KT: „Perfumed Nightmare“ had won the special jury price by the interfaith groups and that proved to be useful in the longer run. One was finding funding for „Yanki Made In Hong Kong“ where the purpose was to highlight the activities of Christine unions in Hong Kong, to bring up the issues that they are concerned with. The production I did with Tellux was one with in the context of the “Vater Unser”. They divded the prayer into six phrases, and asked each film maker to interpret it. We had much more freedom in what we were trying to express in the film. It wasn’t a production to announce what they’re doing. It was more like: “Hey, we’re going to do a nice art film, so it’s up to you what you want to do.”
Int: But you still had to give them a treatment, you had to write a script...
KT: Yes, I had to write a script, and that’s the only time I ever wrote a script in all of my works. I had some very general conversations with them, and I build up the conflict between the father and the son, about the the growing demands of Produktion, that was taking away from their commitments to their community, particularly to the Rumba fiesta. So I laid some of those out. But I realized when I was shooting that since these people were not professional actors who would memorize lines, I knew I wasn’t sure whether my lines... you know, when a script is usually presented it’s very well distilled and they’ve go over and over to. But I had just a few weeks to finish it. It was just to give them an idea of the flow--
Int: But you finished your script?
KT: Yeah, but it wasn’t a distilled script in that sense. If I had offered a distilled script to all these village people, they would just get tongue-tied and trip over themselves. It was always much nicer to allow them to come home to their own expressions. And I think one of the gems that came out of that was the grandmother talking about her being an actress in her earlier days. Suddenly now, I just realize it’s like lola in Perfume Nightmare. She had been an actress also in her previous days. We were setting up, and they were just starting to warm up. I told them to do their paper mache thing. They started conversing and all of a sudden that came up. I told the sound man and the cameraman to just take that. We got a little surprise. It´s funny. I just realized it’s a parallel.
Int: How did you do the casting?
KT: The family in the film, they are half of a family that actually does paper mache. They’re really a family. So it’s the mother, and the daughter, and the two grandchildren who are working as a unit. I thought they would feel more at home if we could get them rather than individual actors. Then I added to them Kadu, who’s actually my nephew. He’s the only import in that film.
Kadu is the son of my sister. He was studying in Manila at that time. I brought him in because he had a really certain slowness. Even though he was a city boy, he had a gentle disposition about him. There were two other girls there who were playing the Mandalinos. They were from two different families, and I thought that maybe six or seven of them could form the paper mache family. I had gone to an earlier Turumba, and I was looking around whom among the vendors could be in the film. I didn’t do any screen tests. I just thought that they would look very much like a holistic family. Once I spotted them at the Turumba in Pakil, I followed them to their home in Paetek. The film was shot in Balyan. It was easier for me. I knew people I could ask for help: Could we use your hut? We just had to bring all the actors there. So it wasn’t difficult to get the people for the shooting.
Int: How long did the shooting take?
KT: The main shoot was about a month and a half.
Int: So the actors in your film were free to participate in your film for six weeks?
KT: As far as the time constraints of working for a living, they are more flexible there until recently. It’s not like you have to book them a plane in advance. Except once the harvest season is coming. Then everyone’s going to be busy working in the harvest. But apart from that the kids that have school schedules. Its the old people who would be making their paper mache things until the season is close enough to the harvest. This is how cottage industries are in the Philippines. You fill up your time between when where you’re needed most to harvest and plant. Then you can engage in handicrafts. That’s how I did the Waldis. I went to a family that was already making shell lamps or Christmas decors. And told them: “You have to photocopy the exact shape of the Waldi. The Germans have standards. It’s the official Maskottchen.” So they would follow the exact same thing, but with different colors. And I was like : “No no no.”
Int: How did you
-- How did the communication go with the Olympic Committee? Did you have to send in a sample? It was approved, how meticulous was that?
KT: I went to Munich.
Int: [inaudible 11:09-11:16]
KT: I had to--
KT: Just that summer, I had gone back to the Philippines with a Swiss fashion designer who wanted to make fashion out of the shells. She was designing dresses, but artisans in the Philippines would assemble it out of shell. Of course it would be uncomfortable, but they would probably create a sensation during the fashion show. That’s how I came into contact with shell-making families. When we had finished her project and we were on our way back to Europe… our plane stopped at Schiphol Airport. That’s when I first saw the mascots in a display. And that’s where I got the idea. So, when I got back to Paris, I tried to think of how I could contact the Olympic committee. I decided to go to Munich. I didn´t even have a prototype. I just showed them a Tiffany lamp, and they just approved it. I just went home and found people I had dealt with, the three families who worked for the fashion designer. Before we knew it, they were doing so well. They produced even for the local market.
