Santiago Loza and his film Extraño at the UP Film Institute

Dino Manrique's picture
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Just came from the screening of Santiago Loza's multi-awarded film Extraño (Strange) at the UP Film Institute's Cine Adarna. I came 10 minutes late because of the Katipunan traffic -- the film started at around 2:30 -- but was awed by what I saw once I started watching. You would think that the movie was created by a middle-aged director already at the peak of his powers, but was surprised to find out that this is just the first feature film of the visiting Argentinian filmmaker who is just 35 years old, and that the movie was actually made in 2001 when he was only 30 years old. The way he used silences and music, and the pacing and rhythm of the film, was almost genius, if not already. In most films, one finds the usual use of music, of emphasizing what's already there in the scene, but this is the first time I really felt that the music complemented the action, added something to the visuals and the story.

Santiago Loza explaining his film. Beside him is Jose Maria Fons Guardiola who acted as interpreter.

I asked about these elements during the open forum at the end of the screening and Loza said, and I am paraphrasing here, that the rhythm of the film was something which organically grew while he was creating the movie, that he had trimmed down the movie to what is essential. In other words, Loza was trying to achieve a form of minimalism. Which was interesting since I was reminded of the 'minimalist' stories of Raymond Carver while I was watching the movie. (I put the word 'minimalist' in quotes because Carver, ironically, didn't like that label.)

One of the viewers asked at the start of the forum, if it's really that gloomy in Argentina, and this was actually answered near the end of the discussion when Loza revealed that the film was created in 2001, during a critical period in Argentina's history, and that shooting started on September 11. Somehow, the filmmaker's sense of unease and gloom found its way into the movie, thus its general tone. However, I think the more apt description of the movie is that it's reflective and truthful.

After the forum, over merienda, we had a chance to talk some more to the filmmaker, who revealed that Argentinian cinema is flowering right now, with many students taking filmmaking courses. Although the ironic thing is that the other arts, literature, for example, are more popular than cinema. How we wish the same thing could be said about our country. Just to give you a proper perspective of how cinema and the other arts are popular in Argentina, Loza told us that when Lav Diaz's 10-hour 'Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino' was shown in a festival there, the theater ran out of tickets to sell!

At any rate, Santiago, as Loza is called, is leaving in two days for Argentina, and we are looking forward to his next film, a movie, interestingly enough, about four women (there were also four women characters in Extraño.) We are all of the opinion that this artist will go places.

P.S. Present during the event were filmmakers JP Carpio (who texted me about the screening per Raya Martin's recommendation; Raya met Santiago in France), John Torres, Khavn de la Cruz, and Emman de la Cruz, and writer Yvette Pantilla. Also met performance/dance artist Jay Cruz and American filmmaker Waise Azimi who's doing a film documentary about Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Insitituto Cervantes' Deputy for Cultural Affairs Jose Maria Fons Guardiola, interpreted for Mr. Loza.

Khavn de la Cruz, Emman de la Cruz, Jay Cruz, JP Carpio, Santiago Loza, Dino Manrique and Waise Azimi

Btw, here is a 5-second clip during the forum. Forgive the brevity; I had just learned how to use the video feature of my Canon PowerShot A530 camera, and was -- and am -- still experimenting and familiarizing myself with how much footage could be saved in its 256 MB memory.