no, i didn’t know alexis tioseco personally. but i knew OF him. had been introduced to him too often. and fought with him in front of an international audience on SEA cinema.
but this is getting ahead of the story. too many years ago, i met alexis in malaysia at a cinema conference. he was a resource person along withindie filmmakers raya martin and john torres. i was presenting a paper on the iconography and star creation of Judy Ann Santos and her evolution into and creation of Pinay femininity.
even then, it was clear that alexis and my interests lay at two opposite ends of the Pinoy cinema pole.
i knew what he stood for, was familiar with his work, appreciated the time and energy he put into the study of this recent incarnation of the independent film in the country. i was clear about where i stood: the popular as the site of contemporary cultural struggles, and of possible emancipation. these two, of course, don’t need to be at odds with each other.
at least until i was at a SEA cinemas conference in Ateneo last year, where i presented a paper on Ploning and its reconfiguration of the notion(s) of the indie film given its popular components. alexis expectedly pounced on my paper, questioning my assertion that given the popularity of Santos as lead star, it was entirely possible that she had changed the “taste” of her mass audience who did go out and watch the film. alexis had very little faith in the masses and the possibility that they would go and watch another indie feature given how they “enjoyed” or “understood” Ploning. i have all faith in the masses who go out and watch commercial films, and who create their stars and movies as much as these are created for them.
i realized soon enough that while i saw the commercial production of film as an important enterprise to study precisely because this is what creates us as a movie-going audience, alexis only saw the indie film as important to study. while i wanted to look at the ways in which popular cultural products are sites of struggle, alexis wanted to look at the indie film versus the popular film. i wanted to look at the formula of commercial film and how it has evolved or changed; alexis refused all formula.
now i realize that neither of us are right. reading through the tributes that have come out, i find that in truth, there is our real conditions of existence in this country, and there are the idealists. there’s my groundedness in some of the truths about popular culture that are important, and there’s alexis’ decision to stay in the Philippines and fight for a change in the kind of films we produce. i critique what is in the popular towards change, he critiques what is in the indie towards celebration. and yes, change.
it is precisely because alexis and i are on separate ends of the same pole that i mourn him. because criticism is lacking in this country, and critics whodiscuss each others’ works, look each other in the eye, and scream at each other if they have to, are few and far between.
at least alexis kept many people like me, who only knew OF him and what he stood for, on our toes. at least he had the daring — because of course he had the financial capacity — to love the Pinoy indie film, and believe it, and see it through.
now i wish more than anything else, that the cinema gods will grant many others the opportunities that alexis had in order to change Pinoy cinema. i wish that there would be renewed interest in being critical, and in being brave enough to face critics, just because alexis showed us all that it is possible to be unafraid, and to live without being on someone’s payroll.