THE COMING OF AGE OF KHALIL RAMOS

Film Notes
THE COMING OF AGE OF KHALIL RAMOS
By Pablo A. Tariman

At 21, Khalil Ramos carries a certain sensibility so rare for aspiring young stars his age.

Khalil Ramos. As an actor, he wants to be a good storyteller.

He knows he has a lot more to learn and absorb, he knows the competition out there is stiff but for sure, he knows his place in the sun.

“I have come to terms with many things in life,” he confides. “But the choices are there for me to accept or not. I know what will keep me challenged and I know I am cut out for certain roles. It’s just a matter with working with the right project and the right director.”

And true enough, Direk Erik Matti finds in him the actor with the right attitude for the brand of films he has in mind.

Indeed he is promising enough to sign him as a contract star for Reality Entertainment of which he is one of the founders along with producer Dondon Monteverde.

Khalil with Tirso Cruz III in Honor Thy Father. The film with John Lloyd Cruz was a turning point.

Says Direk Matti: “People may find him cute but there is more to him than that. The eyes show a certain kind of guts which we don’t find in other young actors. For that reason, we are preparing him for roles that are larger than life and beyond the rom-com orientation.”

Khalil says he knows he has a good chance of becoming a good actor with Direk Matti overseeing him.

He can still remember the first time he saw Direk Matti and producer Dondon Monteverde. “It was during a fighting workshop for my first project under Reality Entertainment. I was at that time of my life where I was just beginning to seek new opportunities and expand my knowledge as an actor. That same year, Direk Erik, Sir Dondon and I worked together in Honor Thy Father. Being part of that film changed my perspective towards my craft. I became certain of my one true passion which is storytelling. I also became aware of the true capability of one’s mind. From then on, I started believing that I am capable of creating my own destiny. I knew that one day, I would be working with them on a much higher level.”

Khalil Ramos with co-actor in 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten . Subtle but no less intense.

Indeed he has with other projects one of which was Petersen Vargas’ 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten where he was nominated for Best Actor in the last Gawad Urian Awards.

The role is a delicate one and he has to figure in a sensitive tale of coming of age which had him coping with signs of early male attraction. His reaction shots while one the characters of one of his co-actors was doing a controversial auto-erotic scene was subtle but no less intense. It probably taught him that not everything about growing up is black and white.

For now, he is seen as the DJ who becomes a creature of the night in La Luna Sangre while waiting for the release of his other finished projects.

Khalil with director Erik Matti and producer Dondon Monteverde. He is eyed for roles that are larger than life.

He concludes: “I believe my generation has a lot to offer although we can learn a lot from the older generation. I think we are the most powerful generation and the most influential due to the onset of social media and high technology. But on my own, I know I can contribute a lot by becoming the actor I want to be. I want to be known as an actor who can be a good storyteller. For that reason, I can do anything to realize that goal.”

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PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG POET IN THE SHADOW OF MT. ARAYAT

Film Notes
PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG POET IN THE SHADOW OF MT. ARAYAT
By Pablo A. Tariman

On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon with a hint of rain, one was not ready to see pure love and young love narrated from the point of view of an aspiring poet living in the shadow of Mt. Arayat.

Direk Jason Paul Laxamana with Bela Padilla and JC Santos. A wide segment of audiences can relate to this well-made romantic film.

As 100 Tula Para Kay Stella unfolds, you see the poet’s object of adoration metamorphose from special friend to object of pure love.

But the trouble is that Fidel (JC Santos) — the aspiring poet — is a typical rural good boy who wants to finish his studies before anything else. He is not one of those provincial Lotharios who believes in casual flings and certainly, he is not the kind to hop from one relationship to another.

On the other hand, Stella (Bela Padilla) is a free spirit, she wants to be a rock star and in the process, she tries one relationship to another hoping that somewhere along the new contacts, she will realize her dream.

She can see through men desiring her body but she has no qualms going to bed with anyone. Yes indeed — for as long as it would enable her to find the right contacts which will help her find a good break in the realm of rock music.

Meanwhile, Stella gets fascinated with Fidel, he who is clean and pure and yes, and so poetic. She finds his life as an aspiring poet quite interesting.

She invites him to the ladies’ room and he hesitates. It is wrong by his standard. But he relents and she realizes that he is not the kind who gives in to fleeting sex.

And as he goes through the process of offering 100 poems to her loved one, he goes through several scenarios that allowed him to see Stella’s relationship with her family.

After giving her a lodging for the night as she copes with family problems, he again turns down an invitation to go intimate. By his standard, it is wrong to take advantage of personal crisis to enjoy one-night stand.

Scene from 100 Tula. Superb storytelling and excellent acting.

Good writing and good casting provided the good contrast between the lead characters and their supporting ones.

There are enough scenes to make the character of the poet stand out. He stutters quite a lot but this was mostly psychological than physical. When he learns how to sing, his speaking voice becomes normal.

