On some days, Alvin Yapan goes through the regular routine of being a professor in the Ateneo: he goes to class, conducts mind-boggling lectures, checks migraine-worthy papers, and caps off the day in the confines of his office in Dela Costa. On other days, he writes books and bags Palanca Awards, directs stars like Paulo Avelino and Aljur Abrenica, and wins international film awards. It sounds like he’s doing the work of two different people, but really, he’s just being Alvin Yapan.
An Kubo sa Kawayanan
An Kubo sa Kawayanan is Dr. Yapan’s first brainchild to win big at the World Premieres Festival, an annual film festival held in the Philippines that highlights cinematic achievements from countries all over the world. His film garnered four awards: Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Actress for Mercedes Cabral’s portrayal of a woman in love with her house. “It’s a weird film. It’s a love story, but not your traditional, conventional love story,” shares Yapan.
As the chief producer, writer, and director of the film, Yapan says that he drew inspiration from the feelings of anger he felt upon finding out about the Syrian refugees that migrated into Europe that caused a flurry of political discourse. “A lot of immigrants were migrating into Europe, into first-world countries, and the first reaction of the first-world countries was to shut down their borders. Sabi ko, ‘Ano ba naman ‘yan?’ (I said, ‘why is it like this?’),” he says. “These people need help.”
“For it to be counter-intuitive, I did not focus on the literal issues of a literal character migrating out of the country,” he explains. “I focused on a character opting to stay. Everyone around her will try to convince her to go outside, to work, to look for a better life outside her kubo, but she chooses to stay.”
EDSA is Yapan’s latest offering, focusing on a contemporary retelling of the EDSA People Power Revolution. The film focuses on three different stories, all intertwining on EDSA. “Maybe it’s time to go back to the legacy of EDSA, to remember EDSA and not just the traffic of EDSA,” he tells us as he presents an overview of the plot.
The first story narrates the story of a largely opportunistic businessman, Anton, whose cellphone is snatched. He takes the MRT where he is guided by a streetkid named Ben, who becomes his friend. The second story focuses on a thief, Jun, who gets run over by a bus and attempts to become a better person through the help of Carla, a nurse. Meanwhile, the third narrative recounts the story of a teacher from the province, Edna, who was on her way to the K-12 conference in Manila. The characters were chosen by Yapan as symbols of the different Filipino people who participated in the People Power Revolution.
One may note that most of Yapan’s films border on rather sensitive and controversial topics. “It’s my way of contributing to the discourse, the debate,” he explains. Though riddled with political associations, Yapan believes he is not one to dabble in politics. “Leave politics to politicians. When I produce [a] film, I approach it from a philosophical and cultural point of view and understand why we are like this,” he says.
Where to go from here
An Kubo Sa Kawayanan brought home four awards from the World Premieres in 2015 and when Yapan returned to the same competition the year after with EDSA, he ended up bagging not only four, but five awards. “It was a back-to-back win, two years in a row. I was so surprised,” Yapan shares. He reveals though that Kubo and EDSA shall be the last time he will grace that specific film competition. “Always outcompete yourself. Maybe I’ll join another category, or another film festival, next year, if ever,” he says.
2017 marks the decade-long anniversary of Yapan’s filmmaking career. He had originally intended for Kubo to be his farewell to the industry of film but he confesses that as long as the opportunity presents itself, he won’t be stopping anytime soon. This year, EDSA is one of the three films that Yapan will be working on. “The second one, I’m re-mastering a film that I submitted for Cine Filipino: Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian,” he shares. “And right now we’re doing the post-production for Oro, as in “gold”, that discusses extrajudicial killings in the mining industry.”
Yapan reveals that in the film industry, the finished product is only the tip of the iceberg. “Film is very competitive,” he explains. “[It] will break your heart and test your soul. You will question everything: Your finances, your motivation, your advocacies, your soul. Why am I doing this? Before you go shooting you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’, and even after shooting the film, you will ask, ‘Why did I do this?’”
Although filmmaking is grueling, there are simple joys that make the entire process worthwhile. Yapan says that “[s]eeing [his] work finally projected on screen and listening to the reactions of the people” as some of his personal filmmaking favorites. In fact, Yapan recalls a funny, yet challenging experience filming EDSA. The crew was set up near the Santolan Station on EDSA and made quite a scene. “We have to mount this scene where Aljur Abrenica will get hit by a bus. Inevitably, we will stop traffic,” he recounts. “We were shooting in two lanes, so everyone in the other three lanes humi-hinto (were stopping) to take pictures of us because they thought it was an accident because we were filming an accident scene.”
Tricks of the trade
The pool of prospective filmmakers from the youth of today is brimming with hopefuls, and most are simply waiting for a window of opportunity. Yapan offers his advice on how to thrive in such a harsh industry. “If you tire easily at the first instance of a problem, you might fall out,” he warns. “It’s a cutthroat industry—that’s the reality.”
The key to success? Yapan reveals that this lies in investing in one crucial factor that most aspiring young filmmakers tend to overlook: culture. “Immerse yourself. Explore, research, read. Sabi nga diba, ‘Be a tourist in your own country,’” he advises. “One thing Ateneo filmmakers should understand about filmmaking in this country is that this is not a glamorous industry. You really have to dirty your hands, go into the crowd, and immerse yourself in the realities of our culture.” Whether or not he decides to focus on churning out award-winning poetry compilations or internationally-acclaimed films, Alvin Yapan’s immense contribution to the field of film and literature will forever be hallmarked in history. Whichever path he chooses to take, we’ll be rooting for him.