops visiting, indie piece “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” found its way to the Ayala Center Cebu Cinema last weekend for a one-day screening of the film hailed abroad as “one of the best of 2013.”

Its producer, Raymond Lee (producer of “Zombadings: Patayin sa Syokot si Remington,” screenwriter of “Milan,” “Kailangan Kita,” “D’Anothers” and “Tanging Yaman,” among other hits) and the film’s lead stars reported an engaged Cebuano theater audience, whose post-screening queries and feedback were music to their ears.

Enthusiastic Cebuano audience

Raymond Lee, producer: “For me, it was a great screening. We were very excited with the reaction of the people and quite happy with the turn-out. Some of them stayed behind to talk to us, and the first thing they would say is, ‘Thank you for bringing the film here.’ One man asked me what the ending meant, and what the story’s inspiration was. Our main goal was to bring the film to the Cebuanos, and hopefully, generate buzz to secure more screenings in the future. It would be good to bring back the film here when the school year starts. As a filmmaker and distributor, it’s important for me to bring a film to Cebu. I often argue with my colleagues, that if we could, we should hold premieres outside Manila, because I believe it’s important to bring films all over the country. Lav is not here because while he’s the most generous and coolest directors I’ve worked with, he’s also one of the shyest. Whenever there’s a screening, he would disappear.”

Angeli Bayani, actress: “I’m always excited whenever I have a film brought out-of-town, because indie films find it very hard to screen in local theaters. I was pleasantly surprised with our Cebu screening for ‘Norte,’ because a lot of the students were discussing the film outside the cinema and some of them told me they didn’t notice four hours had already passed by. Getting comments and reactions like these…you  go home inspired and you wanna do better.”

Sid Lucero, actor: “I was asked a smart question after the screening, which I’m not used to because people in Manila just watch and disappear.”

On the title ‘Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan’

Raymond: “The original title was ‘Parol,’ but when Lav finished his first cut, he said that title would not work. ‘Norte’ has many significations. For one, it’s the birthplace of  Marcos, and we could say fascism began in Ilocos Norte. Also, the seat of power is almost always in the North. The film can be seen as a warning that extreme ideology makes people suffer.”

On Lav Diaz’s directing style

Sid: “With Lav, you have no choice but to leave a big room for adjustments, because it’s always flying papers on set. We would memorize a monologue the night prior to shooting, and Lav would change the entire thing to just one line! So there couldn’t be much planning on my part; the atmosphere of the entire shoot was almost acting on reflex. And for me, that was nice. He gives me total freedom. He doesn’t tell you what he didn’t like; he just lets you do another take. But when he likes a take, you’d know, because he’d always say ‘Rock ‘n roll!’”

Angeli: “Before shooting, Lav would tell you what he wants. He has this way of setting the atmosphere where you all feel it and you’re all in it together. He trusts the actors to bring their own brand of creativity. He trusts you to be able to find it. That’s the beauty of working with someone like Lav. The first time I worked with him, I was astounded with the level of trust he gave me. You see, actors are really insecure. We always want affirmation. We want to hear whether it was a good take or not. With Lav, I don’t dare to ask.”

Archie Alemania, actor: “The staff and producers helped me a lot. I have a depressing character, so they helped me get depressed on set. (laughs) I only began to understand what Lav wanted halfway through the shoot. That was the only time I began to get comfortable with him. Pag okay sa kanya ang take, ‘Rock ‘n Roll!’ I accepted the role for self-growth, because I always get comedy roles. I did the film ‘Slumber Party,’ and that was my first indie comedy. This [Norte] is the indie film that brought me to another country and gave me the rare opportunity  to work with these great actors and Lav.”

Raymond  on his indie and mainstream projects

“Personally, I don’t distinguish between commercial and indie. If I work on something, it must be something I like and want to see for myself. When any good film is made and you’re  part of it, there’s always fulfillment. Right now, we’re busy promoting ‘Norte’ all over the country. We’re also talking about a possible ‘Zombadings 2.’ Lav Diaz has three concepts in the pipeline that we’re choosing from.”

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