Int: There are two different versions of “Turumba”. I wonder how did you-- how could they do this? Did you hand in? Who produced this production of this voice over?
KT: Maybe they had an official translator, but it would go through somebody like Charlie, who was a little bit more familiar with the nuances in the Philippines.
Int: The whole plot revolves around these paper mache figure. In almost all of your films, there’s always some sort of handicraft involved, usually traditional handicraft, like weaving or carving. Can you say something about that? What attracts you so much into these things? And how does it relate to your own film making?
KT: I am a bit romantic about handmade things. That’s why I like to go to the flea market. I developed that during those Olympic days. I knew that I offered a organic material souvenir, that was different from all these plastic key chains and mass produced t-shirts. I’ve known woodcarvers for a long time, it’s part of the Baguio tourist industry. But, I think the first time I got engaged with it was for the Olympia mascot, and then one more time when I was making the film.
Int: What is it that attracts you about these things? Where is this fascination coming from? Does it have any relation to your own method of filmmaking?
KT: Well, people like you or other critics describe my making films as a kind of handicraft process, an organic process. It doesn’t follow that usual position of a film production. I realize that maybe it’s the same thing as a carver who – even when he’s asked to do a thousand Mickey Mouses – each one is still slightly different. And maybe in the middle of carving he decides to eat his meal and to continue tomorrow. So when he finishes tomorrow, there’s a different energy to his work and it has a more personal shape than the Mickey Mouse that have been made by a molding machine.
Int: I think you documented some things that don’t exist anymore. I have never seen such a beautiful chest with the mother-of-perl-inlays like the one in “Memories of Overdevelopment”.
KT: Ah, the chest with the innate shell. Yeah, this whole mass production thing is just chaste attitude towards what you are making. I think before you make one, two pieces a month, and maybe they were for you... but whether or not for you, you could still give it a large amount of the meticulousness. But today, a whole saler’s still going to come between you and bring these things, but in bulk.
Int: I think that this is the influence of the mass production that has changed the attitude towards what you are making: that the handicraft and the artisanal means of production disappear, but also the whole economic model that goes with it. Before you would make one or two pieces per month, and one was for you, and even if it wasn´t for you, you still put a different effort into it than if you produce something for a wholesaler who brings your things in bulk to Manila.
Int: Do you think that your actors got that? Do you think they got the idea behind the film?
KT: Maybe they got an inkling that there are other modes of production. They know that in Manila, production is much more rationalized. In Balyan, you might see a family in their yard doing it, but in the film I created this whole assembly line.
Int: How did you convince your actors to participate in the film?
KT: Of course they all received some compensation. But there is also this thrill to be in a movie, you know? It was a combination of something new and exotic. It was like a play. They had that childlike sense of playing and participating in a film.
Int: Even the father of the family?
KT: Even the father. I think he felt it was a tribute to his profession. In the more urban society, you measure time. You ask yourself: “What’s in it for me? In those villages life was really slow. I think today it´s a lot faster because the city’s really growing towards them. They’re just a hundred kilometers from Manila. More and more people are willing to live out that far away and just commute to Manila every day. The father was the cantore, and we were filming not during the Turumba season. He still had other musical tasks to do, but he was happy to be involved.
It was a one shot deal though. For them it was like participating in a school activity, a school drama: “Come on, just play the role. I’ll interact with your child and you,” It was exciting for them to see our lights. We only had two lights, and then we had the tripod, and the camera. The camera looked big, like the ones that we see in major film productions. It’s just that thrill of being on the set, except that there were no major stars.
Int: The idea that their craft was being becoming commercialized must have been very far away for those villagers.
KT: I think they consider themselves to be lucky to have such a livelihood to make such a livelihood that they could use for spending. There were no industries in that area. For these family, that is a path to regular cash. It’s a positive sign. I’m the artist who has contextualized it with globalization issues and these fair trade issues. For those who participated, it was an adventure. I spent a month and a half in the village shooting the different scenes, but not everybody was on the set all of the time. All the big scenes were shot in in three or four days. Or maybe a week.
