LOS ANGELES, February 28 ------ American Cinematheque, the prestigious nonprofit organization dedicated to the celebration of film in all of its forms, is saluting a Filipino filmmaker, Lav Diaz, for the first time. “As far as I know, this is the first salute we’ve done to a Filipino filmmaker. I am hoping that this will lead to more tributes soon,” said Chris LeMaire, American Cinematheque’s assistant programmer. Chris explained how the tribute to Lav came about: “We were fortunate to screen Lav’s latest film, ‘The Halt,’ as part of our Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Foreign Language Film Series in September last year. The film was met with great enthusiasm from the audience, which led me to explore the possibility of bringing Lav to Los Angeles for a tribute series. “I have been an admirer of Lav’s work for some time, so I was thrilled to see one of his films truly connect with our audience. I think these back-to-back nights with ‘Norte, the End of History’ and ‘Batang West Side’ will make a fitting introduction for anyone new to Lav’s cinema, and hopefully, will inspire further interest, as we continue to screen his films throughout the year.”
The LA-based cultural organization will pay tribute to Lav with a two-day screening and a discussion with the internationally acclaimed auteur afterward in the series titled “The End of History: The Cinema of Lav Diaz.” In its press release, American Cinematheque stated, “One of the Philippines’ most celebrated filmmakers, Lav Diaz has utilized the instinctual storytelling sensibilities of a great Russian novelist and the filmmaking styles of cinematic poets, such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson and Béla Tarr to create masterworks of epic lengths. Born in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, Philippines, Diaz began directing features in the late 1990s, developing his signature connection between modern everyday life and the baggage of historical memory.” On Saturday, Feb. 29, at 5 p.m., the series kicks off with a screening of “Norte: The End of History,” which the New York Times included on its “Most Influential Films of the Decade” list. The 2013 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard entry, described as Lav’s “epic reimagining of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ … [as] … both an intimate human drama and a cosmic treatise on the origin of evil,” stars Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani and Archie Alemania.
“Norte…” will be screened at the historic Aero Theatre, which opened in January 1940, in Santa Monica, California. A Filipino food reception at 4 p.m., catered by Fiesta Fastfood, will precede the screening. Fiesta Fastfood, a family-owned catering services company started by Minda and Jun Chin, is an inspiring immigrant success story. On Sunday, March 1, at 5 p.m., American Cinematheque’s celebration of Lav’s cinematic vision continues with a screening of “Batang West Side.” Released in 2001, the film, also titled “West Side Avenue,” is described as “addressing the traumatic fallout from the Ferdinand Marcos regime in an epic murder mystery set against the illusion of the American Dream.” Yul Servo in “Batang West Side” Shot in Jersey City, New Jersey, “Batang…” stars Yul Servo, Joel Torre, Gloria Diaz and Angel Aquino. Chris pointed out, “The 35mm print of ‘Batang West Side’ came from the Austrian Film Museum, which holds Lav’s film collection. The print is a new 35mm restoration, so it is by far the best way to see the film. As far as I know, it is the only print available for loan.”
This second screening will be at the historic Hollywood Egyptian Theatre, which opened in 1922. Restored and reopened by American Cinematheque in 1998, the Egyptian includes a state-of-the-art 616-seat theater housed within Sid Grauman’s first grand movie palace on Hollywood Boulevard. A Los Angeles landmark, the Egyptian hosted the first-ever Hollywood movie premiere in 1922. Lav, who often serves as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, production designer and composer on his films, is flying from the Philippines to attend both screenings and Q&A sessions afterward. The two films are in Tagalog and English, with English subtitles. Chris addressed why these are must-see films despite their epic length, a trademark of Lav’s oeuvre: “For one thing, these are two of Diaz’s very best films.
‘Norte…’ is often considered his masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why—few films manage to balance the two opposite extremes of human nature in such a beautiful way. In my opinion, it’s one of the best (loose) adaptations of ‘Crime and Punishment’ there is. “Likewise, Lav’s ‘Batang…’ takes a novelist approach to storytelling through its epic portrait of the American Dream set in Jersey City. It’s one of Diaz’s early films, so it will be interesting to compare these two films and see how his style has evolved. “As for the intimidating lengths of these films, thankfully, our audience has grown accustomed to the experience. Over the past year, we have screened films, such as ‘Satantango,’ ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The Human Condition,’ all of which were met with great enthusiasm. I think our audience will gladly accept the challenge this weekend, and hopefully, acknowledge Diaz’s ambitious scope as one of his greatest assets.”