INTERVIEW WITH ANNA ISABELLE MATUTINA of the THE KATORSE WRITERS’ GROUP

Space Philippines, A Living Conversation
http://www.spacephilippines.com/
The Katorse Writers’ Group is a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop. They aim to “address” the problem that “short films have remained the… consistently underrated medium that has never been given the exposure it demands. Even with the emerging popularity of independent films in the Philippines, short films are still seen as ‘front acts’ for full-length features or ‘sidebars’ at local film festivals.”

In the interview, spearhead Anna Isabelle Matutina has said of the group that “of course, our appoaches to film vary. Some of us have tried co-writing, but most of us would rather work alone (in the actual writing) because writing films can sometimes end friendships. Haha. Our group is made up of writer-directors, editor-directors, cinematographer-director, production designer-director. So you can just imagine how different our screenplays look like.”

“Despite this, whenever there is an ongoing project, we all do our best to help out and contribute. And because the group started through the Ricky Lee workshop, we have, in one way or another, imbibed the kind of group-writing/filmmaking process wherein we do brainstormings and pitches and grilling of each other’s works whenever we can – or whenever the filmmaker/director allows it.”

What would you say is the genius of the short film form? What can it accomplish with an elegance that full-length features can’t?

It has always been said that short films should not be compared to full-length features in terms of which one is the more inferior/superior form. For me, it always depends on the material. I’ve seen some full-length features that would have been better if they were done as short films (and vice versa).

But I’ve always believed in the power of the short format. I think it’s all about communicating, and those that communicate a truckload of ideas in the shortest time possible are the most brilliant works I’ve seen. Being a Ricky Lee workshopper, we were always told that a five-minute work should say an hour worth of ideas, or something like that.

Another reason why I prefer shorts to full-lengths is because I feel that it is more democratic. Since short films are less expensive to produce, the art form is not controlled by the priveleged few – and therefore, it is more representative of society.

The work of seven film makers were shown at Indie Sine one after another. Was there an organizing principle–or a suggestion of narrative–behind the sequencing of the films?

To be honest, there was really no formal discussion in the group about the lineup.

The 7 short films differ thematically and stylistically. The arrangement or sequencing of the films was mostly based on the heaviness/lightness of the material. We do recognize that it isn’t easy watching 7 short films in one sitting. That is why we more or less interchanged the heavy ones with the comedic/ lighter ones.

The Katorse Writers’ Group had a screening last 2006 in RoundEye Glass (which has closed down) to celebrate our four years as a group. Katorse became a pseudo-production house and we came up with so many shorts that it was about time we had a screening. Through this, we were able to raise funds to produce our DVD compilation and send the films to festivals abroad.

After 2 years, more films were produced, and with the opening of Indie Sine to short films, we figured that it would be a great opportunity to showcase new works so that we could raise funds for our next DVD compilation. Producing our own DVD compilations and putting up screenings are our way of promoting short films in the Philippines.

The line-up basically included 3 short films that will be included in the 2nd DVD compilation – as a teaser/promotion for the soon to come DVD – and 4 other short films that still lacked exposure, even though they were part of the 1st compilation. Most of these shorts were selected in both local and international festivals.

Godard argues that film is its own language, and tends to have a distaste for films that he calls “literary,” meaning those films that the theater or a novel or some other form can do well enough. How does the Katorse Writers Group approach film? What does the group collectively wish to achieve in film?

I have only read Godard (since he has the most overused name in film discussions) but I’ve never really seen any of his films, and I have not come across that specific argument. Most of us in Katorse didn’t have a formal film education, so forgive me if I fail to understand his argument.

In some ways, yes I do believe that those films that the theater or some other form can do well enough are somewhat inferior (if I understand the argument correctly). I would mostly blame the filmmaker for that – although you can’t really separate the filmmaker from the film. The film medium is totally different from the other forms of art, in the same way that dance is different from music, or a poem is different from a painting. It has a different set of parameters. Although a lot of novels turned to film are better as novels, I do feel that films offer something that novels cannot.

A lot of people mistake disloyalty to details of a novel as equivalent to a “bad” film. The quality of a film should not be based on the pre-existence of another art form. In fact, I don’t really like films that are “too loyal” or that try too hard to be “accurate” to the original source material. What happened to the filmmaker? Where is his/ her voice? The film must offer something more than what a 400-page novel offers.

If the point of the argument is originality, intertextual studies have already showed that even “the seemingly original story has its precursors, a fact that somehow reduces the absolute authority of the source text in an adaptation process…” (Literary Fil Adaptations as Film Texts, Arne Engelstad) Artists steal or borrow or whatever they want to call it. It is part of the creative process.

Collectively, the group wishes to promote the short film format. Since most of us had experiences in both local and international festivals, the difference in terms of treatment and recognition of shorts here and abroad is so apparent. Case in point, in light of the Philippines’ participation in Cannes recently, there was no mention in any of the press releases/write ups of Raymond Red’s short film, Anino, which won the Palme d’Or in 2000. That alone says a lot.

NOTE: In June of 2008, the Last year in June, they presented “Katorse Shorts” at Robinson’s Galleria Indie Sine. Films include: “Ang Kapalaran Ni Virgin Mario” by Ogi Sugatan, “Ambulancia” by Richard Legaspi, “Blood Bank” by Pam Miras, “Dead Letter” by Grace Orbon, “Ika-Siyam Na Palapag,” “Panaginipan,” “Puwang” and “Walong Linggo” by Anna Isabelle Matutina, “Lababo,” “Shorts” and “Pagbugtaw” by Seymour Sanchez, and “Manyika” by John Wong. The short films may now be viewed online.

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