Film director Atom Magadia and producer Anne Prado-Magadia are gearing up for the release of their debut film Dagsin in the 11th edition of Cinemalaya Film Festival happening from August 5 to 14, 2016.
Dagsin (international title: Gravity) revolves around a paraplegic judge named Justino Razon who becomes an atheist after experiencing grave misfortunes in his life, including the death of his wife Corazon. Justino later became suicidal after hearing about his wife's tragic experience when she was abducted during the Martial Law era.
Season actor Tommy Abuel was tasked to bring life to Justino's dark past in this Cinemalaya 2016 entry. Joining him are fellow cast members Lotlot de Leon, Sue Prado, Janine Gutierrez, Benjamin Alvez, Alex Diaz, Martia Zobel, Yoshihiko Hara, Rolando Inocencio, and Arpee Bautista.
Atom and Anne shared details of their upcoming film with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in an interview last July 28. The story is set in present day but flashbacks show how Justino and Corazon developed their relationship since the late 1930s.
Atom narrated, "Yung kuwento ni Justino and Corazon mula nung college sila e. 'Pag tinignan mo si Tommy diyan, 70 years old na siya e. So from the time na college sila, 1938 hanggang 1970s nandiyan lahat sa pelikula."
The director-producer couple both agreed that they would like to showcase a different kind of love story through this film. Anne explained, "We didn't want the audience or the people to think na ganun kadali ang love. It's easy to put the fairytale together. What's hard is to live it after happily ever after."
She added, "There is much more to that even if you watch it twice, makikita mo yung difference [from other love stories]."
Atom added that the film is more just a love story, "Although love story siya, puwede kang madala dun sa love story nila, it is also philisophical. It is actually an existential film based on Camus and Kierkegaard."
CASTING. Anne and Atom felt blessed to have talented cast members for their debut film. Anne noted, "It is by a miracle, si God ang nag-cast ng aming film."
Anne was all praise for their lead actor Tommy Abuel for his convincing portrayal as Justino in the film. She said, "Kay Tito Tommy talaga, parang after a very intense [scene], ang galing galing niya!"
Meanwhile, Atom also lauded the performances of younger cast members in the film including Alex Diaz, Benjamin Alves, and Janine Gutierrez.
Ben will play the young Justino while Janine is cast as Corazon. Alex, on the other hand, plays John Bishop Jr.
Atom said, "Sina Ben, Janine, and Alex, they really delivered and showed something that most people don't see."
The Dagsin director added that this film will introduce Alex's range in acting. Atom pointed out, "He wants people to know that he can act and he can act, makikita nito sa Dagsin because talaga yung mga eksena namin ano e, talagang it's tough drama."
Atom was also impressed with Ben's performance in the film. He said, "Si Janine and si Ben, they pushed them to the nth degree and I think Ben is proud of his work kasi hindi pa yata nakikita ng tao si Ben sa ganung level ng drama kasi he went through a POW [Prisoner of War] experience dito sa film."
TORTURE SCENES. In a separate interview with Ben Alves, he told PEP that he did not use a double when he shot his torture scenes.
He admitted that it was painful to do the scene wherein water was poured over him for a prolonged period of time.
"Yung water torture, masakit. Masakit kasi ilang takes, e. There's a cloth [over my face] and they put the water. You can't fake it, e.
"Malulunok mo talaga ang tubig. You sniff it in."
He disclosed that it took them two days to shoot the torture scenes.
"Safety first naman. The filmmakers were very adamant about that.
"It was irritating. They also tied me up and hit me with a bamboo stick."
INSPIRED BY TRUE STORY. Aside from directing the film, Atom co-wrote the screenplay with his wife inspired by their own story. Direk Atom admitted to becoming suicidal after a series of misfortunes that hit his family, as reflected by Justino's character.
The couple recalled some of their life-changing hardships before they ventured into filmmaking. One of the major challenges they faced was the time when they almost lost their daughter after suffering from multilobal pneumonia for almost two months.
