This page is dedicated to Alexis Tioseco. You can drop your words about him at this page.
This Is Not An Elegy
Vinita Ramani Mohan
News of Alexis and Nika reached me on 2nd September sometime around 12pm. It was a hot day and I was waiting to take a bus to some place to have lunch. I was starving. When the phone call from ASEF’s David Ocon came, I was excited. I’d been slowly trying to re-connect disparate threads in the arts community. I wanted to tell them, “I’m back!” I wanted to do it before they could ask me the proverbial question: “When are you leaving?” I’d somehow gotten the reputation for always leaving. Singapore had become a transit stop, not a home, and friends had become acquaintances. I’d always been thirsty for community, but I was always building transient ones.
David stopped my thoughts with a despondent re-telling of what he had heard and read in the news. I hadn’t seen him in well over a year, but I could see his face as he spoke. Melodramatic cinema has a way of portraying the reception of bad news – the whole world around you falls silent, as if someone suddenly threw a vast woollen blanket over it and shut it out so that it is just you and your internal universe. Everyone moves slowly, everything seems further away, incidental, inconsequential.
When I heard the news, noises just seemed to increase. The traffic was loud, the air dense and oppressive. I could not hear David clearly. I could hardly hear myself think. People arrived at the bus-stop. They glanced at me, they saw something was wrong and they looked a few seconds longer than they should have. Then they boarded their buses, and they got on with their lives. Nothing stopped.
I felt nothing. I waited. I got on a bus and my hands shaking, I searched in my bag for my MP3 player. I had to hear something other than everyday sounds. I put on Arcade Fire’s Funeral – an album of songs the band had written following a year of unexpected deaths: parents, grandparents, friends. The song, “Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)” came on:
“Come on Alex, you can do it. Come on Alex, there’s nothin’ to it. If you want somethin’ don’t ask for nothin, if you want nothin’ don’t ask for somethin’!”
And then I cried.
On August 30th, we’d exchanged e-mails and we had planned to meet at the Asian Film Symposium in Singapore, from September 18th to 22nd. We were excited about meeting and curious to see where our lives had taken us. Different conversations were coming together. A week before, I’d spoken to Wenjie about the things I missed most about the Singapore International Film Festival, in the incarnation I remembered from 4 to 5 years ago. I missed the sense of community and I missed the friendships I’d built around the festival – like dancers in a carnival bonding for no other reason than the ecstatic pleasure of congregating and loving the same thing.
I missed coming in to work every day, my head full of images from the various films I’d taken home to watch the evening before. I missed the distinct scent, sensation and energy of those mornings – walking out with Philip Cheah to get a cup of coffee and talking about what I’d seen, or what I had read by a writer or critic on a film or a series of films I had watched. All that mattered then was to watch these films, to learn as much as I could, to write and read. The more difficult task of persuading others to care about some of what I’d seen aside, I felt I was in the right place at the right time.
I hadn’t seen Alexis in a while and was looking forward to experiencing that feeling again, only this time, with him. My conversation with Wenjie was in the back of my head and I knew Alexis and I had many stories to share, well beyond cinema. In an essay called “The Letter I Would Love to Read to You in Person” written for Rogue on his life and his loves last year (2008), Alexis wrote: “Because one of the greatest joys I believe one can feel is to share that which they find beautiful with someone who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed it, and to see it appreciated.”
I wasn’t merely looking forward to seeing Alexis again because I wanted to catch up on our old discussions about cinema. He’d have known I required no persuasion and of course, I didn’t need to tell him about cinema.
I was waiting for something more than that: I was waiting for a conversation about the trajectories our lives had taken and why it all still somehow connected back to the soul, to our souls and what moved us. That conversation was cut short. And so, as with Alexis’ letter to Nika, I write now, a letter to Alexis; a letter that I hope will express what I’d intended to share. I suspect Alexis would have hated elegies. He’d have preferred letters, essays and a sincere, passionate struggle to find the right words to express the most difficult of thoughts. It is what he loved in Nika and it is what he expected of me, of many of us for whom he created a space to inhabit as writers. So no elegy. No eulogy even. Just a letter.
