‘Hari ng Tondo’ is in the heart
Scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza and her husband, filmmaker Carlos Siguion-Reyna, usually spend their summer vacations abroad.
This year, they embarked on a new adventure instead: They made “Hari ng Tondo” for the Cinemalaya fest.
“This is the craziest thing we’ve ever done. We were able to do what we wanted, without fear of being scolded by my mother-in-law (Armida Siguion-Reyna).”
Working with family should not be that challenging. But is it?
The “Hari ng Tondo” cast includes the couple’s family— son Rafa Siguion-Reyna and niece Cris Villonco; and friends Robert Arevalo, Aiza Seguerra, Ciara Sotto and Ali Sotto, among others.
There was a practical reason behind the close-knit ensemble, the team explained in this interview with the Inquirer.
Why was it important for you to work with family?
Carlos Siguion-Reyna: I wanted to do a story about a father and his children and grandchildren. The more we thought about the story, the more I thought about my own father, who passed away four years ago. We started thinking of the real relationships at home. It’s not exactly the same, but it came to life that way.
Real-life relationships feed the art?
Cris Villonco: Rafa and I are the same way off- and onscreen. We fight and joke around the same way. We also play cousins in the film.
Is it like cinema vérité?
CS: Being close to each other saves a lot of time. We couldn’t have a long-enough pre-production with the cast … for that kind of rapport, you need to spend at least a week together.
And Robert is an honorary member of the clan?
Robert Arevalo: They’re like family to me.
And you got the title role.
RA: That’s a new policy in my career. If I make an indie film, it should be different from my television work. The role should be meaty, which is rare for older actors nowadays.
What was it like working with Direk Carlitos?
RA: We had no problems. It was hard at times, but I chose to look at the positive side. Doing numerous takes is like rehearsing repeatedly.
CV: But we no longer do 36 takes [like before]; just 15 to 18 takes. That’s half!
RA: Francis Ford Coppola has gone as high as 50 takes.
CS: When we still shot on film, there was this industry legend that I used 100,000 feet of film. That’s not true. I was always within 45,000 to 60,000 feet.
BO: Back then, when my mother-in-law was actively producing films, she imposed a ceiling on us.
CS: If we went over the budget, we paid for it.
BO: Not only the cost of the negative, but the cost of processing the film as well.
CS: For this movie, you couldn’t over-shoot because the schedule didn’t allow it. This is the first time that I shot in 12 days. My last film “Azucena” (2000) was shot in 28 days.
There are pluses and minuses (about shorter shooting schedules). The plus side is, you’re on your feet all the time. The other side is that you don’t really have time to reflect. With a short schedule, you do all your reflecting beforehand. You have to pre-visualize. Pre-production is important.
Did you and Carlitos fight while shooting?
BO: I called him during the editing. He told the editor: Tell her she is worse than my mother.
You made this film during your summer break from teaching at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia (Singapore).
CS: My students were surprised that we finished pre-prod, shooting, post-prod and screenings in three months.
BO: His assistant director is John Paul Su, his student, who directed a short film, “Pagpag,” with me (as actress) in Tondo. The idea for “Hari” came from that.
“Hari ng Tondo” was not inspired by your Dolphy biography?
BO: Robert has a line of dialogue, describing his old house on Concha Street, that I filched from the bio of Tito Dolphy. He really said those words: “Tatlong kuwarto, maliit.” That’s my bit of cinema vérité.
What was it like shooting in Tondo?
RA: I shot in Tondo long ago, “Grease Gun Gang.” Then and now, Tondo is considered a dangerous location. Because I’m old already, I don’t get easily frightened. The mother of my father is from Tondo.
You are part of the illustrious De Leon clan of artists.
RA: (National Artist for Film) Gerry de Leon is my uncle. That’s why I’m used to working in “family” productions like this movie. My grandfather hired all his children for zarzuelas.
BO: His lolo Hermogenes Ilagan was the father of the Filipino zarzuela. Hermogenes’ children worked on radio. Robert’s uncle, Angel Esmeralda, was the father of Jay Ilagan. Gerry de Leon’s wife Fely Vallejo is the grandmother of Janno Gibbs.
In terms of style, does this film hew closely to your past movies?
BO: There’s this notion that he makes only glossy movies. But, really, he just likes doing movies. Our (two) kids grew up in a house where none of Carlitos’ awards are on display. He doesn’t want them to think you need trophies to be validated.
Where are the trophies?
RA: He sold them pala.
Rafa Siguion-Reyna: Inside the cabinet. The stone in the Urian trophy fell off na nga.
BO: For Carlitos, filmmaking is just a job.
Like Direk Carlitos, Cris is also making a comeback.
CV: My first and only movie was also 14 years ago, with Fernando Poe Jr., “Ang Dalubhasa.”
BO: She was with the Action King and now, with the “Hari ng Tondo.”
CV: FPJ saw my poster at the back of a Pop Cola truck. He was looking for a young girl at the time. He didn’t know I was related to my relatives.
BO: Mommy (Armida) told FPJ: You are working with my granddaughter in your movie. FPJ replied, “Bakit mabait siya?”
Is this Rafa’s first film, too?
RS: First feature film as an adult. When I was a kid, in 1996, I came out in my dad’s film, “Abot Kamay ang Pangarap.”
CS: Rafa was five years old.
BO: On Rafa’s first day, his dad wanted to fire him. Rafa was supposed to talk to his father, played by Pen Medina. But every time he said “Itay” he looked at Carlitos. Pen told Carlitos to stand behind him so Rafa would look at them. For another scene, Pen gave Rafa a workshop for a crying scene. Pen told Rafa: “Think of how you feel when your parents fight. What do they fight about?” Rafa said: “Scripts.”
Last year you were a Cinemalaya juror, but now you are being judged.
CS: I feel excited about that. For me the biggest reward is doing a film again and being part of the community again. Plus my exposure to my students’ works in Singapore kept me connected and inspired. The desire to direct was always there. But it had to be a material I had a personal affinity with. The characters in this film are very close to me.
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