Journal Entry No.2: Wherever You Prosper
Feature by: Raya Martin
The second installment of Raya Martin's journal as a part of the Residence du Festival de Cannes.
Emmanuelle Taylor is the Cinefondation Festival du Residence's best friend. She takes care of everything: bank account transfers, visa problems, brochure and web requirements, and visa problems. I guess it really is hard living in a third world country, now that I'm learning how to deal with agencies like the French Embassy by myself. As much as I can't blame them for being paranoid of people planning to hide in their countries, it might also be too presumptuous of these embassies to treat everyone like their smaller counterparts. Foreigners come and go as they please in our country, and do more harm than we do in theirs. It's this sickening bureaucratic (expletives) we Filipinos have to deal with for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday. And before this turns into third world outrage, I'll go back to Emmanuelle. She took care of the letters, explaining my complicated status as resident in France for a few months.
You see, previous to the residency proper, we didn't have any schedule. What this program does is house you, feed you, give you a snazzy espresso machine and a weekly cleaning lady, unlimited internet and functioning heaters, a huge television in a huge living room, your own television in each bedroom that looks out into the busy streets of Pigalle, a neighborhood famous for its red light explorations and the cinematic landmark (and aptly titled) "400 Blows". Just across is the Butte Montmarte, home to the Sacre Couer and the breathtaking view of Paris just right in front of it. You might also recognize the neighborhood from the very famous and influential French film Amelie. Despite all these, the program does not have a rigid schedule. Which is probably why the embassy was afraid that free time will be spent on planning routes to smaller towns, hiding in a dark run-down apartment, and me ending all local contacts. (Quite similarly, agencies also fear too much free time in our little brown hands, afraid that we might spend hours on Wikipedia learning class operations and disturbing the status quo.)
On my first day, which was a Saturday, Emmanuelle greets me in our apartment that takes up the whole second floor of the building. There isn't any work today, but she shows up for me, just before going out of town for the weekend. She offers an espresso while I was maybe seriously considering paying her for it, with my freshly changed dollarstoeuro in mind. I'm afraid we have the whole machine to ourselves, with boxes and boxes of pressed coffee stocked in the cupboard. But there's more: pasta, sauces, cakes, ingredients for a quick Saturday fry. It's the Nuit Blanche tonight, an all-nighter where installations, performances --not too mention, cinema-- take over the whole of Paris' streets, galleries, museums. She guides me back to the other wing of the house, where the rooms are . I was seriously hoping to get the end room, the biggest of them all. She led me to the one before that, the smallest (to which we all have agreed to now) that I was afraid I'd take when first touring this place. It's not too bad, I tell myself over and over as Emmanuelle shows me around and who got which room. Across was the room I had hoped to get, I told her. Wang Bing was in that room. Is that how it works, she asks, making fun of my stupid suggestion of an oriental brotherhood.
Previous residents in my room included Josue Mendez (Dias de Santiago, Peruvian entry to this year's Oscars) who later joined us in the first week, and the controversial Vimukthi Jayasundara (Sulanga Enu Pinisa, Camera d'Or together with Miranda July's You, Me, And Everyone Else We Know in this year's Festival de Cannes) who is currently in residency at the Le Moulin d'Ande. Now I think it isn't as bad, somehow hoping their fame rubs on me. Whenever I'm down, I pass by my little corridor and look at their names. And that cheers me up: by association I'm cool.
I get to share a private bathroom with Kim Hee-Jung (South Korea), the only girl in this session. She gets to have the biggest room as well, right at the end of the hallway. Emmanuelle says this was supposed to be the girl's room of the house, which explains the shared bathroom. I thought I heard myself snicker then, but I wasn't really sure. Mark Walker (UK) takes the next smallest, but he has the balcony facing the university across us. Next to mine is Sameh Zoabi (Palestine), the second biggest room in this wing. Isolated is Santiago Palavecino (Argentina), whose room is next to the guest room, and right outside the receiving area. Still, his is as large as Hee-Jung's, and the designer table is like an endless crossword puzzle design. He has his own toilet, near the copier and printer, next to the kitchen.
Everyone started arriving on Monday, the official start of the residency. We had previously been acquainted in a small get-together after the interview two months back, drowning ourselves in Polish vodka and wine. We spent the next day here at the residence, for the previous session's farewell party where I got bored with older filmmakers and industry people (mental note: write age entry in following journals). Needless to say, we already have an impression of each other: Hee-Jung is tough, Mark is nice, Santiago is serious, and Sameh is a New Yorker.
