Cinema Can Wait (Or The necessary poverty). A conversation with Lav Diaz

by Ian Menoyot

Read in Spanish

Since the early 2000, Mexican and Filipinos films have been shown and appreciated in Europe : often subjects recall European cultural influence or colonization. Do you think there is a link between both cinematography’s ?

Of course, it's part of the histories. The very issue that we are colonized, the very issue is that they think of us as the new world, and they are the old world. It's part of the so called dominant eye or part of our interest is to come and colonize us: they impose everything, they change our perspectives. From Animists we became Catholics in the country, the same with the Mayas and the Incas of Mexico. All this parallel history connects us, yes, everything is connected, continuous.

You often talk about the Hollywood colonization.

It's still the most powerful thing in cinema. It's over the world. It's Hollywood-colony. In the Philippines street theaters are gone. It's all multiplexes and 99% of films shown are from Hollywood. All is blockbuster. And it's being imposed because they are all around medias, they are part of this big syndicate distributing cinema all over the world. And yes, we are the pariahs, even in our own countries – my cinema is not being shown there.

Don't you think the so-called culture of “cinema d'auteur” has become a model by itself, with its own kind of market and ideology ? After Truffaut's article wrote in 1955 about the « Politique des Auteurs », it seems that todays “authors” has forgotten the word “politic” in it, regrets Godard.

But it's up to them in an individual act. Being an author is also being political, because you follow your own perspective. It's not just making art for art sake; you want to impose your perspective on your art. You're embracing another form. It's an ideology now, so it's a political line. The way I make my cinema is because I want to impose my politics in a non-propagandist way. I want to create real characters and real narratives. But it's still very political, you see it. I think Godard is wrong on saying being only an author is not being political.

But we know this is an European conception of art and your films are mostly shown in Europe.

It's being shown in the Philippines but in cine-clubs, campuses, art houses. But that's part of the struggle. You have to accept it. You have to embrace it. The big festivals all over the world invite you : it's a forum, a little space to propagate it. Europeans invite my film, I come. I discourse in it, it's part of the struggle. I have faith in cinema : one day some Filipinos can see it. It won't stop me from making films just because so few Filipinos see it, it's because you're fighting this big wall of ignorance and market that you cannot penetrate now but you know some day you will. Cinema is timeless if you do it well, it will stay forever. If you don't have this kind of understanding you will either join the market or abandon your art, your medium, your tool. The very act of pleasing people is an act of compromise. It's poison. The very act is destroying your medium already. Don't ever do it, don't please people, don't please the Europeans. I don't do that, I don't want to do that.

Do you think Europeans expect this from you?
Sometimes it's a fetish for them. It's their coke. But I don't want to compromise my work. If they think it's just part of their fetish it's their problem. But I want my films to be pure. If they think it's exotic, let them be exotic, I didn't do it to please your fetish on oriental cinema or something that is mysterious to you or to please your curiosity. You are right there : some programmers, a lot of them, they please their fetish of the thing. To them, something new is something exotic. They feel that need, that demand. But I don't want to do that of course. I see young Filipinos accepting that kind of propositions, you can understand, they are not discerning enough, so they want to travel, so they create the supply for this demand. It's all about ignorance.

Did you ever refuse?

Yes, a lot of times. 

Screenings, financial help?

Yes : it's happening right now. They know that I just finished shooting five months ago and a lot of festivals are fighting now “give it to us!”. But they haven't seen it, I'm still editing. I cannot give it until I finish the work. I don't want to be bothered by the festival fiesta. It's very dangerous, the seduction thing of the festivals. It's very tempting to be part of the game, part of their modus operandi. Because it's their interest, it creates power in them. Ultimately the power again is colonization... very imperialistic kind of thing.

How do you fight that system?

The best revenge is doing it well and not minding them. They cannot fight that. They will come anyway. The best tool is creating your work well, not rushing it just because they are giving you a deadline... Give yourself some freedom, some time to do it well. If it's eleven hours, show it. Sometimes they come to the Philippines, I send them a copy and they say “it's beautiful but it's nine hours. Can you do it a bit shorter like three hours for us ?” I say no. It's not my loss. To me the issue of creative control is really important. The most important thing is to create cinema for the discourse of cinema. You really need to have strong will to be able to fight it.

I observe that in matters of production, in today's industry and organization of work - either you finance films with private or public funds - poverty in technical means is some kind of gain.

It simplifies it. Things must be functional. You do it the Marxist way : use what you have. Be functional. It will not help if you keep thinking “I need 35mm and for this I need to raise 5 millions” but it will take two years to raise it ! My god, you're gone. The issue is about aesthetics, the pursuance of your vision and not of this technical things. Just allow yourself to be fluid. If you have a small camera then start doing it, you know. Use that space and time. The very act of pursuing superficial things will cover everything, you will loose your film. When I started I was shooting alone, sometimes friends helped me with the sound. And then you show the film and some people come help ; things are consequential, just do it right, sacrifice a lot, the budget will come. Now I have a budget, I can pay the actors. Before this, it's about understanding, they will have to commit to your perspective as they know you don't have money. They believe in your vision, that we are doing something for culture. They believe that we are beyond the ego, we are not rock stars. We are not doing this for us. We know that one day things will work out and it will help us. It took a long time but I can pay people now, even the government is helping now. A lot of my collaborators are making films themselves. People who believe in your struggle are part of the struggle now.

Soon the Filipinos will vote for a new president and one of the first candidates, Rodrigo Duterte seems to emerge from a dark part of the History of your country. How can this happen ?

Because of the rush of information. It's a different culture now. You see the computer and you can just pick little things of information and they think it's memory already. They rush things, it's their culture and they are loosing it. They don't even understand history, they don't have historical perspectives, they don't know how to confront the past so they don't know how to confront their own struggles. They are so lost. You call this the big wall of ignorance. They will have to confront it one day, at some point because they know that they are so lost. When you see the works, it's very ignorant. As an individual, the only thing I can do is cinema. Also I believe that my generation failed very bad, my only contribution is cinema. This is my tool, I can only create this paradigm with people doing films. I believe in things that are timeless. If you want to help humanity you must create greater cinema. It will be there forever as a paradigm, as a model for us to improve ourselves, to push humanity. The greatest examples of this are Tarkovski, Antonioni, Rossellini. These are like the cardinal rules in making aesthetics because they worked hard on it. We need space and time, really examine things, not rush. Culture must work slowly and surely. Cinema can wait.

November 2015, Motel One 120 royal street, Brussels
Retrospective of his films organized by Courtisane, CINEMATEK, Bozar, Flemish service for film culture