Interview mit Lav Diaz

Der Regisseur von GENUS, PAN spricht mit Programmleiter Frédéric Jaeger unter anderem über seinen Film, seine Heimat — die Philippinen — und die meditative Qualität der Dauer.

Frédéric Jaeger: Genus, Pan is many things at once: funny, tragic, epic, a revenge story of biblical proportions, a family drama, a buddy-movie. Did you have fun developing it?

Lav Diaz: What qualifies an endeavor to be fun? Loving what you’re doing is easily one good reason. The process was far from lighthearted, of course, because making Genus, Pan, was really hard work; from the conceptualization of it, to the writing, to the shooting and, ultimately, the post production. I always cherish the nitty-gritty of doing cinema, in fact, I’m addicted to it, so, yes, Genus, Pan was unequivocally fun. “Just have fun” is a phrase I often utter to people who would seek advice from me or just wanted a chat by the sideroad on a queasy day, not just on filmmaking, but even with their obsessive romantic entanglements and other existential troubles. Even in the most extremely difficult conditions, during the process of making a film, I tell myself and my colleagues to just have fun to lighten things up. It has become a mantra in a way. In making cinema, fun is somehow burdened as often as not by irony, as the experience shall always be an amalgam of pain and pleasure, death and rebirth, dread and orgasm. Otherwise, consider fun to be just a euphemism for sadism and self-flagellation.

FJ: How important is joy for you in the process of making a film?

LD: I consider making films a privilege. But the issue of having this privilege is hard earned on my part. I faced and experienced deep, deep fractures and struggles to be able to reach a point where I can actually make films, and really have total creative control. That’s why my relationship with the medium is earnestly visceral and spiritual; it is body and soul. I don’t take cinema for granted. I am committed to it. That commitment is joy.

FJ: The title is in a way present in the film, as the three men returning home from their work in a mine, talk about the relationship between humans and apes. Does it have a symbolic meaning for you?

LD: There is a need to be aware of that truth, and to acknowledge that truth — that in us humans, there is that beast in our nature, in our being, and that many among us still act the way our ancestors (the great apes or hominidae) did, and we see proofs all too often that we allow that beast to thrive, even rein over us, to such devastating disadvantages. The discourse of Genus, Pan is an extention and an affirmation of the fact. And for humanity to survive, it is imperative to address it, relentlessly, and relentlessly be vigilant, otherwise the world will forever have Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Marcos, Trump, all these animals, in its midst. Man is rational, and so he/she is capable of finding ways of conquering all the beastly attributes in his/her being. And he/she is utterly irrational and can easily slides to asininity at the same time. And that’s one of the reasons why I chose a rather direct to the point title as well.

FJ: Genus, Pan has two parts: an outer journey and an inner journey. The inner journey accelerates over time and comes to fruition at “home”. Can you tell us about what this “home” means to you?

LD: The metaphor of home as a sphere or realm that could create and provide shelter, abode, balance, stability and a sense of rootedness is always a presence in the vision of my works. But it can also represent heaven, hell, turmoil. Nature, nation, society, communities are manifestations of the idea or concept of home in my films. In Genus, Pan, home could be the moment of moral reckoning, as well, but the kind that’s hinged on the level of the characters‘ understanding of life. This is a point in time when realizations are achieved and decisions are made, no matter the naivete; based on how their view of good and evil play out in their lives and as affected and impacted by their past and everyday struggles. Their acts must be by their own reckoning. Albeit I am the creator of these characters, I don’t judge them. I present them as real human beings, as they are, as they can be, how their nature works.

