Gutierrez Mangansakan II finds time away from his busy schedule editing and adding final touches to his Cinema One Originals entry, Cartas de la Soledad, to answer a few questions for us.
Curious about the film? Then don’t hesitate to click below to learn more:
Gutierrez Mangansakan II is first and foremost a writer who promotes the conservation of his Maguindanaoan heritage through his essays and stories. He later ventured to filmmaking, creating experimental works, video installations, and documentaries that discuss both the problems that ail his region and the culture that forces him to do what he does with utmost passion. His first feature length narrative Limbunan is an understated masterpiece about a young woman who is forced to be wed by tradition to a man he does not love. It is a film that is characterized by quietude and contemplation, a seeming anomaly to the Mindanao as depicted and exploited by traditional media. For his second feature length narrative, Mangansakan again mines his heritage for inspiration.
Hi Teng, Cartas de la Soledad is your second film after the terribly underrated Limbunan, which I thought was the strongest film in that Cinemalaya batch. Why did you choose CinemaOne instead of Cinemalaya as the vehicle for your second film?
Cinema One allows a filmmaker for greater experimentation. They do not bother whether or not your film has a star, or too slow, or has sequences consisting only of singular long takes. Cinema One urges filmmakers to find their own voice, and because of that, it encourages the diversity of cinematic experience.
What were the lessons you’ve learned from making Limbunan which you applied in Cartas de la Soledad?
With Limbunan I felt I’ve compromised a lot. In Cartas de la Soledad, I followed gut feel.
So what are the similarities and differences between Limbunan and Cartas de la Soledad?
Both films are silent. I’ve always been drawn to the subjects of silence, contemplation, isolation and alienation. But unlike Limbunan, in which some Filipino reviewers found it lacking balls and backbone, my statement and criticism of the status quo is more pronounced in my new film. It’s bound to be controversial
What was your inspiration for writing and making Cartas de la Soledad?
Cartas de la Soledad was intended as a short film. I was about to shoot it in 2008 but on the day of the shooting, the actor did not show up. So out of frustration, I shelved the project.
The idea started when I met this guy who spent half of his life in Paris. Paris was his dream, but familial duties forced him to return to Mindanao. To keep a part of Paris in his life, he talked to his cats in French. He said he even dreamt in French. In his revelry, he would talk to the wind… in French.
In my film, I changed it to Spanish to keep a historical connection. In a way, the film is an allegory of the 500 years of the intellectual and political colonization of the Moro people - arguably starting with the coming of Shariff Kabunsuan in the 1500s who established the Muslim institutions in Mindanao, then to the Spanish colonization, the American occupation, the integration of the Moro areas to the Philippine body politic, then to the radicalization of Islam which started in the 1970s/80s. Again here, I’ll be courting some controversy. The lead character Rashid is pre-occupied by Spain. He is colonized by Spain. His memories. His dreams. But the Moro people will argue that we were never colonized by Spain. To me Spain will remain a “present-absent.” What we are now - the Moro people - is partly defined by our historical experience of the Spanish colonial period.
On a more personal note, and this is part of the director’s statement, growing up in a world of rigid customs, conventions and expectations, my life has been confined to spaces that have become growingly unnatural to me. Liberation is a hushed struggle in this restricted space, and in the process it has allowed me to create my own conventions, a refuge, a world of my own nature. In my limited space, language is no longer essential as silences speak more truth than words. But in the occasions when it is warranted, language has become deliberate, and trained in different important languages during my youth I can traverse various topographies of thoughts and expressions and identities. In making Cartas de la Soledad, I explore and reaffirm a historical continuity at the same time negate the conventions that have been there long before I came to be.
Who are your favorite filmmakers and influences in your filmmaking style? Tell us more about how you made these influences your own?
I’m a great fan of Hou Tsiao Tsien, Bela Tarr, Michael Haneke, Tsai Ming Liang and Tarkovsky. It would be presumptuous to say that my works are inspired by these people. But the power of observation, how you patiently gaze at and interpret the world, how the simplest visions come to life, I see these qualities in their works.
Apart from Cartas de la Soledad, you also have another film that is currently in post-production, could you tell us anything about that film?
I’ve been working on The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan’s Children for the past four years. I’m not sure if what I have now is the final version. It keeps growing and evolving. The film is a meditation on the rituals of arrival, waiting and departure in a small fishing village in Cotabato, which is my father’s hometown actually. It’s part documentary-part narrative.
You are one of the five regional filmmakers who are part of CinemaOne Originals. It seems that filmmakers who aren’t based in Manila are making such a huge impact in our so-called national cinema. Why do you think this is happening? And what do you think is the future of regional filmmaking?
I think regional filmmakers offer a different perspective of the world. They see the world from their lens of memory, their unique sensibility. How I make my films, how I present my stories is reflective of my own experience being, growing and living almost entirely in Mindanao. I think that’s why some Filipino reviewers double guess my cinematic intention. They evaluate me from a Filipino context. My Filipino-ness has little to do with my cinema. It is a more of a product of my noble Maguindanaon heritage, my Moro-ness, my Malay ancestry. So until Manila-based Filipino reviewers embrace this peculiarity, this foreign-ness even, then we will always be defining what national cinema is. National cinema might be singular but it has a lot of voices, visions and expressions.
Anyway, thanks for your very precious time. Do you have any parting words, or any information of projects you are dreaming to make or are already in the pipeline?
I’m now working on a very ambitious seven-hour film Qiyamah (The Day of Reckoning). It is part fable, part psychological study of a village coming to terms with the end of days. It’s loosely based on the chapter of the Qur’an with the same title.
Editor’s Note: Oggs Cruz moonlights as a film critic when he isn’t upholding the Philippine constitution as a full time attorney at law. However, we sincerely believe that it’s really the other way around; most especially after you get schooled by his film blog, Lessons from the School of Inattention.