We all have secrets. But what forces us to reveal our true identities is a mystery in itself. Joel Ruiz attempts to shed light on the matter of unraveling closeted skeletons thru his first full-length film Baby Angelo, one of the eight movies in competition last year at the Cinemalaya at CCP. When an aborted fetus is found in the dumpster of a rundown apartment complex, an investigation on the lives of the tenants ensue. The story is inspired by a true event that happened in the office building of Arkeo Films, the production company that Ruiz co-owns. This is his second time to compete in the yearly independent filmmakers’ festival; his debut effort Mansyon won Best Short Film in 2005.
Who are your influences in cinema?
Robert Altman for seeing connections between people and his ability to show us the entire lives of characters with just a few shots and lines of dialogue. Mike de Leon because he's fearless and is the right kind of strange. John Sayles, Ang Lee and Jim Jarmusch, because they're offbeat. My friends in Arkeo because I listen to everything they say.
What has making films taught you that watching their films did not prepare you for?
The chaotic, migraine-causing machine that is low-budget, independent filmmaking in this country. Everything has to be done in a hurry, with very little time for preparation, and no money to pay for it. It really pushes you to the limits of your resourcefulness, your adapting skills, your mind.
Ruiz with his star Katherine Luna
Of the stories you've cooked up in your head, why Baby Angelo as first full-length feature?
The story of Baby Angelo developed first, mainly because Cinemalaya had its deadlines. Also because Baby Angelo was born out of an actual event, a dead baby was found in our building.
Your film is made up of character studies of the residents of an apartment building. Can we find you in any one of them?
You'll find degrees of me in all of my characters, from the crazy old man to the lazy drunk slob. But mostly in the lead character of Bong—played excellently by Jojit Lorenzo—a man who never really grew up and who tries his best under his circumstances.
Tell us about a real life neighbor with whom you have been unusually struck by.
I blocked them all out from memory.
What's the biggest misconception about independent filmmaking in the Philippines?
That it's only for the artsy-fartsy types and that it doesn't speak to the people. Many of the indies challenge the way you think movies are, and Pinoy audiences are ready. No one's watching local movies anymore! Sure, many of the films are difficult, but you'll find they're way more original and real than what the movie factories are regurgitating over and over. Another misconception is that somehow independent films aren't "real" movies. It annoys me no end that in mainstream filmmkaking, we are treated as if we're a fluke or as a lesser form of cinema. Some award-giving bodies even have separate categories for "digital" films. We make real movies. And like it or not, there's an upheaval in local cinema coming and it will start with the independents.
A friend who's seen the rough cut said Baby Angelo is weird.
I like that it's weird. Who cares about normal? When you watch the movie, on the onset it feels like a familiar type of film but it takes a left turn and becomes something else. It's definitely not for everyone but I hope that people who dig it won't soon forget it. I like my movies just a little off-center, enough to throw you off, all the better to make you think and feel.
What's the next story in your mind?
We're in the development process of my next full-length film called Akyat-Baba, Paikot-Ikot and I've found a foreign co-producer for it. It's an old-fashioned love story. Except it's not that old-fashioned. And again, it's a little weird. Just a little.
Baby Angelo is the featured film for the month of June at Indie Sine. All-day screenings from June 3-9. Special screenings at 1 PM everyday for the whole month.