By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files
The filmmaker associated with several award-winning films (Burlesk Queen, 1977; Asedillo 1971; Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan, 1979) is now based in Siniloan, Laguna where he was born 69 years ago.
Celso Ad. Castillo says he has had enough of the big city since he started schooling at Legarda Elementary School, high school at FEU and AB Literature in MLQU. His journey to manhood, he says, was largely shaped growing up in Quiapo, Rizal Avenue, Escolta and other parts of Metro Manila.
On the other hand, he also lived overseas in California, Nevada, Hawaii and Malaysia. "It's been a long journey," he admits. "I just felt it was time to come home. I am enjoying my life in Siniloan totally where I am totally de-stressed and spared from the daily pressure of living in the big city."
Indeed, the multi-awarded filmmaker has come full circle with 64 movies to his name, most of them getting citations in awards ceremonies.
Meanwhile, his return to the bucolic town of his birth has made him prolific as ever.
Undoubtedly one of the original and most awarded filmmakers of his generation, Castillo has written five books on filmmaking and on his art and life. He is doing post-production work on his new film, "Bahay ng Lagim" (his first digital movie) and hopefully he could work on a new project entitled "Dungis." Also in his mind is a remake of the award-winning, if, controversial, Vilma Santos-starrer"Burlesk Queen."
He has also wrapped up an autobiography with colorful details of some interesting transitions in his life like the year he embraced the Muslim faith and was renamed Arif Amiruddin bin Abdullah.
In-between writing and shooting, he attends to his Laguna farm growing chestnuts, macademia nuts, coffee and cacao. He is also raising hamsters (guinea pigs).
Said he: "I enjoy watching them growing as a colony."
For now, he is focused on his new film he refuses to call an indie film.
"I refuse to call it an indie film simply because it was shot only with a small camera. There is a misconception that being indie means it has to speak a different visual language. Indie filmmaking means that making movies simply became inexpensive. It does not mean you have to depart from the classic tradition of moviemaking adhering to the film aesthetics of the audio-visual art," he explains.
One of the first Filipino filmmakers to invade foreign film festivals abroad with such output as Burlesk Queen and Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (Berlin film Festival and World Film Festival in Montreal) and Nympha (Venice Film Festival), among others, Celso The Kid describes what it takes to survive filmmaking in the Philippines.
"You got to be a true artist in the first place," he rues. "If you don't have a visual eye (since movies is a visual art) then I think one has to settle for another profession. And as a filmmaker of this generation, you have to make movies for the world and not only for SM cinemas or for the festivals abroad. You have to hit the film market. In Hollywood now, they don't care whether the movie was shot in digital or 35 mm. It only has to be a good movie."
He cited as examples indie films that made good in the world box-office such as "Blairwitch Project", " El Mariachi " , ' Open Waters " and " Reservoir Dogs," among others.
Among his landmark films, he singles out "Nympha" as one of them.
"In Nympha, I was dealing with a movie hovering between art and pornography. Directing sex movies is the most difficult because you have to arouse libido without offending the sensitivity and sensibility of your audience. That was my first real effort to test my innate creative artistry. I exerted 100% of my creative energy and it paid off. It was hailed as truly artistic, a box-office smash and elevated me to a new level as a filmmaker," he says.
Another favorite is "Asedillo" starring the King of Action Pictures.
"In this film, I was working with the king of Philippine movies at the age of 26 and had to prove my worth as a director to earn his respect. I also wanted to prove my versatility as a film director and that I could come up with a film of an epic scale. FPJ won the FAMAS best actor in this movie and the film was cited as one the ten best films produced in the Philippines in the 70s."
His 1977 film, Burlesk Queen, won 10 out of the 11 awards of the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival but the results were contested by Lino Brocka and defended by juror Rolando Tinio (now National Artists for Film and Theater, respectively.
He reflects: "I wanted to vindicate myself as a filmmaker in this movie. The media referred to me as a reluctant artist and a filmmaker who has yet to arrive. Not only did the film run away with awards. It was also the top grosser. It broke the myth that quality films don's make money in the box-office and commercial films don't win awards."
Castillo describes the filmmaker then and now.
"Artists are not born overnight and in the same manner than wine tastes better with age. It takes years for a Johnnie Walker whiskey or a Jack Daniels bourbon or a cognac or champagne to be fully satisfying in your palate. A filmmaker goes through the same stages. As a result, a mature filmmaker can dissect life to its fullest"
In closing he poses the question: "Isn't it that a great movie is one actually closest to life?"
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")