A wide segment of movie audiences will find this film unusually fascinating.

The older ones will most likely relate to the scenes with the characters still using cassette tapes. And the millennials ones will find that “cool” and quaint.

But the most revealing discovery is that actors Santos and Padilla are at their best in this latest romantic outing.

There is utter freshness in the way Padilla approached her character and Santos finally finds the most challenging role in his relatively new film career. In 100 Tula, he is real as a country boy and his rural virtues find their mark in his portrayal.

His most gripping scene towards the end called to mind the final section of Schubert’s song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (Op. 25, D. 795) which is based on the poems by Wilhelm Müller. Santos’ portrayal of despair recalled the tragic story of the young man in Schubert’s song cycle.

As it is, the film ends as an idyllic, if, poignant tale of pure love, young love in the eyes of an aspiring poet.

By today’s standard, the poet’s prose are by turns juvenile, almost banal but the emotion it elicited from the characters is real and worthy of an acting award.

Poster of 100 Tula. Another refreshing tale of pure love, young love.

With highly focused storytelling from writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana, this film is another emotional rollercoaster with just two main characters gently teaching you how to laugh, fall in love, remember the past and sob in generous doses.

A superb entry in the ongoing Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella deserves it’s A Rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board.

It is now showing in cinemas.

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COCO MARTIN ON THE 500TH EPISODE OF ‘FPJ’S ANG PROBINSYANO’

TV Notes
COCO MARTIN ON THE 500TH EPISODE OF ‘FPJ’S ANG PROBINSYANO’
By Pablo A. Tariman

Thursday last week, Coco Martin celebrated 100 weeks of FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano by visiting wounded soldiers at the V. Luna Hospital and distributing gifts and obliging with one selfie after another from one soldier-patient to another.

Coco Martin. After 100 weeks of the teleserye, 79 awards for its actor and creative staff.

“Their heroism was what inspired FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano,” he said. “It is but fair that I acknowledge them and bring cheers in the hour of their difficult moments. The teleserye has always been about the Filipino soldier in general and more about the Filipino policeman. I am happy I am able to acknowledge their brand of heroism through this teleserye which has notched 500 episodes on its 100th week.”

The actor met the press along with the new and old members of the cast of the top-rating teleserye to acknowledge their support.

“This is really very tiring,” he confessed as he revealed his present hectic life taping episodes for the teleserye and directing his debut film, Ang Panday. “I just realized directing is a totally different work from acting and directing teleseryes. Mahirap kung mahirap but I derive strength from my audience patronage. Their endless support gives the cast enough strength to go on no matter the difficulties.”

Indeed, there is a bit of fatigue in the actor’s profile but he derives strength from co-workers. “I don’t know how I came up with the present cast of Ang Probinsyano. Like when I was in Cebu, I saw this kid watching the taping and when I looked into her eyes, I knew she’d be a welcome addition to the teleserye. She became one of the kids based in a Cebu island where my character (Ricardo Dalisay) hid. How did I choose the other children? First, they must look like part of the common people. My teleserye is about an ordinary Filipino family holding on to old virtues of honesty and bravery and courage. What is special about these kids is that they all have common goal of helping their families at an early age. Awra ( McNeal Briguela as Makaria “Makmak” Samonte Jr.) is sending his father to school along with his siblings. But as tapings progress, I realize some of them no longer look like ordinary kids. When they are not taping, they begin to look like well-off kids with brand new clothes and shoes. I always remind them: remember the original characters you are playing. You were poor children in the story and you should not forget that when the cameras roll.”

Susan Roces and supporting actors plus the children of Ang Probinsyano. Strong following from the female and young viewers.

The old and new members of the cast have one thing to say about Coco.

Dante Rivero says Coco knows the production details but he also looks after the individual needs of his co-workers. “Everybody – heroes and heroines and villains in the story – is treated equally.”

Adds Jhong Hilario: “He treats everyone fair and square. But what is admirable is that he never forgets where he came from. That humble past keeps him grounded.”

After 500 episodes, Susan Roces as Kapitana and Lola Kap says she often wakes up wondering if she is still Susan Roces or the eternal Lola Kap. “After one year, I got so attached to my character I actually begin to think and act like one even behind the cameras. It is a life I cannot experience vicariously if I did not join the cast of Ang Probinsyano.”

Mitch Valdez who plays another Kapitana in another city barangay says it takes a lot of guts to portray the opposite of Susan Roces as barangay captain. “I am so wicked in the teleserye I have the feeling my character will be killed and I hope she remains alive. Otherwise goodbye to Ang Probinsyano.”

To which Coco reacted with a grin saying Mitch’s character will remain alive and she will keep her job a little longer.

The award-winning actors in the cast – John Arcilla, Jaime Fabregas, Angel Aquino, Sid Lucero, among others – say they do very little adjustments acting for teleseryes compared to their acting on film.

