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Interview 2020

The “tee-girls” fulfil their duties stoically, squatting in the dust as they sort golf balls. They fish them out of the water-lily-covered ponds and place them for the golfers as they swing their clubs narrowly past the girls’ faces. Their boss surveys the scene sternly, watching everything and everyone. Isabel still has to learn the ropes but is already looking for shortcuts. 

Filipiñana won SILVER BEAR at the 2020 Berlinale and has since won multiple awards during its festival run.

Hey Rafael, it's great to talk with you, how have things going?

Great to talk to you too. Things are going quite well. A bit fast for my liking but that’s a good thing, I think. 

Congratulations on Filipiñana being selected for the Berlinale Shorts, what does it mean to you to have this film at the festival?

Thank you. Filipiñana was originally written as a feature film but we didn’t get the funding we needed for it, so we decided to shoot a short instead. The plan was for the short to help us build profile for the feature project. So in this context, getting into Berlinale Shorts really means a lot to the team as it’s a very good first step that gives us the platform to start seriously developing the bigger project. 

This will also be your World Premiere, does being this add any extra pressure on you?

I think, if anything, having the World Premiere at Berlinale takes some extra pressure off - it was the first film festival that we applied Filipiñana to, and fortunately now, instead of spending time trying to secure a good premiere for the film, we can instead focus on the subsequent steps that we need to take after a premiere at festival of Berlinale’s standing.  And for this opportunity, we’re very grateful. 

Filipiñana was shot on location in various country clubs and golf courses in the Philippines due to the themes of your film did you have any issues getting permission to film at any of the clubs?

They were actually very supportive of the project as it’s a side of Philippine society that hasn’t really been represented in film before and they’re quite proud of their golf courses. 

The issues with permissions was more logistical, as we were only allowed to shoot during maintenance days - when the clubs were closed to members. This meant that we could only shoot a maximum 2 days out of the week (as we only had permission for 2 golf courses). Other restrictions were about where we could put our 18k lights and generator-trucks - they’re very protective about their greens. 

When do you first hear about tee-girls and what was it about their stories and lives that connected with you as a director?

I’ve been playing golf since I was 4 years old. Tee-girls were a reality in the Philippines long-before that and will continue to be a reality in the Philippines long after the film due to the socio-economic realities of the country.  

The starting point of the film has always been the golfing milieu in the context of my country and how I’ve always viewed golf as a game of inaction - where the winner is the person who has taken the least amount of strokes. This inaction is heightened even more in South-East Asia, where you are driven around the course in golf carts, where caddies carry your bags and hand you your clubs, and tee-girls tee-up your golf balls in the driving range. 

Filipiñana is an exploration of inaction and the role that it plays in the perpetuation of objective violence; a structural violence without any clear perpetrator or victim, a violence devoid of any obviously violent act, a violence that has been normalised and gentrified.  


"Generally, they’re much more interested in the kind of violence that has an obviously violent act, an obvious perpetrator and an obvious victim."

Why do you think this form of exploitation gets little news coverage?

Because this isn’t the kind of violence that the media is interested in. Generally, they’re much more interested in the kind of violence that has an obviously violent act, an obvious perpetrator and an obvious victim.


Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that dealt with such a salient socio-economic political issue?

I had apprehensions about making a film that would tackle salient socio-economic political issues in a heavy-handed way. Hopefully, Filipiñana’s form speaks for itself and the themes resonate from the nuances of the self-contained world that I tried to build. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Filipiñana to life?

I think the biggest challenge was coming to terms with the fact that we didn’t get the funding we needed for the feature-length, and as a result, having to come up with a new treatment and script that worked both as a proof of concept but also as a film in its own right. 

When you're working on a project like this are you flexible with your script or do you like to keep to the text?

Personally, I treat the script as source material and as a guide for what needs to be there during the shoot days (characters, setting, props, costumes, etc.). On shoot days, I hardly ever look at the script but instead try to ‘write’ with what I have there in front of me. Although, I think I’m able to work like this as I usually pre-shoot my films and edit them before the start of principle photography, so my team and I are always well prepared. 


Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

My passion for filmmaking started rather late - I always enjoyed films and loved watching them but it was only when I started working in advertising (I was a copywriter for Saatchi & Saatchi and then a Creative Director for TBWA) that I thought about making films myself. And it was only when I decided to go to film school that I decided to take films a lot more seriously. 

How has your style and approach to your work changed since your debut film?

My first film was a very bad Jarmusch derivative that I made 4 years ago so that I would have some narrative fiction in my portfolio for film school. I’d like like to think that I’ve grown more intentioned and nuanced since then. 

What has been the best advice you have been given? 

‘Don’t worry about the money, just do what you want to do and the money will come eventually.’

What advice would you offer fellow filmmaker?

‘Don’t worry about the money, just do what you want to do and the money will come eventually.’ 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Filipiñana?

I hope they see the film, anything after that is beyond my control.

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