Notes on the Video Interview: ‘Emancipated Cinema: A Conversation with Lav Diaz’

Link to post.

Mubi.com is conducting an almost year-long retrospective on Lav Diaz’s oeuvre titled It’s About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz [link], exclusively playing worldwide October 8, 2016 – July 27, 2017. Their blog website, MUBI Notebook, has also been generous of critically acknowledging Diaz’s cinema in writing since¬†2010 (see here).

This interview is one of many interviews Diaz conducted with MUBI.com although perhaps this is the first time that MUBI.com engaged with Diaz using an audio-visual format compared to their usually interview transcript type. With regards to the content of the interview, most of the questions are fairly rehashed versions of the frequently asked questions in Diaz’s career: about his process, his prejudice, his idea of cinema, his memory of cinema, etc. These questions are author-centered, most of which are meant to profile Diaz as an artist-filmmaker, an orginator of a ‘new’ cinema. The interview is also meant to supplement the on-going retrospective, so it works as an appendage of sorts. As¬†a researcher who have read and re-read the transcripts of Diaz’s interview published since 2000, the purpose of this post is to respond to some of Diaz’s theoretical, practical and praxiological assertions, generalizations and conceptualizations in interview. The goal is to unmask any form of idealism in Diaz’s answers.

Here some of my notes from the interview they’ve done:

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MUBI: What is your earliest memory of cinema? ¬†[0′ 09”]

  • Childhood during Pre-Martial Law Period. Diaz narrated some specific memories of his childhood in Maguindanao, in particular the period in his life when his family stayed in Datu Paglas. The period was probably between 1958, his birth year, and 1970-71, when he was thirteen or fourteen years old, a year before the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines.
  • Diaz’s Provincial Cinephilia/Formation of Regionalist Subjectivity. He¬†recalled¬†a particular memory when his father would took him (and his siblings?) to a town three to four hours away from Datu Paglas (probably Tacurong City) where four stand-alone cinemas¬†stood. The four cinemas showed double bills every weekend.
  • Film School.¬†And looking back, with reference to a present idea of film school, he considered this experience as his ‘film school‘.

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MUBI: How important is it to keep the number of people on your crew to a minimum?¬†¬†[1′ 33”]

  • Diaz against the large-crew set-up in filmmaking. Diaz expressed his preference towards a ‘lean and mean’ cinema. Diaz disagreed with the idea of cinema people overdoing the filmmaking process by employing many technical staff (i.e. camera department with 25 to 75 people). He said that this large-crew set-up create a lot of troubles and that the artist-filmmaker loses artistic-aesthetic focus and subjectivity in the process.
  • On the importance of attaining Aesthetic Focus. Diaz prefers an approach to cinema geared towards attaining an aesthetic focus (i.e. ‘focus on the story, focus on the characters, focus on creating some geographic template… trying to find the more realistic templates for the film. The geographic template will create the aesthetic template. A better understanding of the milieu of the character.’).
  • Artist-Filmmaker as Individual rather than Collective Subjectivity. This essentially brings us to¬†Diaz’s aesthetic film authorship as a subjectivity formed¬†from an individualist rather than a collective domain of film making practice. For Diaz, the vision of the filmmaker-as-artist or as-aesthetic-mover has to come through. This is his¬†praxiological paradigm.

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MUBI: Besides economics, what do you find appealing about digital filmmaking?¬†¬†[3′ 15”]

  • From Digital-as-Emancipation to Emancipation as Reinforcing the Author-Function. Diaz vaguely conflates the idea of digital ¬†with the idea of emancipation. But Diaz’s idea of emancipation is not really the radical sort associated with¬†mass movements in the past. Let us be clear here in drawing the line on the politics encrypted in Diaz’s idea of emancipation. For Diaz, this emancipation¬†can be viewed only in the purview of the artist-filmmaker. In some sense, Diaz’s idea of emancipation via digital reinforces the authority of author, the artist-filmmker. ‘Emancipation’ here is a compromised concept, a concept not critical of the author-function, but rather a reinforcing one.
  • Digital is Liberation if and only if it liberates the filmmaker. For Diaz, the digital revolution is¬†the emancipation of the artist-filmmaker from the techno-economic closure of celluloid filmmaking. For Diaz, the digital revolution awarded filmmakers a personalized filmmaking practice: ‘Now we own the tool, now we own the guitar. Now we own our brush. Nobody is imposing on you.’ For Diaz, having this freedom to create via the¬†digital medium is ‘more important than having big budget’ recalling his experience with the studio system in the late 1990s.