Adds Fabregas: “I pin down my character with his past and present and I stick to that. I take out the ‘borloloys’ that come handy when acting on film.”

Opines John Arcilla: “On film, you have to tone down a bit because you are no longer acting in a theater where you must project your voice to the last rows of the audience watching you. Some people think my acting in Heneral Luna is a bit theatrical. I have to. My character is larger than life and I can’t underplay my character. I love this role in the teleserye. It is the virtual opposite of my role in Heneral Luna.”

Since September 2015, FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano has kept its spot as the most watched TV program nationwide, hitting an all-time high of 46.7%, according to data from Kantar Media. It has remained unbeaten as viewers’ support remained strong throughout its run.

Thus far, the teleserye has received a total of 79 television awards for its actors and creative staff.

To what factors would the teleserye’s creative staff attribute the sustained audience patronage?

Coco Martin with the action stars of Ang Probinsyano. They keep the male viewers glued on the TV set.

Replied a creative consultant: “We see to it that the story remains focused on an ordinary Filipino family and how they cope with trials and tribulations. We also added new characters to make sure the male audiences can connect very well. That explains the presence of Cesar Montano, Lito Lapid, Victor Neri and now Jestoni Alarcon. The children of the teleserye keep young audiences glued every night. In short, we have something for everyone to make everybody happy.”

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GERALD ANDERSON ON THE MAKING OF ‘AWOL’

Film Notes
GERALD ANDERSON ON THE MAKING OF ‘AWOL’
By Pablo A. Tariman

In this noonday encounter, Gerald Anderson is in high spirits and full of high hopes for his latest film, “AWOL” which is an entry in the forthcoming Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.”

Gerald Anderson with AWOL leading lady Dianne Medina. Mighty proud of his latest action assignment.

For the record, he admits it is a small-budgeted project but after watching the result of his hard work, he knows he has wrapped up a film which will add something new in his acting credentials.

“While watching it, I could feel the suspense that I hardly moved in my seat. Usually you don’t react anymore if it’s your own film. But I must admit this one is a damn good one and worthy of all our hard work. Everything I want to see in an action-drama is all there.”

AWOL only had 11 shooting days but the director, Enzo Williams, made sure every shooting day is well-planned and well-executed. “Direk Enzo had it all figured out in his mind and he comes to the set really prepared. Naturally, everything moves fast even as we made sure it was a perfect collaboration. It was a breeze working with him because he knows what he wants in a scene and he made sure he gets what he wants.”

He doesn’t want to talk about budget which the film doesn’t have compared to his mainstream projects. “This is an indie film but mind you it doesn’t look like one. The story is big, the execution is superb and it can compare with any good action picture showing in town. My fee? Of course I have to agree to an indie rate. In the first place, I didn’t accept this film to earn money. I just wanted to do a good film whether it makes money or not.”

Gerald Anderson with director Enzo Williams. The director always comes prepared and executes real fast.

Gerald plays the role of Lt. Abel Ibarra, leader of sniper team (Musang) scout rangers of the Philippine Army.

First order of the day before the shoot was to train with honest-to-goodness scout rangers. “I have to absorb everything in the script but I also have to listen to real life soldiers on whom my character is based. During training breaks, I get to talk to them about their life as soldiers and mind you, their stories are enough materials for another action-drama film. I have to absorb their stories really well because what they narrated are true to life events similar to the character I am playing. Of course my role is a far cry from my rom-com roles. The training is really hectic and intense. It’s tough and the difficulties are for real. Here you see people sacrificing a lot for their country and they have no complains. Their stories are really sources of inspiration for me. They actually helped me shape the cinematic character of Lt. Ibarra.”

But midway into the training, Gerald found out one of the rangers who trained him died in the Malawi siege. “That was my first encounter with tragedy involving soldiers. It took some time before I was able to accept soldiers live and die just like that. We had fruitful and happy moments in the training and suddenly one of them is gone. It sure affected me a lot. I probably incorporated some of his traits in the character I was playing. But I don’t want to make a big thing out of this. I don’t want to use his short and tragic life to promote a film. But he sure inspired me more to do my best in this film.”

Also in the cast are Dianne Medina, Bembol Roco, Raymond Bagatsing and Jeric Raval, among others.

Bembol says Gerald is a promising action star. “He is young but has the instinct and the guts of what it takes to do action projects. On top of that, he is a good actor.”

Gerald Anderson during the presscon for AWOL. The film is his personal tribute to soldiers who died in the Marawi siege.

For now, Gerald enjoys the freedom of being part of an indie project. “What we lack in big budget we cover up with big passion to make this film really worth watching. This is a film that that will connect you to the plight of soldiers fighting for their country. Their struggles are real and by portraying the life of one of them is the least I can do to pay tribute to their heroism.”

