Lav Diaz Asks: Can Cinema Truly Portray The Filipino Narrative?
An artist who questions his medium: despite international accolades, Lav Diaz remains with his feet firmly planted on the ground, continuously in awe of the story of the Filipino.
"Dikong, the poor fisherman, who’s forever hopeful that everything will be just fine (in spite of the cruel typhoons) just as long as 'the generous sea remains there', old Tatay Gregorio telling me that humility and honesty are just the simple solutions to Pinoy bad politics but then he concludes that ninety percent of 'them government officials are just plain arrogant and greedy beings', the road worker worrying but accepting the fate of his cancer-stricken young son rationalising that his Diyos must have a plan as he walked away wiping his tears," the filmmaker recounts. "These are Filipino stories, tales of humanity, and I always feel that cinema remains incapable of truly articulating life, and that challenges me to dig more on life and this medium."
Diaz, who was recently named as jury president of the Marseille Festival of Documentary Films, is a continuous learner. Ever loyal, he takes his medium of choice—film and cinema—by the horns. "Oftentimes, I’m confronted with the reality that the medium just cannot offer enough profundity on issues of greater discourse and aesthetics," he muses. "[But] I tried. Will I be able to approximate the greatness of the short story? Can my cinema do it? My only comfort now is the thought that the film is a Filipino story. And it is the story of humanity at the same time."
And perhaps it's this that makes Diaz so great (and why his works are so notoriously long). In itself, the act of storytelling is a Sisyphean task: despite every effort, certain narratives are bound to fall by the wayside; even the most prolific of artists are unable to capture the magnitude of life. Yet, Diaz is persistent. "I will still choose to be here making films despite the lure of signing early for the planned evacuations to the future bubble communities in Mars and the moon," he jokes. "I will work harder to make films to contribute to a repository of cinema commemorating the late, great Planet Earth. We will remember this Earth because of cinema."
There is no pretension, no ostentation, and especially no shortcuts that one may take. "The best promotion is creating good cinema," he says simply. "[And to do so, one must] put themselves in the sphere of being responsible cultural workers. Work for a cause. Use cinema as a cultural tool. And the best tool is to really have a keen understanding of life."
In fact, his own creative process has him immersing in the communities of those he wishes to portray. "I create my films like some crossbreeding of the mediums of novel, poetry and music," he explains. "[Yet] every time I’m creating cinema, I always feel that there’s something lacking in the medium, ‘parang may kulang’ we always say in Pinoy, there is that unarticulated emptiness, akin to some mysterious deficiency."
Despite his doubts, people seem to be keen on him. It's very subjective but perhaps what viewers cherish the most about the filmmaker are his art, his effort, and his hard work. We asked: what does it take to make an impact? Though it's easier said than done, his simple reply came: "Hard work [and creating] good cinema."