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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