“AWOL” directed by Enzo Williams opens in cinemas August 16.

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THE INNER VOICE OF PRIME CRUZ

Film Notes
THE INNER VOICE OF PRIME CRUZ
by Pablo A. Tariman

“Sleepless” is a highly revealing film from a young director with an inner voice all his own.

Prime Cruz with Gerald Anderson who stars in his first Star Cinema project, “Can We Still Be Friends?”

The film unfolds quietly, the transitions have minimal use for music and in the end, the story shines like a raw diamond with very little need for polishing.

The screenplay of Jen Chuaunsu captures the mood, the unguarded moments of the millennials and towards the end, you see a peerless story of pure love wrapped in incredible friendship.

This young director shows us that real passionate love is not all about skin exposure and bed calisthenics but more about ordinary people connecting with people with their own share of loneliness.

Needless to say, this is a highly sensitive, if quiet and stunning film from a millennial director Prime Cruz.

He is only in his late 20s but he can pass for a shy member of the cast of a teenybopper movie.

But his early credentials show he is made of a mature creative stuff with a mindset that goes beyond teenybopper concerns.

Aside from his first feature film, “Sleepless” which won the NETPAC Jury Prize for Best Picture at the Quezon City International Film Festival, Prime also bagged the Best Director award for his second output, “Ang Manananggal Sa Unit 23-B.” Moreover, his short film, “Kung Ang Ulan Ay Gawa Sa Tsokolate” won the Best Short Film citation in the 2016 Cine Pilipino Film Festival.

Prime Cruz with writer-girlfriend Jen Chuaunsu. A comfortable creative team.

In this pocket presscon which he shares with his writer Jen Chuaunsu who happens to be his girl-friend, Prime doesn’t see any problem working with someone personally close to him. “In this set up,” he says, “we can be so honest with each other and we can be so candid about what we want to say about anything about the project. That is an advantage because when you are working with someone you don’t personally know, you have to watch your language and you sometimes have to be less honest just to be polite just to avoid harming anyone. Yes, we are in a relationship and it works well with us.”

The project came about after a Cine Panulat writing workshop conducted by writer director Jun Lana and Jen came up with a story that was just right for their first cinema baby.

But with his experience then limited to being segment producer of a major network, he had to work fast to live up to his film debut.

He recounted his birthing process thus in FB: “I didn’t know much about making movies when we made ‘Sleepless’. Having spent most of my post-college life working as a segment producer for television, I knew little about film language, editing narratives, and directing actors. Everything I knew about making movies came from some film classes way back in college.”

He wanted to back out when the Quezon City film fest people confirmed they officially qualified for the festival. He felt he didn’t know enough and he thought he would ruin the beautiful screenplay that his girlfriend wrote. He advised her that they should just ask a more experienced director to do it.

Prime Cruz and Jen Chuaunsu with mentors Jun Robles and Perci Intalan. Everything started in the writing workshop.

But Jen would not have it the other way. He has to direct it himself because she felt he was the right director for the project.

He has to work fast to get a fast lesson on elementary filmmaking.

Quickly, he watched videos from every frame of a painting and learned a lot from video essays from vimeo as he could. He watched his favorite films all over again and talked to people for advice. “I showed my visual treatment to my mentor. And I closed my eyes and remembered all the time I spent at Mini-Stop, because it was late and Starbucks was too expensive. I remembered staring outside of moving trains, watching the city go by. I remembered feeling lost and out of place in manila, but learning to live with it because I had no other place to go. I remembered the loneliness and sadness, and learning to suppress it if I wanted to survive.”

As it turned out, all his hard work and highly personalized preparations paid off. His debut film won best picture and it did sit well with cineastes.

His debut film yielded not only good impressions but it gave way to other bigger projects as well.

He is now working on a Star Cinema project “Can We Still Be Friends” starring Gerald Anderson and Arci Munoz and yet another one for Regal Films “The Debutantes” and soon another one for Via Films.

How far can he go to accommodate the new set of producers associated with mainstream films?

To be sure, he knows that he has to adjust to another mindset in filmmaking.

He is sure of only one thing: he will do his best, he will have the mainstream audience in mind but he will make sure his voice as a filmmaker is not disregarded. “I started as a brain-stormer for some projects and I know their audience. I will do what to me is good for the project. But I will also let them know how I stand as a director with my own vision of the film.”

“Sleepless” starring Glaiza De Castro, Dominic Roco and directed by Prime Cruz is now showing at SM Cinemas (North Edsa, Megamall, Mall of Asia, Southmall, Fairview, Bacoor, Cebu and Iloilo) on Friday May 26 as part of the FDCP’s Cine Lokal Series.

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CLASSICAL GUITAR MUSIC AT ASEAN

View From the Wing
CLASSICAL GUITAR MUSIC AT ASEAN
By Pablo A. Tariman

It is quite gratifying to know that classical music and classical musicians remain in good use during gatherings of heads of states and parliamentarians.