Who came up with “Jack of all Trades, Master of None”? It’s a pathetic aphorism that tells us more about modern society’s need to create dutiful servants and acquiescent staffers to fill offices than it does about an individual’s ability to learn, to grow, to change.
It doesn’t take much digging to quickly realise that what our predecessors aspired to was diversity, plurality, difference. How else can you explain the fact that ancient civilizations would send out their young to learn astronomy, art, languages, physics, mathematics, philosophy, painting, building – all of it, all at once? Everything was linked, but distinct. Now, everything is fragmented, guards policing the borders of our minds, academic disciplines, arts, countries.
But I digress.
This is just my elaborate and obtuse way of telling you I’m sorry if it appears as though I have abandoned cinema and writing about cinema. If I started out being passionate about it, I should’ve stuck to it and my disappearing act has probably left some members of the film community thinking, “Ah, she always was a fickle one…had her hand in too many things.” Or maybe not.
I know you won’t hold it against me, but I have this need to always provide context and rationalise my position to everyone I know. One day, I hope to outgrow it. But until I do, I want to tell you a story about the roads I’ve taken.
I have not abandoned cinema.
Cinema, like everything that came before it and led me to it, just led me to other things.
The directions I take, the things I do, it’s a bit like those Russian Dolls: I look at something, I spend time with it, I then open it and find something else inside: a variation on the theme, a distinct theme altogether, a new avenue that I couldn’t have arrived at without taking the road before it.
In high school, literature was all that kept me sane. It was the only discipline in which my penchant for using “big words” was accepted. In every other class, I was made fun of for acting too smart. Literature led me to public speaking and debating (more words, more of the joy of working with them, articulating, weaving and disassembling ideas to put together new thoughts). I felt literature had been like a spiritual guide to me, protecting me and opening my eyes to the world, without asking anything in return.
So in university, it let me go off and explore everything else that was out there. It’s as though literature said, “I am in everything, so you can’t really depart from me.”
Literature led me to film studies, cultural studies and philosophy. Everything embedded in those disciplines began making me think of identity, of difference, of culture and social memory. Everything in those disciplines exposed me to how people were telling stories about themselves; how people remember, forget, understand and struggle to understand their place in the world. Cinema was filled with it; philosophy was filled with it. All of that led me to social justice and jurisprudence, because so many of the stories I read or watched onscreen articulated a struggle to comprehend injustices in the world.
So for my Masters I studied just that. I studied about ethnic minorities and the law; about identity and plurality, social justice and culture.
And so, it’s all come full circle. Cinema was a rotating, 360-degree door-way and it is always there, it is always about the stories people tell about the universes they inhabit.
And something in the Southeast Asian films I’d seen began triggering something in me; a desire perhaps, to enter that world beyond the screen. A desire to understand why it is that some filmmakers kept wrestling with their countries and why it is that their country’s struggle had somehow become their own – something they’d make films about, something they’d die feeling deeply. And I wanted to know what was beyond particular portrayals of Southeast Asian countries – why only particular kinds of stories were being told about particular cultures. Why, with the incredible plurality of stories, with versions of reality beyond our imagining, some film industries, some filmmakers compromised and told the version they knew would be saleable.
What was beyond the screen? What if I wanted to step out of the theatre and into that reality? What then? And that is why, 2 years ago, a week after my wedding, which you attended, I left for Cambodia with my husband, to begin what was to become a long learning process on how to work with survivors of genocide. Everyone thought we were misguided. During the wedding, relatives and colleagues of my husband’s parents advised them to not allow us to go. “It’s dangerous,” they said. “It’s a lawless country. Most of these developing countries are.” We in Singapore have gotten used to rationalising our existence, our very being and identity as a success by pointing to the political failures around us. “Yes we’re staid and controlled. But think of how much worse they have it,” people seemed to say in their own, indirect manner.
