Interview mit Kidlat Tahimik Teil 4: Bahala Na


KT: I wonder if I had studied film, would I have had the same freedom to express that in the film? Probably not. If I would know all these techniques of film making to make things visually perfectly clear to the audience – where you show the eyes and then you show what is being looked at – I would not make that kind of organic link quickly, which is what stayed in the film.


KT: I think there’s a strong survivor in all Filipinos, but an adapting kind of survivor. The Filipinos had to survive, and they survived for 450 years – a new rule, a new religion or a new way to pay taxes. You know, there’s an expression in the Philippines, palusot. It means being able to squeeze through and to learn that we are coping with the rules that the colonizers have imposed on us and that there’s a way to survive. And I think whether it’s me or Rizal or any other of these Gastarbeiter – you just use the opportunity. You do not see yourself as a victim, you have this attitude: “I will be able to survive this”. This is bathala na attitude of Filipinos.


It´s like “the devil may care, I’ll just do it and let’s see what happens”. That is sometimes viewed as the fatalistic attitude of Filipinos and that this is the reason why people say Filipinos will not progress because they don’t want to sit down and plan and try to move according to a road map. But, bahala na, I think, comes from Bathala na, the upper being. “Leave it to the heavens”. Bathala na  in the old sense meant that you do everything you can to achieve your goal. You use your brain, your brawn, your soul, your spirit…You do it with everything but finally you need the cosmic force and I think this is a very different attitude. People in the West are planning

to go around the moon, and it is a calculated risk.


Bahala na – it’s a total surrender, a humbleness to the cosmos. I have planned everything but I am not God. And I think that’s how the Filipino survives. And that’s how I think that I eventually finished the film without thinking “Will I have equipment? Will I have the money?” I just kept doing it step by step. Bahala na is a proactive attitudes towards getting your goals. Do you know the story of  Juan Tamad? Juan Tamad is just sitting there, and he is waiting for a mango to fall into his mouth and that’s how they described Filipinos. I think that’s a anti-colonial attitude that many people have picked up. Why make an effort? The profits will go to Madrid or to Washington, to the colonizers. I’ll just wait for the mango to fall.


“I should still try my best. I can still master anything.” I think Lapu-Lapu has done that. He successfully got rid of Magellan, against all the odds. That´s bahala – let´s just do it, and see what happens. In World War II, the American generals were very surprised about the bravery of the Filipino soldiers. I think this is about bahala na attitude in a way. You’re there, required to fight for whatever you’re fighting, but against all odds they could hold their ground. You know, Raymond Red did the film Sakay about that. I was supposed to be in that film, but my hair wasn’t long enough. Guys would find ways to dodge bullets, and they would jump from one tree to the other, and they were suddenly behind that tree. Maybe they were using whatever old spiritual methods to fight the Spanish guns and armor.

INT: Can you talk about the connection between the scene about San Juan Bridge in Manila and the scene about harnessing the winds of Amuk mountain? 


Kidlat: That is not so much about defeating the colonial power. It was more of finding your strength, an ancient strength our culture had, a cultural treasure that makes us a respectable country. As far as the scene about the San Juan bridge is concerned: It’s a historical fact that Filipino soldiers were banned from entering Manila after the Spanish surrendered. And on the San Juan bridge was a skirmish that started what you call the Philippine-American War. We call it the Philippine-American War, but the Americans call it the Philippines’ insurrection. A certain Sergeant Grayson fired the first shot, which resulted in a many deaths. That was on February 4, 1899, and on February 25, the US senate ratified the Treaty of Paris, and one part of this was that the Spanish sold the Philippines to America for twenty million dollars. I actually made a mistake in the film. I say it was 12 million dollars but historians later corrected me. Then the next question is, was that incited on San Juan bridge rigged? The decision to annex the Philippines was based on that incident: “Wow! Stupid Filipinos are starting a war. Now we have a good excuse for the rest of the world to take over the country so that we can civilize and Christianize the Filipinos and prepare them for self-government.” In the film, mentioning that the father was involved in that incident was a way of showing that the father had this cultural strength, and that is something that later Kidlat has to find out in Paris on his own. It’s a balik kultura, a return of the cultural strength that we lost.


?: Yankii made in Hongkong...


KT: I’ve never made a documentary, but then I was being commissioned by the Brot für Brüder, a Christian organizations. Ambros Eichennberger, the head of the catholic cinema organisation, who put me in touch with them. I thought I might try my hand at a documentary. But I couldn’t stay with a straight documentary, coming into the film as a self-confessed regisseur. I was already back in the Philippines, so the communication in those days was through Telex.


INT: Was the subject matter suggested by them?


KT: I think it started with this very generous thing. They wanted to do something about the exploitation of labor, and the double standards of the multinational companies.

INT: And it seems that there was also an attempt to stress the activities of the Christian unions that operated in Hong Kong.

KT: Yeah, that was their main agenda. So I went on a first visit there. I met these people, they had certain topics, and I met the mother who was working for Triumph, which is a well known brand. They did not give me that subject. I met those activist Christian groups and there were several possibilities, and I thought this would fit in with what they wanted to do, so I choose those particular protagonists, this family. I chose to focus on the child, and then the incident with the parents. The mother had a  labor accident, and in Europe they would have certain compensation schemes. But because of the double standard and because in Hong Kong the law is more lenient to get investments in, they get away with not compensating the women and just letting her go.

INT: In the film you keep comparing the standard of living in Hong Kong with that in Europe...B

KT: I knew that the audience was living in more comfortable flats. But it was just one of the things where you see the contrast in how people go through life.


INT: It seems for that film you had a film crew and the film has a very different look from your other films of that period...