Classical guitarist Aaron Aguila III at ASEAN welcome dinner at Shangri-La.

In the last APEC meet, pianist Cecile Licad suddenly found herself in a group of pop musicians all performing in a post-dinner concert for heads of states. In that short rendition of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, Licad probably found a fan in the person of the US former president Barack Obama.

Before the recently concluded ASEAN meet, impresario and now Pangasinan Congresswoman Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas asked me what sort of music she should offer ASEAN parliamentarians in a welcome dinner.

Knowing her partiality to classical music (she was the one who brought Pavarotti and Bocelli in Manila), one suggested classical guitarist Aaron Aguila III, last year’s top winner of the National Music Competition for Young Artists and 2015 first prize winner of the Jakarta ASEAN International Guitar Competitions.

Arenas listened to Aguila and decided on classical guitar favorites to open the dinner for parliamentarians and with some popular tunes thrown in.

Classical guitarist Aaron Aguila with Pangasinan Congresswoman Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas and author.

On the day of Aguila’s special engagement at Shangri-La Hotel in Makati, classical music was all over the establishment. One entered the lobby with a chamber group playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D with hotel staff in pink gowns welcoming guests from ASEAN.

In one’s assigned function room, one saw Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez with Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas and Arenas who is the chairperson of the Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations and Diplomacy.

As it turned out, the standard favorites sank in with great acceptance and it was probably that crowd’s first exposure to pop music interpreted by a classical guitar.

New converts of classical guitar music: Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez

But when Bach’s Fugue and allegro BWV 998 and Piazzolla’s Invierno Porteno were heard, the dinner atmosphere changed and you noticed the sound of expensive silvers suddenly stopped to focus on the classical guitarist.

During Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” one could see heads turn including that of the Speaker of the House and the Majority Floor Leader with guests like H.E. Dr. Nurhayati Ali Assegaf​, Chair of the Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation and Head of the Indonesian Delegation and

H.E. Mahn Winn Khaing Thann​, Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw) of the Myanmar Delegation.

New converts of classical guitar music:: Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas with Congresswoman Arenas

“The Speaker and his guests loved the classical guitarist,” gushed Arenas who succeeded in giving wide exposure to favorite classical guitar music to the foreign guests.

Here’s hoping more Filipino classical musicians surface during international gatherings such as this one to show the world Filipinos are such highly musical people.

Aguila is all set to open the 2017 Catanduanes Music Festival on May 12 along with Sting Asistores.

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DIRECTOR MAE CRUZ-ALVIAR ON FINDING HER AUDIENCE AND DEALING WITH THE YOUNG AND POPULAR

Film Notes
DIRECTOR MAE CRUZ-ALVIAR ON FINDING HER AUDIENCE AND DEALING WITH THE YOUNG AND POPULAR

By Pablo A. Tariman

Direk Mae Cruz-Alviar is fully aware that she is living in the world of make-believe and that she has to deal with two young stars with a huge mass following in “Can’t Help Fallin’ in Love.”

Direk Mae Cruz Alviar. What is important is to tell a good story and impart values and send out a message that the audience can learn from.

To be sure, she has earlier worked with Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo (Crazy Beautiful You, Pangako Sa’yoand 24/7 In Love) and she has witnessed how the two has evolved through the years.

But the basics of good collaboration remains the same every time she starts a new project.

One of which is that it is important that when they work together, they are on the same wave-length.

Points out Direk Mae: “My routine at the start of every project is to sit down with them to discuss the project and also to get to know them (if I haven’t worked with them yet). I want to know what their views are on the story, their characters, their personal take on love and such. This practice trains them to think more critically about the roles they play and to learn to collaborate with their director. This also helps me see what we could use based on their input in creating their characters. I also lay down ground rules for those I will be working with for the first time. Especially young love teams, I always have to remind them not to let work get affected by their personal problems and to always take work seriously. After all, they still are kids! For those I’ve already worked with, it’s a chance to catch up and see how they’ve grown or changed.

What’s important is that the expectations of each other are clear and that we work as a team to reach our goal. Also, being much older than them, I have to know how to communicate with them in a way we could understand each other. I have to understand their language and for them to understand mine as well.”

It doesn’t come easy but for Direk Mae, the bridge to good collaboration begins with gaining the actors’ trust and respect. “It is also important that I get to know them well enough so I will know how to handle them. Since you are dealing with young people, it helps to be nurturing but to also have an iron fist when needed. I also take time to talk to them or even have fun with them when we are not working. It’s important to build that bond with them.”

Direk Mae Cruz Alviar with Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo.Trust and respect are a must in all film collaboration.

Happily, Direk Mae has seen the two young stars evolve from beginners to professionals. For one, she noticed the two now take acting seriously. “To them this is not just a popularity contest nor is this a fleeting thing. They are actors and they see this as a career. They understand and appreciate the craft and they give 100 per cent to it. They are also critical thinkers, really understanding the scenes, their characters and the progression of the story.”

