Portrait of an Artist: Lav Diaz

Courtesy of Radcliffe Institute. Photo by Tony Rinaldo

Lav Diaz is a Filipino independent filmmaker whose works primarily focus on contemporary social and political issues and their relations with the individual. He has won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, among other awards. He is currently working on a new film and a book during a fellowship at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Crimson sat down with Diaz to talk about his practice.

The Harvard Crimson: Could you tell me about the book you’re writing?

Lav Diaz: It has many alterations or incarnations. At first I just wanted to work on something about our praxis in southeast Asia, because we have a very different way of doing cinema—an average filmmaker can make three to five films a year in that region without huge budgets. I know a lot of western filmmakers. Their usual process for the preparation alone will take them two years. Prepare their material, work on some funding, work on some casting, and it’s always that: two years. ... But if there’s no budget, then what are you going to do? They always lack that in the country [of the Philippines] and in the region, so it’s a model of necessity for us, to just do it. ... If something is engaging you, and then you wait, it will be f***ed up. So I thought, what’s the best way to negate this problem, this conundrum?


Around the early ’90s, I was working in New York as a journalist, and that taught me. I saw a lot of independent filmmakers around the area. They bought their 16mm camera, and they shot. When digital came, I said I was going to buy my own camera. The idea [of my book] is from that: a liberated cinema, how we are so different in our ways of doing cinema, and also the idea of not depending on the aesthetics of Hollywood. Cinema is still very young, so why do we have to follow all these so-called rules? The two-hour runtime thing, you know, “You have to make it fast, don’t make it linger.” I say, “Well, no, it’s art. We have to liberate this.” It’s that idea. I’m working on that.

THC: Would you call it theoretical?

LD: No, not really. It’s a mix: theoretical, praxis, perspectives. I cite examples: Malaysian filmmakers, Indonesian filmmakers, my own methodology, and comparing them all. It also connects with the struggle of the region, of our people. When I was writing it, it was becoming a novel.

THC: Do you think of yourself as a filmmaker or as a writer?

LD: No, neither. I’m just engaged. Cinema for me is my medium of engagement on this life, the best way that I can express myself. It’s just a medium to me. I thought to call myself more of a poet than a filmmaker. This is just the medium that’s easiest for me. I can do it, I can control it. ... I don’t even understand cinema at all. It’s like, okay, this is my form of engagement in life, as simple as that. If anybody asks me, what is cinema? It’s poetry, man. That’s it.

THC: But then maybe the book you’re writing is an answer. You’re working through that question.

LD: Actually this is the first chapter: “What is cinema?” Just like André Bazin. It all comes to that.

THC: In your films, you talk about discourse as something that must cooperate with practice, and I’m curious how being here at Harvard, in this academic community, fits into this cooperation. How do you like it here?

LD: I love it. At first I felt like an imposter. What was I doing here? I’m not an academic, although I graduated from college. I come from a family of farmers and some teachers. How could I immerse in this kind of milieu? It’s very mental, all intellect, all discourse. But I’ve adjusted well now. I can see the imperative––the importance of having these kinds of institutions in the world. It’s like inside [the world], looking in. I can see more the importance of aesthetics, of cinema, of engaging life and using the medium. I can see now how important cinema is. I can really see it now, very well. I have very intelligent and very engaging co-fellows. And they taught me that we must keep engaging life, keep engaging things. That’s academics. It can teach you that.

THC: Do you see your cinema as a popular art? Do you think about your audiences?


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