Others were flummoxed by our decision. Brows furrowed, they jokingly and a little worriedly asked, “Is this your idea of an extended honeymoon?” We smiled, we shook our heads and we tried to use the words that would make sense to people for whom the decision was senseless. You called yourself a film critic because that was all that made sense to the audience, to the public. We called ourselves “volunteer workers” because that was all that made sense to our audience. Same difference.
And so we spent 6 months living in Cambodia and we began learning about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. We began learning about how people read and felt about an event in history that so many had written about, but which was still poorly understood because the stories of the people in the villages are not the stuff of history books.
And that was it. In those 6 months, we began cultivating trusting relationships with the NGOs we worked with. Inside jokes and unspoken understanding. Somehow, we’d found points of cultural resonance, somehow there was a sense of connection. They liked us because we were from “Undiah”, which is how they said “India” in Khmer. That we were Indians from Singapore only made it better – we were related to them from another time, and we were close to them geographically in the current context. Win-win.
In those 6 months, Mahdev changed and I shifted with him. He’d somehow found another “home” and he had finally found purpose, a situation where he could put his desires to become a public interest lawyer to use. He could finally be the lawyer he’d dreamt of being in university.
In the villages, the survivors would ask if the “maytiehvi from Undiah” (lawyer from India) would work with them, if he would petition the courts to do right by the survivors. And Mahdev could nothing but answer questions, give out leaflets and go back to Phnom Penh. He felt how inadequate that was.
Meanwhile, I began gathering stories of survivors in the provinces and in the city and realised that their narratives, their world-view, their ritual universe and their idea of justice and peace, of forgetting and remembering, was not being reflected anywhere in the public domain.
In the fight for funding, in the fight for recognition when the judges and jury are powerful western donors, if Cambodian NGOs did not speak the discourse of western human rights, reconciliation and of memory and remembrance as it had been written about by Holocaust scholars and survivors, they could not be heard.
Gaps. Everywhere, we saw yawning chasms. And everywhere we turned, we were the only Singaporeans in the social justice arena; I don’t say this to say we were heroes, or that we are champions and pioneers. Everywhere in Southeast Asia and beyond, there are countless Singaporeans doing charity work through church missions; others are engaged in developmental work and plenty of silent community workers keep at it, dedicatedly.
But still, powerful discourses dominated. There were particular ways of thinking and for thinking in those ways, you could be sure to receive donor funds and support.
Parallels. You couldn’t use the word “critic” anywhere, because to criticize is anathema to the spirit of community, you’d been told. We couldn’t employ particular discourses either, because there was no room for it as it was anathema to the spirit of charity. Charity was acceptable, activism and engagement using indigenous discourses were a little too new, a little too strange.
Support: no support for what you’d undertaken to do because you felt compelled and joyous when you worked for and with cinema in the Philippines. So you taught yourself. And that is where we found ourselves as well – doing work no one particularly cared for because it had no religious backing, no political sense and no strategic value. So we taught ourselves.
And the more we did, the more we shared with friends, the more people wanted to come on board and help. The more the team grew, the more we realised we had to function cohesively. We’d existed so far as a couple doing our own work and that would always be the case. But we realised the work deserved more, if it was to become sustainable, meaningful; if it was to out-live us and our own dreams. So last year we set up Access to Justice Asia, an NGO dedicated to representing victims of mass crimes in Asia and we’re now neck-deep in our work in Cambodia, our sights set on other countries in our region.
Why? Because we’d opened the door and stepped through; because the stories I’d seen in dark cinemas, the stories I’d afterwards written about and discussed with the filmmakers who’d written and directed these films – all these stories were now alive before me, moving every day, shifting in unexpected ways. As Judith Butler had written, the narratives were showing themselves to be what they actually were: “unnarrativizable.” Always incomplete, always subject to take you by surprise.