One thing that she liked very much is that the two has remained humble and grounded. “They don’t act like divas and are very warm to everyone and with no exception. Lastly, they are very appreciative of their status, the people who work hard for them and the fans and supporters who tirelessly show their love to them.”

After doing several romantic comedies through the years, the big challenge for her is how to make the new project different. “What I’ve come to realize is that surely you have to retain the same elements of ‘kilig’ and fun and drama. I know this is going to be different because for one, the casting is different, the attack is different—and the story is different from the others I’ve done. I feel that this is a good mix of romance, comedy and drama—not too cheesy, not overly comedic, not melodramatic, not too mature, not too juvenile. You have to know the brand of your actors. I honestly had a difficult time finding the right flavor since my actors are just fresh from a very mature ‘Barcelona’ and yet they are realistically just at the cusp of adulthood. I feel that we achieved in finding the right mix that the film requires.”

On the whole, she enjoyed working again with the popular love team plus working with her production and creative teams.

“We were filming out of town a lot and there were a lot of things to see which I enjoyed as well. However, the filming schedule was very tough. Being with this group made it fun and less stressful. The kids were so cooperative. My team also did their best in making the shoot run smoothly. As I always say, what goes on behind the scenes are the best memories of every project.”

Thus far, she has logged 22 years in showbiz which is practically half her life. “Looking back, I’d say those were my growing up years where I really learned about life. Almost all my life lessons happened there. Those years were exciting, scary, painful, fun and most of all humbling. I made a lot of mistakes and my learnings were life changing. It was like a rollercoaster ride of emotions and all my experiences in those twenty-two years made me who I am now.”

Of her mentors, she likes to single out Rory B. Quintos and Olivia Lamasan.” They’re like my mother hens in the industry. They’ve guided me not just in directing but also in life, in general. They also give me a good bop on the head whenever I need it.

Kathryn Bernardo with Pablo Tariman. The young actress has evolved from beginner to professional actor.

I also learned from Direk Marilou Diaz Abaya who taught us in our Master Class in Directing under Star Cinema. I also learned from all the directors I’ve worked with. I’m so fortunate that I got the chance to work with so many of them and to learn from all of them. I also learn from the actors I’ve worked with, my production and creative team who have various experiences with other directors as well. But most of all, I learned from my own mistakes.”

With all the varying profiles of film audiences she has to deal with, she tries to achieve something not necessary to please all of them. “Yes, I do keep my audience in mind. After all I create films for them. My goal is for more people to watch it so that the message of the film reaches more people. But it won’t get to a point where I will end up with a hodgepodge of a film just trying to accommodate the various audiences. Ultimately for me, what’s important is we tell a good story and that we impart values and send out a message that the audience can learn from.”

“ Can’t Help Fallin’ in Love” directed by Mae Cruz-Alviar opens in cinemas April 15. It has been rated B by the Cinema Evaluation Board.

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DIRECTOR DONDON SANTOS: A FASCINATION WITH NORTHERN LIGHTS

DIRECTOR DONDON SANTOS: A FASCINATION WITH NORTHERN LIGHTS
By Pablo A. Tariman

The director who megged “Noy” (a Coco Martin starrer) and “Dalaw” (a Kris Aquino horror film) is not one who easily enjoys talking about his project.

Direk Dondon Santos gazing at the Northern Lights in Alaska.

He has logged more than 20 years in showbiz directing films and teleseryes including special edition of MMK and Magpakailanman and this probably helped him judge potential stories that will connect with audiences.

He relates: “Three years ago, I went to Alaska and from there I toyed with the idea of a film on father-son relationship. I thought it would make a good project. Since I know the background of Piolo Pascual and his son Inigo, I thought he might as well play the lead role in this film. So, I sat with him, discussed the story and he was so touched by the storyline he immediately said yes.”

On the other hand, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed not just with the story but with the natural phenomenon called Northern Lights (also known as aurora borealis) which to many people hold not just scientific significance but personal and spiritual ones as well.

(Northern Lights according to a reference occur when electrically charged particles from the sun zoom into Earth’s atmosphere. The phenomenon is most commonly witnessed during fall and winter months at high-latitude locales, including Alaska and Northern Canada.

(An Eskimo legend says there is a land of giants living in the far north and whenever they are out with their torches to spear fish, they brighten the sky. Another legend tied with Northern Lights is that they are actually torches in the hands of their Ancestor Spirits, lighting the way for the souls of those who have just died, to lead them to the hereafter.)

Direk Dondon Santos (center) with Piolo Pascual and Jerald Napoles. Another look at overseas Filipino workers in Alaska.