Sameh Zoabi is our link to Hollywood. His film Be Quiet, about a boy's journey of crossing borders with his father, reminds me strongly of a strict film school sense, one that is very American coming from Columbia University. Of course I could tell, coming from a second-rate, first-world wannabe filmmaking education. He loves his girls, and defends that where he comes from, dealing with men is like an effort to put on a show. Hence, the opposite sex is one that is more understanding, caring, loving. It is exactly what Sameh is -- very domesticated, strict in the house, but playful at times. He complains that I make him feel like a bad father, which I find endearing. But Sameh loves his entertainment, his parties, and his clean house.
Then there is our Godard fan, Santiago Palavecino, who conveniently speaks the best French which comes in handy when we argue with that arrogant man upstairs. Having released his well-received first feature (Otra Vuelta) already, he's naturally the most serious. In the first two months, he's locked himself up in his room with classical music on everyday (prompting Mark to comment, when Santiago's girlfriend arrives with electronic music, "this is the first time I've heard music that isn't strings in this room."). In those two months, he's made several drafts, I believe, coordinating with his Argentinian producer to find a French co-producer, even done casting. Of course, he's the most sensible as well, finding similar tastes in films, knows our Lino Brocka and has even heard about "that 10-hour movie". This description might find him a bit too, professorial? But Hee-Jung, who is Santiago's greatest fan, finds in him a funny and sexual guy, whipping up comments about who's sleeping in whose room. Of course, when his beautiful girlfriend comes over for the holidays, tables (and bed) were turned.
Mark Walker loves his Bergman but also his Lynch and reminisces about Monkey Magic. One time, in one of our early spontaneous parties, he disappears and comes back with an old passport. Hee-Jung shouts, "ah who's this, your sister?" Of course, it was Mark, his ex-goth self in long hair and red lipstick. The rest of the night was spent just laughing about that, and honestly he could pass off as a beautiful young girl. He can never be serious-looking, he would dance in Hee-Jung's room in the wee hours of the night, but that doesn't mean he's any less serious a filmmaker. After getting drunk, I'd bug him for stories about Stephen Frears ("we're tight like that" with ironic gusto), his mentor at the National Film School in London. Frears wanted him to do a comedy, but he opted for a drama, Sea Monsters, a Bafta-nominated short. I like his other short Floating about a man's mid-life crisis (?) acknowledging that his marriage is on its way to end. Mark is nothing like his shorts, just because he's the first real life marrionette I've ever met, but when you get to know him after a few nights of huge Leffe and Hoegaarden pints, it would all make sense then. Those British.
I share the second bathtub of this house with Kim Hee-Jung, one of the most important triumphs of this residence. She comes from the world-famous Lodz Film School in Poland. Guess who is one of her favorites? Kieslowski. Unpredictable, I know. But Hee-Jung also loves Woody Allen, and watches Shohei Imamura's "Unagi" without subtitles, just because she's memorized all the lines in the film. Everyone adores her, not because she can cook, or is practical, or makes fun of serious things, or speaks in funny English, or is an alcoholic (which we all are), or leads the group when everyone is too much, no, Hee-Jung is absolutely crazy (her blog name is "crazy director") and will be the nicest Korean you'll ever meet. Her film Once. Someday about a girl's childhood memory of being kidnapped, is a beautiful flowing film with an ending reminiscent of the Russian soul cinema. Hee-Jung is my big sister, my head chef; she checks if I've eaten, if I'm sad, if I need a bit of laugh here and there. One of the best things I've heard from her, also one of the best pieces of advice you'll ever get, goes something like this: psychological, you must say this to yourself.
Ladies and gentlemen, the residents of the 11th session of the Cinefondation Festival du Residence.
Our Santiago had invited a previous resident over to visit, fellow Argentinian Santiago Loza (Extraño). It was just another night, where a friend of a resident brings over their friends to introduce to us, and I kind of like the bohemian feel of bringing friends over, as the circle gets bigger and bigger, and everyone meets someone by the minute, smoking a joint, a few years later recognizing the same guy while smoking a joint still. Yet of course, we weren't smoking this joint, nor were we acting so arrogantly cool.
