Kapampangan filmmaker bags international recognition

At 26, independent filmmaker Jason Paul Laxamana is already reaping the fruits of his labor.

HANIFF winners Jason Paul Laxamana and Allen Dizon

Last November 27, Laxamana’s third full-length film “Magkakabaung” (The Coffin Maker) won the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award and Best Actor honor for Allen Dizon from the third Hanoi International Film Festival (Haniff) in Vietnam. Barely a week before that momentous occasion, his short film “U.S.F.A.” won one of three first prizes in the 26th Gawad CCP for Alternative Film and Video short feature category.

According to the citation from the Haniff jury, “The Coffin Maker takes us on an emotionally rich journey that is free of sentimentality. By slowly and confidently unveiling a hero we believe in, we encounter the unseen and never doubt the truthfulness of this experience.”

Laxamana revealed that producers Ferdinand Lapuz and Dennis Evangelista approached him to make a film based on their given topic. “They gave me the idea to shoot a film set in Santo Tomas, Pampanga which is known for making coffins. It is considered the coffin capital of the Philippines. They allowed me to expound on it so I researched about the industry of death in our country from coffin making to burial services and funeral. This led me to stories of people selling the remains of their relatives to earn money so I just put the pieces together.”

Comparing “Magkakabaung” to his previous full-length films “Astro Mayabang” and “Babagwa” (The Spider’s Lair), the young filmmaker revealed that he was given more creative freedom in his new project. “I sort of experimented with the form. If you have seen Babagwa and Astro Mayabang they are relatively fast-paced. This time I used long takes, hand-held shots, and real-time storytelling. Every scene is one continuous take without any cuts. We just followed the characters. I tried it, so in a way it is different in terms of style.”

Magkakabaung stars Gladys Reyes, Allen Dizon,
and director Laxamana

Laxamana previously worked as script supervisor for Star Cinema in Maryo J. Delos Reyes’ “A Love Story” in 2007. He worked in the same position the following year for Brillante Mendoza’s “Serbis.” He completed the Star Cinema scriptwriting workshop under Ricky Lee and Amor Olaguer in 2012. He also shot various Kapampangan short films and music videos.

“I am at that stage where I am still looking for my own style. If you will look at my body of works I have different styles. I am relatively young. I have yet to determine my style of filmmaking. If there is something consistent in my works, it is for other people to see.”

Laxamana considered talent and ability to speak the Kapampangan language in casting for the film. “We chose actors based on their past performances and since we are shooting a Kapampangan film, they should know how to deliver their dialogues in Kapampangan.” Apart from Dizon, who also won Best Actor in the Harlem International Film Festival in New York for “Magkakabaung,” the film also stars Gladys Reyes and Emilio Garcia. “Chanel Latorre is not Kapampangan but it is okay since her character is an outsider,” he explained.

After winning in Haniff, “Magkakabaung” will be screened at the Austin Film Series in Texas and will have its Philippine premiere when it competes with four other full-length entries at the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) New Wave category from Dec. 17 to 24 at SM Megamall and Ayala Glorietta cinemas. Laxamana, who is based in Angeles City, Pampanga, is also busy as festival director and organizer of the Cinekabalen Film Festival.

Laxamana in his acceptance speech

A graduate of BA Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines—Diliman, the Kapampangan advocate was not into filmmaking in college but he admittedly enjoyed his directing and video production classes that time. As an undergraduate student, he was able to work as production assistant under directors Jeffrey Jeturian and Delos Reyes.

“I also got the chance to watch some films during the first Cinemalaya and I noticed that they have low budgets and mainstream stories. I was challenged and I knew that I could also do it. When Brillante Mendoza made his first film ‘Masahista’ shot in Pampanga, I realized that I can shoot my own films in Kapampangan and I do not need to be in Metro Manila. That gave me the confidence to give it a shot so I also submitted my scripts and applied for film grants.” Laxamana got to direct his first film in 2010 when his screenplay for “Astro Mayabang” was selected for the Cinema One Originals and it eventually won the Audience Choice award.

Although he secured another film grant from the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival for “Babagwa,” he lamented the sorry state of independent filmmaking in the Philippines. “We rely too much on film festivals to get money. We are not sure if Cinemalaya will push through next year. Sustainability is an issue for us. I think many of us make films out of passion. There is no return of investment. If independent filmmaking will continue, there should be a concept of sustainability. We have yet to get ROI from any of my films.”

At a young age, Laxamana still has a lot of dream projects in mind. “I want to make a Kapampangan musical. I am also into music production to promote the language to the youth. I would just like to merge my passion for film and music. A musical can make the youth sing along to the songs. It is a big boost to my advocacy if ever it pushes through. I also want to make a film commemorating our experience during the Pinatubo eruption,” he concluded.

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