JIFF Interview: Director Raya Martin

One of the hottest tickets of the third day at the Jeonju International Film Festival is the Jeonju Digital Project.  Each year, JIFF distributes around 50,000,000 won to three filmmakers who each make a short film over 30 minutes in length.  Those films will then have their premieres at the festival and be distributed as one film in Korea and throughout the world by JIFF.  One of this year’s chosen directors is Raya Martin, the first Filipino filmmaker to be accepted in Cinéfondation Résidence of the Cannes Film Festival.  He took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the Jeonju Digital Project and his love of film.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I know you’ve been busy filming. What are you currently working on?

Finishing a feature film titled “The Great Cinema Party” for the Jeonju Digital Project 2012. It’s part documentary, part fiction, with a lot of love for war and cinema.

For readers that may be unfamiliar with your films, how would you describe your work thus far and what can they expect from a Raya martin film?

While it might seem obvious to those who have seen my films that my preoccupation is mainly history and cinema, my aesthetics keep changing from film to film. The idea is to not expect, and one will hopefully be rewarded.

There is no doubt that you are passionate about cinema, but what first got you into film and what are your influences?

I was obsessed with horror films from the 80’s, like the movies of John Carpenter and Wes Craven, as well as a lot of local ones. In film school, we were shown Tarkovsky’s Mirror and I was blown away by the possibilities of cinema beyond the Hollywood influence. While there are some works of people I admire that show in my films, I really don’t concentrate on a few. It ranges from Chopin to Animal Collective, Miami Vice to Top Chef, and sometimes a lot of classical/romantic paintings and impressionism. I like the shadows between Pierre-Auguste and Jean Renoir. My love for Pedro Costa’s In Vanda’s Room and Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail are on the same dance floor.

In a lot of your work, the art of filmmaking is prevalent in one sense or another. Are these projections of yourself, unconscious or otherwise?

It’s more of a mirroring than a projection. I grew up around movies: renting betamax tapes with my parents, going to the theater with my nanny, driving through shooting locations in the city. Manila has an interesting cinema life. It’s like the bastard son of Hollywood.

Independencia was the first Filipino film to be selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. How was this received in the Philippines and did this put any pressure on you at all?

I’m grateful to have had that kind of platform to showcase a film like Independencia. It’s normal to be pressured given that I was also young at the time. Despite the festival, our kind of film still cannot make money in a local film industry like the Philippines. The special screenings were received very well, but it’s still the kind of work that will divide people’s reception.

Now showing was a near 5-hour epic. Do you have to restrain yourself in anyway when you come to making a short film, like The Great Cinema Party which you have made for JIFF?

I also have a personal debate about long films. Some works are necessarily long, but I don’t think any film that would stretch for hours could achieve a universal grace of experience. We had a longer version of Now Showing, around 8 hours, and I really wanted a much shorter one. But in the end it was the best we could do with the kind of material and vision I was going for. It’s really the only long film I have done so far.

How did you get involved with the Jeonju Digital Project and what made you decide to accept the challenge?

I was happy to receive their invitation last year. The Jeonju Digital Project is kind of a dream come true. I have deep admiration for the works it has put out, and also the directors it chooses to work with. I’m very honored to be a part of it.

Did your approach to filmmaking change in anyway knowing that it will form part of a trilogy?

It’s always about how I feel at the moment. I have never really finished any of the trilogies I’ve started, but the start of any of these feels like it’s going towards that. When I start a work, there should be a kind of finish line in sight, a goal of sorts. The subjects I open always have an epic scope, therefore it feels necessary to create space for that. It’s not really limited to one film or a trilogy.

Where did your idea for the film come from and what was the process of getting the film made?

The past few years, I’ve distanced myself from a lot of cinema. I traveled less for festivals, and more to spend time with friends and live a kind of normal life. It has changed my view of life. My karmic tendencies have become stronger because of this. So I wanted to create it with friends y inviting them to the Philippines. It’s a celebration of this beautiful life we still have despite our burdening history.

In 2009, Jiff showed a selection of your works which were extremely well received? What is it you think that made Korean audiences connect with your films in such a big way?

I don’t know what they are thinking, really. I hope it’s the sincerity of my works.

What are your thoughts on Korean cinema?

Actually, there is more Korean telenovela than films that I get to see. But the few that I’ve seen so far are very interesting. I like the works of Bong Joon Ho and Hong Sang Soo, for example. They are cultural critiques that also work on a personal level.

What are you most looking forward to about the festival?

I’ve always loved Jeonju’s program of films and I’m looking forward to watching great works that I’ve missed this past year. Not to mention seeing some film friends again. And maybe throwing another great cinema party.

Apart from yourself, what Filipino filmmakers should Korean and foreign audiences alike try to become familiar with?

I have deep admiration for the works of Sherad Anthony Sanchez. They are strong political and cinematic dreams. There are also new filmmakers whose works I’m very much enjoying at the moment, like Shireen Seno and Gym Lumbera.

With The Artist continuing its dominance over the academy, do you think it could be a good time for your own silent-film pastiche Independencia to get a rerun???

Independencia is still a very different film from The Artist, but I always hoped that the respect for the tradition of silent cinema goes further.

And finally, if possible, can you tell us what will be next for Raya Martin?

We’re preparing to shoot the remake of Independencia and a new film that hopefully will be shot in Mexico.

Once again you for taking the time to talk to me and I hope you enjoy Korea and in particular, Jeonju!

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