Int: Couldn’t you also see the plot of the film as something positive: The family is moving up. They’re becoming socially mobile by producing for the export market. What the German lady is doing in the film is not so different from what a lot of NGOs do: Teach the poor local folks some handicraft, so they can sustain themselves.
KT: Tn Balyan, there were already several families doing that during the time. They were close enough to the big Metropolis, so there was a market for souvenirs. So they were next in line to be socially mobilized and join the middle class. They could become entrepreneurs. Maybe if they were in some remote island and would have come into this island, they would have gotten ideas about going into entrepreneurship.
Int: No, but what I’m talking about the fable of the film. Them getting involved with this businessman is presented as a fall from grace in a way. Couldn’t that also be a good thing? They have money, they go to school, they see the world.
KT: I guess the fable of the film probably has happened to a certain degree in that village. Maybe I should think: “Oh God, I introduced something double-bladed, and now they’ve tasted the forbidden fruit.” But Balenos was already becoming part of the urban periphery.
Int: The story also seems to contain bits and pieces of your own biography: the Olympia Waldi, the idea of going away and coming back, and that does not seem to be only a disaster...
Int: In Perfume Nightmare it lead to a cul-de-sac, where the protagonist has to blow back and in the process finds his strength. Because I had become an economist, I might have thought: “Oh wow, I’m helping my country.” I’m going to be trained and have all these insights, and I could become the president of the Philippines someday, and than I could use these tools. In the early 1970s, there was this new crop of rice, the so-called “miracle rice”. The Philippines were exporting those rice varieties to their neighboring countries. It increased harvest by five times, and there was hope that it was the answer to poverty. It had bigger grains and they were resistant to certain kinds of pests, but they were essentially GMOs, they were genetically modified. And today, we are reading about Monsanto and all these other multinational corporate giants that are really affecting the lives of people, and contribute to mass suicides among rice farmers in India. And I say to myself: “Wow, I was part of that game.”
Back the, the miracle rice was a big deal, and here I was studying in Paris ways to improve the distribution of fertilizers and how to get better road to markets, all these things that growth-oriented economists recommend for developing countries like the Philippines. So in 1971, I tore up my diploma.
?: Did you really physically tear up your diploma?
KT: Yes. It was my own, private ritual. And just before I did it, I thought to myself: But I owe this diploma to my parents. They paid for my studies and my plane to Paris before I got a scholarship. So I was asking myself: Am I insulting my parents when I tear up this diploma? I asked the university for a second copy, and send it to my parents. And then I destroyed my own copy.
Int: In the film Kadu runs away from his father and his Madame and to returns to the blacksmith of the village. There is this constant conflict between two fathers. He abandons his biological father, and adopts another father. That is not so different from you tearing up your diploma.
KT: I like that analogy. Yes, Kadu has to make a decision, whether it’s tearing up a diploma or running away from the airport.
Int: Do you feel guilty about that part of your career, about being an economist?
KT: Not, that was my evolution. I did burn my bridges with that profession, to free myself to do what I wanted to do. So it was symbolic for me. It was a decision pro something rather than against something. I wanted to become an artist, so I burned my bridges to my MBA past. When I tore up my diploma I threw away a convenient career, because I had a comfortable lifestyle in Paris. In a way I overdid it because as a film maker I could have gotten into a more commercial type of a production, like Werner Herzog or these new French cinema did. They would have regular productions, but they kept it indie. For me it was not only that I did not follow such a formula, but I just allowed time to accommodate my production. With regular film productions, even with indie films, everything’s so organized. Every step is measured, and even after the film is finished, everything measured: It will generate so much income because of the TV sales, or distribution contracts...
Int: But I think your next film “Memories of Over-Development” could have been such a film if it would have been finished. It has a narrative structure, and it has so many historical details and such a fine production design – I could see a finished version of it as a very entertaining, regular film.
KT: Originally, “Redux” had a fairly conventional narrative structure, with a story arc and a climax and all of that. The new material was meant to be a ten minute epilogue to the original film. But then I just kept playing and playing, and it just kept growing and growing. And I realized: “Hey, I’ve shot so many things related to Magellan film,” and it started coming in little by little. I would discover another video essay, and once I let go, I said “Okay, just bring them in, and see where it goes.” There I started looking at some old, old footage, like the the shots of the two rocks that look like turtles. I shot that in Indonesia.
