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Movie magic with J.E. Tiglao

By Ella Rivera Published Mar 04, 2021 6:47 pm

Whether it’s because of the greatness of a film or the communal experience of movie watching, we’ve all witnessed, in one way or another, what director J.E. Tiglao, calls “movie magic.”

Movies are one of the most effective forms of storytelling — they urge us to explore different kinds of thinking, through elements that can transport us to other worlds. Such is the case with Metamorphosis, Tiglao’s telling of a coming-of-age story through an intersex’s lens that both challenges and inspires.

Since then, the Metamorphosis director has been on the move to write stories that recreate the same magic, often through devices that dare the audience more than the filmmaker himself. His film group, Rebelde, also aims to break through barriers in the industry by supporting aspiring filmmakers to develop their craft. All this, as his work incidentally fills the gaps of untold themes and narratives that have yet to populate Filipino cinema.

Young STAR spoke with J.E. Tiglao and discussed how his debut film Metamorphosis (2019) was made, the enduring process behind filmmaking, and the stories he’d like to shed a light on next.

  Metamorphosis director J.E. Tiglao. Photo by Jay-Ar Mercado

YOUNG STAR: Who are your influences?

Sa filmmaking side, ang nag-inspire talaga sa akin is James Cameron. Eto ‘yung mga early days ko pa — I remember when I watched my first film in theater, I was seven years old. Pinanuod namin Titanic. Nung namatay si Jack, nag-iiyakan lahat ng andun and I was wondering, bakit sila umiiyak? After a few years, pinanuod ko ulit yung Titanic. Ako naman ‘yung humahagulgol, and that moment dun ko na realize, “ah, yun ‘yung magic ng film.” Bumalik memories ko noong nasa theater. It’s really magic.

Metamorphosis took a while to get made. What was it like making that movie and finally putting it out there?

Sobrang haba ng journey. Nagsimula pa noon ng 2013… Yun ‘yung naging wake-up call sa akin sa realities of filmmaking in the Philippines. Parang by that time nag back-out ako (on making the movie because of funding), it was such a heartbreak. Sobrang heartbroken ako sa film that time, nag-advertising ako. Kinalimutan ko muna film — pero nagsusulat pa din ako (on the side). Nung natapos ko na yung script, I tried to submit it at Cinema One. Nakapasok naman, kaya siya nagawa. Kaya siya humaba.

Pero for me perfect timing ‘yung paggawa ko ng Metamorphosis last year. If ginawa ko siya ng 2016 siguro baka problematic pa yung script, like hindi pa ako ganon ka “woke” in a way pagdating sa sensitivities ng community na nirerepresent ko. That time, wala pa kong intersex na adviser for the script. So ayun, right timing din talaga.

What made you decide to make a coming-of-age story through that lens?

Mahilig ako sa coming-of-age eh. Whenever I tell a story ang daming memories and devices na nakukuha ko from when I was growing up. So yun yung favorite genre ko. And bakit intersex yung naisip na concept noh?

It came from an experience when I was applying for my passport in DFA (of befriending an actual intersex person). Because of circumstances, kinaibigan ko ‘yung katabi ko sa pila… We talked and she said, “I’m an intersex.” It was my first time to hear that from an actual intersex person, kasi parang mababaw pa ang pagkakaintindi ko sa intersexuality at that time. Naisip ko, ang ganda ng stories nila, bakit di sila na-represent sa media?

Nasa vault of memories ko yun. After some time, nag-research ako about intersexuality, and ‘yun nga naisulat ko na. Ang dami ngayon na nasusulat about heterosexuality, homosexuality na films di ba? Pero intersex wala pa, so why not represent them? Yun din naman ang role ng film or media eh, to represent the underrepresented of the community para malaman natin ang kwento nila.

I know that you’ve also encountered an issue with MTRCB. Where do you think we are now, in terms of making and producing Filipino films?

Nung nakapasok ako sa Cinema One, alam ng selection community na may nudity scene. Not exactly nudity scene, since di naman pinakita ang ari ng (character). Then, a week before screening, nasa post-production na kami, bigla kami nakatanggap ng sulat na we were not allowed to show it publicly. So parang, shet, ang hirap. Ilang taon ko to nilaban, so parang quit film na ba to? (Laughs) But I was there already. I’ve been fighting for this one for years, so sabi ko ilalaban ko to.

Then people started tweeting about it, so nagkaroon ng some sort of social media protest. And then kinabukasan, nalaman namin na MTRCB requested for a second review. Pinaglaban ko — wala ako in-edit out, so as it is pumunta ako sa MTRCB, and then, suddenly nagtaka ako kasi sobrang bait nila. (Laughs) And then, na-approve.

Kung hindi pa nagkaroon ng social media protest, kung hindi pa nag-trending, hindi mababago yung decision. So kawawa yung mga ibang filmmaker na hindi nabigyan ng capacity mabigyan ng social media protest. So ayun, isa sa mga problema ng Philippine cinema ngayon talaga — yung censorship.

By the way, why did you shoot Metamorphosis in a 1x1 aspect ratio?

1x1 yung original idea, [then] tatlong palit ng aspect ratio, so lumuluwag siya as the film progresses. The idea is I want all the elements of my film to have their own metamorphosis. Naks. (Laughs) Yung kulay nag-iiba rin, from yellowish to purple until mag-mix yung dalawa sa ending, kasi ang kulay ng intersex flag is a yellow background and a purple ring. So lahat ng elements ng films, may metamorphosis.

You also started Rebelde, a film group for aspiring filmmakers. What was the vision for it?

I started Rebelde the year when I started making films din kasi by that time, galing ako probinsya and wala ako kakilala sa industry. Ang hirap pumasok sa isang industriya na ang daming higante. Marami din katulad ko na nangangarap gumawa ng films pero di nabibigyan ng chance lalo na ‘yung mga nasa regional cinema because of Metro Manila imperialism. So for me, sabi ko, gagawa ako ng community ng aspiring filmmakers na magtutulungan gumawa ng films. That’s the idea of Rebelde, to gather aspiring filmmakers para magtulungan; parang bayanihan yung values ng Rebelde. 

I’m developing a story that tackles mental health. Sobrang importante ng mental health kasi sobrang depressing ng mga nangyayari.

What kind of Filipino stories are you excited to see, or make, even?

Right now, I’m developing a story that tackles mental health. I’d like to make a film about mental health because of what’s happening right now. Sobrang importante ng mental health. Kasi sobrang depressing ng mga nangyayari. If you look at what’s happening politically, and sinamahan pa ng pandemic. Personal problems pa. So ang unang aatakihin non is mental health. So I’d like to make something about the topic as well.

Banner and thumbnail caption: For J.E., the role of film is to represent the underrepresented.