Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Smoking Cigars for 30 Years

Smoking a stogie in a Café in Paris.

I've been a cigar smoker for 30 years! That's right, this year marks my 30th anniversary for smoking "Stogies." Including of course, the 7 year cold-turkey gap after my Stroke (which I blame my doctor for... LOL), I have been technically a Cigar lover for three decades.
A lot of people might be appalled by my pride at being a smoker, but I am unapologetic. Like everything else in life (be it liquor, sex or even food), smoking must be tempered and never abused. Enjoyed in moderation, it can be a great way to relax and enjoy life! In Native American culture for example, tobacco is officially smoked to pray to God (the Great Creator) or when people need to be at peace with each other (hence the Peace Pipe or the Chanumpa)-- the point being, that one person's medicine can be misused and become another person's drug. We just have to treat tobacco and our bodies with respect, by never abusing either.
The best place to enjoy a cigar is outside in a garden with a book!
As an Asian (Chinese/Malay stock) with Spanish ancestry from both sides of my family, I take pride in my eclectic mix of cultures. Tobacco use has been a part of my cultural heritage from all three races. My Asian Ancestors smoked long before tobacco was even introduced, and no self-respecting Spanish Don (of which, both my maternal Great Grandfathers were) would be caught without a smoldering Cigar or Cigarillo stuck in their mouth!
Premium hand-made cigars from the Philippines.
The Spaniards brought tobacco to the Philippines from Cuba in 1592, and they used our islands for centuries as a major supplier of quality tobacco products-- one of the colonial government's main source of revenue. It made the Philippines a financially profitable colony from the very beginning and its populace de facto smokers. In fact, Tabacalera, the direct corporate descendant of the original Spanish Tobacco Monopoly in our country, was once regarded as the largest and most sophisticated Tobacco Manufacturing Facility in the World; and its Cigars were favorably regarded as equal in quality to its Havana cousins.

It was in the summer of 1988 when I started smoking Cigars. I turned 21 the year before, which of course meant that it was then already legal for me to smoke anywhere in the world. But I have been smoking cigarettes socially ever since I was in High School, so the real catalyst for my ongoing Cigar infatuation was the Trip I took to Europe with a bunch of fellow Trojans from the University of Southern California's Business School.
1988 Summer Trip to Europe, with fellow USC Business School students.
Numbering almost 30 with our Professor's family and his Teaching Assistant, our motley group was tasked to do scholarly Thesis Papers on European Multi-National Corporations. We visited major Corporations in 7 countries-- among them were Royal Dutch Shell, the London Stock Exchange, BMW, Heineken, Nestle and a dozen others.

Being with a group of people my age of course included partying all night, binge drinking and lot of other things best not mentioned. I can never forget the craziness of it all-- almost being thrown out of several hotels, narrowly escaping brawls in the local pubs, then barely keeping our eyes open for our early morning meetings with corporate brass after coming home almost at dawn from these escapades. My best memories were when we got to party with Prince Albert of Monaco all night, then ended up (my roommate and myself) hanging on to the roll-bar of an open-topped Jeep, speeding around the empty streets of Monaco at dawn with a bunch of French Girls we could barely converse with nor whose names we could not remember; and the time I drove a rental car from Paris with two buddies to watch a Pink Floyd Concert in Versailles, then ended up partying and drinking with a bunch of Scottish fans who drove all the way from Scotland. It was an eye-opening trip for me and one of the wildest experiences of my life!
Enjoying a smoke in streets of Madrid, Spain.

The bug stuck up my ass ever since I was born was finally gone, and for the first time in my life I learned how to be carefree and spontaneous! I had so much fun on that trip that I forgot to buy something to take home as a souvenir. At the airport in Paris on my way back to the US, I scrambled in the Duty Free looking for something to commemorate my life-changing adventure. As I contemplated the wider horizon of possibilities that just opened before me, I thought it appropriate to buy something different and totally off the wall. Since I am already well-acquainted with liquor and cigarettes, I decided to purchased the next best thing, my first pack of cigars. Technically Davidoff Cigarillos (small cigars) are not full-fledged cigars by definition, but since I was not accustomed to smoking anything filterless, I thought it best not to jump the gun.
It was a smart decision. Unfamiliar with the potency of pure high-grade tobacco, I smoked my first stick inside the bathroom. Within a couple of minutes, I was lying on the floor knocked out from its fumes, barely conscious. When I finally found the strength to stand up, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that I had a slightly green pallor. Not having a window or any form of exhaust in the bathroom, made me sick. I learned my first lesson in Cigar smoking-- don't inhale deeply and make sure that there is enough air. Good thing that Cigarillo was small and thin!