KT: My sister was assisting me, and I had a Filipino cameraman. The crew was half Filipino and half Chinese. Everything was shot from a tripod. I just took the challenge without realizing that a documentary is very different from my free-play theme, and as I was beginning to edit with Charlie Fugunt, I began to think: “Wow, this is a completely different ball game.” Charlie started to ask: “Are you sure about this fact? Are you sure about that fact?” I couldn’t be as playful, except in the epilogue.


INT: Was it meant to be shown on television?

KT: Well, it was being commissioned. It was up to them what they’d like to do with it.


INT: Were you happy with it when it was finished? Or were you happy to be done with this plain documentary?


KT: I can’t even remember. This was just before “Turumba”. I never got the feeling that they were breathing over my shoulders. I remember I had to show it in Basel or in Zürich, and they had a few questions, and then Charlie and I just had to do some fine tuning. I think they were surprised to how I would keep coming in. You know that scene with the container, when I started to sing? (Sings) “Love is a many-splendored thing...” This is how most of us knew about Hong Kong. That film was  our first encounter with Hong Kong. So here Hollywood was my reference to deal with Hong Kong...


?: IN the end there is this Chaplinesque scene with you as a tailor. When I watched it, it felt like a relief...


Kidlat: Well, it was a kind of relief for me, after I had to stick to this certain format of a documentary. It was a kind of final joke. And I also had to summarize the film, so that was also one reason why this scene was there. It wasn´t that I wanted to be audacious. I did this film before Turumba. We edited it at Charlie Fugunts studio. I did not have my Steenback yet.


INT: So that means you kept going back and forth Munich at that time.


KT: I think the editing was done in one trip to Germany. We processed the film in a laboratory in Hong Kong. I was flying from Hong Kong to Paris, and from there to Munich, where Charlie and I were supposed to edit for about three weeks. When I landed at the Paris airport, somebody stole my passport when I was in kiosk paying for my newspapers. Hence I was stuck in Paris for three weeks, and that was actually became my first visit to Cannes. Butch Perez, the director, and his wife, had a scholarship in Paris. They were going to the Cannes Festival that weekend, and they had one more space in the car. So I joined them, and said I’ll try my luck. That was the year that Lino Brocka showed his film Insinang in Cannes, and he was with Jean Risset. He was Linos promoter and he was a very big person in Cannes. But he hated me because he wanted to be the discoverer of Philippine cinema. But I came out in ‘77 at Berinale, and then in 1978, Lino was making his debut in Cannes. So whenever they would go, people would say: So how is Kidlat Tahimik going. He did not like that that, and he was trying to create a wedge between me and Lino Brocka.


Lino was my classmate in UP, but he was willing to believe all the stories that Risset would tell him. I was going around the festival saying I claimed that I was the only film maker in the Philippines. And I remember saying: “Look, the Philippines are the third major film-producer in the world after Hollywood going Bollywood.” But Rissset was trying to make it sound like I was not even considering Lino or Ishmael Bernal and Mike de Leon. This guy just kept repeating that I said: “There’s nothing of interest in the Philippines now.”


In Cannes I bumped into Tom Vladi, who was a working for Coppola. This was the year they were launching Apocalypse Now, and Coppola, instead of renting suites, had rented a yacht. And anybody who wanted to see him had to go on the yacht by appointment. Anyway, Tom Vladi told me that he had just decided that he wanted to distribute Perfume Nightmare in America. So the day I was supposed to meet him at his yacht, we met at the pier to go to the yacht. Lino and I were happy to see each other. We were taken by motorboat to the yacht. And when we arrived there, Risset was really upset to see me. He wanted me to see it. He wanted to introduce Brocka as his protege. That was that big Brouhaha, when we were there.


After that, I I couldnt’ find a place to stay. So I was walking around. Even if I had had money, everything was full. So I went to the beach. I tried to sleep on the beach, but they have a patrols, so I kept walking around and I saw this yellow Cadillac on the parking lot, so I crawled under it, and I slept under the Cadillac. The motor was still warm. On six o'clock, I got up and went on my merry Cannes adventure.


INT: But since you’ve mentioned Coppola distributing the Perfume Nightmare, how did he see the film?


KT: Again, by chance. I was invited to the Los Angeles Film Festival in early 1978. Now whenever directors are invited to that festival, Tom Vladi, who was the curator of the Pacific Film archives in Berkeley in San Francisco, he invited the directors that were flown in from Russia, from South America or wherever  for $150 to the Pacific Film Archives. I was one of those people who was invited. I showed “Perfume Nightmare” in the Pacific Film Archives, and then, after that screening, I was going cross country, hitchhiking to the West Coast. I didn’t want to carry my film with me, so I left it with Tom, and he was supposed to send the film to the East Coast, once I had an address there. Anyway, while I was away, he showed the film to Francis Coppola. It was the time when Francis Coppola was trying to finish Apocalypse Now, which was shot in the Philippines. Everybody always assumes that I had met Coppola in the Philippines, but at that time I was in Munich finishing my film. “Perfumed Nightmare” was shot in Balyan, which is just seven kilometers away from Pagsanjan, where Coppola shot the jungle scenes of “Apocalypse Now”. I don´t know if it was the same time, when he shot those big scenes in Pagsanjan. But I didn’t even know who he was. I had never met him there.


Tom Vladi showed the film to Coppola. And Coppola liked it so much he borrowed it, and projected it in his home to friends and family. And at that time he was planning to start a distribution company that would distribute films that had a hard time entering America, and I was on the list. A year later, I got a Telex from them wanting to distribute Perfume Nightmare.