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How Much Does it Cost to Make the Universe Listen?

We – Kristian Sendon Cordero and this writer – did not really target the universe as a listener. It is just tha our small Poetry Reading project has attracted more than 100,000 viewers.

The project which began with Jaime Fabregas and continued to include actors of good cinematic reputation and standing even surprised us. Name them now we shall: Lui Manansala, Enchong Dee, Christian Bables, Sandino Martin, Sue Prado, Max Eigenmann, Dexter Doria, Bella Padilla, Archi Adamos, Richard Quan, Martin Del Rosario, Tere Malvar, and with two or three we yet have to confirm. All of them had their own share of awards in film festivals. Many of them have graced film concourses abroad.

In this list are actors who trace their roots to Bikol and were tapped to read Bikol poetry. Leading the list of Bikolanos is Jimmy Fabregas who has maintained all these years his contact and friendship with those who had chosen to stay in our region. In one of the editions of Pasale, the regional film festival in the region recognized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Film Development Council, Jimmy once came to be the guest speaker. Noel Volante, the official festival director, organized an afternoon with Jimmy talking about everything from Queborac and his Jesuit education to his years in television with that irreverent Sic O’Clock News, under the direction of the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya, to his works as musical director and character actor.

Who would interview Jimmy without feeling nervous doing it? Noel and I thought of one person who could be there with him, the eloquent Y de Los Trino.

That afternoon was one of the most splendid events in the history of the pocket regional film festivals. When the affair was over, I remember approaching Jimmy about the possibility of coming back to Naga when we would host the Cinema Rehiyon, a gathering of independent filmmakers from all over the country. He not only promised to come but agreed to do the interview. Our plan was to invite Eddie Garcia, the Manoy of Philippine cinema, for an afternoon of reminiscences. Unfortunately, Ateneo de Naga, due to unforeseen circumstances was not able to host the gathering in the year we were planning the special interview. This year, in February, that Cinema Rehiyon finally pushed through here in Naga. Eddie Garcia could not make it: the actor was injured in a freak accident and passed away on June 20, 2019.

Enchong Dee is from Naga and people know that. Lui Manansala belongs to the Quiambao clan in Albay. Sue Prado has a lineage in Libmanan, a place that figures well in geographical metaphor in the poem she read, Kansyon ni Oryol, a character taken from Handyong, in a poem written by Jaya Jacobo. Max Eigenmann is a Pimentel by way of her mother in Camarines Norte. Sandino Martin’s mother is a Fajardo from Gubat in Sorsogon. Archi Adamos is from Tinambac but counts Naga as his city having spent years as an intern in what was then Bicol Regional Hospital. Christian Bables’s middle name is “Mercurio.” I will ask him next time then of possible Buhi connection.

As with any art piece presented as part of learning experiences, the process of poetry-reading sessions should interest any student of Humanities. This is how we do it.

The whole thing begins with me, basically contacting a friend or a manager of the actor. In the case of Sandino Martin and Christian Bables, I had their numbers already. I was a judge in the Cinema One Originals where Sandino’s performance in Solito Auraeus’s Esprit d’Corps won him the Best Actor prize in a jury that had two film curators from Venice Film Festival and Cannes. Christian Bables was the 2017 Gawad Urian Best Supporting Actor for Die Beautiful. As the Chair then of Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, it was one of my tasks to make sure the winners attended the awarding ceremonies. I had to make that call to convince him to come without telling him he was the winner. A difficult but interesting job.

After the actors are contacted, we set up a group chat with them. I join in to introduce Kristian. This is the scenario: Sandino please meet Kristian Cordero. He is the founder of Savage Mind. He is a writer and a filmmaker. Aided by technologies and applications, everything redounds still to human nature and social interaction. From that point on, Kristian and the actor talk about the poem. I come in again when the raw footages are sent in and the actors seek our advice.

We do not rehearse the actors. We let them discover the poems and uncover the sentiments within them.

We also do not discuss the meaning of the poem. It is odd how we have arrived at this kind of position. Perhaps, we wanted to show the actors we respect their craft. In the case of Lui, she was candid about the “hararum na Bikol” (the deep Bikol words). She and Kristian talked about the poems. Lui read with such intensity the poems of Jun Belgica and Raffi Banzuela, two Albay poets that the response was tremendous.

With Enchong Dee, we reached a point where we asked him if he would try standing while reading the poems. He expressed difficulty with the sound system given the guerilla filmmaking we were involved in. He did it halfway and the results were fascinating, with the new angle giving him grandeur in a small frame.

Christian Bables and Sandino Martin were very open with their approaches. Christian would do his readings and then submit the finished products to us. He would listen to our comments and, after a few days, he would submit again a video. Christian had a strong sense of the emotions in the lines and he tapped them freely. Viewers tell us the readings are like small scenes from films.

Sandino Martin used the word “experiment” immediately during our first conversation. After getting the poems, he said he had ideas about them. He went silent for days. Then he called us up to say he was ready with the first video. We were not ready with what we saw: the music was there, an animation enchanting in its rawness was also there, and Dino (as we had started calling him) was there in a voice that was the voice of those lines.

What Sue Prado did to the Oryol poem assured us that myths lived on because each generation, and each gender had a way of reading allure and strength. The power of the Internet is felt in Sue Prado’s case, where Kristian in Naga City was adding the music, and Dada Docot, the anthropologist, was inserting the landscape from Purdue University in the United States.

Kristian and I – like many of the readers and viewers – are learning much from these actors. Outside of their generosity, the selflessness of these actors shows in their craft, which focuses on the poems and not on them, the readers. How I wish our local readers would follow this thought when they read – that it is not about them but the poem – those words put together so magically and with integrity the universe has nothing else to do but to listen.

As for the cost: we did not pay them anything. We did not spend anything. And yet we have art forms priceless and original.

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