Lighting a Cigar is ritualistic, an art in itself! 
It has been a long journey since that first smoke, thirty odd years ago! I never considered myself a Cigar Connoisseur more an Aficionado, since I enjoy smoking both exquisite Havanas as well as cheaper brands. By character, I hate limitations or being "boxed" in any way shape or form, and I abhor finicky people. Instead, I savor variety and choice in everything I do. Depending on my mood and on how much I am willing to spend (or what is readily available), you will see me enjoying a Cohiba one day and a 99 cent 7-11 Cigar the next.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

DAGSIN's Artistic Statement Published for the 1st Time

Souvenir Program for the 4th Danish Film Festival
An excerpt of my Artistic Statement/Director's Notes for DAGSIN was published publicly for the first time in the 4th Danish Film Festival's (Manila) Souvenir Program. The article outlining my artistic considerations and directorial approach in constructing the movie was originally a part of the dossier we submitted to the Cinemalaya Selection Committee in 2015.  
Sponsored by the Royal Embassy of Demark, the yearly Danish film festival gives Filipinos a chance to sample the newest crop of award-winning Danish movies. This year, aside from 8 Danish films, the Embassy decided to include the first Filipino Movie in its line-up-- DAGSIN. Unknown to most Filipinos, DAGSIN was directly inspired by the ideas of Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and French Existentialist Albert Camus. A fan of Kierkegaard, Danish Ambassador to the Philippines Jan Top Christensen thought that DAGSIN would be a perfect fit to illustrate the goodwill and healthy relations that has existed between our two countries for more than a century.
Knowing that the audience might get confused at the inclusion of DAGSIN in their festival, Danish Cultural Officer Angelo Cruz made it a point to include an excerpt of my Notes in their Program. We never openly advertised these ties to Kierkegaard and to Camus thinking that they are not particularly relevant to the overall public perception and enjoyment of our film; but now that it is out there, we hope that you now watch DAGSIN with the added appreciation for the thought and meticulous craft we invested in making this movie.

"Dagsin" or "Gravity", alludes to the “heaviness” of life, the trials and tribulations we experience as human beings. It refers to the heaviness we feel when we are burdened by life and all its tragedies— the weight of emotion that assails us, when someone we love dearly passes away or when we are weighted down by unresolved guilt. Gravity also metaphorically describes the force that attracts and binds us to one another… Love.
Inspired by the ideas of Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and French Existentialist Albert Camus, the movie's main plot is simple but we have richly layered the movie with sub-plots (World-War II and Martial Law), characters, symbolisms and metaphors to illustrate how Love can shelter us from the tragedies of life. The most obvious examples are the names of the characters: Justino (for Justice or conscience/the conscious mind), Corazon (heart/the unconscious), Mercy (God's Mercy), Nurse Grace (God's Grace), etc.; and of course the story’s timeline, which exactly coincides with Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday).
The whole movie is shot, paced and edited from Justino’s subjective perspective, reflecting both his mental as well as physical states— the memories of his youth are deliberately more vivid and idyllic (mimicking the sentimentality of old Filipino Romantic films from the 1940s and 50s), in contrast to his present which is more slow, somber and funereal in feel. The camera is static most of the time to emphasize Justino’s paraplegic immobility, except when we are objectively observing him from another character’s point of view.

I used the location itself, an old mansion, to magnify Justino's predicament. Grand but now nearly abandoned and falling apart, the house mirrors its owner, who is now old, worn-out and nearing his end. Like a ghost, Justino wanders within the shadows of his past entombed in this mausoleum of memories.
Although the movie can be classified in a number of ways: Drama, Romance, Arthouse, etc., I personally categorize it under "Noir," because "Dagsin" is actually a crime, suspense drama of sorts, where the perpetrator, the victim and the executioner are one and the same person. A respected and venerated Judge during Martial Law who compromised his integrity in exchange for the safety of his wife, Justino's conscience now haunts him and insists on passing judgment on his past sins.
In the end, “Dagsin” is one man's "soliloquy" of desperation for his departed love, his soul and his God.

