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How husband and wife filmmakers collaborate to document a man’s life after 50 years of estrangement from lover for 2020 Cinemalaya

How does a real life couple manage to collaborate as directors, writers and producers in creating a single film?

Are there tensions? Disagreements? Or there is symbiosis?

Husband Arby Laraño and his equally young wife Christine just had fun time, according to them, when they made the film “Ang Meron sa Wala (Beyond Nothing)” for the forthcoming 2020 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Cinemalaya Foundation.

“We just played it by hear. We talked intently about how to shoot a scene,” replied Arby who’s a couple of years older than Christine.

“We took alternately directing a scene or we did it together after talking what to do with it,” complemented the wife.

If there were more adaptable techniques to apply to the filmmaking, Arby and Tin (as Christine is addressed by her hubby, colleagues and friends) as husband and wife brainstormed on how to get an idea into action.

Who signaled the “Lights, Camera, Action” or “Ready, Motor, Roll,” director’s instructional lines?

Pareho lang po kami o sabay lang kami (We both do it on our turn or we say it together),” Tin chuckled.  

Even in writing the screenplay, the husband and wife team was symbiotic in treating the material about a man, Alfredo, now on his fifties (50s), who is blissfully living with his family among the pigs and chickens in a rural town in Laguna Province.

Back in his younger days, Alfredo fell in love with a young woman and bore a child with her. Because of many issues, the relationship failed. He initially attempted to keep their child but soon realized that he didn’t have the means to raise him. Resolute, he turned over the child to the young woman and her family and never looked back since.

The narrative is based on a true-to-life story, indeed.

“I knew of the story which was told to me by a friend. But it wasn’t as simple as that. I also had to seek the permission of the main protagonist before we could translate it to film,” recalled Arby who finished Bachelor of Communications Arts from the Far Eastern University.

Because of his orientation about his college course, the male Laraño was familiar with the legal framework of getting the personal story into a public domain.

“But I was lucky Alfredo didn’t give me a hard time to give me his permission for copyright of his story,” said Arby who said he isn’t related in any way with fellow media person and DWIZ field reporter and anchor Monchet Laraño.

“Someone told me, though, that Monchet Laraño is a cousin but we haven’t met in person yet,” qualified Arby.

The Alfredo material was still raw and the Laraños didn’t mean it for the Short Film Category of the 2020 Cinemalaya although it was in their minds. Submission to Cinemalaya wasn’t their first move but instead, fleshing the story out creatively and technically. 

What was the approach the filmmakers would employ in the film?

“Of course, it is about real life so it must be the documentary type filmmaking,” Arby readily answered.

But both he and Christine wanted to cut the piece above the rest. “We wanted to apply a not so ordinary approach,” she said.

The windmills of their minds were grinding and finally, they decided to fuse the fiction and the non-fiction elements in the treatment of the scenes and the sequences.

“There was parallelism between the audio and the visuals,” Arby described.

While the main cast like Alfredo and the other members of the family were talking off-cam, the visuals were running alongside the audio.

Novel stylistics, or at least, an uncommon technique, for a film.

Arby and Christine didn’t want to elaborate the whole narrative or the resolution to the problem of the characters because according to the man, he didn’t want a spoiler of the whole film so that the audience wouldn’t be suspended in disbelief.

It is a short film, alright, but the preparation and vision to it is like doing a full-length feature like no other.

To make a veritable film, the whole production decided to use the idyllic and coastal Victoria town (along the Laguna de Bay) in Laguna Province as backdrop and other local color. The real milieu—house, occupation, sentiments, daily economic routine etc.—of Alfredo and his estranged family was employed in the shoots. It was indeed a major production.

And even if the cast and crew of the project were only a few—no “real” actors were casted but instead the “real” characters in the Alfredo story—the major burden for moviemaking was also on the logistics and the creative juices of the film artists.

No sweat, though.

Arby and Christine are com artist practitioners who both graduated with Mass Com degrees from FEU and they have been exposed to many developmental communications tools to adapt to filmmaking. Besides, they had theater backgrounds both in academic and practical knowledge—Drama Education and Theater Arts (DETA) master’s degree holder Normina Cadiz and veteran thespian and mentor Rustica Carpio were their professors—so they could apply media theories in filmmaking—thus the fusion of fiction and non-fiction onscreen.

When the project was wrapped up by Arby and Christine’s own production house, they finally thought of submitting it to this year’s Cinemalaya before the widespread outbreak of the new coronavirus struck the whole nation.

It was uncertain for the couple if the sixteenth edition of Cinemalaya would push through because of the pandemic ditto with the CInemalaya org itself.

But in May, the Cinemalaya decided to pull off its event in August just the same but with a twist.

Since the usual physical form of the fest wasn’t applicable at this time of the pandemic considering the social distancing that a big crowd gathering would guarantee and health protocols like wearing of face masks and disinfection of locations should be in place, the Cinemalaya officials chose to hold the event online but on the same schedule from August 7 to 16, 2020.

“Ang Meron sa Wala (Beyond Nothing)” isn’t a competition film but a curated entry in the Exhibition Films component of the festival.

It is one of the two hundred forty four films submitted to the Short Film Category but the Cinemalaya administration saw the potentials of many entries apart from the Top Ten they couldn’t simply ignore their relative excellence so they thought of culling at least twenty (20) more films to be curated and “Ang Meron sa Wala (Beyond Nothing)” was no exception.

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