And I think of Marcos, Suharto, I think of the Burmese military dictatorship; I think of Hun Sen and Arroyo. I think of the stories I’d heard and seen. I think of the filmmakers who would respond to these political realities cinematically. I think of the filmmakers who tried to tell other stories.
And that is what I dreamt Access to Justice Asia would be about – the stories I’d seen in the films, the stories I have yet to hear and pay witness to. And that is why, in a not-entirely-unexpected turn, I’ve begun writing plays: because of those very same stories. Because of Wole Soyinka’s Yoruba ritual-filled universe in which he hangs dictators out to dry; because of his jail sentence. Because of Tawfiq El-Hakim’s portrait of Egypt as a magical place not rife with cultural contradictions, but cultural paradoxes; because of Tomson Highway’s plays of the indigenous Cree living in northern Canada, living to tell tales of tricksters and hybrid Indians beyond the tales of abuse and assimilation and genocide; because of stories.
Everything has changed, but you see, nothing has changed. Literature led me to philosophy and cinema, which led me to justice and jurisprudence, which led me to social justice work, which has led me back to literature and….
And that is how the cycle will go and it will not stop and like the people of old, I’d like to think it’s all there, linked. And like the Tralfamadorians in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5, I’d like to think all of time and all of place is linked like a chain of mountains, and if you could step back far enough, you would see it all – connected.
And so Alexis, if we had met on 18th September 2009 in Singapore, I would have asked you to bring me up to speed on what is happening in the Philippines; what is happening with your curatorial work and what you and Nika have planned for the future. But I would not have felt disconnected from that world, though I exist in it so infrequently these days.
Because it all connects and because, like you, I owe my debts too. I owe it to literature, to philosophy, to cinema, to social justice. Like you, I owe it to the countries that have invited me in, allowed me to learn.
But we can’t have this conversation.
So here is my picture of the world, the one which I inhabit. In my ritual universe, you had a great deal of work left to do: many dreams left to fulfil and many plans for the Philippines and beyond.
In my ritual universe, Shiva is seen by conventional scholars as the “God of Destruction.” That’s what you get with western dichotomies: destruction and creation. In my universe, he is the greatest of all gods because he represents dissolution. Without dissolution, nothing would begin again and continue, indefinitely.
In my ritual universe, you will both begin again. Alexis and Nika have passed, but only as Alexis and Nika. I know you’ll both return and I know you’ll continue the work you began, because you were not finished. And in that spirit, I know we all have an obligation, a debt we owe to you, to continue that work as well. So we will, in our own ways, with our own stories.
And to go back to Vonnegut: the Tralfamadorians believe that all time is like that chain of mountains. Everything is happening now, all at once. Here, at the east end of the chain, you were born and you were a child moving from the Philippines to Canada. Over there at the other end, you and Nika passed. Over here in the middle, you are both travelling, writing, filling your lives and ours with your thoughts, your ideas. You are both always eternally there.
In the world of the Tralfamadorians, you are not gone. Death is a moment taking place over there, but every other moment is as significant, as potent, as present as all the other moments. You are not over, nor is Nika. You both persist, exist.
That is a universe I read about when I was 16 years old and I have always hung on to it because it made sense somehow. Always already there. Always persisting, always vibrant, always resonant.
So this is the story I wanted to tell you. A story of trajectories, spiralling away and spiralling back. A story of always persisting and always staying alive and open to change, to possibility.
This is your story. It is Nika’s story…a story we all write and which never ends.
Love and Peace,
My Friend Alexis Tioseco
It was a shocking morning to hear what happened with my friend Alexis Tioseco. I was going to have an important meeting, my adrenalin was high and I almost lost it. Tried to rationalized everything and went to the meeting anyway. I survived the meeting, went back to the office with my colleagues to continue my work for Europe On Screen 2009. In between my home and my office I tried to tell everybody the story about Alexis, my not so close friend. But I think I failed.
