Festivals with Alexis (Mostly without Balut)
By Amir Muhammad
NOTE: The Filipino film critic Alexis Tioseco (28) and his girlfriend, the Slovenian critic and editor Nika Bohinc, were murdered at their Manila home on the night of 1 September 2009. The case remains unsolved.
The first time I corresponded with Alexis was through email and I didn't know his gender. So he corrected me and wrote "Damn that Dynasty!"
I was part of a group of people who curated S-Express, a traveling shorts package from Southeast Asian countries. We started with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in 2002. Alexis (and therefore the Philippines) joined us in 2004. S-Express still continues but last year, even though he'd already received his plane ticket, he wasn't with us. The rest of us paid tribute to him and Nika at the Singapore event on 21 September, and then about two dozen of us we went to a restaurant and ordered his favorite four-cheese pizza and ice lemon tea.
In the space of five years, we met in many festivals in many countries. I always looked forward to meeting him because he was so nice, which is not a word you can apply to many people you find in film festivals. So I am glad that I won't be going to many more film festivals in the near future (I have a target of writing ten books before I even think of the next film; I have nine to go). Because festivals without Alexis would be less hospitable.
October 2006. Vancouver, the city where some of his family lived. It was here that Alexis walked out of a scandalous Korean film (championed by Tony Rayns) and I made fun of him: what sort of critic gets shocked easily? But he refused to be baited. We were with John Torres when he won the Dragons & Tigers Award for Todo Todo Teros. I didn't think John would win and kept telling him there was a mistake and it should have gone to a Thai documentary instead. Anyway, we were so excited that we somehow got the idea of going to a DVD store that very night and buying original box-set DVDs. In Kuala Lumpur and Manila, buying original DVDs would put you in a distinct (and easily ridiculed) minority.
July 2007. Delhi, for the Osian's Cinefan festival. He kept trying to put on an Indian accent and it never worked. We looked for books and DVDs in markets. He found the last copy of a thesis written by Ritwik Ghatak for the Communist Party. He let me have it but made a great show of reluctance. He was at a Ghatak screening earlier, where someone vaguely associated with the late director had scolded the festival matriarch Aruna Vasudev because the hall was not full. Alexis found this so absurd that he tried imitating him but it still didn't work. We were on a panel (with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tan Chui Mui) on how we Southeast Asians are supposed to be so cooperative with each other. During the Q & A, someone pointed out that we had all shared by using the same water-bottle to fill our glasses.
November 2006. Jakarta, at a festival of Southeast Asian shorts called Slingshort; this was the first but turned out to be its only installment. It may have been here that Alexis presented the Indonesian actress Jajang C. Noer with a balut, that horror of a Filipino snack that consists of a fertilized duck egg. She had asked for it at an earlier festival (Delhi 2006, perhaps) and was surprised he remembered. Alexis was cursed with a very sharp memory; he would remember, for example, who likes what film and why - and also details of feuds. This made him a good gossip, of course. We enjoyed the screening of the only (but incomplete) print of Pagar Kawat Berduri (1961), which instantly became one of my favorite Indonesian films.
March 2008. Cinema du Reel in Paris. Squeezing into a taxi with Olaf Möller (yes, there's a joke in there somewhere). Rushing to watch the world premiere of a short film by Jean-Marie Straub, which was in Italian with French subtitles. Nika refused to go because she didn't know Italian or French. Alexis later told her: "Olaf has put it in his Top 10 of the year!" And she said: "Oh, he already decided that before he saw the film!"
January 2009. Rotterdam. Nika was trying to get people to watch this Slovenian documentary. And so I did, but I kept falling asleep. I told Alexis: "Why did everyone speak in this same monotonous drone?" And he said: "It's called Slovenian!"
October 2008. Manila, specifically Cinemanila. He wasn't an organizer, which is probably why he hadn't seen the Filipino film Imburnal that had just been banned by the censors a few hours before its premiere. So we tried to watch it in the festival video room, before we were shooed away by the festival director Tikoy Aguiluz.
December 2006. In Kuala Lumpur, at a Southeast Asian cinema conference. (My city has no real film festival.) He did bring a balut for me, as I had asked, but I didn't have the heart to eat it and so I threw it away (which I don't think I told him). I had gone to the airport with an Indonesian scholar to pick him up. We arrived early. It turned out to be an anxious wait because, for about half an hour, information about his flight simply disappeared from the monitor. We asked the airport staff, who told us that the plane had somehow gone "off the radar." This was the first time I found myself imagining a world without Alexis.