A look at how much human beings are like animals.
Hello, Lav. Thank you for talking to The New Current, have these very difficult times offered you some additional creative inspiration?
I have a friend who wrote two novels during the first two months of the pandemic’s onslaught and now she’s finishing the third one. Another friend has just launched a book on his latest collection of poems and wrote a trash metal opera. A costume designer for cinema couldn’t keep up with the online orders of his mango tarts. I acted in a friend’s film and the uber-generous compensation he gave I used to pay for an expensive progressive correction of my eyesight. An art director has desperately sought help from friends because he says he is losing it. A filmmaker-friend is delivering food to survive. This tragedy has provided challenges that pushed people to very disparate reactions and conditions. Ironies abound, with copious absurdities to boot, and the muses for creations are coming out as well. I just shot a new work with the mask and shield on my face. We shall overcome.
Ahead of a major festival like Venice, do you ever get nervous about screening one of your films?
Oftentimes, I’d be more nervous of the festival protocols, they give me the fright, to be honest. I am thankful for the space given to my works, and I feel lucky for that, but what really makes me anxious are the responsibilities tasked to the filmmaker, albeit I understand they’re part of the quid pro quo—the press conferences, the red-carpet walks, the interviews, the introductions, the Q&As, the pictorials, even the parties. I really struggle doing those things as I have a very withdrawn personality on account of my growing up in the boondocks. I agonised with my shyness, my primitive ways I can’t shake off up to now. That’s why if it were up to me, when attending festivals, I just want to be away from the madness, hide, be alone, and just watch and watch cinema.
In 2016 you won top honours at Venice, what was that experience like for you?
It was surreal, getting up the stage, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say. It was a surprise and I was grateful for the recognition but then again, I wished I was somewhere else, just having coffee with my loved ones or walking in the woods or even planting rice in my father’s farm. It was so visceral and horrifying at some point, when I got hold of the heavy Golden Lion. All I could hear, while the belligerent klieg lights incessantly cordoned off my eyesight, were voices goading me to smile, to wave, to look right, to look left, to look straight, lift the Lion, wave. What saved me from collapsing from the confusion was seeing the grins and nodding heads of Jury member, Laurie Anderson, and Jury head, Sam Mendes.
Congratulations on having Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan), nominated for the Venice Horizon Award 2020, what does it mean to you to be back at the festival?
Salamat. The Orizzonti took me back and it’s great, I’m happy. That section of the festival feels like home really. My early works were warmly nurtured and screened by the Orizzonti; back in the days when only a few brave souls dared to touch my works.
"...there’s more maturity now in how I view life through the prism of cinema, and that has more influence on how I do things now."
Can you tell me a little bit about Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan), what was the inspiration behind your latest film?
It’s a narrative that I’m very familiar with growing up in a similar setting and milieu. Again, the lives of the marginalised are in focus, this time, it’s the story of the lumpen-proletarian of the rural underbelly.
What were the challenges you faced making Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan)?
The making of the film was relatively smooth. The island was remote but there was ample transportation to reach it. The harsh climate, especially the always present unbearable humidity, was the thing that I really dread during the production. Extreme humidity could easily destroy your will to move and capacity to think clearly.
Looking back at Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan), do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
In every work, you see those things, the things that you could have done to improve it, the things that must be given more attention to, e.g., adding more details, or discarding and changing some parts, with the acting, the design, the nuances, especially when watching and experiencing it after you’ve had detachments and withdrawals from it already. I haven’t had that chance with this film yet.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
It’s in my DNA, I supposed. Growing up in a very remote part of the country, and witnessing and experiencing the harshest human conditions there, my refuge was cinema, radio dramas and comics magazines. Lucky for me, my late father was a true-bloodied cinema addict, and so, on weekends, we’d go to a town, two-hours away by bus from our place, and there were four cinema houses there then, showing double-bills, and we’d watch and watch all the movies.
How much has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut film?
My principle is to be really free with the form. I adjust and I adapt, there’s no cardinal rule, that’s always been the process. So, the issue of change, in my praxis and practice, could just be a euphemism for finding the right method of engagement with the task at hand. It’s simply about what is going to work. Definitely, there’s more maturity now in how I view life through the prism of cinema, and that has more influence on how I do things now.
Does you background as an actor allow you to build closer connections to the characters you create as well as your actors?
Yes, having an understanding of the process definitely helps. The arduous task of writing and creating the characters entails both painful and exhilarating attachments. And then you hand the application of delineation to the actors, and they will experience the same thing. The process runs the whole gamut of birthing and nurturing a fulfilled character. It’s not easy.
Is there any advice you would offer any emerging filmmaker?
For the serious filmmaker, persevere, work hard, don’t go for the easy fix. Be careful with the word compromise. It’s tough to maintain a clear mind, or maintain some ethical course of action, given the nature of how cinema is widely perceived and being used (I know a lot of people succumb to this). The tyranny of money (profit making), egotism, the culture of competition and primal jealousy, sadly always overwhelms the greatness of the medium.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan)?
That it can help foster a better awareness afterwards, that the likes of Putin, Trump, Assad, Kim Jong-un, Hitler, Marcos and their ilk…their genus is pan. Seriously, why do we allow animals like them to rule us?