For this reason, Direk Dondon took a lot of establishing shots in Alaska to capture the mystical Northern Lights as a natural backdrop of the story of the film. “I can relate to this personally because I have a brother who used to live in Norway and was always fascinated by the Northern Lights. He has moved on already but I cannot forget his fascination with this cluster of lights in the skies.”

Direk Dondon listens intently to Piolo how he relates to the Northern Lights. When he reacts, it was as though he was sharing the same life-changing experience.

Piolo opines: “Watching the Northern Lights is an enlightening experience. It gives us a thoroughly encompassing idea how vast the universe is and how small we are compared to the spectacle it creates. When one goes to see the Northern Lights, I feel it is also an occasion to love your fellow men and learn how to forgive and be forgiven. I can say it is a magical moment watching it and indeed it is a once in a lifetime experience. To fully enjoy it, you have to bring someone you can relate to. For sure, it will change your life.”

In this presscon, Direk Dondon seems relaxed just listening to what members of the cast went through filming “Northern Lights: A Journey to Love” in Alaska and New Zealand.

But on his own, he sees Northern Lights as a natural component of the story of the film. “I really saw to it that this natural phenomenon is right into the milieu on which the story is set. A father (played by Piolo) looks forward to seeing his son (Raikko Mateo) and how they are transformed with new love interest coming in with the Northern Lights in the background. I believe we have a good film we can be proud of.”

Yen Santos, Piolo Pascual and Raikko Mateo. Working with Direk Dondon was a breeze.

The director finds the leading lady (Yen Santos) and the child actor both very raw and that allows him great leeway to work on spontaneous character build up. “It is always rewarding working with real people not yet affected by stardom. You can help shape their characters the way you want it and without them having a compartmentalized idea of how to deal with their roles. Of course, their very distinct appearance helped a lot.”

Piolo admits working with Direk Dondon was always fruitful. “As a matter of fact, it was a breeze. He is very collaborative and our initial concept grew in scope and substance until we were able to find the common ground on which to find the real magic of the story.”

“The Northern Lights: A Journey to Love” released by Star Cinema opened in cinemas last March 29.

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LOWER DEPTHS

Film Notes
LOWER DEPTHS
By Pablo A. Tariman

Watching Joel Lamangan’s “Bhoy Intsik” is like looking into a typical DSW social case study report and reliving all the personas involved.

Raymond Francisco as the gay con man in a cemetery scene from “Bhoy Intsik.” A deeply felt portrayal.

It isn’t a gratifying subject because it involved two felons with contrasting characters and different backgrounds. One is a gay ex-husband whose only child was electrocuted while he was flirting with a lover and the other is an abandoned orphan who has learned to live by the skin of his teeth, so to speak.

When they meet, screenwriter Ronald Carballo provides the milieu in which they cope and manage and love beyond the call of flesh.

Probably one of the timeliest and the most powerful entry in the recently concluded Sinag Maynila film festival is “Bhoy Intsik” aided in a large measure by a riveting story and screenplay by Carballo.

Opening with a bird’s eye view of the Cavite public cemetery, “Bhoy Intsik” grows on the viewer like a social time bomb waiting to explode with distressing story of how small people cope with poverty. They are into small-time gambling, they are into selling internal organs and they offer young bodies to the well-off who want a good time on their natal day.

Raymond Francisco with his Sinag Maynila Best Actor trophy. His hard work paid off.

These are the disconcerting scenarios awaiting the characters of lead actors Raymond Francisco as the gay con man and Ronwaldo Martin as the young vagabond.

With a well-written screenplay, the film is at once engrossing with razor-sharp ensemble acting between two felons superbly played by Raymond Francisco and Ronwaldo Martin.

You know you are with stage actors as you notice the superb ensemble acting of the supporting cast namely Tony Mabesa (as the pastor), Jim Pebanco (the gay character who likes to call himself Digang de Lima),Shyr Valdez (as the ex-wife) and Elora Espano (Martin’s lover), among others.

Director Lamangan hewed closely to the powerful story by avoiding unnecessary musical scoring and used quiet moments to speak for themselves. The result is a poignant film re-exploring age-old social problems minus the hysteria.

Alas, the film is as timely as PNP’s Operation Tokhang with a concluding scene that highlights the brutal senselessness of extrajudicial killing. One character listens to the TV news clip with the President underscoring his anti-drug war. With a sense of detachment, he turns off the TV set and decides he will live his life the way he wants it.

Like it or not, “Bhoy Intsik” is contemporary sociology as it zeroes in on true-to-life characters doomed to live in the country’s Lower Depths.

It brought out the best of Francisco as the gay con man and the most compelling side of Martin as a natural supporting actor.

Surely, one would count “Bhoy Intsik” as one of Director Lamangan’s best output.

The cast of “Bhoy Intsik.” Commendable ensemble acting.

Happily, the film won the top grosser box office award and the well-deserved best actor trophy for Francisco who shared the award with Kristoffer King (for “Kristo”).

