Truthies and falsies
By Jessica Zafra | Updated January 18, 2008 - 12:00am
A filmmaker and his girlfriend go to Cebu for the Sinulog festival. The filmmaker is shooting a documentary that he hopes to enter in a contest. He gets an interview with a former mayor from Mindanao, who proceeds to give him more information than he expects or wants to hear. The simple interview turns into a harrowing confession from a man who’s looked into the abyss and caught himself looking right back. Witty, deceptively simple, and often hilarious, Confessional is a wiseass’s meditation on the nature of truth itself. Have I mentioned that this movie is hilarious?
Confessional was the big winner at the Cinema One film festival, bagging prizes for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (for Publio Briones III as the mayor), Direction, Screenplay, Sound and Editing. The last four awards went to Jerrold Tarog (who co-directed with Ruel Dahis Antipuesto), who appears in the credits under several aliases including the anagrams “Roger TJ Ladro” and “Pats R. Ranyo” (the main character’s name is Ryan Pastor), and “Ramon Ukit,” the Tagalog translation of “Raymond Carver.” Jerrold, a musical scorer, also stars as the filmmaker. This is his first feature.
Confessional will be screened at the UP Film Center on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. and on Jan. 30 at 5 p.m.
You have to see it.
PHILIPPINE STAR: Did you always want to be a movie director, or did you just fall into it?
JERROLD TAROG: I was a musician since I was a kid. I only got into filmmaking in college when I was a composition major in UP. I still think of myself more as a musician than a “movie director.” At the risk of sounding pretentious, I look at filmmaking as an extension of music composition. Seriously.
What kind of movies did you like growing up? When did you start becoming conscious of how a movie is put together?
I liked the stuff everyone liked. It was in college that I started expanding my cinematic taste, partly as a result of an increased awareness of art and partly to get back at a girl for leaving me for a smarter fella (whom you know, by the way… heh, heh, heh).
Everyone’s “indie” this, “indie” that. What is the difference between an indie and a mainstream Filipino movie? Beyond economics, do you see a real difference in style or content?
The difference is in the intent. Old-school Pinoy mainstream (cinema) is all about the buck. They’re producer-driven. To survive, they rely on formula. There’s no room for exploration and spontaneity, only imitation and branding. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad. It just means they’re not the films to turn to when you want to learn about life.
Independent cinema is trickier because they have different camps. It will take an entire page to even summarize the different camps so for our purposes, let’s say there’s the narrative filmmakers and the experimental filmmakers, of whom the latter currently holds more power. The narrative filmmakers are your classic storytellers. The experimental filmmakers require something more from the audience: the burden of discourse. In both cases, the films are writer/director-driven. They’re both engaged in a quest to make something that might be better than mainstream.
So let me revise. In the current configuration of Pinoy cinema, mainstream is about stasis while independent cinema is about change. There are gray areas, of course. And I believe it’s in those gray areas where Pinoy cinema will find new life.
I think most Pinoy movies are seriously overscored. You do musical scores, what do you think?
They’re not so much overscored as they are over-chorded. Many Pinoy composers do OPM-style scoring by default. They apply chord progressions and prominent melodies in a scene when they should be laying in atmosphere and textures. Their orientation is closer to musicals when it should be closer to sound design. But, of course, I have lots to learn myself.
What was the first movie you ever watched by yourself at the cinema? Do you eat at the movies, and if you do, what?
I can’t remember. I did go alone to one of those old, seedy theaters with double-billings when I was in high school as a personal adventure. Nothing happened. But my mom saw me when I went out. We didn’t talk about it. I usually bring coffee and pastries. That’s it. No to loud wrappers and smelly condiments.
What did you learn from making your first movie that school didn’t prepare you for?
What is your next project?
I like to call it my pera project. A love story. Hopefully, it gets greenlit. I want to alternate between genre films and personal films like (Steven) Soderbergh. So far he’s the only one who’s been able to pull that stunt off.
Could you name some movies you find terrifically overrated, and others you consider underrated?
I don’t look at things that way. When people really love a film that’s honest-to-God mediocre, it says more about them than the film itself. Then there are reviewers who will say anything for a lousy film because they have an agenda. But there are underappreciated films and directors. I think British director Ken Loach should’ve been declared a hero a long time ago. And there should be a Hayao Miyazaki monument in every civilized country that has a heart.
Filipino movies have yet to draw an international audience. Is that our problem or theirs?
Ours, no question. Pinoy cinema is currently polarized between the mainstream, which panders to its audience by default, and the experimental crowd, who hold moral authority because of their noble intentions (supported by verbose European critics, no less). The day the middle ground gains power is the day we draw an international audience, and I don’t mean critics from obscure film festivals and Variety. I mean fans.
But what’s the middle ground, you ask? Films that engage their audience’s intelligence while maintaining a good deal of commercial appeal and technical savvy. Right now the middle ground is still weak. It’s still trying to find its way. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
What jobs did you have in the movies before director?
I went straight to film scoring after college. The first film I scored was Bong Revilla’s Agimat in 2002. It was an eye-opener. You know that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were forced open by those vicious metal clamps? It was that kind of an eye-opener.
Do you think in words, pictures, or numbers? Do your characters speak in your head? How do you know it’s not schizophrenia?
When I write I think in scenes as a whole and the emotions they carry. Does that fall under pictures or words? I don’t know. The characters speak in my head, yes, but it’s only schizophrenia when you’re not trying to make money out of it.
For the record, the movies you’d take into the fallout shelter.
1. Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes which is a 30-minute collage of autopsy footage shot and edited in a humanistic way. One of the most life-affirming films I’ve seen.
2. Any Buster Keaton film. These two are all you need to rebuild a civilization. Death and laughter.
You’re at the cinema, and the people around you are yakking and texting and won’t shut up. What do you do?
If I’m in the mood, I ask politely. If I’m shy, I just move. What I don’t do is that irritating “Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk.”
Are there certain movies or filmmakers that, if your friends don’t like them, would make you ditch your friends?
Ha, ha. No. But I stay away from people who take TV and films too seriously, especially TV.