Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Alexis Tioseco (1981-2009)

Alexis Tioseco with girlfriend, Nika Bohinc

Alexis Tioseco (1981-2009)

"Why is there so much sadness and too much sorrow in this world? Is happiness just a concept? Is living just a process to measure man's pain? Are we ever going to see each other again? I'm not afraid of death. I'm more afraid that I won't see you again." - Renato in Melancholia (Lav Diaz, 2008)

A text message from Chard Bolisay woke me up. "Oggs, Alexis was murdered." "Huh?" was my reply. I thought it was a bad joke. Alexis was young. He was just a year older than me. It is that youth that drew him respect, especially in the way he expressed his ideas with the maturity and grace of an experienced diplomat. It is also that youth that most people misunderstood, such as during the time when he drafted a manifesto against the corrupting Metro Manila Film Festival or when he was interviewed in a television show with director Carlo J. Caparas and got berated by the embattled director and comic book writer for being young and inexperienced. It is that youth that led to my disbelief that he has died. This cannot be true. He was simply too young and too promising. Alas, the text messages, facebook status messages, and emails started pouring. Alexis and his girlfriend Nika Bohinc were murdered in their house in Quezon City.

I am not personally close to Alexis. Our interactions were limited mostly to the very few times that we'd bump into each other during events, screenings, and other festivals. I would often shake his hand, as he opens up to talk, mostly about the film we're about to see, the film we just saw, or the film community in general. I remember the last time we had a lengthy chat. He got word that I had written a short film for some friends who took the summer film course under Quark Henares. He joked around and said that "I had crossed over." I became embarrassed all of a sudden, not because the film I wrote which he never got to see was to be embarrassed of, but because I am aware of that unspoken rule that film critics can never be filmmakers. This is probably because once a film critic has "crossed-over" and has experienced the difficulties of giving birth to a complete film, compassion for the fellow filmmaker is created, and a film critic can never compassionate.

However, Alexis, who is perhaps the most recognizable real film critic in Manila, is probably the most compassionate person around. He only wrote about the films he loved and kept his criticisms of bad films within private discussions. And his compassion is not limited for the filmmakers he has regarded as his closest friends, but to Philippine cinema itself. Alexis was not selfish. Perhaps one of the proudest moments in my so-called career as a film critic is when he acknowledged me, Bolisay and Dodo Dayao in one of his wishes for Philippine cinema: that the three of us, all of whom wrote about films exclusively for out obscure spaces in the internet, "get space in the broadsheets, because they're far more interesting than anyone writing regularly there today." Last year, he invited me to take part in a panel for ASEACC (Annual South East Asian Cinemas Conference), where I sat along with Dino Manrique and Ben Slater to discuss writing about film in the internet to the conference's participants. This was the first time, and probably the last time, I was given the opportunity to talk about my passion in front of an audience of like-minded individuals.

I was first introduced to Nika, Alexis' beautiful girlfriend, in Mogwai in Cubao X where Alexis jokingly teases Nika about using my review of Brillante Mendoza's Manoro without my permission for the program of a film festival in Slovenia where the said film was being screened. I didn't mind, of course. I was thrilled by the fact that for the first time, my writing was published in paper instead of online, and that I was now translated to Slovenian. From then on, like my interaction with Alexis, my interaction with Nika were limited to waves, handshakes, and sometimes, simple acknowledgments of each other's presence. It was only recently wherein I got to talk to Nika more intensely, and again, about a subject that we both were passionate about: film. It was after a screening of Pepe Diokno's Engkwentro (2009) that she asked me what I thought of the film, and I was honest about my apprehensions regarding the film. She was persistent in finding out why and there, beneath the idle talk about a random film we both saw, I discovered a thirst for perspective, an insistence to create discourse, a compassion for the cinema of this country that only became hers because her boyfriend adores it with such depth, eloquence and vigor, enough to be convinced to displace herself from her homeland and move to a faraway land where household help is commonplace.

(I feel guilty for taking the opportunity to share my thoughts with these two people for granted. I feel guilty for limiting myself to waves and handshakes when there is so much more to talk about, argue about, laugh about, and discuss. I feel guilty because you two are now gone, and all I can do is cry and reminisce on the little nuggets of moments I shared with the two of you.)