Not until I was alone in the office, when everybody’s gone I realized I was still in shock about what happened and just couldn’t bear it alone. I went to the Film Studies Club at Jakarta Arts Institute to find other people, anybody to make me go through this. But the discussion about the French Cinema already finished. Chat a little with some people and then decided to leave sooner. My best friend Olin Monteiro would like to meet and have dinner with me somewhere in Kuningan. I got to see her. Soon. I really lost it this time.
After hours of telling stories to each other and looking for some DVDs with Olin, I finally could calm myself down. I know I am nobody compare to Alexis’s friends in Philippines and Canada or maybe other parts of the world. I only have a few small moments in the several years I known him. But the fact he was gone just like that really haunts me. I feel if I could just share whatever I have to everybody else, no matter how small it is, I could make peace with my own sadness. To get through it, somehow.
I first knew Alexis during the Film Conference in Singapore back in 2003. I remember it was such a serious conference and at some point we were interested more in discussing about how to develop this networking among film activists in South-East Asia in a different level. I was talking about a South-East Asian film magazine and Alexis thought it was good idea. But how could we find the money? At the end he thought we might start something anyway by discussing it. All these discussions we made through short letters we sent back and forth to each other, so we wouldn’t disturb the real conference. Later he did start the criticine.com and really shaped the idea into a real action. And now I finally start the Boemboe Meeting Point, a journal about short film, only five years later.
In 2005 he went to Jakarta with his friend from Manila. He asked if he could stay over at my place since I had an extra small room for this purpose. I told him I was going to Rotterdam (Film Festival) the next day after he arrived. The night when I was suppose to go to the airport, something must be jammed in my mind because I missed the flight. I had to go back home and catch another flight the next day. The next thing I remember was in the morning when Alexis and his friend (ah! I completely forgot the name) were watching me sleeping and whispered to each other, “Wow, she really did miss the flight!”
Another event happened in 2006 when we had Jakarta Slingshort Fest, a short film festival for South-East Asian filmmakers. I was helping the festival organizing the 2 special discussions with most of jury members as the speakers. Alexis was one of them. He was acting little bit different, as if we just met that day for the first time. This might get something to do with the misunderstanding between us about one of the film he got from my organization Boemboe for the film program of MOV Film Festival. After a few days we came back like old friends. This time maybe caused by the peanut sweet candy he gave me, the souvenir from Manila that I loved so much. Or the fact that he got chased by lots of new ‘fans’ and made him felt awkward, especially because they were all guys.
The next moment we had got even less intense, when he sent sms to me, asked me to join him to dinner together with some friends during his short visit in Jakarta. I was in a train on the way to Semarang and couldn’t make it. And that’s it. My last moment with him. I just let it slipped away and now he’s gone. I might be survived this tragedy, I might not. But one thing for sure, it was a great pleasure to know Alexis. If I could have another chance to meet him one last time, I will not say goodbye. I will say, “Thank you for being the way you were…”
Some people I like instantly. You were one of them Alexis.
We were at the first ASEAC conference in April 2004. I was sitting at the conference table, you were sitting opposite me, a bit more in the back, on a chair. Sometimes our eyes met, laughing about a funny remark, or raising our eyebrows over professors sleeping and ‘knowing better’.
It was fun the way you commented with just your eyes and the expression on your face. It was fun the way you laughed as much about the cheesy clip from an Indonesian horror film that I presented as I did every time I watched it. It was fun to be in your company when we went around Singapore before we went to the airport together with Lulu.
In only a few days it was as if I had known you a long time. I remember you filmed a lot when we were walking around together, the danger high voltage at the ‘van Heeren’ cafe, leaking soymilk in the taxi. When we met last year you said you still had the footage. You didn’t like your picture being taken, but I did, during the conference and in the taxi on our way to the airport.
While we were waiting for our planes I was making jokes about you being so young and so idealistic. You had, really, a lot of ideals for which you stood up, and there was a lot I could relate to. We both truly loved ‘South East Asia’, and of course film. You really felt at home in the Philippines, I in Indonesia. We both had fathers who we had to convince that we were not dreamers but that our ideals could be turned into something real.