Eventually, three residents had left for the Le Moulin d'Ande, a magnificent residence in Normandy, and known for Jules et Jim and was then known as famous artists', umm, romantic getaway of forbidden affairs. Our Santiago had planned this trip ahead, eventually convincing his one big fan, Hee-Jung, to leave Paris and have that change of environment to encourage her to stop drinking and start working. In a week's time, everyone had come back with their own Moulin stories: the beautiful scenery which Hee-Jung had talked about in her Korean blog, our Santiago having enough of the boring countryside and showing off his piano prowess, and talks about the controversial Vimukthi, who had been threatened by the Sri Lankan army general for his provocative film. Yet, each of them mentions Santiago Loza, the charming guy who's always brought up in each of these stories, one way or another.
"Santiago loves our session. He thinks everyone is good, yeah?"
"Santiago is great."
"I love Santiago Loza. Is very sexy. "
That was of course our very own Argentinian admirer, Hee-Jung, who always talks about her love for the Spanish language, how sexy it sounds, and how charming everyone is. Recently, at a housewarming party of an Iranian filmmaker, Hee-Jung declares admiration for Santiago Loza's great moves, him swinging almost everyone at the party he's brought us to, including me. And never was it awkward for Santiago to have showed this little boy some small swing moves, continuously, and with real seriousness, moving in the dancefloor.
Earlier today, we had skipped a screening of John Cassavetes' Love Streams to meet the friendly director of Sundance Lab, who had explained their own program to us. Each time, she envied how the residence is the perfect experience for filmmakers. And Hee-Jung declares that it is "heaven." It couldn't be truer than that.
Tonight was planned especially for Santiago Loza, who had already finished his short session at the Le Moulin d'Ande. We had been having drinking sessions with him, and he has stayed at the residence a night or two after these. Yet it's been an intense experience with him, not quite because of the number of conversations, but a bonding feeling with someone whose presence feels most honest and sincere.
Hee-Jung and I went to the Opera to look for Korean ingredients. Alas, on Mondays, most stores are closed, and we had to settle for the mediocre, more expensive supermarket at the corner of Boulevard de Clichy for a more boring Russian blini and dip, spiced up by an improvisational spicy chicken and rice with nori on the side. Everyone had come with bottles of wine. I had a whole box of beer to myself.
So then everyone came, including previous resident Brahim Fritah and Fabienne Aguado, Director for Cinema at the Le Moulin d'Ande. The night lasted to the very end, even when the grumpy old man from the 3rd floor kept calling us to shut up. It was a warm, good get-together, a despedida for Santiago Loza (and also a welcome to our own Santiago, who had come from Marrakesh for a workshop that coincides with the local film festival).
Personally, I think it has been strange how a man I've only spent a few meetings with the past few weeks could have affected me so much today. I admit it must be also the beer which I had been drinking, as everyone had wine to finish and I was the single beer admirer of the night. Yet, it was especially painful to say goodbye to a very good soul who, for the past few weeks, had sympathy for everyone, who enjoyed and admired and respected each of our different personalities.
At the party by his Iranian friend a night ago, Santiago sat beside me in between dancing. I was sick then, trying not to get affected by the beats and avoiding the dancefloor, while everyone and everything was pulling me towards the center. Santiago asked me about my parents, what they did back in Manila, how they are towards what I've been doing, and saying how lucky I am to have such supportive parents to appreciate my work.
"It's hard for me, you know, because I'm not like you, I'm old you know. I don't know what to do when I get back, I don't know my future, yeah," he confesses.
I rest my head on his shoulder. Tonight, I also found myself doing the same thing, easily getting distracted by conversations, how intense they could get, and how disinterested I could be. So I rest my head on him, and he puts his arms on my shoulders to comfort, pats me on the head like a good ol' big brother.
Eventually, he says goodbye. "I hope to see you soon. Berlin, maybe?" We were giving each other the warmest hugs, and I whisper, "I'll see you, definitely we'll see each other."
I hate goodbyes. I hate sentimentality. I think cheese is the enemy of the visionary. Yet, these things ring true. They are points of change, points of learning, and we find ourselves in such situations, our hearts growing softer, our memories becoming more promising. One thing I hate about this kind of lifestyle, I tell Mark one night while drinking, is that we keep moving, everything is fleeting. Yet all these experiences are fruitful and truthful and our hearts are moved at the shortest time. It is the most heartbreaking of all situations, but it is the reality of what we do. The best things in life are short and simple, like meeting Santiago Loza.
So you see, my home is not a place, it is people.*
The title is inspired by the line "A man's homeland is wherever he prospers." by Aristophanes.
*The line is taken from Lois McMaster Bujold's novel "Barrayar" (1991).
A third of this article was written while drunk.