He hasn’t even turned 30 and Raya Martin is already known as perhaps the most intriguing and challenging Filipino director working today. Martin was the first Filipino filmmaker accepted into the Cinéfondation Résidence of the Cannes Film Festival. His films have shown in numerous festivals including Cannes, the Berlinale, the Locarno International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival; a retrospective of his films has been screened in Paris, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, South Korea, and New York. And now, he has turned his focus to the genre of American Independent Horror Films. His latest, How to Disappear Completely has already earned rave reviews as well as awards at Locarno (Switzerland), Hamburg (Germany), San Diego, CineManila, Rotterdam (The Netherlands), and Buenos Aires. This week, the film is screening twice at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival with Martin in attendance: Wednesday, April 16th at 9:45 and Saturday, April 19th at 9:50. We asked the director a few questions as he arrived in Minnesota.
Your new film, How To Disappear Completely is screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival this week. However, it’s already premiered in a few countries, including here in the United States at the San Diego Asian Film Festival last year. What has the response been like so far?
It’s been surprisingly positive, and more so in the US, but I don’t know why exactly. It’s one of my more accessible works, and the topic is quite sensitive, but people have been quite more reactive perhaps because of the almost clear narrative approach that I do occasionally take in my works. It’s also very friendly, visual and aural wise.
To this point, you’ve kind of taken an unorthodox approach to your career. From being the first Filipino chosen for a residency at Cinéfondation Residence du Festival de Cannes in Paris, France to your choices of movies thus far. However, you called this one of your more “accessible” works, but in some ways the film still definitely challenges you. How is that?
I was always trying out something visually new in my previous works, but it’s also a challenge to work structurally narrative-wise in a film. In a way, the story-telling in How to Disappear Completely is very simple: it’s a child’s daily life in a small town. That also makes it the most challenging: how do you translate certain moods and feelings in something as simple as that?
You also called this your homage to American Independent Horror. What were your influences and why did you decide to pay tribute to that genre?
It’s always been clear to me that if I make my more narrative works, they’d be towards that: I grew up watching a lot of horror films, even before I discovered filmmakers like Antonioni or Maya Deren, I was already into John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. They were my real formative heroes. The soundtrack, for example, is reminiscent of Carpenter’s own work in his films.
I remember growing up in the Philippines and getting so scared by the Filipino folk tales of creatures and superstitions. How much of that influenced the film?
There’s a different sense of terror in the Philippines, I think. It’s very interesting that we seem to be desensitized by everyday murders, but half-bodied flying witches are very much alive in our consciousness. It’s this overlapping of the superstitions with seemingly urban consciousness that makes us unique. I get paranoid more about a rattling sound on the roof that could come from a demonic creature, than perhaps a burglar. It’s that weird consciousness in the film.
It’s funny because in one sense, you’re not even in your thirties yet. But in another sense, you’ve been doing this for so long now, you’ve made 19 films and 12 features, and it seems you’re starting to think of the future. How is that starting to influence the artistic decisions you make?
I’m just playing it as I go along. There are things that I want to try out that I haven’t done before, and that’s probably the idea: not to repeat something and stay out of the comfort zone. A lot of new things are starting to normalize, when it was completely different from when I was younger: the Internet, tactile childhood experiences, watching movies in a theater. So I’d like to figure those out and avoid being a cranky old man.
Are there any other screenings in the US on the horizon? For people who haven’t been able to see it, when might they be able to see the film?
It’s opening the New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco this June! (June 11th, YBCA.org)
How about for you, what can we expect from you next?
I’m currently preparing some more narrative films in the future, one definitely suspense, but another one comedy, which is another genre I would like to explore. Comedy seems to be also a Filipino thing.