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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

entry arrow1:31 AM | The Muscovado Documentarian

Part 5 of the Dumaguete Design Upstarts Series

Carmen del Prado’s energy is sweet and infectious. That was my first impression of her. And time and again, every time we meet, it is that personality that strikes the most. Formidable, stealthy stuff for a documentarian, if you come to think about it.

Then again, her entire family—the Del Prados, who have made formidable business of being, all of them, artists—is largely cut from the same cloth. The fruit, so they say, never falls far from the tree. When I first got to know her, it was a Carmen still embarking on the possibilities of being a filmmaker. She was still unsure about what she wanted to do with life, considering what surrounded her in her immediate family—Dad Noy was a businessman; Mom Wing was an artist; and then there were the brothers—Miguel was already a gifted hilot, Ramon an animator of increasing renown, and Gabriel a chef.

For Carmen perhaps, the idea of doing a documentary on Dumaguete’s artists was a way of weighing things, of seeing what was there, and finding out what could click within her. I remember that she had emailed me at the start of her project, asking for pointers and leads about whom to contact from the disparate community of artists in Dumaguete.

She began with that list, went off to work, and then a year later, she came out with the finished product—Dumaguete: An Artists’ Haven. And for a first work by a budding documentarian, it was something else entirely: a cohesive narrative about artists in a small city, colorful by all accounts, and threaded all throughout with a confidence that proved exciting. In 2010, the film became Dumaguete’s representative to the annual CineRehiyon, the national film festival of cinematic works from around the region (except Manila). That film proved to be some kind of bellwether for her.

Which is good news because being a documentarian filmmaker is quite a rare breed in the Philippines. Almost all budding filmmakers in the country dream of doing it the fictional route, which is the usual, with their eyes firmly set on Cannes or Berlin. Or a career with StarCinema. What documentarians we do have spring mostly from the news outlets in media organizations: at the forefront of a young generation of documentarians, we have Paolo Villaluna and Patricia Evangelista at the helm of ANC’s Storyline. Sure, there are also Ramona Diaz (Imelda), Monster Jimenez (Kano: An American and His Harem), and Marty Syjuco (who produced Give Up Tomorrow)—but their number still pale considerably in comparison to the hordes of film fictionists. In Dumaguete, the only other person who has made some foray into documentary filmmaking is Anthony Gerard Odtohan, who made Papa Mike and the Rainbow Orphanage in 2008, but Odie is now, alas Tokyo-based. (Disclosure: I’ve produced the 2011 documentary City of Literature with Chinese filmmaker Zhao Lewis Liu, but I don’t really consider myself a full-fledged documentarian. A dabbler, at most.)

Enter Carmen into that rarified rank. That Carmen has considerably gone far at this stage of her career is beyond doubt, and already, together with her filmmaking partners Juls Rodriguez and brother Ramon, she is putting together a commissioned work for an international body, filming in different areas of the country to tell different a story about the Philippines.

“My love for art started when I was very young,” Carmen told me. “A lot of it came from my mom who taught us how to color and paint. It was only recently—in the past three years or so—that I’ve become interested in film.”

She started her film work with a few narratives made for her classes in the College of Saint Benilde—with some fun on the side making music videos with friends and family. She had no inkling then that it was going to be her consuming passion.

But passion it has since become. Her filmmaking, however, is something that she does with an underlying philosophy she compares to sugar, which is apt, since her family—part of Negros’ sugar society—owns a hacienda in Bais City. “My work is like muscovado sugar,” Carmen said, “Raw, not refined, but still sweet. In my first film, for example, I didn’t want it to be too refined or too commercial. I wanted it to be more natural and real. Instead of having the typical narration we find in documentaries, I wanted the film to narrate itself, told from the point of views directly from the local artists themselves. And I think that’s what made it interesting.”

That whirlwind of artistic points of view is something that speaks of her as a sponge for artistic ideas. “I get a lot inspiration from different cultures,” she said. “I like working in new places, meeting different artists and learning new things from them, and getting inspirations from what they do—which is exactly what I’ve done in creating my. That is why this film is something that best describes me as an artist.”

It is her brother Ramon, however, who remains her biggest influence. She said: “The biggest influences in my work are the members of my family, but especially my brother Ramon, who is also interested in film and animation. He has taught me to be the best in what I do, and we always try to team up together when we brainstorm for new projects. He’s one of the best persons whom I can really turn to since we have similar interests.”

And what of her work in the coming years? “What I would really hope to achieve with my work in the future is to become an even better filmmaker,” she said. “To travel more, and to create more films as well as promote the city where I grew up in. Hopefully, my films will become a tool for inspiration to others.”

Photo by Artu Nepomuceno

Next: Veronica Valente-Vicuña as the Vintage Stylist

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