I was still not finished in early January 8 2015, when I got this email from the Berlinale: “We closed our selection already before Christmas, but we saw your Vimeo-Link and we want the film to be finished in two weeks for the festival.” I said: “Yeah, yeah, we’ll finish it in time.” In those two weeks I still kept adding things like my mother’s statement. The biggest thing that I was having quarrels abut with everybody was whether I should put the Third World party scene in the editing room in. Everybody wass like: “Hey, we’re already near the climax of the film! Everybody wants to rest and go home! Why are you adding that?” But I took that risk.
INT: “Memories of Over-Development” seems like a film sketch. Was it shot in order to attract investors?
KT: Yes, at first. I did it as a show reel thinking that maybe Coppola would give me a few thousand dollars or whatever to finish it. But I never got to show it to him. I became more of instrument for me to tell people about Magellan’s slave in case I would never be able to finish that film. So I would always have it in tow, when I went to festivals or when I would give a lecture.
Int: But it does not look like a show reel at all. It looks very polished, with a lot of period details- The production design is very beautiful and it seems as if a lot of effort went into the props…
KT: I was shooting what I was shooting for the sake of including it in the film. I was seriously doing the film.
INT: And the financing came completely out of your own pocket?
KT: I knew that I could never go to a proper producer because I didn’t have a script, and they need a script in order to measure their potential profit. But I bumped into a bunch of friends in Manila, who were people I’ve studied with also in Pennsylvania, friends from my college days in UP, fraternity brothers. And a lot of them were curious what I’d do next because most of them were businessmen, and they wondering: “Why did this guy turn his back on his work and his diploma? Why is he this long-haired, hippie now?” They probably thought: “This guy went crazy.” But because I had become president of student government, they were also taking me seriously when I said I wanted to go into film making. That was the time when Lino Brocka, who was a college buddy, made his first successful films. So they wanted to do a film. For them it was like poker money. Everyone put in twenty thousand peso. It’s not like putting a million, or two million on the table, and if it flops it’s like you lose your shirt on your back. It’s just one night of poker money. If we lose that, it’s not like it’s going to kill us. So that was about four hundred thousand pesos or so. That’s where I got my first money to buy good film, not expired film, and then my wife would be able to sew costumes and I could afford to pay my camera man. For a good two years, I was shooting regularly. The sequence just started building up the story. In 1983 I had enough to make a show reel, so potential investors could get a feeling for the film.
Int: Who did you show the show reel to?
KT: I showed it to Tom Vladi, the assistant of Coppola, but I never got to show it to Francis himself. Here’s a great story. That was about 1983, when Zoetrope had just decided to include Perfume Nightmare in their collection. At that time Coppola was doing well with a lot of things. He wanted to be the godfather of indie filmmakers from around the world, so he had this Zoetrope distribution company. It distributed films by indie filmmakers just as Warner Brothers would distribute the films directed by Coppola, and then films produced by him. Like, he produced Hammett by Wim Wenders, and then he had it distributed by Warner. Then he also did films like mine, which were not produced by Zoetrope, but which Coppola wanted to be seen in America. So, in 1982 I asked them if they were interested in producing my Magellan film. In these days you would send things by snial mail, there was no email. At Zoetrope they had a telex which was the fastest way to communicate internationally in those days.
In 2005, I happened to go to San Francisco, and I met with Tom Vladi. His secretary was a Filipina, and she got curious, “Who is this Filipino?” So she went through the filing cabinet, an old folder comes out, and there was a letter that they had sent, signed by Francis Coppola on Zoetrope stationary. It said, “We’re interested in helping you with your Magellan-slave project. We can help you either in two ways: One, we can help you in production to finish the film, or two, we can help with the distribution. We can help you distribute the film, whichever way you want.” I said, “God, I never saw this letter.” And I asked myself, “What if I had accepted the production offer? What kind of film this would have become?” You know no matter how much freedom they give you freedom, there’s a certain limits to the time frame if they’re going to put five hundred thousand dollars in to finish the film. But it would have included the whole infrastructure. I would have been looking at this expert’s opinion, and that expert’s opinion, and that production design. I don’t know how I would have survived that, but I would have probably come up with a finished film in 1985 or 1986. I don’t know what it would look like. They could have controlled me a little bit or forced me to put things on paper. It limits these cosmic options because you get stuck once it has been written on paper. It would have become a more conventional film.