Not every young filmmaker can have a Cannes-winning director as mentor. But for neophyte director Daniel Palacio, his good fortune was also a baptism of fire.
Although Palacio admitted that he was initially daunted by the idea of having his guru Brillante Ma Mendoza on the set, he swiftly grew accustomed to it. After all, Mendoza also produced Palacio’s debut feature film, “Pailalim (Underground).”
From the very start, Mendoza gave the neophyte a free hand. “He wanted me to take control of everything,” Palacio recalled. “He didn’t want me to feel intimidated by him.”
Mendoza would seldom visit the set, a public cemetery in Pasig, but on the few occasions that he dropped by, he blended effortlessly with the rest of the team.
“I saw him helping the production design staff, and he was happy doing small tasks,” Palacio related.
Seeing his idol hard at work with the crew made the newbie admire the veteran all the more. Palacio, who was a product of Mendoza’s filmmaking workshop, said he had learned a lot from the master director.
“He would always tell his students ‘to make everything realistic,’” Palacio volunteered. “He often reminded us to avoid rehearsing lines, so that we would get the right reaction and emotion on the first take.”
Keeping Mendoza’s tips in mind “liberated” Palacio on the set.
Palacio has been working on this concept for the past seven years. “I’ve always been curious about the lives of the people who live in cemeteries.”
His relentless research led him to a family that best represented the community of Filipinos who live among the dead.
“There are thousands of families who stay in cemeteries,” he explained. There is more to their story than meets the eye, though.
Palacio’s camera zooms in on “people we’d rather not see: the homeless, abused and neglected. They can actually inspire and motivate us to change for the better. But first we have to see them … or, better yet, we have to hear their voices.”
Shooting in a public cemetery for 11 days was arduous, he recounted. “The administrator’s only rule was that we should give way to scheduled funerals,” he related. “There were times we had to stop shooting because of the burials. But sometimes, we included them in the shot, to make the scene more realistic.”
Phenomenal lead stars
Lead stars Joem Bascon and Mara Lopez were “phenomenal,” said Palacio. “I gave them the freedom to interpret their characters, which pushed them further.”
As luck would have it, “Pailalim” made it as one of the entries in the New Directors’ section of the 65th San Sebastian International Film Festival, set in Spain from Sept. 22 to 30.
Win or lose, he considers San Sebastian a trip of a lifetime. “It would be a great learning experience for a first-timer like me.”
The present generation of filmmakers, he reiterated, is “now reaping the fruits of our predecessors’ years of labor.”
To repay them, “we only need to help each other by continuously making timeless films,” he asserted. “Let’s make them and the country proud by making good films.”
After San Sebastian, Palacio hopes to keep making movies. And whatever film he ends up crafting, Palacio’s criteria will remain the same: “The story should be original, compelling and Filipino.”
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