BIANCA Balbuena is a film producer who works for production studio Epicmedia. She has been behind a number of critically-acclaimed films and is the youngest recipient of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) FIAPF Award for her contribution to Asia Pacific cinema.
Close-up Culture spoke to the Manila-based producer about her career and her upcoming film Season of the Devil.
Q: Season of the Devil recently screened at Berlinale. It sounds like an incredible four-hour celebration of music, history and mythology. What should we expect from the film?
A: YOU should expect good and bad melodies mirroring the characteristics of each persona. It is also not the usual Lav Diaz film which lingers for minutes on one shot. The discipline is quite different here because of the genre. But as with all Lav Diaz films, it voices out the pain of the country and it is beautiful.
Q: It seems like an ambitious project. What were the challenges getting this film made?
A: THE first challenge was financing. This is because we were working on a different project, a film noir. And Lav only gave me pages of original song composition. He wrote the script when we were already on location, days before the shoot. The second challenge was the sensitive topic and story. We had to shoot in the Philippines and Malaysia. But it was a fun experience.
Q: Can you talk about working with Laz Diaz and the rest of the team for Season of the Devil?
A: WORKING with Lav Diaz is like a masterclass every day. I learnt so much. I am in awe every time he writes and directs. He is also so much fun. He is very light to work with. He tells jokes and acts them out. The whole team of Season of the Devil’s was professional and passionate – and they all believed in the material.
Q: You have worked as a producer, actor, and assistant director – among other roles. What do you get most pleasure from and do you plan on getting in the director’s chair one day?
A: I ENJOY being a producer. It is like motherhood. You are there from the birth of a story to writing, financing, pitching, pre-production, production, post production, deliverables, release to sales and distribution – and even until archiving.
You get to tell stories with the director to both a local and global audience. You are involved in the creative process and the decision-making. It is like a marriage. I do not see myself directing because there are already too many directors. What we need are producers to push directors forward and protect them. But who knows, maybe one day with the right material.
Q: You have worked with Antoinette Jadaone on a few films including cult classic That Thing Called Tadhana. What is the environment like for female creatives in Asia Pacific cinema?
A: THE mainstream world in our country is led by women producers and directors but the independent film industry only has a few. I have no answers as to why but I wish for a world with more female directors and female film characters that embody the strength and frailty of women.
Not exploiting, not empowering, but about the truths that we see and the truths that we refuse to see. I love working with female directors although I have only worked with three in a total of 20 films. They know what they want and they really push for it. They also have so much heart and soul in the cinema they make.
That Thing Called Tadhana changed my life. I see a big part of myself in the story and in the characters. It is like a therapy and I do not get tired watching it. It also had a big impact in my professional and financial life.
Q: You recently tweeted out your approval of Alex Garland’s Annihilation. What kind of films and filmmakers do you enjoy watching and want to make?
A: I AM an impatient person but I really enjoy slow meditative cinema such as the works of Wang Bing, Pedro Costa, Bela Tarr, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Russian films. I remember meeting Pedro Costa in Tokyo and he said: ‘What is missing in films today is the wind on the trees.’
I also enjoy genre content that pushes the limit or plays with high concept or tries to be different but is well-crafted.
I like Meet Joe Black, Netflix’s Dark, Unbreakable, The Lobster, Embrace of the Serpent, The One I Love, Logan, Dark Knight, Seventh Seal, Son of Saul, Whiplash, Get Out and Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts.
I really enjoyed Annihilation. What a cinema feast. I wish I saw it on the big screen. Portman is really so good.
Q: What are your ambitions and what is next for you this year?
A: MY ambition is to collaborate with American independent entertainment company A24, do more foreign co-productions, produce a series for Netflix and work with Stellan Skarsgard and Mads Mikkelsen.
My dream is for the Filipino audience to be more exposed and appreciative of alternative local content and foreign (not English) movies.
This year, we are doing more international co-productions and line productions – two Japanese, one Norweigan, one Vietnamese and one Romanian film. We are producing genre films- a black surf, drugs and sex comedy; a social commentary comedy; two horror films, a high concept romance and hopefully a time-travelling series.