This year's Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival is right around the corner, which means we have a whole new crop of local indies to look forward to. One of the more interesting entries among the 10 competing feature-length films is Liway, by director Kip Oebanda, about a mother raising a little boy while detained inside a makeshift military prison in the Martial Law era. Oebanda also previously made Bar Boys, a dramedy about a group of friends grappling with the pressures of law school.
Yesterday, Oebanda hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA)—a thread in which Reddit users can throw questions out to the director himself. (Previously, Senator Sonny Trillanes hosted an AMA.) Oebanda fielded most of the questions in the AMA, in what turned out to be a meaningful discussion about his works, his inspirations, and the political nature of films, among other topics. The AMA itself is now closed for questions but still viewable, but here are some of the things we learned from the filmmaker, through a few salient excerpts:
Parts of Bar Boys were based on real law student anecdotes.
Asked about the inspiration for Bar Boys and how he accurately depicted life as a law student, the director responded: "Real law school students. I will give you one example: may scene sa Bar Boys where the smartest kid in class got a perfect score but the teacher said she will use the curve to determine who passes and fails in class. So if the student lower his grades, may mga classmates na papasa. The student refused to change his grade and let his classmates fail. That happened to the valedictorian of UP Law last year. So I named Odette's character Justice Hernandez. Maybe the reason why people found it relatable is because they are based on real people?"
His upcoming film, Liway, is based on own his life story.
Asked where he drew inspiration for Liway, Oebanda explained that it was about his own life: "Liway is based on my life story, growing up in prison during Martial Law. It's basically a true story." He added that the story is particularly relevant today. "It felt like the right time to do it, given how our history is being actively erased or revised."
Coming out of prison, he had some difficulties adjusting to the outside world.
Another Reddit user asked if it was true that Oebanda had an eye problem as a child, because growing up in prison meant not getting a lot of natural light. He replied, "It's more of a sensitivity to bright lights. Not a general photosensitivity. So when I play computer games in cafes I ask them to lower the brightness. I also try to avoid very bright lights in a shoot. Hindi naman siya Bane-level adjustment to the dark, as implied in a [separate] thread. It was hard adjusting to the outside world when you don't know basic things that other students know, like...They would ask in elementary: one orange plus one orange equals...? What's an orange?!"
The real problem with this day and age is that with the rise of trolls and liars online, your film or your art can be twisted to fit anyone's agenda.
Liway took seven months to write.
Responding to a question about his writing process, Oebanda revealed that he wrote the first draft for Bar Boys in one 17-hour sitting, followed by 11 drafts. Liway, on the other hand, was written across a longer period. The filmmaker said that it's because "I had to dig deep here, both in emotions and in facts. Nahirapan ako dahil sobrang personal. The challenge is to make it less episodic and more universal, para hindi lang siya story ng isang tao. I knew I needed someone na detached from all the emotions attached to it, so I worked with Zig Dulay on the script."
"I think everything is political. The personal is political."
Reddit users also asked about the political nature of Oebanda's work, given his background. The director said that while not all of his work was intended to be political, it naturally moves in that direction because he feels strongly about politics.
Another user asked about how Oebanda feels about filmmakers who steer clear of politics, to which he replied: "I think everything is political. The personal is political. Choosing not to do anything is also a political statement. 'Di naman requirement sa artist to be political. A lot of it is for entertainment and some to experiment on the form. All are valid artistic expressions for me. But at least dapat as an artist, alam mo na choice mo yan. And that choice is a political statement."
His career as a filmmaker started with a billboard.
"It was by accident. I already had a different career and a different educational background. Kaso mahilig lang ako sa movies talaga. Super cinephile, like some people in this thread. One day, I was passing by Galleria. I saw a billboard for a night school, APFI. So I was curious and applied. E nakakaadik pala ang filmmaking."
Glaiza de Castro was one of his top picks for Liway, and he had to pursue her to take the role.
Asked why he chose Glaiza de Castro to play the title role of Liway, he said: "She was already one of my top picks. Suntok sa buwan minsan makakuha ng ganyang kasikat na actress. But I aggressively pursued Glaiza, first because she is a really good actress. Second, and more specifically, she has both the vulnerability and strength required by the character. Someone who is gentle and kind but is handed a very difficult lot in life, and found strength and hope. I wanted to have an empowered and empowering female character, which is what Commander Liway is in real life. And Glaiza manages that perfectly."
His five favorite films:
"Not ranked: Ikiru, Battle Royale, Kisapmata, Dawn of the Dead, The Lion King."
When it comes to politically charged films, trolls are the problem.
One user asked about Oebanda's stand on the debate surrounding the film Heneral Luna, between the filmmaker Jerrold Tarog and history professor Leloy Claudio. (Claudio felt that Luna romanticized authoritarian strongmen; whereas Tarog maintains that Luna illustrated its main characters ills, and that filmmakers should not belittle their audiences' ability to discern.) For his part, Oebanda said: "[Leloy's] point of view is well-reasoned and argued. However, the filmmaker disagrees with him significantly and has compelling arguments too. I have not really decided entirely about which side is correct, I see them more as valid, yet divergent perspectives on the same material. The real problem with this day and age is that with the rise of trolls and liars online, your film or your art can be twisted to fit anyone's agenda. So doble ingat dapat as artist and filmmakers, kasi minsan maloko ang mga tao na may pera at agenda."