As you read this, director Marie Jamora is showing her first feature length, Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There), at the Slamdance Film Festival in the US. The movie, which won the audience’s hearts at the 2012 Cinemalaya Film Festival, is about Gibson Bonifacio, a young man who refuses to speak as he tries to resolve his twin brother’s death. As he returns home after a long absence, he struggles to keep ties with his family, his friends, and is taken by the daring and charming Enid, a character named after the author.
Today, we explore Marie’s bookshelf, what other stories and writers have influenced her art, and what else budding artists and directors can take note of.
Marie’s long love affair with stories and storytelling began when she was a young girl, reading a Bobbsey Twins mystery forced upon her by her older sister Jasmin. Upon finishing the book, she only wanted to continue to the next one, and consequently discovered that their home library showcased not only the entire series, but also others suited to her age, ones by Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Enid Blyton.
When her family moved house, Marie refused to throw out any of the books, in hopes to pass them on to her own children one day. She also recalls speed-reading through four pocket book titles a day in grade school.
“Since I read a lot of stories as a kid, and they were all about kids, I think I do like coming-of-age stories a lot,” Marie explains, of the films and stories that she feels attached to until now. “I’m gonna maybe delve into that until I’m bored with it… I tend to like young characters. It’s usually about discovery.”
Marie’s author choices also grew up as she did, exploring works by Jane Austen, Judy Blume, Douglas Coupland and J.D. Salinger as she got to high school.
“She [Jane Austen] always has these strong female characters who are very clever. They’re never the prettiest girl, but they tend to always get the guy through their wits. That one has always been interesting to me.”
In college, her newfound friends introduced her to graphic novels. She remembers how her Ang Nawawala co-writer and friend, Ramon de Veyra, lent her one title after another, as he would curate the comics that he thought she should read.
She also recalls how then-classmate, Marc Abaya, convinced her to read the Sandman series, loaning her his personal copy of Seasons of Mists.
“‘This is Sandman number four, should I read number one?’ and he was like, ‘No, read this one.’ I was really dubious, but I read it and it was amazing. Then the first graphic novel that Ramon lent was The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Quark [Henares] was the one who lent me [Adrian] Tomine and the more independent comics.”
“In film school it was required [to buy film books] but I never read them because I was too busy. After film school, when I had the time, I started reading them. When I was shooting the film, what I would do was I would read the film books when I would come home to research. Kunyari you’re taking a course and you’re reviewing for an exam. I felt I was doing that when I was reading film books, so I’ve started to collect more of those.”
Marie’s bookshelf is also filled with magazines and random souvenirs from her travels, these Star Wars comics being something she bumped into while in Europe.
She also found some of these old photo pamphlets, which landed on the set of Gibson’s room in Ang Nawawala, among titles like From Hell by Alan Moore, and Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan.
“I always believed that Gibson would have the bookshelf of a slightly older man, because when his twin brother died, he wanted to grow up more. He skipped years and wanted to feel like he grew up so he could forget. Then, I also believed that he would support local artists, and that leaked in a little bit closer to the shooting.
“There’s a scene kasi where Jamie (the twin), would always have the comic books, and we even asked permission for From Hell. Alan Moore’s people gave us permission to use the cover. But for the other books I wanted, like I wanted a Tomine book, but we couldn’t get the rights for them. So the books became more and more local. So it became Elmer, Trese, and I am a big fan of Apol Sta. Maria, so I got my Alamat ng Panget and just threw it on the table.”
From among all the books she’s read, from pocket book mysteries to nonfiction influences, Marie enumerates six of her favorite ones of all time.
“I would go back to these books. They’re never nakakasawa and they’re so well written. They’re timeless and I think every time you go back to it, there’s another level of meaning or appreciation. Like when you grow older, and maybe you get more jaded, or smarter, or more experienced, you can go back to these books, and it’ll be completely new experience reading it again.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
“I love the level of imagination, in terms of how he invented just the kind of candy that was there. I’m not into sweets, but for example, there’s a joke there that I will never forget. There is a room in the factory with ‘Lemon Squares That Look Round.’ The kids were peering into the room, and they said, ‘They don’t look round, they look square!’ and Willy Wonka said, ‘Of course, they look round!’ He opened the door, and the candies had faces and they turned to look at everyone at the doorway, and Wonka said, ‘See? They just looked ‘round.’ It’s a British thing, diba? I thought that was hilarious, learning about the culture and the humor of the Brits.”
