An Interview with Jewel Maranan (Director)
Tondo, a Place to Be Loved
Q: Most people would feel self-conscious about being filmed, but this family did not seem to mind the camera at all. How did you manage to close the distance between yourself and the family?
JM: I grew up in the countryside in the Philippines. Coming to Manila to study filmmaking, I was more struck by the things that I saw outside of school, rather than the things that I learned inside of the school. After graduation, I established connections in Tondo. I started volunteering for local organizations, and I made myself useful in whatever daily and community activities they had, so that I would be slowly integrated into the community. So I had almost two years of social work in Tondo, and the relationship between myself and the people of the community was established over a long period of time.
Q: There are many poor people living in this area, but why did you choose this particular family to film?
JM: At the time, there was a huge issue of what they called port privatization. It was a very significant issue because this was an area where around 400,000 people were living, and it would result in many of them being physically displaced. I did not intend to discuss this issue in my film, but I wanted to represent the place in connection to this contradiction between the industry and the people’s lives. This family lived on the very edge of the community—outside of their window was the sea, and you could directly see the international port. I thought this was a very good position to portray in images, to show what was inside the people’s lives, and what was outside that was threatening their existence.
Q: Your film was almost entirely shot within the house. Was there any specific reason you decided not to go outside?
JM: It was my intention to film it in that manner. I wanted to make the film in the form of a memory, the memory of being there, of experiencing the space, the days, and the time. I film very thoroughly—I keep my headphones on all the time, I never let my gaze out of the viewfinder, and the camera is always close to my body. So I filmed things the way I experienced them.
Q: In spite of their poverty, the children seemed very happy. However, I wasn’t sure whether this was true happiness, or their attempt to be as happy as they could within their circumstances. For these children, what do you think the definition of “true happiness” would be?
JM: To be honest, I don’t know. I noticed the same thing. It’s difficult to understand how people could be happy in a situation like that, but I think the happiest people I know are the people I met there. Maybe this is the kind of happiness that is necessary for survival. Maybe this is the happiness that people find for themselves to compensate for the lack of social provision that governments and societies cannot give them.
But of course, we wish that people don’t have to give themselves the illusion of happiness. We wish that people really experience it materially, spiritually, and emotionally, and that it is not just a momentary illusion to forget hunger and sadness.
Q: In your title Tondo, Beloved, what is the meaning behind your use of the word “beloved”? Who is loving who?
JM: It’s an address to society, a question of how we love. Tondo is the birthplace of the Philippine nation, the birthplace of the Philippine revolution. It’s a place that is supposed to be loved, so using Tondo as the setting for Tondo, Beloved and showing a picture of social misery is a question to society: Is this how we love?
(Compiled by Morikawa Miku)
Interviewers: Morikawa Miku, Nishiyama Ayuka / Interpreter: Arai Yuka / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Yamaguchi Nobukuni / Video: Yamaguchi Nobukuni / 2013-10-14