Beyond the trappings, the business and, yes, the struggles, the corporeality of being alive, man, whether he/she is aware of it or not, seeks more, yearns for more. And it shall remain elusive, indefinable, even mysterious, what he/she is actually looking for. The vague notion of inner emancipation, the more vague concept of happiness, even liberation movement paradigms against oppressive systems? And so we have religion, philosophy, poetry, hymns, even yoga and, now, karaoke and zumba, and as man pursues and seeks endlessly, he/she creates institutions and ideologies, revolutions, wars, and other practices and actions, longings, to quench and/or appropriate his/her yearnings for answers. The fact that man is inherently sad and weary every waking hour are signs of inner turmoil. The fact that man witnesses inequities and sufferings around him/her, he/she will keep searching for panaceas. And so it is with the inhabitants of the film, they seek more, despite their ineptitude for critical thinking, despite the infirmity of their being. For them, the economically marginalized, the neglected, the forgotten, the invisible, the exigency is money, where and how to find it, for survival, to even be considered alive, a human. There is hardly the dialectic of why. For once it becomes the why, the essentiality of money may eventually disappear, and some higher purpose may set in. The desideratum for a different kind of salvation, liberation and emancipation may come to the fore. Man ultimately shall remain that way — he/she seeks.

We can go on and on with this discourse of the indefinable, of the inner being inside man, or the soul.

The name of the island, the home of the inhabitants in the film, is Hugaw, which literally means dirt or filth in the Bisaya language of the Philippines. The dirt is the beast in us. The dirt is what the beast has done to us and still is doing to us. The dirt is the consequences of what the beast has done to us. And that’s home.

FJ: From the outside, the Philippines seem to be at great unrest right now and they have been over the centuries, as you’ve brilliantly told in previous films. Does the current climate reflect in your work?

LD: Yes, Genus, Pan is very much about it. Corruption, violence, displacements, human rights abuses, historical revisionism, the feudal setup, and a neglectful system that has lingered in our culture. It has gotten even worse with the incumbent government. Rodrigo Duterte, the president, is a Marcos devotee. He maybe a poor copy of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos but some of the things that he did and still doing and their ramifications are just as dark as Marcos‘ deeds. Even as Filipinos are still reeling and suffering from the trauma of colonizations, a devastating war and an evil dictatorship, Duterte has imposed a new level of violence unheard of with his drug war and vindictiveness.

FJ: The film is intense, slow, and at times really fast. How did you go about crafting the rhythm of this film in writing and later in editing?

LD: With this work, most of the writing was done during the shoot and it was rather smooth as it flowed naturally, sans creative cul-de-sacs that sometimes mar some of my works where I would have to take long breaks to regain some footing again. The same goes to the editing where connecting the shots wasn’t that arduous really. I did three versions of it, where I worked on different placements of shots as wells as their lengths.

FJ: One of the things I have come to love about your work is the meditative quality of duration, which lures me in, transports me, beams me into the film in a way. It has something to do with your use of light, of the black and white, and the arrangement of the images. Can you elaborate on how you find a frame?

LD: Framing is never a deliberate act in the way I work on my canvas, as oppose to the usual practice of storyboarding and setmaking. What manifest really is a relationship to geography and natural setups, meaning I put premium to a better understanding of the milieu, the place or places where the film will be shot. If an idea is at hand, I work really hard on so-called location hunting, on finding the right places that would appropriate or give life to the development of the narrative and the characters. Once I settle on a certain place, that’s when I map out or imagine the story and how the characters would live their lives in it, what is their relationship to it and how it shaped their perspectives and conditions. I would study the place over and over until I can actually visualize it. When that is accomplished, framing scenes or shots would be second nature.

FJ: Genus, Pan relates to previous works of yours on many levels, but is much shorter than most of your films. What does the length of a film mean to you?

LD: Akin to my practice in framing, length is never deliberate and imposed. I keep everything fluid as much as I can. I compare that fluidity to the development of an organism. The eventual durational attribute can only be realized once I put things together in the editing or the cutting phase of the process. Therefore, the film has to grow naturally. And so, the almost eleven years of struggle to finish Evolution of a Filipino Family organically yet obstinately birthed an almost eleven-hour long film, and even me, the maker, surrenders humbly, as I cannot undo the creature.