Anne recalled, "We almost lost our daughter kasi sa States and it was very, very hard on us. If it wasn't for my son… kasi alam mo naman sa Amerika, di ba, they're not gonna mince words. When they say you're sick, you're sick.
"When I was there with my daughter, kasi it's just the four of us there. They told us there's a chance for our daughter to live pretty much as much as us winning the lottery. Dun kami, pareho, if it wasn't for our son at yun yung sasabihin sa iyo ng doctor, as parents parang mamatay ka na lang."
Atom added, "Talagang grabe to the point na ginamitan siya ng experimental procedure na hindi nila ginagamit sa child na ganyang age."
At one point, Anne observed how Atom became uninspired after these life-changing events.
She recalled, "Biglang wala siyang kainteres-interes, e, ang daldal-daldal niyan sa akin. Ang sinabi ko lang sa kanya, 'Look, if you don't force yourself to recover, you will never make your film.' And that was the first time I saw him really try [to recover]."
PASSION FOR FILM. Atom has always been passionate about filmmaking which is why he decided to leave his previous profession as a banker at Wall Street in New York City. Atom eventually finished a Film Production course at the Art Center College of Design in California. Since then, he went on to do develpop his skills in film making.
Atom recalled, "I've always wanted to be a filmmaker because I think it's the most relevant art. Kasi bata pa ako nagdo-drawing na ako, nagpe-paint na ako. Tapos nag-photography ako nung mga 11 years old ako and nagawa na lahat e, sa 'kin.
"Mahirap nang i-push yung boundaries sa painting, mahirap nang i-push yung boundaries sa photography kasi ang dami na through the years. Pero ang filmmaking, in my opinion, is still in its infancy at marami pa tayong puwedeng puntahan.
"So filmmaking talaga ang gusto kong gawin. Unfortunately, my dad wanted me to be a businessman so I became a banker for a while."
Meanwhile, Anne was into advertising back in the day after graduating from the University of Asia and the Pacific. She later developed her love for writing and worked with publications here and in California. Eventually, she assumed the roled as the producer and co-writer of their debut film.
Since this is their first full-length feature project in the country, Anne and Atom admitted that they faced several challenges in order for their debut film to finally materialize. One of their biggest realizations is to know which people to trust. Anne said, "Working with people that you only met, and building a relationship the prior, you had none."
The biggest challenge the couple faced while producing the film is mostly financial-related. Anne added, "We had to raise our own capital and our own budget."
The couple said they took on several roles while producing the film to cut down on costs. Atom and Anne are thankful that everyone involved in the project gave more than a 100% for their passion project. Anne said, "Maliit yung budget pero daanin sa make-up, daanin sa hair, daanin sa ano. Thankfully naman, they were very cooperative and nagustuhan din nila siguro yung project. Talaga namang everyone gave their 150% [in the project]."
Anne hopes that this film will give them a good introduction in the local film production scene. Anne said, "It's important of people to see the kind of vision we have for the production company we hope to establish. Kasi, ang kagandahan talaga sa Cinemalaya is meron talagang creative control which does not happen all the time.
"Yung nakita niyong produkto ng Dagsin is because wala ho kaming naging hadlang na, 'O ito, mas maganda yung buhok na ganyan, ilaw na ganito…' Yung mga ganun."
Atom also hopes to release their film after Cinemalaya, "Gusto naming ibenta talaga yung pelikula, and because maliit naman yung budget na ginastos namin. Pag-kinonvert niyo into dollar at kung mabenta namin in US dollar, mababawi. Puwedeng hindi mabawi pero there's a possibility na mabawi."
Dagsin director Atom Magadia and producer Anne Prado-Magadia
(To learn more about this year’s entries, read: Cinemalaya 2016 loses one entry; Nora Aunor, Judy Ann Santos among stars featured in 12th edition)