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Raya Martin: The enigma that is

Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

MANILA, Philippines - Twenty-eight-year-old filmmaker Raya Martin sure seems to love defying expectations.

His debut into the Philippine filmmaking scene took industry insiders by surprise, as the then-fresh graduate of the University of the Philippines Film Institute was unsuccessful at early attempts to get a job in Manila.

What he got, instead, was a filmmaking residency at the prestigious Cinéfondation Residence du Festival de Cannes in Paris, France — becoming the first Filipino filmmaker to be selected for the program.

That opened up for Martin, like Alice in the proverbial Wonderland, his very own cinematic rabbit hole.

“It was soooo crazy,” Martin recounts. “I was 21, I didn’t know anything, but I knew exactly what I wanted.”

Extraordinary oeuvre

‘What he wanted’ was to use the textures, the colors and the complexities of Philippine colonial history — everyday fare for him and his siblings as they were growing up — as canvases and materials for his cinematic artworks.

His first full-length film, Maicling pelicula nañg ysañg indio nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan) [“A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (Or The Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos”] was set amid the brewing anti-Spanish revolution of the 1890s and was shown as a black-and-white film with a live piano accompaniment.

It was screened in Manila in 2006 after a string of successful screenings in other parts of the world.

His succeeding works included the semi-autobiographical Autohysteria (2007); the ambitious but critically acclaimed trilogy Now Showing (which was almost 5 hours long), Next Attraction and Coming Soon (2008). More recently, he released the “uncharacteristically joyous” The Great Cinema Party (2012), among many others.

Martin admits that his early works had been wildly experimental and imaginative — “visual acid trips,” this writer had referred to them in jest — showing both emphatic depth of insight while celebrating the narcissistic indulgences reserved for the young.

“Now, the maturity thing looms over,” he points out while laughing. “I’m curious to see how it would work out a few years from now, when I’m actually old.”

He laughs some more.

Homage to horror

Martin’s next project is just as likely to catch the scene off-guard and to send his haters’ tongues wagging (he has “a lot,” he admits).

Entitled How to Disappear Completely, the film is an “homage to… American, independent horror” and, as Martin himself points out, is “a departure from (his) previous style.”

“I’m trying to be a bit more…,” he paused before adding, “accessible… Not naman because I’m bored, but it’s the whole concept of going around things. I’ve been doing the whole hardcore (experimental) stuff for so long."

"There’s another door here in the party scene; let’s check it out. It might be fun,” he adds.

The young filmmaker emphasizes, however, that he loves horror films.

“I’m not doing it to provoke (others). I’m doing it because it’s a part of me,” he says. “I love horror films, and I’ve always wanted to do an homage of horror films. I also want to… make a bit more mainstream films.”

Mainstreaming maturity

For someone who has built most of his extraordinary body of work around experimental formats and themes, and who has admitted to enjoying “partying a lot,” Martin seems to approach the idea of “mainstream” and of “maturity” with a healthy dose of pragmatism.

He shares: “I think I’m in a good place now with my work. I know where I should go that won’t kill what I really want to do, but at the same time I’m growing up; I have more needs... You can’t go all the way with your soul because you have the physical world, and you can’t go all the way with the physical world because you have your soul. You really have to balance (both) all the time.”

He continues, “I feel like I’m approaching myself more and more as being a free man. It’s a philosophy that I really want to live. I want to be a free man at the end of this.”

Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

Photography by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

Freedom is a luxury that many cannot afford, and Martin — who once again is the first Filipino to be chosen for the first Berlinale Residency in September — acknowledges the fact that he has been abundantly blessed throughout his life.

At the same time, you need to be good,” Martin says emphatically. “You need to have a good heart. You always need to be kind, and you need to help people along the way. Because that whole karmic thing… it’s so true. Whatever you put out there, yesterday, 10 years ago, it’s gonna come back to you.”

But what exactly did he do to deserve such good karma?

Martin answers with mock seriousness, “That’s probably one of life’s greatest mysteries.” - Rappler.com