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Acclaimed Pilipino filmmaker Auraeus Solito

By John Virata

At one point in Philippine cinema history, the country was the fourth largest consumer of film stocks. During the heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Philippine film industry enjoyed respectable growth with new films coming out on an almost weekly basis. The films were mostly formulaic action movies, romance, or adapted from serialized "komiks."

Today, things have changed rapidly, and with the advent of digital technologies and the demise of the Philippine Information Agency's 16mm film facilities, certain Filipino directors have not only blossomed in their home country, but on the world stage thanks to their digital visions, as well as the Internet. Auraeus Solito, one of the most internationally celebrated directors to come out of the Philippines since the late Lino Brocka, is making huge waves on the independent film circuit, having been recognized for his endeavors with 11 awards in only his second effort, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros. DMN's John Bautista Virata (whose family runs Imus Productions in the Philippines) caught up with Maximo (as he was heading off to Berlin for yet another festival) to discuss his latest film, the use of digital technologies, and his aspirations for the future.

DMN: Do you have formal training in filmmaking? 
Auraeus Solito: I studied Theater Arts in College. After graduating, I was a scholar at the Mowelfund Film Institute for its yearly summer workshop on Basic Filmmaking. That summer the focus was animation. We worked with 16mm film. I learned how to edit with 16mm (I edited all my 16mm works). My first three shorts where on 16mm and did a full-length documentary on 16mm about my mother's ancestral land in South Palawan.

Scene from The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, which has won 11 international awards.

Eventually, the 16mm facilities in the Philippine Information Agency got busted. And that is how we all shifted to digital.
I have made my second film since "Maxi", which was produced by Viva Films in their new Digital Viva section entitled "Tuli". Ironically, it was written by my Mowelfund Animation workshop batch mate Jimmy Flores. It just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will be at the Berlianle, at the avant-garde section- the International Forum for New Cinema. I am working on my third film now entitled PISAY or Philippine Science High, funded by the CineMalaya (which funded Maximo Oliveros)

DMN: Your film, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros won several awards, including Best Picture at the Montreal World Film Festival, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, and the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore. Three awards for your first film is a huge accomplishment. How did you use digital technologies in the making of this film? Could you have done it with film?

Solito in Las Palmas

Auraeus Solito: Maximo has actually won 11 international awards and three special mentions (first was Montreal, then ImagineNative-Toronto, AFF in Singapore, Best Asian Film in Rotterdam, three awards in Berlin {Teddy Award for Best Queer Film in the festival, International Jury award for the Kinderfest Special Mention by the Children's Jury}, three awards in Las Palmas, Spain (Best Film, Best Actor and Audience Prize), Best Feature Film at the Torino G&L Film Festival in Italy, Audience Prize in the 1st Lyon Independent Film Festival in France, Special mention-Signis award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Special Mention at the Cine-Kid Film Festibal in Amsterdam. The film, to date, has been exhibited in more than 40 film fests around the world. It will screen in South Africa this March. Since I was used to 16mm filmmaking using a Bolex camera (very small animation camera) and making documentaries, I applied what I learned from guerilla filmmaking. And since digital cameras are very light, I wanted to create a movement that could go to places that a 16mm camera would go because of the limit of time (you can only film 30 seconds with a Bolex). Since, I'm experimental in nature. I attempted shots that couldn't be done with a film camera. In the end, giving it a gritty look with long shots.

DMN: How do you use the Internet to generate interest in the films that you make?
Auraeus Solito: Thanks to the Internet, connections and invitation for film festivals are faster. I remember in 1995 when my first short The Brief Lifespan of Fire was going to Fribourg Film Festival of 3 Continents in Switzerland. We did everything by fax machine. Now, thanks to the Internet, festival invites are so fast, and I can stay in touch with all my friends in the world.

DMN: Have you abandoned traditional film cameras? Can you achieve the look you are after with digital camcorders?
Auraeus Solito: I am amazed by the Panasonic AG-DVX100B camera which has a 24p frame capacity. We shot Maximo with that. In fact, in the original digital format, when it was projected, people thought it was film. We competed with 15 films shot on film and we won the Golden Zenith.

DMN: What kind of editing system is used to put together your films and why?
Auraeus Solito: Final Cut Pro. According to all the techies and editors, it gives the best resolution and is compatible with the Panasonic 24p capabilities.

DMN: Your first film was shot in miniDV while your latest endeavors are shot in HDV. How is working in HDV different when compared to miniDV? 
Auraeus Solito: We used a Sony HDV-FX 1 for TULI. It has a different look, like fine good video. It was apt for the film since I was simulating an old sepia Filipino film look. The color grading gave it a rich golden hue color to heighten the Filipino earthlike skin tone and the lush greens helped give it a vast epic-provincial look. An ode to Filipino films set in the provinces.

Still from Tuli shot at Viva Films at its new Digital Viva facility.

DMN: What DV cameras did you start with and what HDV cameras are you currently using? 
Auraeus Solito: The Panasonic then the Sony. We are still discussing what I will use next with my cinematographer for my third film PISAY (Philippine Science High). We are planning to use HD this time.

DMN: How about the picture quality with HDV?
Auraeus Solito: I'm a little bit disappointed with HDV since it looks more like video. MiniDV on the Panasonic gave a 16mm look which I was really happy with.

Tuli is Solito's second film.

DMN: Did you have to upgrade your editing systems when you moved to the HDV camcorders?
Auraeus Solito: The new editing facilities in Viva films are compatible with HDV. We actually were the first ones who used both their new camera and editing bed.

DMN: In the Philippines, the movie star is king, yet you are making huge waves on the independent film festival circuit around the world as a director, a feat that few Filipino movie stars achieve. Have doors opened in the Philippines due to your accolades on the international stage?
Auraeus Solito: I got many offers last year, but didn't quite like what they wanted me to do. So I submitted to the third CineMalaya festival, and Pisay got in. They fund films for $10,000 (which actually funded "Maximo" on its first year). I also have a French producer who I met in Berlin, and we are now developing a dramatic film about my roots in Palawan.

DMN: Who in Philippine cinema today would you like to direct?
Auraeus Solito: Nora Aunor, I love her films and brilliant acting.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:Auraeus Solito, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, digital filmmaking, filipino filmmakers

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