THE SECRET ingredient behind Third World creativity is, apparently, instant pancit canton.
Indie filmmaker Ruel Dahis Antipuesto shared that he subsisted on this noodle dish during the three months he took to make his animated feature “Snake’s Pit,” which won the 16th Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video for best regional entry and first runner-up in the best animation short feature in 2004.
My recent interview with Ruel was focused on the twin accolades he received last February for Publio J. Briones III’s “Ang Pagbalik” (best regional entry and second place in the best short feature category in the 19th Gawad CCP award) and Jerrold Tarog’s “Carpool” (best short feature in the same competition).
Ruel was the cinematographer of both features, as well as Pagbalik’s editor and co-producer and Carpool’s co-editor.
Yet while the 33-year-old civil engineer from Ozamis City was blasé about these recent achievements, he was almost boyish in recounting about his 2004 Gawad.
The award was his first. “Snake’s Pit,” based on an outdated game played on the obsolete 5110 cellphone model, was also his first attempt to make a video using flash animation.
Convinced that he had a story to tell and that this was the best way to carry out his “visual storytelling,” Ruel forced himself to learn. His Pentium 133 was not only slow, it was long overdue for the dustbin.
While the latest supercomputers now need only half a minute, his Pentium 133 needed at least 40 minutes to convert an image to viewable format.
So, while waiting, Ruel went to a neighbor’s stall and took his canton meals.
Due to his equipment’s state of antiquity, his learning by doing, his “independence” (of creative vision, as well as of resources), the seven-minute animated feature took three months to complete.
So its outcome at the 2004 Gawad award was, for Ruel, “encouraging.”
Though no longer working, the cellphone and the computer used in the feature are still kept in his room. It’s a move that is, in equal parts, sentimental and pragmatic.
Though cinematography is both art and science—mastering lighting and photography to capture film’s pictorial and emotional language—Ruel would rather emphasize the storytelling as “technology is always available.”
Or malleable. Years of indie work convinced him that “whatever (equipment) we don’t have, we don’t need.” The improvised lights he brought during the fieldwork he and Pubs did for the 2006 documentary “Killing Journalists: The Cebu Experience” are startling in retrospect, given that many viewers singled out the cinematography to praise almost as frequently as the documentary subjects’ insights.
While subsisting on pancit canton is not everyone’s thing, Ruel, Jerrold and Pubs are bullish about the potentials of cinema for the young. They have been presenting and discussing their different takes on visual storytelling in local campuses. Covering so far the Cebu Normal University and the University of San Carlos, the series can be held in any interested campus for free.
Among the outputs exhibited and discussed is a behind-the-scenes documentary of a feature that was never completed. Believing in a “chopsuey” of flexibility and adaptation—in improvising equipment, using non-actors, following the story in its digressions—Ruel and company believe in showing the rough takes and mistakes in order to learn from them.
It’s a comfort to know that, far from starving, Third World storytelling has pancit canton and chopsuey to fall back on.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 18 issue