By CLAIRE GAUNT
JOHN Torres is a filmmaker in the truest sense of the word. He writes, produces, directs, shoots and edits, and now he’s coming to Malaysia to pass on some of those skills to aspiring filmmakers.
The Filipino will be one of six film industry professionals from across the region who will be mentors at the upcoming Next New Wave workshop, where a select group of highly-talented young filmmakers will be brought together for eight days of intensive hands-on learning.
The young filmmakers would do well to learn from Torres, whose debut film Todo, Todo, Tores was an international festival hit, winning awards in Singapore and Vancouver.
Torres followed that up with three more feature films and several shorts and documentaries which earned him even more international accolades and made him a prominent name in the Philippine New Wave movement.
Despite all his success, Torres was incredibly down-to-earth and accommodating during our Skype interview ahead of his arrival in Kuala Lumpur.
“Sorry for the wait, I really appreciate you taking time to adjust your schedule and speak with me,” he said as we started our interview.
Torres, who was born in Manila, believes it’s important for filmmakers to remain humble, especially in the glamorous world of movie-making.
“To a lot of people, being a filmmaker now is about having a rock-star image, which is something I really don’t like,” he said. “Making films shouldn’t be about a person’s status, you know?”
For Torres, the art of making a film should simply come from a “deeply personal need” to share stories or insights about the world.
“Hollywood films are so dominant now,” he explained. “They have established, very deeply, a certain language of making a film. So mainstream audiences have this expectation of a linear story, a certain gloss, that they can escape or feel good or cry to.”
But this is just one aspect of cinema, says Torres, whose poetic and lyrical films bring so much more to the table.
“My films are for audiences who don’t necessarily want a story or for things to be clear, who want more space, who just want to linger and look at one object for ten hours,” he said with a laugh.
“I’d like to think that there’s a wide, wide space for cinema. There always has to be an alternative to the big stuff.”
While many are drawn to the movie business because of the “glamour”, it didn’t even hit Torres that he had inadvertently become a filmmaker until he had put out his first few films.
“I think it came as a slow dawning on me,” he said. “I made my first two or three films and saw, oh, this is the act of making a film!
“When I was very young I tended to just sit in the corner and observe other people talking to each other and think, that is acting. I always had this zoom lens of an eye and tried to imagine what they’re telling each other.”
Once he started putting those “observations” in films, he just never stopped.
“It was a big gamble on my part, because many of my good friends were already in management positions at the time.
“But I feel really at peace with the decision I made. As long as I have support, I can see myself making films until I grow old,” he said.
For the past 12 years, support hasn’t been much of a problem. Torres has been able to fund his career as a full-time independent filmmaker all these years through a combination of prize money, grants and, more recently, crowdfunding.
There’s an increasing number of online platforms for filmmakers to earn an income, such as pay-per-view websites, said Torres.
“If I only focused on trying to screen my films in mainstream cinema in the Philippines, I would spend a lot of time not making any films at all.”
But these days, Torres’ time isn’t just fully focused on filmmaking. He’s also teaching part-time film courses.
“It’s important for older filmmakers to occasionally share what they’ve learned with the younger, upcoming filmmakers,” he said. “And I wanted to see if that was something I’d enjoy.”
Torres’ next teaching gig will be at the Next New Wave workshop in Malaysia, where he will join an impressive line-up of mentors which includes Singaporean producer Tan Bee Thiam and Thai cinematographer Rapatchanun Cochaputsup.
The mentors will be tasked with helping the selected participants produce their very own short films by the end of the workshop, a challenge which Torres is very excited about.
“I’m trying to think of really creative exercises that are out of the box, or how to add limitations that can inspire people to make stories.
“It may involve a lot of improvisation but it will hopefully make the participants relax and see different points of entry for their own film,” he said.
The workshop is focused on the real practicalities of filmmaking, regardless of each participant’s skill level, and Torres has some advice for them:
“Be relaxed about telling other people, I don’t know what I’m doing, can you help me?” he said.
Despite being someone who frequently works alone, Torres was quick to encourage filmmakers to collaborate. “Try to look into other people’s work and see what you can do with your own,” he said.
“It’s very inspiring to work with other filmmakers.”
Teaching certainly hasn’t slowed Torres down. Although his last film came out in 2013, he hasn’t put the cameras down, with two new projects in the works.
“Hopefully both of them come out this year,” he said with a wry smile. “Or at least one of them.”
Find out more about the Next New Wave filmmaking workshop at facebook.com/NextNewWave.