Tokyo 2013 Interview: Film REKORDER Mikhail Red Talks Cinema Pirates And Pioneers

At just 21 years of age Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Red has written and directed his first feature length film. 

Mikhail started his career early under the guidance of his father Raymond Red, a key figure in Filipino independent cinema and the recipient of the Palme d'Or in 2000 for his short film Anino. Like his father, the young director leans towards the experimental and as a result his debut, Rekorder has been shot on a number of different formats which retain their original aspect ratios. 

The film tells the story of Maven, a movie pirate with an obsession for filming the world through his outdated video camera. It's an interesting film dealing with a number of issues including piracy, social media and an increasingly disconnected society but never loses it's focus on a man dealing with trauma. I talked with the director about his film and what it took to get it made and shown in Tokyo.

Is this your first time in Tokyo?

Its my second time, four years ago my father came to Tokyo Film Festival with a full length film in the main competition, Manila Skies, and I came with him. Ever since then its been my dream to come back here so I'm definitely excited to be here with my first full length film.

How's it been so far?

Well it was definitely an uphill struggle. I started with independent short films until finally I had the courage to write a full length screenplay. If your familiar with the Cinemalaya Film Festival in the Philippines, they select ten screenplays every year and give them a modest grant for the film to be produced, about 500,000 pesos. It's a small grant but it's enough to get you started and because of that grant I was able to make Rekorder. It had its world premier in the Philippines at Cinemalaya so this is actually the international premier for the film, the first time I've had a film shown overseas.

Did you raise any other funds?

Mostly through family and friends. I grew up surrounded by people from the industry because of my father so I usually ask people I know to help in the film. We were able to get sponsors and raise money through co-production.

We used different formats to make the film as I wanted it to be a bit experimental. I remained true to the form and if you noticed in the film through the different formats we kept the resolution the same as original but the frame sizes were different. The digital, the small camera, most of the film was shot with the black magic, cell phone videos CCTV. Using guerrilla film making methods you can really compress the budget.

The main character, Maven, is older than you and he's been through some certain life experiences, how did you find writing the script?

Well, growing up in an environment surrounded by people in the industry I keep hearing all these story's about the former golden age of Philippine cinema it was definitely an influence on me. In a way it was a homage, a tribute, but if you look at my film and my fathers the main difference is my films tend to be more modern. In a way I'm trying to find a new approach, new ways to narrative film making that's why I used the new formats that technology can provide whereas my father's films tend to be tributes to classical Hollywood film making. 

The screenplay started from an idea I had while watching an actual viral video of a kid that was victim of random street violence who was unfortunately slain, and he was at that time about the same age as me so that really disturbed me. I developed this idea and then I integrated different issues in film like the evolution of cinema. In a way it's evolving but at the same time its being bastardized into different formats and through social media and viral media, so I put all that together and made Rekorder. Thankfully it was chosen for Cinemalaya and now I'm here in Tokyo.

You reference the golden age of Philippine cinema in the movie which you grew up around, how do you feel about those films now?

Well during the eighties, that's were my father started, mostly at the time it was all mainstream studio films. He was one of the pioneers of the independent film movement, one of the first people to just shoot his own movie on super eight. Of course it's always a conversation topic and growing up I always heard stories from him and that's why I decided to follow him, he never forced me into it. Naturally being exposed to that kind of background I found my way into film making. For me the best locals films of the time came from that period and in Rekorder the main character mentions a couple of them.

How does the current generation of young Philippine filmmakers feel about those films, do they still care about them? Do they still watch them?

Well mostly during the early 2000's with the explosion of digital cinema things became more accessible, there was no way to see them before that, unfortunately sometimes the only way to see them was through pirated media, a subject tackled in the film. Nowadays its becoming more accessible because we start having these festivals that are tributes to the classical cinema and there's all these films now being shown in mainstream theaters. 

Of course in film school most students are required to watch these films so a lot of new filmmakers are paying tribute to classic Filipino cinema, but there's also a new wave of filmmakers trying to push forward and create new forms. In a way I feel like I'm combining both of them in Rekorder, paying tribute to both and combining them to make something else.

The main character in the film, Maven, is a video pirate but you don't seem to judge him for this. What are your opinions on people who pirate cinema and how do feel about the way the government is tackling the issue?

