There are two great American filmmakers who comes to mind for acting in films they direct – Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood.  Mr. Allen is best known for his sometimes dark and light romantic comedies such as the acclaimed Annie Hall (1977), Bullets over Broadway (1994) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996).  Mr. Eastwood, recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cannes Film Festival in February, on the other hand practices competent classical and old-fashioned filmmaking and gave the world Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and Gran Torino (2008).   Although working within the confines of Hollywood, these two brilliant filmmakers are able to cast their personal influence and vision in the production of their films.

It may well be quite early to declare, but these directors reminds me of Daniel Razon, the popular Filipino radio and television news and public service program anchor known as Kuya Daniel.   He may be quite new in the field having just screened his first directorial effort titled Isang Araw Lang (Just One Day, 2009), but he already showed some signs of directorial promise.

The film, influenced by the local television  situation comedies and melodramas of the 80s, centered on this man named Kuya Daniel (played by Mr. Razon himself), a jeepney driver whom his colleagues want to run as president of their association. Through a series of flashbacks every once in a while, we get to know Kuya Daniel and the reasons why he is doing what he is doing now.

He adopts several orphaned children and showed them what it means to be cared of.  As a father figure and big brother to these kids, he strive hard as a jeepney driver to earn  in hopes of raising the children and give them a bright future.  He refuses not a single soul who begs or prays for his help and not expecting any payment in return.  He do all he can to help, to the point of risking his own life for his adopted family.

However, there are some detractors along the way to put the good man down: the greedy and media-savvy politician-congressman (played by Rey PJ Abellana), the syndicate head who exploits children to do petty crimes of pickpocketing and snatching (Robert Miller), and the incumbent abusive president of the jeepney drivers association (Rene Jose).  But Kuya Daniel who served a short-term stint in the police academy ironically never really expressed physical violence against anybody, even to his detractors and enemies in the film.

However, the film cleverly showed through illusion that Kuya Daniel can avenge or exact the same physical violence against his oppressors.  But since he is guided by biblical principles, the film showed us that this man is not like anybody in most films that when pushed to the limits will do some vengeful acts.   In the film, we learn that after Kuya Daniel left the police ranks when he realizes that corruption and moral decay will engulf him soon if he will not do something, he started to open the Scriptures.

The film ended happily (obviously) but there is a hook few seconds before the film closes: Kuya Daniel’s phone rang. He answered. We hear the voice of an old man and sounds familiar, especially among the crowd who broke a deafening clapping and enthusiastic reactions that ensued as the film credit rolls. This single, last scene may have literally break the glass that holds dear the illusion of cinema as imagined reality.  The origin of the voice was never named in the film, but it may be the voice of someone dear to Kuya Daniel in the film, or Mr. Razon in real life, who’s been his source of inspiration and bear a big influence on him.

The inclusion of this  “call” is bravado filmmaking at its best, simply because it mirrors exactly the double meaning of Mr. Razon’s once sad experience of running as Congressman but he was robbed of this chance despite winning.  Notwithstanding what his detractors ever hoped for to destroy him in the eyes of the public by sabotaging his bid, Mr. Razon, in real life, remains unfazed and continues with his humanitarian works for the needy and impoverished sector of the society until today.

In the spirit of independent filmmaking, you can see a lot of promise in the directorial debut of  Mr. Razon whose only experience in creative directing is producing television programs that are centered on news and public service.

Working on a limited budget and tight production schedule, it is however  hard to expect the polish, grandeur and voluptuousness present in most Hollywood commercial films.  But given a much bigger budget and a longer span to direct his film, he could have improved the film’s use of sound and editing.

As it is, the film is competently-made compared with other films directed by more experienced directors in the country.  Because even though inexperienced, the personal vision of Mr. Razon is clearly manifested in every frame from the opening flashback until the end credit rolls.

As an actor in his own film, Mr. Razon is natural and may be likened to Mr. Allen than Mr. Eastwood.  Whereas Mr. Allen showed his sardonic genius in his wordplay for romance and comedy, Mr. Razon utters several golden wisdom about showing genuine kindness without sounding too pontificating.  One of these lines clearly expressed the theme of the film: no goodness shared will bear evil fruits. As a director, however, it may be early to assume who may have influenced him.

The world witnessed a new brand of humanist cinema from the Philippines with the arrival of Lino Brocka (Insiang, Jaguar), Ishmael Bernal (Manila By Night, Himala), Mike De Leon (Sister Stella L., Kisapmata)and Mario O’ Hara (Babae sa Breakwater, Pangarap ng Puso).  Recently, a wave of new Filipino auteurs are making a splash in film festival circuits and reaping acclaim for their masterful, original works.  Among these independent filmmakers are Raya Martin (Now Showing, Independencia), Lav Diaz (Batang Westside, Death in the Land of Encantos), Jeffrey Jeturian (Pila Balde, Kubrador), Aureus Solito (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Pisay) and Brillante Mendoza (Serbis, Kinatay).  The films of these directors dealt more about the country’s poverty, social malaise, military assaults, dysfunctional family and government oppression.

Mr. Razon’s vision of humanist cinema is different.  His film provide a welcome relief to another level of realism in cinema where the humanism shines over the visual motifs and symbolisms.  With humanism used here, I refer it to the sense that kindness and goodwill shine through versus most Filipino independent directors’ realistic depiction of crimes, violence and sex in their films.

I have yet to see Mr. Razon’s follow up to his debut film to conclude my assumption that perhaps Mr. Razon may well become one of the frontrunners of this new humanist cinema in the Philippines.  However, I hope that this film and next get released widely for the world to discover and hope that, after all, Philippine cinema is not yet dead. And while alive, can still do good, not just for a day, but continuously.

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