But there were also differences. While my ideals still much involved me, and my live, yours surpassed you, and yours. Your ideals went further to the extent that you were thinking of what you could mean to the Philippines, and particular its world of film, filmmakers, students, and people. More than that your ideals stretched out to making a difference for film in the region and perhaps beyond.
You made so much out of these ideals only within a few years. When your father passed away you succeeded not only in materializing your ideals, but also in combining them with taking over his company. You set up Criticine, taught film classes, wrote articles. Actually, you did it all.
I really admire you so much for your achievements and the person you are. We didn’t see each other much, but it was so nice to know there was someone like you around somewhere in this world. Alexis you made a difference. I’m very grateful to have known you. I do not want to make any false promises but I hope to help out with keeping Criticine alive and in the future make more plans and choices in your spirit.
So Alexis, tell me if god is really gay
It was ASEACC 2006 at Kuala Lumpur when we met for first time. We were introducing each other and then he said; owh, then we will be in same panel. I will be the moderator. So there he was at the panel. Nevertheless, an hour before, he was came to me and ask what should we talk for the panel. I was laughing and said; I don’t know!
However, we did the panel quite well, at least in our standard. After the panel he was came to me and said; for him, it was the best panel during the conference because we didn’t do any papers at all because we are too lazy to do it. I didn’t agree with him for that because I told him the reason why I didn’t write a paper because I’m joining ‘save the forest’ program.
I was amazed how this person can be so clever and handsome. I really admire his knowledge, which sometime makes me unconfident to talk about serious matter in front of him. He was telling me something that I kept remember until now as one of the best joke I ever heard; the point to be a Phd is to make you able to say RE-imagining, DE-construction, RE-reading and all those ‘two letters’ that sound really smart.
When we met at Jakarta in 2008, we were hanging out at a coffee shop with some people. I don’t remember who, but one of us asking him if he is gay. He was laughing really hard because he got same question from a girl that he met at Yogyakarta. He was asking us what symptom that he has to make us think that he is gay.
“I don’t know, I just feel it. You have the ‘sign’”, said this person.
“What sign? My feminine sign?” he replied.
“Could be. Sometime you are showing this kind of gesture that make people think you are gay”, the other replied.
“Is it a problem for you if I am really gay?”
“Well, what disappoint if you are not”, I replied.
“Are you gay Dimas?”, he asked.
“Sadly I’m not, but god is gay”, I replied.
“Bisexual I assume”, he said.
“A hermaphrodite” I said.
I was sending him several emails after KL conference but he never replies it. Then I wrote an email and say if he’s not replying it I will tell Gaik about his ‘Phd joke’. Then he replied. He said he was so busy to write articles and preparing an important changing for criticine website. He said it’s so difficult to properly manage criticine web with his tons of things to do. Busy guy.
We share some issues about ASEACC. About how its supposed to be, what things that ASSEAC should do as an organization, and especially about his thought for ASEACC conference at Manila. He was regretting that I couldn’t attend the conference at Manila. I regret it more. We were having some ‘evil plan’ to do during the conference. I wrote to him I didn’t come because he was not coming for Jakarta’s conference.
Forum Lenteng’s office was our last meeting. There was nothing important to talk, just chitchat and make bunch of stupid jokes. There is no time to say goodbye, because we were so convince that we’ll meet again. I still do believe in that.
A reflection; after hearing of Alexis Tioseco’s death
I was shocked to hear about the death of Alexis and his Slovenian girlfriend, Nika Bohinc, who is also a film critic. I have not had the chance to reply to Alexis’ last email. In July, he asked me to write for a special issue of Criticine (www.criticine.com), a website on South East Asian cinema. Since I was extremely busy, I told him I would think about it and promised to write to him soon. I never did.
