Download “Busong” was named one of the top 10 Asian films by the Asian Wall Street Journal – where it was described as film “small in scale, but big in impact.”
Auraeus Solito, an internationally acclaimed independent filmmaker, directed the film.
He has won a string of awards abroad, but ironically, the filmmaker receives little credit at home.
It’s a predicament that may see him reluctantly move elsewhere.
Jofelle Tesorio meets the eclectic director fresh from a turn on the global film circuit.
Classical music blasts from the room of Auraeus Solito.
Inside there are two big aquariums, home to rare species of fish that he breeds in his spare time.
The walls are lined with posters of international film festivals, classic Filipino films and some of his own work.
Solito has just returned from Europe and India, where his fifth film “Busong” previewed.
“The critics in Europe and even in India are very appreciative. In India, it was very appreciated because they know themselves. It took ancient people to understand this ancient story because these are spiritual people.”
The word “Busong” comes from the Pala’wan tribe and is loosely translated as “instant karma”.
“Busong is a dream film come true. It’s a film that I have always wanted to make. It’s basically about the Pala’wan concept of fate. It’s not really karma, because karma takes a lifetime. Busong is like an instant karma where you pay for the consequences of what you do. If you do good to nature, nature does good to you and if you do bad to nature, nature does bad to you. Actually I realized that it’s about man’s oneness with nature. I just want to remind the audience that we are one with nature and what we do with nature, it comes back to us and that’s what people have forgotten...”
The film tackles the environmental degradation in Palawan Island province, the country’s last ecological frontier, now threatened by 15 ongoing mining operations.
The film “Busong” made its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes film festival in France last year.
For Solito, the film reflects his personal journey.
“It was like a spiritual adventure, a spiritual journey because there’s always been a great need for me to come back because I’ve always felt that I don’t belong in the city, that I have always been a nature kid. I like the forest. I like animals. I like fish. There is a great need. We went there the first time when I was five, and I really felt that I really belong there… My elders were fascinated that when I went there when I was five, I knew every sacred place even though I didn’t grow up there because my mother told me those stories…”
Solito’s mother is from the Pala’wan tribe and was the main inspiration for the film.
“The Pala’wan is actually, ironically, is one of the old cultures in the Philippines. Genetically, we are linked to the Tabon Man, which is the oldest bone found in the Philippines. It’s ironic that our own people cannot see their ancientness. There is something wrong with the spirituality in this country. There’s really something wrong with our mindsets. The colonizers did not only colonize our land but they have also colonized our souls and our minds.”
And Cannes was not his first international stage.
In 2005, his film “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” won over a dozen awards and was screened at more than 30 international film festivals.
Film critics praised the film as a unique cultural mirror of the social ambiguity toward gay and lesbian issues in Filipino society.
“Maybe because gay films actually make good money in the Philippines. That’s what I have noticed since it was gay boy who fell in love with a policeman and the gay boy here is so endearing and loving. Filipinos love a cutie kid even if he is a gay funny boy. It’s a bit comic and drama. I think those are the elements and it was also fresh at the time…”
But the success of the film failed to spark a shining career for Solito at home.
“That’s the tragic story. Even though my first feature was a box office hit locally, “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” it’s still a struggle for other films, the second, the third and the fourth film and even “Busong” right, I’m having a hard time releasing it with cinemas because it’s fully booked with Western Hollywood films. It’s really sad… My best friend has been telling me that ‘you’re supposed to be one of the leading filmmakers in this country but you don’t get jobs, nobody gives you jobs. It’s sad because if you look at the history of cinema in the Philippines that its only now, the last five years that young filmmakers win something. In just a decade, we have won so many awards…It’s really sad that our own country doesn’t appreciate it…’”
Solito believes that Filipinos deserve good films with stories worth telling.
That’s why he advises young filmmakers to create original films rather that mimicking Hollywood or Bollywood.
“I felt a little bit betrayed when I went back to the Philippines because I realized that our people have stopped thinking. It’s more of they’ve stopped thinking about themselves. They have lost themselves because they have become so trapped with colonial mentality. They have been trying to become the other, being the foreigner, being American. They have stopped understanding their indigenous roots. That’s why a lot of people got lost when they saw “Busong” in Manila. And I have realized how far we have stepped backwards from ourselves…
But good quality films, like the ones directed by Solito, don’t sell well in the country.
And the Philippines’ Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival only offers a small sum of money to independent filmmakers each year.
“I realize I cannot compromise my work so I have to wait for the right financing for the films I want to make. If you ask what the major problem of independent filmmakers is, I always say it’s the ratio of film financing to the ratio of speed of ideas. You have so much ideas but the financing doesn’t come.”
With limited finances and support, Solito is considering a move abroad.
“I really enjoyed India so much. I wouldn’t mind living there. After I finish my Pala’wan trilogy, when I have done my duty to my tribe, maybe I can have a break and live in India…”
He was surprised by positive response from Indian audience toward “Busong” – where security guards and hotel cleaners approached him to praise the film.
“It’s sad. It takes someone outside to see what’s good inside. Now I understand why people are leaving. I’ve been loyal to this country with my art but if it cannot help me sustain my art, then it’s time to leave. The romantic period is over…”
Solito plans to go to India to produce films.
But he wants to return home someday and he hopes by then, there’ll be an audience for his films.