*This statement was a part of the dossier submitted to the Cinemalaya Selection Committee in 2015 and its excerpt (highlighted in yellow) was first published in the souvenir program of the 4th Danish Film Festival in Manila hosted by the Royal Embassy of Denmark.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Story Behind DAGSIN's Awards

As of 2018, DAGSIN has garnered an amazing total of eighteen (18) awards worldwide, despite participating in only a handful (8) of film festivals. The movie's modest budget for both production, distribution and marketing limited our ability to maximise its potential worldwide. But inspite of this, DAGSIN gained traction on its own and attracted a sizeable fan base here and abroad. Here are DAGSIN's laurels...

18 Awards worldwide (the larger laurels), from only 8 film festivals (small laurels on the bottom).
DAGSIN's first award is from Cinemalaya for Tommy Abuel's Performance. It was a historic win, in more ways than one.

Despite his long and illustrious career, in both Stage and Screen working with legendary film directors like Lino Brocka, Mike De Leon, Ishmael Bernal, etc.--he has so far only received Best Supporting Actor trophies. His "Balanghai" for DAGSIN is in fact Tommy Abuel's first BEST ACTOR award.

Atom with Tommy Abuel after winning Best Actor in Cinemalaya 2016.
After Cinemalaya, Anne and I had to regroup, since DAGSIN had no budget left for any type of distribution, nor did it have funds for the sizeable application fees needed to enter the film "In-competition" to other film festivals. Fees were costly, since the application alone cost several hundred dollars (and do not guarantee acceptance), let alone the travel costs we have to incur in order to attend them. It is true that some festivals invite filmmakers to attend and wave fees. Even rarer, some actually provide travel and accommodation for free, but these are only available to established filmmakers that are wooed by the organisers to add cache to the event.

DAGSIN, being our first film, we resigned ourselves to the normal procedures and fees, so Anne and I dug into our own personal funds to begin applying to various festivals around the world around the end of 2016. We thought that the film could benefit from being an "Official Selection" from at least one or two festivals abroad. God answered our prayers and gave us a miracle! Out of the blue, DAGSIN got invited and afforded Anne and I an all expense paid (ticket and accommodation) trip to Kuching Malaysia for the ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards (AIFFA). DAGSIN's first international film festival was truly heaven sent.

Atom and Anne with the Philippine Delegation to AIFFA 2017
Anne and I were a part of a huge Philippine delegation that included local film industry icons, Nora Aunor, Jacklyn Jose, Cherie Gil and Bernardo Bernardo, as well as a contingent of Press and entertainment veterans. Although DAGSIN did not win an award in the festival, we got to bond with these fellow filmmakers and have formed friendships that hopefully will last a lifetime. While we were in Kuching, Anne got an email confirmation of DAGSIN's acceptance to our second international film festival, this time in Madrid.

Atom and Anne at the Madrid International Film Festival 2017 .
DAGSIN was nominated for four categories in the Madrid International Film Festival-- Best International Feature, Best Actress (for Lotlot De Leon), Best Editing and Best Costume. We WON BEST COSTUME!

Around the time we were still traveling in Europe, we again received great news-- DAGSIN received two nominations for the Gawad Urian (the Philippine counterpart of the Golden Globes) and three nominations for the PMPC Star Awards for Movies (Media Press awards). Anne and I arrived on the same night we attended our first Gawad Urian.

Atom and Anne with kids, Ari and Aria, at the 40th Gawad Urian Awards 2017.
Atom with kids, Ari and Aria, beside the Xian Lim (actor) at the PMPC Star Awards for Movies 2017.
Within a few weeks, confirmations of DAGSIN's acceptances to The World's Independent Film Festival (TWIFF) in San Francisco and the Guam International Film Festival (GIFF) arrived. Anne and I again booked tickets using our own funds to go to the U.S., with a stop-over in Guam on the way home. To save money, we stayed with my brother in Las Vegas, then drove to San Francisco with them. To our surprise, DAGSIN won BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE in THE WORLD'S INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL giving us our third trophy!

