Considered as one of the most influential figures in Philippine independent cinema, Raymond Red was the first Filipino filmmaker to win the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes International Film Festival for his short film “Anino”.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Red has also directed a total of only 14 films in his entire career, of which mostly are shorts and only four are full-length features, including his latest, “Kamera Obskura,” a Cinemalaya 2102 entry in the Directors Showcase category.
In an exclusive interview with InterAksyon, the celebrated filmmaker discusses the long and often laborious process in which his projects take shape, finding the audience that his films deserve, his views on awards and recognitions, and his own personal homage to the long-lost and forgotten Filipino silent movies in “Kamera Obskura”.
Why doesn’t an acclaimed director like yourself make more feature films?
I am a filmmaker that seriously immerses myself in the works that I do and it takes me a long time to go through each of my journeys. I live and breathe the essence of my films, my life revolves around what I try to impart in my works. So I can not imagine doing too many films one after another.
I do not make films to achieve recognition, I make them to provoke thinking, whether the audience thinks negatively or in a positive manner. On average, I am able to do a personal artistic film, whether short or long, every three to four years. The journey for each film starts in conceptualizing and in the making of it, and does not really end on its initial screening.
Three years ago I made, possibly and arguably a more significant and powerful film called “Himpapawid” and despite having won awards and having been screened in over 16 international film festivals, the “Himpapawid” journey for me has just begun. It has yet to be given the chance to be released theatrically for it to reach its true audience, the Filipino society. Personally, the ultimate goal is to reach an audience and it is a continuing struggle every time I put out a new work.
I believe in progressive filmmaking, and if I inspire, provoke, and influence, then I am successful as an artist, whether the audience remembers me or not.
What is it about silent films that prompted you to make your own with ‘Kamera Obskura’?
I have been a filmmaker for 30 years now. I conceptualized my first short film “Ang Magpakailanman” in 1982. That first work was a short film done in the silent film tradition. Ever since, I have been fascinated and concerned with cinema history and cultural heritage.
I had always been inspired by classic films and it pains me to realize that we do not have any Filipino silent movies surviving, or at least none have ever been found. So since the early ’90s I had been conceptualizing a project that would attempt to re-imagine a film that may have been from that lost era.
I was supposing that if I were to live some time in the late 1920s with the same mindset and interest in art movements such as modernism or even expressionism, I would probably make a film resembling one that is very personal and very Filipino in its convictions, and yet, greatly influenced by the prominent foreign cinema of the era. Also considering that it was a period of colonization and the “Americanization” of our popular culture, it is with this ongoing thesis that I finally proceeded with the making of “Kamera Obskura.”
In casting this film, how did you decide on the roles of Pen Medina, Abe Pagtama and Irene Gabriel in particular?
I have always worked with very sensitive, passionate and talented actors in my films, and they tend to be either established actors with backgrounds in the tradition of theater or new talents that have great potential and a fresh approach to acting.
Abe Pagtama is a friend from Los Angeles who has appeared in US TV ads, a few TV shows, Hollywood films and numerous independents done by Fil-Am filmmakers. Irene Gabriel is a promising new talent who is appearing on screen for the first time. She auditioned for the role of an “enigmatic and mysterious woman,” and was chosen from a lineup of about eight potential actresses.
For the main cast, I have already chosen Pen Medina way back when I made the short film study in 2005 “Mistulang Kamera Obskura”. Along with Joel Torre and Nanding Josef and other supports like Suzette Ranillo , Ping Medina, Lou Veloso, Madlen Nicolas and Mon Confiado, I always enjoyed working with friends who happen to be “tried and tested” thespians whether in theater, TV or film.
You won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Do you hope to duplicate that feat with ‘Kamera Obskura’ or at least garner recognition for it in Cinemalaya and other award-giving bodies?
Ever since I won that Palme d’Or award, I have always maintained that winning awards has never been a goal for me. As much as I have to admit that the prestige that an award gives you does help in one’s career, I have always said that awards are more an affirmation of the merits of one’s work, but never a proof that you are indeed the best, not even in that specific competition lot. Awards are simply a set of opinions by a set of judges.
I would like to celebrate such recognition, not as an individual achievement, but rather an affirmation of a collective achievement of Filipino independent cinema coming of age. I did mention this in my speech at Cannes, and I wish to continue to impart this to aspiring filmmakers, to focus on the goal of making films with purpose and conviction, with or without the recognition.
With “Kamera Obskura”, I simply wish to continue my goal of developing an audience that is sensitive and reactive to the the issues presented by the film. We began independent filmmaking by being inspired by the first Filipino new wave of the 1970s, the era of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal Mike De Leon and others, and also of the true hardcore indie Kidlat Tahimik. We now continue this in the hope of inspiring new generations of filmmakers who sincerely want to develop a cinema that has a truthful relationship with its audience.
Finally, are we going to see more of Raymond Red as a filmmaker after “Kamera Obskura?
I have concepts and scripts that are again dealing with very personal statements and convictions, and all of these have been in development for the last three decades. I never give up on such because I know I am sincere in what I want to achieve. I just wish I could find the right kind of funding and support for it soon. Whether it is commercial mainstream funding or truly independent support does not really matter, what matters to me is keeping my artistic freedom in creating these works.
Below is the remaining creening schedule for “Kamera Obskura”:
July 23: 6:30PM, Greenbelt 3 Cinema 3
July 24: 6:15PM, CCP MKP Hall
July 25: 6:30PM, Greenbelt 3 Cinema 5
July 26: 4PM, Trinoma Cinema 1
July 27: 3:30PM, CCP Main Theater
July 28: 12:45PM, CCP Little Theater; 3:30PM, Tanghalang Huseng Batute; 9PM, CCP MKP Hall
July 29: 9PM, Trinoma Cinema 1