I regret I have never met Nika in person. In my eyes she was a muse – someone you could fall in love with and make you think about your attachment to space. A year ago Alexis sent me his “love letter” for her, published in Rouge, which reflects his stirring love affair with Philippine cinema. I forwarded the article/ letter to some friends (his admirers and people interested in SEA cinema), and Alexis – half joking — protested, “How dare you forwarding the article without letting me know what you think of it?” I was stuck in my room in New York, writing about Indonesian cinema, so I said, “I have to go. Next time I’ll give you my comments.” I never did, of course.
With many other promises left unfulfilled, I decided to say a few words about the article here. In his published love letter Alexis wrote, “It is important for people to write about their own cinemas and not let it be left to those outside to dictate what matters.” A truly romantic statement. Like watching a film by Kidlat Tahimik. A mix of nationalism and nostalgia, fused with some postcolonial/ Third cinema spirit (apparently not wavering), in the transnational landscape, the very site that constantly moved him around as a film critic. This was the site that gave him the opportunity to meet Nika, and, at the same time, the site that provoked questions on to leave or not to leave:
“My dear Nika, If there has been a single cause of strain that has stuck out in our relationship it is this: the idea of my attachment to the Philippines, the strong desire you see that I have to live and work here, and the way that, perhaps, you see this as a matter of misappropriate priorities. Does a place mean more than a person? Does my work in the Philippines mean more than the possibility of a life with you, somewhere, anywhere else?”
Does a place mean more than a person?
Is being attached to space similar to being attached to place? What difference does it make if I do my work on Indonesian cinema in New York, or in Jakarta, or somewhere else?
In struggling with these questions, I have heard people – Asian Ph.D. students like me – talking about their uncertain future in the global age and why the so-called “national” matters (or not).
“Do you want to go back or do you want to teach here in the U.S.?”
“I don’t know. May be I’ll try to get a job here.”
“May be I’ll return to China, but it depends.”
“I don’t know where I’ll be in the next three years.” (my line).
“Just because I’m Korean doesn’t mean I have to write about Korean cinema.”
“I’ve never heard of Indonesian cinema.”
“That’s why I’m writing about it.” (my line)
Does it sound so old-fashioned, or even fascistic, to talk about the national — or to admit it as what motivates our work? On the other hand, should we accuse the transnational subjects, circulated (and privileged) by cultural and economic capitals, for having a partial view on what really matters at home?
Perhaps it is Alexis’ statement – “writing about our own cinemas” — that drives me, in the same landscape that has mercilessly moved me around, from the west to the east coast, from south to north and, in transit, to south again.
When I visited my colleagues at the English Department in Indonesia, a professor lamented why so many of us “betrayed” the department by pursuing our research abroad on irrelevant subjects (Indonesian film, media, literature). He asked why I decided to focus on Indonesian cinema and abandoned my undergraduate interest in English literature (more specifically, 19th century British Romanticism).
Unlike Alexis’ clear stance, the question of attachment to space/place to me remains floating. But on the question of “why Indonesian cinema,” I have several answers (I wrote other answers for my dissertation proposal, which of course are less defensive and more sophisticated): Because it is unheard in some parts of the world. Because Australian scholar Krishna Sen, however eloquent she is, should not bear the burden of being the only spokesperson of Indonesian cinema. Because Indonesian cinema has given me so much, and, quoting Alexis, “one must pay back one’s debts.”
I was talking with my father when I received the sad news this morning. I interrupted the conversation and told him, “My friend was shot dead last night. The one from Manila.” He asked, “The one who came to Jakarta and brought some Philippine cookies?”
Yes, that’s the one. And, most of all, the one who reminds me why I do what I do with his relentless passion for Philippine and South East Asian cinemas.
Raya’s Eulogy for Alexis
(Posted by Alexis Tioseco and Raya Martin’s friend Arleen Cuevas on her Facebook account. I was glad Arleen posted this because the not-so-perfect acoustics of the church made it difficult for me to understand some parts of the eulogy. Again, my prayers and condolences to Raya, and to Alexis’ closest and dearest friends…)
Alexis was going to update his website Criticine real soon after years of inactivity. He commissioned film people for a project called Criticine: Love Letters where everyone had to address their passion for anything related to cinema. He thought that the problem with our culture is that we would always on first impulse find weaknesses, flaws. This was one of the reasons why Alexis published just a few articles even if he had all the means and opportunities. He never wrote about a film he hated, because he thought it was a waste of space. He was out there to champion.