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MUBI: Your films are often described as “Slow Cinema.” What do you think about this label?¬†[4′ 55”]

  • Lav Diaz Against a Dominant Orientation of Cinema. For Diaz, the idea of slow cinema emerged as opposition force against the dominant orientation that cinema must¬†comprise of two characteristics: (1) fast cuts and (2) an average duration of two hours. Abridgment of narrative and duration is¬†one of the dominant formal orientation of cinema which Diaz is against. This dominant orientation in cinema is, for Diaz, an imposed practice¬†perhaps, although not mentioned explicitly, by the free market.
  • Art vs. Industry….Again? Diaz equates art¬†as an abolition of the film industrial¬†imposition on cinematic duration: ‘art is free’. Diaz¬†creates a¬†diametrical opposition between art and industry. This prejudice towards industry is¬†actually surprisingly unchanged since his essay Aesthetics of Batang West Side (d. 2001). Diaz’s insistence for the abolition of the industry control over aesthetic choices of the filmmaker paints a contradiction in his praxis. The contradiction emerges from the recent production of his films¬†Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016) and Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016). His contradictory approach to filmmaking makes me wonder:¬†What constitutes the politics of emancipation of a filmmaker if¬†one¬†is already in collaboration with the industry, and therefore complicit with the culture of exploitation of the industry? For Diaz, the elimination of a profit¬†motive and the change of perspective from cinema-as-profit or¬†cinema-as-entertainment to cinema-as-culture or ¬†cinema-as-art frees the filmmaking from the imposing clasp of the market-driven industry.
  • The Market for Long Durations. Diaz¬†declares that he does not do cinema for the market. However, his recent excursions with market-driven local, transnational and international producers and ¬†distributors like Star Cinema (PH), Kino Lorber (USA), ARP Selection (France), etc., all of which are registered film distribution companies with corporate orientation in their business models, prove otherwise.¬†Diaz has overlooked the role of cultural capital (Bourdieu) in constituting the market for his cinema. Diaz¬†won major awards in several of major film festivals in Europe (in particular: Locarno, Venice and Berlin).¬†His rise to a global auteur status gave him enough cultural capital to establish a market for his films. His films indeed cater to an art-elite film festival-going segment of the mass market. Hence, this denial of market-driven praxis constitutes Diaz’s contradiction as well as the limitation of his critical attribution for an emancipative path through cinema. This contradiction¬†creates¬†a new window to us with regards to how we can critically study¬†Diaz’s politics of duration. We might be tempted to accept Diaz’s declaration as is without looking outside its rhetorical frame. Diaz’s politics of duration is not limited to his ideation of what cinema is. Instead, the study of politics of duration must expand towards understanding the regimes of ideology, technics and temporality that constitute¬†his impetus to say so. Is the¬†regime of capitalism, through its dispersal encroachment in the realm of digital and digitality, which gives us a sense of false freedom, co-opts the radical potential of Diaz’s cinema? If¬†slow duration has emanciptory potential to¬†provide an alternative politics of time to a world immersed in fast-cuts and the instant, then what kind of praxiological paradigm does it entail?¬†What constitutes a radical duration? What is the relation of a radical duration with a revolutionary duration? These questions are paramount to my thesis on Lav Diaz.
  • Diaz and Genres. Diaz discussed about adapting genre paradigms in his cinema. For Diaz, genre is not a problem¬†for its ‘usability’, as paradigms.
  • Long=Short: On the Ontology of Durations. In this interview, as well as in¬†some interviews he conducted in past, Diaz homogenizes the ontological difference between long and short cinema. This is however problematic¬†in a political economic sense. From a materialist perspective, a material distinction exist between long and short durations. No two regime of temporality are alike or reducible to One. As Badiou puts it, One always become Two.¬†For Diaz, the ontology of cinema cannot be made on the basis of duration. This is someway similar to how Deleuze constitute the idea of difference: that¬†there can only be a difference-in-kind and not a difference-in-degree. Well, if indeed duration is of the order of degree, then Diaz’s insistence of homogenization is valid. Yet,¬†the problem¬†with this proposition is that duration is not in the order of degree, but in order of substance and material. In cinema, duration is a material characteristic. It is corporeal. One of the challenges of my research is to determine whether duration is a difference-in-degree or a difference-in-kind.

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MUBI: How free are your actors with characterization and improvisation? [8′ 38”]

To be continued…

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