Well recently its become a huge problem in the Philippines. There have been some campaigns against it and in the film I've shown that there's been an increase in theater security and the number of raids being conducted are much higher. Before the film we had to do research and we interviewed the heads of the optical media board and that's how we learned that these pirates would smuggle camcorders in and they would sometimes shoot in teams, one guy would shoot one half and another guy in another cinema would shoot the other half because you couldn't fit two hours on a mini dv tape. That's how we learned that theaters are beefing up security now there are bag inspections in the entrance and they use might vision goggles to spot 'cameras', they call pirates 'cameras'. 

There is an ad now when you watch films in a mainstream theater its a short comedy skit and they say if you spot a 'camera' they will reward you with a small bounty so new measures are definitely being put in place. The problem is slowly starting to be solved but as is mentioned in the film the root problems are still there it's the small people that are being stepped on. The raids are mostly for these DVD vendors but the syndicate, the head, is still there 

Although the film tackles piracy it's not the main subject of the film, it's more Mavens quest for self redemption, it's about him becoming stuck in the past in this obsolete camcorder while the world and cinema is changing around him he's not paying attention to the world anymore he's not moving with the world. If you notice the film doesn't have a hard stance on piracy in fact it was quite open ended in fact when the raid ends you can here someone shout that cinema is free, it is for everyone, so its up to you to decide.

Maven is played by Ronny Quizon, how did you end up working with this actor?

That's one thing we have in common, he's the son of a very famous legend of an actor, Dolphy, who recently passed away. In a way Ronny is also following in his fathers footsteps and acting in films, he was in my fathers film in the 90's so after watching my fathers work I immediately noticed him. So after writing the script he was one of the first people I called up for the role, he was what I imagined Maven looked like and fit the role.

Filipino society comes across as very violent in the film, how true do you think this is?

Parts of the film are definitely rooted in reality for example the viral video that inspired the film, but I feel like while living in manila it's something that you come across in the news daily even if its not something you experience personally. It's part of the environment you live in. Story's like this are unavoidable and unnecessary. It's a awake up call for the government who are taking new measures on street crime. 

Recently the city has been developing and there's now more CCTV cameras in place, in fact a couple of years ago our evening news program had this section called 'CCTV Patrol' where they showed how crimes are solved from CCTV camera footage and encouraged bystanders to upload cell phone videos of anything suspicious. Because of the evolution of cinema and viral media, in a way it's a double edged sword as it can help us remedy things and solve problems but at the same time in the film you can see that in the beginning of the film it is why Maven is disconnected, he can't see what is in front of him because his camera is always in the way he sees the world through lenses .

So are you critical of the passive spectators just watching these violent acts and recording them?

Yes, apathy has always been a problem, people tend to mind their own business because they don't want any trouble and in fact that was one of the issues when the viral video came out, no one came to help the kid, everyone just recorded the videos but eventually the videos where used to arrest the culprits, That was a big issue why no one helped.

What do you think about the state of Filipino cinema right now?

With new film festivals young filmmakers like me are given the chance for our voices to be heard. In fact, at the Cinemalaya film festival the main section is called the 'New Breed' section. They pick ten scripts and it has to be either your first or second film. They're definitely trying to encourage the new generation of film makers and its becoming a big thing in the Philippines, every year it is expanding. So there's an explosion of new filmmakers in the Philippines, especially now that everything is more accessible, its easier now to make a film but of course its harder to get it shown.

When did you start making films?

I made my first film when I was 15, a short film and luckily it got into a film festival in Hanover Germany.

At 15!?

Yeah, and when I win a prize I use the money to make another film so I was making short films in high school. I started joining Cinemalaya when I was seventeen and I think I have the record of being the youngest in Cinemalaya, actually a programmer here just told me I'm the youngest in Tokyo at 21. I started really early.

Did your father help you a lot?

Well he didn't really force me, actually we have a rule that we don't mess with each other during production. He only comes in during post and watches the final draft, sometimes he can be harsh. Growing up I always tried to be with him during his shoots and I did the behind the scenes work, I was the behind the scenes camera guy and after that I decided to make my own films.

What did he think of REKORDER?

He definitely liked it and he noticed that I was trying something different, moving away from what he does but I guess the similar thing about our work is that we are both trying new approaches. My first film when I was fifteen was an experimental video manipulation and he started with a super 8 black and white experimental film so we stared with experimental cinema and integrated it with narrative work but mine is more modern and his is more retro.

Did you go through film school?

I actually dropped out during the first year because I got busy shooting films. I definitely enjoyed the process but I couldn't stay in school and make shorts at the same time. I did attend a lot of workshops along the way. For me being in festivals is a great way to learn, I guess my advice to other young filmmakers is to not have any inhibitions don't be afraid to make mistakes, go and make the film, that's the best way to be a filmmaker. Go and make the film.
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