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle
“I don’t know why I love this particular book. I think it’s the sap in me, because it’s basically about Vicky Austin and how she spent a summer on an island interning with dolphins. It’s about her relationship with her dying grandfather, and the guy that’s in charge of the dolphins is really hot. It’s a summer romance but with dolphins! I’ve always wanted to make a movie out of it. I think they’ve made TV movies out of it, but I have a feeling it’s not gonna be as good as if I made the movie with it! (laughs)”
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
“When I first read it, I read it for appreciation, not really understanding the level of philosophy that went into it. As you get older, [you realize that] if you want it to be about religion, it’s about religion. If you wanted I to be about family, it’s about family. It’s really just about the place you are in your life. If you read it, it will help you in whatever space you’re at.
“It’s basically a conversation, but I don’t know how he made it so interesting. Even the way it’s written is interesting. The first part is happening to Franny, an incident in a train station and a lunch date with her boyfriend. The second half of the book starts out with a letter that Zooey’s reading in the bath, then he has a conversation with his mother, and the rest of the book is a conversation he has with Franny. The structure sounds horrible, but when you read it, it’s just brilliant. The humor is [also] great.”
Making Movies by Sidney Lumet (Pictured above with Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith, one of her more recent reads)
“I could never finish this book before. I would read the first two chapters and then stop. When I started filming Ang Nawawala, I couldn’t stop reading it. As I was filming the movie, I realized that it is really something you need to read if you are a filmmaker. He goes through every aspect of filmmaking — from his production design, to the actors, to the rehearsal process, to the script — everything you need to know and not in a ‘self-help’ way, or not in a ‘pay me money so I’ll share my knowledge with you’ way. It’s just really something old school but eternally priceless.
“I remember how he shot Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, getting a specific reaction from him. In the scene, Al Pacino is on the phone with his wife, and he just robbed a bank and he’s freaking out to her. On the set, he really made the wife be on the other end of the phone line, para totoo. He had two cameras rolling, so that if the film runs out of one, he won’t stop shooting, the second one is still rolling. So bigay na bigay si Al Pacino, and then they cut. Then akala in Al Pacino na yun na yun. Sabi ni Lumet ‘One more,’ and then Al Pacino was like, ‘How dare you? I gave you everything!’ But he had to do it, he had to follow the director. So in this one, he was so tired na, because he gave everything in the first take, but that’s exactly what Lumet wanted. He wanted him to have the feeling of ‘you’ve been through this entire experience, and you’re so pagod na,’ and that’s the take that ends up in the film. How he explains all of this is really great. It helped me with my actors, and how to deal with Dawn Zulueta and Dominic [Roco] when I needed really emotional scenes.”
Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
“What was beautiful about this book was that it didn’t really adhere to comic rules of paneling. Diba some pages are like full page paintings? It’s really just about imagination and how far it can go. That entire series is brilliant, and I remember people in high school were like, ‘Sandman! Sandman!’ and I was like, ‘What is this?’ But when I read it, I understood why people went crazy over it, because it’s a world that you really immerse yourself into and invest in.
“Like the Lord of the Rings movies, I can’t wait for someone to do Sandman justice on film. I think they can do it now. I think they have the technology to make those movies now and it could be an entire franchise of these amazing characters in those amazing worlds. Maybe it doesn’t even have to be live action, maybe it could be 3D motion capture like [The Adventures of] Tin-Tin.”
“Actually, my favorite Sandman book is Kindly Ones, but Season of Mists is an important landmark in my life.”
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
“I used to read Peanuts and Archie and stuff like that, and this book changed what I thought of comic books. It made me realize that there could be a dark side. It got a character like Batman, who I always identified with Adam West, and it transformed this character into a different character, but still not changing it into something that it wasn’t, just making it different and better. So when read this book, it really blew my mind. I didn’t know you could do this to Batman, and that made me go into other graphic novels and comic books.”
You can follow Marie’s tweets and updates from Slamdance through @mariejamora or @whatisntthere. She is also on Instagram as @marie_jamora. Visit the Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There) website http://angnawawala.com/.