Alexis' selflessness reflects in his writing. In his piece entitled The Letter I Would Love to Read to You in Person, published in Rogue Magazine, he exposes himself a romantic, who openly professes his immense love for Nika in the same letter wherein he discloses his beautiful love affair with Philippine cinema. In his blog, Concentrated Nonsense, he further reveals about himself through his musings about cinema. Images from Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero's Intramuros (Walls of Hell, 1964) adorn a post entitled Leonardo. What begins as an evocative reminiscence of the underrated film starring Fernando Poe, Jr. transforms into a beautiful tribute to his late father. His writings were never bland since reading them does not only enlighten you about the particular film or filmmaker that catches his fancy, it also opens you to know him, giving you an inkling why this promising individual who can be successful in any field he chose to tackle decided to stay in Manila and be resigned to what seems to be a thankless job when he could have been elsewhere, living comfortably.

While they are predictably intelligently and beautifully written, they possess a voice that is naturally his. It is a hopeful voice, a voice makes you want to watch the films he lovingly describes in the most graceful prose. He does not stop there. Through his Fully Booked Film Series, he introduced many Filipinos to films that most probably will never be screened either in commercial cinemas or any of the popular film festivals in Metro Manila. Through Alexis' efforts, films like Marlon Fuentes' Bontoc Eulogy (1985), Kidlat Tahimik Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahag-hari (Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow, 1994), Khavn dela Cruz's Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim (Manila in the Fangs of Darkness, 2008), and filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Edwin, Antoinette Jadaone have found an audience, if not a sizable following, in the Philippines. The results of his efforts may be mere trickles compared to the immense dream he has for Philippine cinema, but despite that, he adamantly and bravely persevered. As he introduced Raya Martin, Lav Diaz, and John Torres to the rest of the world who appreciated and continue to appreciate them as gigantic voices in cinema, he did not neglect the country he loved and managed and gave birth to these talented yet humble artists. Against the seeming disinterest that pervaded a seemingly moribund culture, he managed to ignite a fire within the local film community, a fire that would hopefully stay stroke and bright.

Alexis wrote about Philippine cinema as if he was writing for the many generations of Filipinos that neglected it, leaving important works to decay while gorging in formulaic films that only insulted the culture rather than enrich it. He wrote about the films he admired as if they were his own, and perhaps they are his own, knowing that he gave up so much for these films to be made, seen, and perpetuated. He wrote and that is all that mattered. He may have known that his mission would not be completed in a lifetime (which is probably why he created a lengthy wishlist for Philippine cinema, so that his legacy may be continued after his passing), but he strove forward, writing, inspiring, making sense out of a cinema that seemed to have lost all sense. The tragedy of everything is that we lost him to such incomparable senselessness. (To Alexis and Nika, from one of your most thankful admirers who grieves for you like he is grieving for his country's cinema, you will be missed.)


ben said...

Thanks for this Oggs.

Anonymous said...

thanks oggs.this is such a loss to all of us.

Oggs Cruz said...

I still can't believe what happened... It's very tragic.

Bardaguls said...

thanks for this post oggs.

Adrian Mendizabal said...

Oh my! This is unexpected... Thanks for posting it.

risha said...

Thanks for this lovely tribute.

Like you, my sporadic interactions with Nika and Alexis have revolved around films, waves and a promise to grab a drink sometime...

It's an incredible tragedy that refuses to sink in.

Shine on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this moving tribute. Condolences to you and everyone in the Manila film community, and of course to everyone who knew Alexis and Nika around the world.--jason s.

Noel Vera said...

Bautiful tribute, oggs, and thanks for the appreciation of his writing, and links. I guess we need to remember him, carry on.

Thanks, oggs.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you, Noel.

It's embarrassing that I never grabbed the many opportunities to talk to Alexis and just learn and share. He'd always break the ice because I'm too much of a social moron to get the knack of starting conversations. Now, he's gone and I only have these little moments to remember him by as a person. I never told him how much everything he did meant to me personally; how I appreciate the weekly screenings in the Fort (although I missed 75% of them because of work); how everything he wrote (whether it be in Criticine, his blog, or a magazine article) was an event for me; how his passion for Philippine cinema gave me assurance that there is something here to be passionate about even for individuals like me who remain closeted film buffs. Now, he's gone. All I can do is appreciate, remember, and watch other people cry. It's terrible. Nakakaiyak.

Anonymous said...

my only wish is that the film community continue alexis' work and work towards fulfilling his wishes (which i suppose echoes a lot of other film buffs' wishes) which he wrote in the last part of his letter to nika.

i believe, oggs' and noel's names were part of that wishlist. hehe.

i just came from the wake, and it's super heartbreaking to see the devastated faces of alexis' mom and nika's dad. :(

jayclops said...

senseless, senseless tragedy. in a time where our country needs more alexis tiosecos.

Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this, Oggs.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Gang,

It's the least I can do to preserve the greatness of Alexis. I may not have known him as much as I would like to, but the little interaction I have with him has made a great impact on me.

Thank you