This is my love letter.
I don’t know where to begin. You probably were expecting me to write about something obscure. An excerpt from a script by Tarkovsky that he didn’t get to shoot or a scene from a lost Ishmael Bernal film or a famous critic even the buffest of film buffs had never heard of. You know me very well even with this. I was always out there to impress the people and I know you hated me more and more as this happened, but someday pards you will see me come back to where we were and what it was.
Remember the first time we met. I know you remember it very well judging from your perfect pitch impersonation of me trying to impress the 2bU panel with all the sex talk. Then I approached you on the way to the parking lot trying to make small talk. But I already knew you were into film, and at that time I was so frustrated to transfer back to Manila and study film. I was not trying to pick you up sir.
Writing this on a rainy Saturday morning thinking I’m never going to see you again or get those invisible messages soon as I wake up or when I get home drunk as hell or those random emails links quotes. Millions of emails that we kept sending to each other, every hour, every half-hour, sometimes real time, sometimes when we’re sitting next to each other. Links to film essays. Mp3s of songs that touched you. Crazy pictures of Jessica Alba, one of your pathetic attempts to make me straight. I could be straight for you for one day, even if you were gay so many times for me. I taught you your first gay lingo and it was so successful for a time all you could say was chos. I miss you ate.
We were going to conquer the world together. You were my partner in crime every time everywhere. I was just watching Antonioni’s Red Desert some days after I last saw you. Did you remember when we were running like crazy in Berlin to catch the screening because the theater was so far and it was raining. Wet snow everywhere we were balancing trying not to slip, a bus, a kilometer run, we were just on time. But first you had to get some food of course, chips, M&Ms. It was so quiet in the theater that it was difficult to eat those chips. It was also so cozy inside. We were taking turns waking each other up. In the end, I saw the first half and you saw the last one.
You were supposed to move out of the house the day your dad died. We were going to be housemates, a house full of dvds and books and all those lovely things that we called cinema. I was going to shoot every second every minute of every day and you were going to write beautiful things about beautiful films made by beautiful people. We were going to publish the quintessential Filipino film magazine. We were going to write love letters to Hammy Sotto. We were going to make fun of bad films all day, and when we’re tired we’ll just walk to Lav’s place for some wine and diss some more. Khavn was going to pick us up, Arleen, John, Sherad, we’ll drive to the end of the world. We’ll travel the world festival after festival after festival celebrating. I was going to watch girls with you and you were going to watch boys with me. We would find our inbox filled with mails from every famous critic in the world nagging about your article deadlines. Peranson wrote last night checking on all of us here. I’m so happy we got to do that pards, best English film magazine in the world, your first published article and you wrote about me. Tangina pards I’m so happy for us we were always taking these steps together. Which is why I can’t imagine life without you now. I can’t imagine not getting any of those emails before my premieres saying how proud you are of me. I was hoping finally we would be in Cannes together soon. Apichatpong wanted to meet you finally.
I never told you how great your eyes were. Those eyes saw the truth.
I’ve always said that someday when I find a boyfriend, he will only be second to cinema, you know that pards. I love you more than cinema.
I miss you so much pards. The gang misses you so much. We were always arguing but I hope you know that we were always here for you. You had issues with each other but Khavn was first to arrive at your house that night. And John, after all that trouble, you and John now have the loveliest loves in the world. Lav and Sherad are having a discourse and never sleeping. And maybe I am going to sleep with Arleen one day, to try just for you.
I love you pards. Chos.
Let’s meet on the big screen soon, you Nika and I.
PS. I take it back. You are Filipino and the country misses you.