A Conversation with John Torres
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
AT: There’s a line toward the end of the film, perhaps you can correct me on it, something to the effect of “This is my cinema…”
JT: Aah (laughs).
AT: Can you repeat that line for me?
JT: “This unfortunately is my cinema, I…” Aww man, I wish I had the text here. It’s the man behind the surveillance camera telling Bughaw, the wife that I cannot interfere now because I am part of the government and I have team members also, and strict rules to follow. This is my cinema, I can only watch, I cannot give you what I know. I can only watch you helplessly, and you suffer. The best thing I can do now is blow these words in the wind, and hope that they reach you. Somehow, it doesn’t get addressed if after that, after saying it to the wind, it makes a difference. Somehow, I’d like to think that it made a difference. Although not audibly, I believe somehow, even with just his presence and his concern, it will get to her; it will make her reconcile.
AT: What does it mean when he says this is my cinema, I cannot give this to you? He’s talking about the surveillance footage?
JT: No, no, he’s talking about the text message from Berlin, from Olga supposedly to the husband, but those were intercepted by the government.
AT: Those are his cinema?
JT: No, no, no. The cinema is just watching you guys suffer now. Watching you cry, behind the surveillance camera. I can only helplessly watch you. I am just a viewer of this also. Which speaks of another topic in the film…
AT: When he’s saying “my cinema”, is he is speaking from the perspective of the audience, not as a filmmaker?
JT: Yes. Just a spectator. Just like the opening scene “our cinema” and you see the supposed terrorist just watching, suffering in front of the [cinema screen] just beating their own skin. But they cannot reach out to their subjects. Or to the screen. There is a separation, and there is a certain sense of helplessness somehow, that you’re just watching, that you cannot really make a difference, as a watcher to the characters. So it deals with a topic that I try to discuss also which is [the] filmmaker and creating works that empower, that somehow subvert a culture, a way of doing things. And so I delve on filmmaking, and how you put a premium on pouring your heart out and not really focusing on finances, and even distribution. Just putting it out on the streets. I’m not a proponent, you know, of piracy…
AT: That’s bullshit, you’re a proponent of piracy! (laughs)
JT: Yes I am. (laughs). But I see the value in letting other people watch, letting the most number of people watch works that make a difference, you know. And yes, the sad reality is, how can you reach the most number of people? The video pirates have brought us a lot of good films into our country.
AT: That’s definitely true.
JT: Right? And here we cannot afford Greenbelt, we cannot afford the expensive cinema houses here. And it’s a shame, because we have good films that can make a difference in the lives of other people, stories that they can identify with, that they can learn from. So not only in terms of distribution, but also making the films, focusing more on the story, the content; where we are; our own stories. Does that make sense to you? I was hoping to touch on that. Actually it’s more to independent filmmaking, guerilla filmmaking.
AT: Bughaw is going to give her work to the pirates?
JT: It’s more of letting the world know that yes, I suffered this, and I still am present. I don’t deny my presence in this tragedy or in this destruction. I declare my survival in the midst of all these. In that way, you will hear her breathe, you will see that she holds the camera.
AT: And her suffering will be even more powerful than yours because in this case, she is the victim.
AT: So her emancipation from that, will be much more powerful. In putting it out there for the public. A more powerful statement.
JT: I hope to make… if that’s clear enough. I hope so. Just imagine how the terrorist and Olga would react if someday they got a hold of a pirated copy of this, (laughs) you know, this film, and at the end of the film you get to see the shoulder of the person you love. Just like what we’re used to here in Manila, in the Philippines. We have all the pirated movies and we see the people coming in and out of the theater. They’re present, they laugh with you in comedies, they cry with you. When the film reel gets stuck, you hear people clapping just to wake up the operator. So it’s a whole new different experience now, it’s a whole new different story, because you have the other people communing with you, you have the other people watching with you. It’s a public endeavor, in a sense, and somehow that’s another component, you mourn with other people, you also mourn with them. You find comfort with them, you share with them your suffering also. By declaring your suffering you also share with them, with the viewers, who can identify with you. (laughs)
AT: We watched the film just now [a few hours ago], with two friends. One you knew previously, Tiffany Limsico, who proofreads for Criticine, and the other a friend from my University, who you first met today, Micha Abrera. Micha brought up something, which you dismissed somewhat, but that I want to ask you about now. She mentioned the idea that, the antagonist so to speak, Olga in the film, about her being white, and if that mattered.