On the whole, the awards meant the audiences easily connected with the story of “Bhoy Intsik” enough to give it a well-deserved audience patronage.

Other Sinag Maynila entries worth watching (if there is a repeat screening) are “Hango” (Best Documentary), “Aliens Ata (Best Short Film), “Beyond The Block” (SM People’s Choice Award) and “Tu Pug Imatuy” (Best Picture).

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‘BLACK SWAN’FOR REAL IN BALLET PHILIPPINES’ SWAN LAKE

‘BLACK SWAN’FOR REAL IN BALLET PHILIPPINES’ SWAN LAKE
By Pablo A. Tariman

The 2010 Darren Aronofsky film “Black Swan” came to life when Ballet Philippines mounted Swan Lake at the CCP last February 24 to 26.

Natalie Portman in the Darren Aronofsky film, "Black Swan."

Natalie Portman in the Darren Aronofsky film, “Black Swan.”

“Black Swan” — which won for Natalie Portman the Best Actress Oscar trophy — had its world premiere as the opening film at the 67th Venice Film Festival in 2010. It received a standing ovation whose length Variety said made it “one of the strongest Venice openers in recent memory.”

Manila balletomanes had a taste of the Black Swan in the recent revival of Swan Lake with three ballerinas alternating in the part namely Candice Adea, Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes with the Siegfreds of Joseph Phillips, Victor Maguad and Gary Corpuz.

“I see the Black Swan as grounded and mysterious and obsessed with revenge,” said Adea during the presscon. “But the thing is I also have to work on the White Swan to be able to give a good character contrast.”

The country's first full-length Black Swan, Maniya Barredo.

The country’s first full-length Black Swan, Maniya Barredo.

Parungao said she sees the Black Swan as the scheming kind. “She is the other side of good people and I just have to imagine how it is to be bad and to possess a black soul. It is a tough character to portray if you are not naturally bad.”

Adea is the first Filipina to win gold medal in the Helsinki International Ballet Competition in 2012 and silver medal at the 2010 USA International Ballet Competition.

Last seen at the CCP as the sensational Nutcracker Prince and Basilio in Don Quixote two years ago, Phillips’ Siegfred will be seen for the first time in Manila with Nonoy Froilan restaging the coming production.

Parungao and Reyes agree on one prerequisite of the ballet warhorse.

Jemima Reyes and Victor Maguad in a Black Swan episode.

Jemima Reyes and Victor Maguad in a Black Swan episode.

“This ballet needs a lot of stamina. We have to secure our technique first but we should not lose sight of the characterization. We are white swans and black swans in this ballet. For sure, nothing is easy doing these dual roles.”

The country’s first Black Swan in a full-length ballet was prima ballerina Maniya Barredo with the Siegfred of Froilan in 1982.

He recalled: “Apart from being a very lyrical dancer, Maniya is strong technically. I don’t have to work hard to support her because she can do balance with very little help from her partner.”

In the Black Swan episode, balletomanes usually count in unison curious if the lead dancer can complete the required 32 killer fouettes.

Maguad said the hard part of the ballet is not just portraying the prince but being a good and reliable partner. “Good partnering is another equally difficult requirement for a Siegfred aside from projecting his princely character. It is not enough that you can lift the ballerina without effort. Foremost of all, she should look good up in the air and down.”

Candice Adea as the dazzling Black Swan with the Siegfred of Joseph Phillips.

Candice Adea as the dazzling Black Swan with the Siegfred of Joseph Phillips.

Reyes (as Odette-Odile) and Maguad (as Siegfred) ended the first weekend run of Swan Lake literally with a bang.

Reyes was a surprisingly tender Odette with a lot of delicate swan-like turns of her head and with arms simply perfect for a swan used to good advantage in her dramatic exit in Act II (White Swan).

Moreover, she was a flashy Odile in Act III delivering triple fouettes in the grand pas and outnumbering the output of the earlier Odiles.The crowd simply went crazy as the fouettes — later turning into pirouttes — went as far as the 20th mark.

Reyes did her homework well and she was lucky to have a good and stable partner in Victor Maguad who was a superb and remarkably youthful Siegfred.

Denise Parungao as Black Swan with the Siegfred of Garry Corpuz.

Denise Parungao as Black Swan with the Siegfred of Garry Corpuz.

As the icon of choreography George Balanchine once noted: “All leading dancers want to dance Swan Lake at least once in their careers and all audiences want to see them dance it. To succeed in Swan Lake, is to become overnight a ballerina. Petipa and Ivanov (the composer and choreographer) are to the dancer what Shakespeare is to the actor. If you can succeed in their choreography parts, there is a suggestion that you can succeed at anything.”

(Swan Lake will have its last weekend run March 3, 4 5 at the CCP. Call the CCP box office (8321125 or TicketWorld ) for tickets.)

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