Benjamin Alves who was nominated for his acting in Dagsin, met us in Guam. Being a native son,  he stayed in his house with his family during the duration of the festival. Although Ben did not win for his performance, DAGSIN was honoured to be named CENTERPIECE FILM OF THE FESTIVAL!

Atom and Anne with the trophy for Best Picture at The World's Independent Film Festival in San Francisco.
Atom and Anne with Actor Benjamin Alves at the Guam International Film Festival 2017.
While Anne and I were still in the U.S., we received an unexpected news from Ms. Lotlot De Leon, who played Mercy in DAGSIN. She ecstatically relayed to our Daughter that DAGSIN had won  FIVE AWARDS from the URDUJA HERITAGE AWARDS, increasing DAGSIN's award tally at this point to nine.

The same day we arrived from Guam, Anne and I drove all the way to Pangasinan to receive our trophies with the other winners in Lingayen. DAGSIN had the largest haul of awards that day! Considering the fact that all the movies from 2016 both features and documentaries were nominated, the Urduja was DAGSIN's greatest triumph. It won BEST HERITAGE FILM, Atom won BEST DIRECTOR, Janine Gutierrez won BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (her first acting award), Marita Zobel won BEST ACTRESS IN A CAMEO ROLE (her first acting award) and Alex Diaz won BEST ACTOR IN A CAMEO ROLE (his first acting award).

Atom and Anne posing with DAGSIN's trophies from the Urduja Heritage Awards.
Within one year DAGSIN's film festival aspirations were more than fulfilled, so we decided to stop applying to other festivals. But our awards story did not end there. While we were in the U.S. we met with Filipino American actor Abe Pagtama and his son Gabe. They are the founders of a filipino film festival in Los Angeles called the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival (LAPIFF) and they invited DAGSIN to join. We wanted to attend, but their festival dates required us to go back to L.A. from Guam and we did not have the budget to do that on short notice. Surprisingly, within a few weeks after Urduja, we found out that Tommy Abuel won the BEST ACTOR AWARD in LAPIFF, his second acting award for DAGSIN!

Atom receives DAGSIN's awards from Abe Pagtama since we could not attend LAPIFF.
2017 had one more surprise before the year ended. The Philippine Daily Inquirer held its yearly Indie Bravo Awards, lauding the films that reaped honours for the country internationally, and DAGSIN was the recipient of TWO INDIE BRAVO AWARDS (plus the plush toy Guyito, the Inquirer mascot).

Atom and Anne with all the other awardees of the 2017 Philippine Daily Inquirer Indie Bravo Awards.
At the end of 2017, after garnering a total of twelve awards for DAGSIN, Anne and I decided to shift our attention to getting the movie distributed and shown locally and abroad. As a matter of fact, DAGSIN was originally scheduled to be shown in FDCP's Cine Local program in December 2017, but when SM Cinemas reneged on their contract we decided to retract the movie from their theatres.

Fortunately, 2018 added a few more awards to DAGSIN's laurels. The NCCA recognised our Costume Designer's work in the movie with an ANI NG DANGAL trophy, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines honoured DAGSIN with THREE FILM AMBASSADOR citations-- trophies for DAGSIN the Movie, for Tommy Abuel and for our Costume Designer (Jona Ballaran).

At the FDCP Film Ambassador's Awards night with team DAGSIN.
By chance, DAGSIN got a last minute invitation from the co-founder of the European Philippine International Film Festival (EPIFF), Ruben Soriquez (actor/director). He was so impressed with the movie after watching it in Los Angeles at the LAPIFF, that he strongly encouraged us to submit it for free. We were not able to attend the festival, but enthusiastically sent a copy of our film through the Italian Embassy by diplomatic pouch. DAGSIN won BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY and BEST ACTOR for Tommy Abuel (his third for DAGSIN), rounding our awards to eighteen in total.

Atom and Anne receiving DAGSIN's awards from Ruben Soriquez, co-founder of EPIFF.
--photos are the exclusive property of Atom & Anne Mediaworks.