JT: Oh okay, okay okay. Well there is that angle also, because it talks about terrorism, and somehow, as you know, foreigners have this image of Filipinos as terrorists in a political way, terrorists who come as strangers. And yes at first it mattered, that the color of her skin was different form my brown skin, but I needed to graduate from that plot and delve more into an important thing which really is being a terrorist to people you love, and it doesn’t matter anymore if you’re white or if you’re from another background. So you graduate, but that served as a springboard, and I think it helped that you first showed that and then debunking and making a mockery of the labels that have been thrown to Filipinos as terrorists, Southeast Asians as terrorists. And you tell the outside community, the foreigners, the foreigners, people that are not Filipinos that we are not bitter, that we are not stuck in that we just try to retaliate, we just try to answer back and say hey, we are not terrorists. And we dismiss that actually, and go more into terrorism as a form of hurting the people you love. Terrorism to strangers now becomes a little bit more trivial. It doesn’t [focus on instances] when you talk about killing and wasting other people’s lives, but it is not something that is worth trying to defend, it just takes a simple offering of trying to be silent sometimes, but you show them that that’s not our concern. Our concern is being a terrorist to people who matter to you. Eventually, it doesn’t anymore [if you] take into account your race, or the color of your skin. So we’re not stuck in that thinking anymore. It actually terrorizes them, because they see that you label yourself as a terrorist, you accept the label of being [a] terrorist, and that alone is a form of terrorizing the person who labeled you as such. You don’t try to deny it.
AT: At the same time, that at first there were comments that had to do with that, like our skin is brown, but then later on you also have, which is featured quite prominently, when Bughaw’s character is flashing all around the room the images. You have those warnings from the different embassies which involve European countries, except for Australia and New Zealand, which are countries generally populated by white people… (laughs), “white people”. So if that isn’t an issue in the film…
JT: Well, I needed to put that also so that just to let them know, hey man, try to know us better, try to understand us better. Know who the Filipino is. Because the travel advisories, they keep you away from us also. They discourage you from getting to know us more. I guess it’s in a way a mockery, but if you really think about, if you really think hard, it’s my way of saying, go beyond that. If you see the film it talks about explosions, and it’s superimposed to, just the New Year’s celebration in Manila. So it’s making a complete mockery of those labels, of the official statements of those governments.
So there, you start off as strangers, and you also have to address that. And with that scene I hope to invite them in a sick way (both laugh) to hey, look beyond that. [The] crime rate in New York is worse than in Manila. And you don’t have travel advisories against [going] there. And then I also get a kick out of not putting in subtitles [for] certain words in the scene wherein Leonardo and Bughaw were supposed to be speaking in gibberish, in a language you don’t really understand. But if you’ll notice, as a Filipino, you’ll hear that certain words escape and they refer to pain and they refer to filmmaking. And I did not want to put that in subtitles because as a Filipino, you’ll get more. It’s deliberate on my part: know us and know our language. If you watch it again, and if you know Filipino, you’ll get more now, you’ll get more from the film. But it’s a minor, minor detail. But it is something that is also a part of that film. Watch it again!
AT: You know I did get that. Bughaw says film…
JT: May angulo, tapos sabi niya [there’s an angle, and then she says] she was really pained [and asking] why is my husband spending so much time with film, with all those angles that he got; he never pointed the camera at me, not once. And also, Leonardo was talking about lighting and accepting it, it was out of his hands. In the midst of all these words, those words somehow escaped also. Curiously, Olga also is a foreigner in that land. And she talks about the concept of home, about language, of speaking with her heart, with her tongue; of chance; of things happening for a reason; of having a second heart. All those, you know, you try to validate it, if they’re really [right] for you, [and fit in with] your own set of beliefs, in your belief system. All those questions you really need to think about also.
AT: I thought one thing that she said was quite striking, when she said, she speaks better German than she does English, but she’s much more comfortable in Russian that either and when she speaks in Russian she feels like she’s speaking from the heart. Which could be why you didn’t subtitle some of those words…
JT: Well… in reality it was just her saying, “Do you like ice cream?” (laughs)
AT: I think it might also be the idea that that barrier between people that exists of people of not common cultures.
