Question and Answer Session 3 “Possession”

Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka 2014
Question and Answer Session (September, 2014).
Questions directed at Actress Meryll Soriano and
Project Coordinator Angel Mendoza from the Filipino film
Sapi” (English title “Possession”) produced in 2013.

L to R: Meryll Soriano, Angel Mendoza

Q: Are there many television programs in the Philippines where psychic, spiritual phenomena occur in the story?

Actress Meryll Soriano: There are. As a matter of fact, all television networks produce these programs. In particular, you see many of these at the time of Halloween in November. November is regarded as a “scary” month and so you see a lot more of these programs about this time. Turning to our film. This film also depicts the cultural aspect of the Philippines, which includes a culture that accepts supernatural occurrences and shaman types of individuals who heal people from such phenomena. For some reason, the more poverty stricken the person is, the more likely he or she will accept this type of culture.

Q: More than making a statement on the supernatural, I felt the film criticized the foolish nature of competitive rivalry among television stations. I felt the spirits in the film were presented as something rather foolish, but what were the film director’s intentions with regard to this film? Also, the scene where lightning strikes as if to depict “anger” directed at us from above…I’d also like to know why the lightning always came down on the same television station.

Actress Meryll Soriano: Thank you for the question. Unfortunately, the foolish nature of rival competition among television stations in my country does exist in real life. You can say that we, Filipinos, have suffered on account of the foolish acts these television stations have committed. Unfortunately, nothing seems to have changed. As far as the film director’s intentions, I think he was trying to turn his attention to the reality of these matters in a sarcastic sense rather than by making a political statement.

To what extent will humans suffer, scrabble and flounder to transform themselves into an ambition driven existence to reach the very top…I think this is what the film director was pointing to.

Project Coordinator Angel Mendoza: One other point the film director tried to show was the fact that television stations are much more obsessed about competing for TV ratings than caring about real poverty in life or problems of the government. The more flamboyant a television program is made, the more people will be inclined to watch it… That’s what the film director wanted to point out.

MC: Film director Mendoza has astounded us in the past with his cut throat depiction of real to life problems and issues in the Philippines. Truthfully, I’m sort of pleased about his cynical portrayal of the media in “Sapi”, the film being exhibited here. Now do we have any questions?

Q: Thank you very much this deeply interesting film. Now, in the beginning of the film, a snake appears as the television station is being introduced, and this causes a big commotion. A snake also appears at the very end of the film. Can you tell me the meaning behind the snake in the film?

Actress Meryll Soriano: Like in the Bible, the snake symbolizes wickedness. In the film, the snake appears in the midst of competitive rivalry between television stations. Whether it be of a social or political nature, people who start to have the urge to want to rise above others tend to foster something wicked within themselves and ultimately turn into a wicked existence. And this is symbolized by the protagonists’ snake. In the film, the protagonists go after stories about possessed spirits but in fact they are the ones being possessed. They are the ones who foster their own “snake”.

Q: Ms. Soriano, you gave a very realistic performance of someone working in a television station. The scenes where you cover a story look very much like a documentary. I’m sure the film used extras but I could feel a sense of realism at the television station in the film. Now how did you manage your role?

Actress Meryll Soriano: Thank you very much for the compliment! As a matter of fact, I felt this film to be very enjoyable and deeply interesting as well. It was my very first film with film director Mendoza. But when I got the part I wasn’t given the screenplay. As far as the scenes of covering the stories, we just improvised on our acting. This was a very scary approach to take. But we ended up researching every little movement. This even included the programs on “possessed spirits”. We did our own research on how a camera crew would cover such a story and how a television station operates. We closely observed how employees of a television station acted and went with them to cover stories. We even reported on some stories, ourselves. We learned all of this at the scene sort of speak. It took us about a week to do this, but I think we all did a pretty good job at it. Only the film director and a hand full of other people knew how the story would proceed. We did the character design and we acted as we observed. That’s how this film was made.

MC: I see! I was wondering how all this realism was created.

Actress Meryll Soriano: Before any shooting, we had meetings. The film director would talk about the plot but not about the backbone of the characters, leaving us, the performers, to think about our individual roles. We even came up with our own job description. We would use our real names for our roles. Now whatever happened at any point in the filmmaking, each one of us had to have a clear understanding of his or her role, and that included the internal and external side to each character. After all, if we didn’t have this understanding, the character of the roles we played would lose consistency and everything would fall apart, so we were required to maintain this relationship. It was a challenge and a difficult one for us. Despite being yourself, you had to bring out the expression of someone else. And this was like a tricky trap. Yet the opportunity gave us the chance to create a new form of expression. I think we were successful in bringing about a chemical reaction between the three protagonists. It felt like we were part of the same team for years.

Q: My daughter attends a university in the Philippines so I’m quite familiar with the town where the flood scene was shot. It almost made me feel I was watching my own film. I think the Philippines is a very comfortable country to live in. Unfortunately the Japanese tend only to see the Philippines through its footage of poverty and typhoons. But today’s film also showed a cultural side of the country. So I think it’s a good film to understand these things. My wife is Filipino and she really enjoyed the film.

Actress Meryll Soriano: Thank you so much,

Q: Were there any instances of supernatural phenomena during the shooting of the film?

Actress Meryll Soriano: The people in the Philippines really believe in the super natural. I never slept alone until I was 19. That’s because I was scared. Because I thought these things would happen. Now if I talked about my experience with the super natural in my own country, it would literally scare people so much that they wouldn’t be able to sleep. My brothers experienced a very high fever when they were still infants and they never stopped crying. So we had a shaman come to our house. The shaman then said “this boy is possessed by the spirit of the tree” and proceeded to chase away the evil spirits by pouring hot water and by hitting my brothers. Families believe in these kinds of things, which are deeply rooted in the culture of the Philippines. You may thing these things are amusingly ridiculous, but they really happen.

MC: So if this film actually depicts what really happens in the Philippines, then we might consider the motion picture a documentary then. Thank you again to everybody who came today.

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