JT: Ah yes definitely.
AT: And she was the one who was the art student…
JT: No, no, it’s Leonardo’s ex-girlfriend…
AT: Who was an art student in…
AT: Where did that come from?
JT: Well, uh, [smiles] curious detail is that I also met a person from Munich. And she’s really a good friend, but just that, just a friend. And I just thought about that, when I was typing the subtitles. Think of a detail that you know… so there.
AT: And her name is thanked in the credits?
JT: Yes. Susanne. Yeah uh, I think she’ll be….
AT: She’ll be the next film?
JT: I don’t think so. (laughs). No, no. I think I’m gonna do a film on my Dad, next. But yeah, I think she will be…
AT: She will be in what?
JT: She will be in my future… (laughs) short film.
AT: I was curious also—and this I bring up because it is something I know—you mentioned that Olga was married. And I was wondering if making the relationship between the narrator and his other, married, as if perhaps that was a statement or something that you wanted to communicate to her, to Olga, about marriage. I imagine for you, being someone who takes this so seriously, it must have been a very big deal for you to find out that she was married and perhaps, it affected the way that you see her a little bit, or a lot.
JT: Yes, yes, yes. A lot. Actually, we met again in Berlin and we really got to talk more and more, and we talked about her belief in God and all the issues that revolve around it. And it was just, nice…
AT: Her belief in God or lack thereof?
JT: Yes. It puts things in perspective, having the distance and the time and coming back, and you know, knowing more and more about the person. And I still—wow—like her very much you know, but I see her differently now. Not because she doesn’t believe in God, but because of the other issues that follow because of that. You cannot believe in God, but believe in goodness – well she believes in goodness – but believes in similar things that you also hold to your convictions. You can share convictions without sharing your belief in God; somehow that still works. So you get a clearer picture of things, when you have that distance. But this was a very, very, very nice chat. So the difference now is that when I go back to Berlin, there’s nothing, no more tension on my part, because I’ve reconciled with this issue already, and it’s nice. But in the film, that detail wasn’t really… if it still talks about sacredness, there’s commitment, there’s the relationship of marriage, the sacrament of marriage, I’m still happy about that
AT: You used the term, earlier, infidelity, in regard to yourself. I wanted you to define what you meant by that, if you would be comfortable doing so.
JT: Well umm….[pauses]
AT: So that the readership is not mistaken and they can help to understand you, and your film better.
JT: Let me just say this: even with the mind you can be really unfaithful. It doesn’t happen to be involving physical contact. Even with your own desires you can be unfaithful. I hope you find it (laughs) … so there. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but I’m not saying I’m clean.
AT: You’re not saying you’re clean or you’re saying you’re clean?
JT: I’m not saying I’m clean. But the point is that you can be unfaithful with your mind and your heart and not even touch the person. That’s where it all starts. And that’s a big step actually.
AT: What’s a big step?
JT: To desire the person from within, first. It’s just a starting point, right? But it’s very serious. Sometimes people just say, “Hey, I didn’t cheat once” just because they didn’t have physical contact. For me, it is [still cheating]. It is. Actually, if you see the film, there were no sex scenes, there were no love scenes, but those [scenes in the film] were equally intimate.
AT: There was a hand on the shoulder…
JT: Hand on the shoulder, the rubbing of the arm. Sometimes in a way, they’re more intimate, you know.
AT: Oh definitely. Because when you see those scenes, and you know that it’s not just something physical, that there’s an emotional warmth…
JT: Oo grabe yun, sobra! [Yeah, that’s intense!]
AT: I imagine seeing you rubbing her arm, or the hand on the shoulder must be something that was, a bit testing for Ina.
JT: This is a curious detail: one scene, with my index finger, I touched her eye bags. And I usually do that to Ina. And just seeing an act being repeated to another person: it’s…it’s terrible. It’s our…it’s our… touch. It’s our way of being intimate to each other. That’s terrible. It’s worse sometimes than a kiss. Because it’s something that has been “owned” supposedly by a relationship. It’s an intimate detail. Because both of them have very large eye bags, especially when they’re stressed. Especially Ina. Ina has very cute eye bags. (both laugh)
AT: So now you have to come up with something else. (laugh)
JT: The scene where I was trying to touch her arm, and [am] just curiously looking at and rubbing the hair strands. It was really difficult for her.