Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On Alexis Tioseco

Remembering Alexis A. Tioseco
(Feb. 11, 1981 - Sept. 1, 2009)
By Quark Henares
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:11:00 09/04/2009

"SO," he said, holding up his fist as if he were holding a microphone – "what's your favorite Stanley Kubrick movie?"

I was thinking to myself, "Oh my God. And I thought I was a dork," as I stared in bewilderment at this tall and lanky teenager with short cropped hair who crouched in attention and periodically looked away while talking to me.

He would then follow his older brother Chris around as they interviewed up-and-coming filmmakers for an Inquirer 2bu special on new Philippine Cinema.

It was the summer of 200 – the first time I met Alexis Tioseco.

After that I'd see him around the 2bu offices, since we both became writers for the section. Fellow writers nicknamed him Ardie, since he supposedly resembled an aardvark. Without fail, every time I'd run into him he'd do the same thing. He'd hold his fist up and go.

"Mr. Henares! Top 5 John Hughes films?"

"Mr. Henares! Godfather 1 or 2?"

"Mr. Henares! `The Lord of The Rings' is boring! Would you agree or disagree?"

Soon after we became part of a group who would gather in this food arcade in Ortigas every Wednesday to drink beer and talk about cinema and other people (mostly just other people). Since we were all very creative we came up with the most creative name: The Wednesday Group.

This was where Alexis and I became friends, talking about everything from cinema to who the hottest girl in his then-campus UA&P was, to hip-hop music.

Around that time I released my first movie and found it touching how, being the very naïve college kid he was, he'd champion it in forums and message boards like PinoyDVD and Pinoy Exchange.

Even then you could see how much he loved cinema, writing away and making argument after argument about movies that were read by a total of 15 people.

And then he saw Lav Diaz's "Batang West Side," and his life was changed forever. Watching Lav's opus prompted him to lead a life dedicated to furthering and promoting Filipino film.

He wrote to film festivals and critics incessantly, asking them to watch certain movies he felt strongly about. He championed filmmakers like John Torres, Raya Martin (also a former 2bU correspondent - ed) and Sherad Sanchez before they made their first features.

I asked him once why he didn't pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. "This is where I can make a real difference," he told me. "There are already so many great filmmakers. Why try to be one of them when I can help make their work known?"

A few years ago Alexis's father, Boy Tioseco, passed away. His loving and warm family asked him to stay with them in Canada, where he had grown up. After all, he wasn't that interested in the family business anyway and he didn't really have anything to stay for in Manila.

He opted to stay, because he knew his place was here, and his work was here.

He loved Manila so much that he even convinced his girlfriend, fellow film critic and programmer from Slovenia, Nika Bohinc, to stay with him.

And this, to me, was a legendary love story – of two wonderful people who didn't grow up here and didn't have to stay, made a decision to live in this country despite everything it was because of their love for each other, and their love for cinema.

And this is how we repay them.


I haven't been able to sleep. This all just doesn't make sense in my head. People who commit suicide have an air of finality around them, like they were ready to die. People who are sick give us time to grieve a little and be ready for their exit. Alexis and Nika were living life to the full, making plans and literally changing the world.

You don't just end a film in the middle of Act 2. Even the vaguest, most challenging film by Alexis's beloved Apichatpong Weera- sethakul wouldn't have that. It's not proper storytelling, and it's not the right way for two wonderful people dedicated to its masterful art to say goodbye.

It's weird when someone you love is suddenly gone. You get these snippets of memories, remember insignificant details, and that's what gets you crying. In the past two days I've had so many flashbacks, and they usually involve Alexis and Nika being really happy – Alexis with that wide-eyed, mouth-opened smile, and Nika with her sly grin and raised eyebrow …

Reels of memory

Alexis is making Lia and I edit his "Amazing Race" audition tape. In it, he and our friend Chris Costello go "I'm Chris. ½ Irish, ½ Filipino." "I'm Alexis, ¼ Chilean, ¼ Italian, ½ Filipino." "Together, we make one full Filipino!"

Nika sees a bunch of giggly Assumptionistas screaming at each other next to her at Mag:Net. She turns her head, looks at me, and mimics their faces. I laugh uncontrollably. Every time we see each other after that we make that face.

Alexis is raving about chocolate polvoron. "I've had polvoron before," he tells me, "but have you tried this chocolate polvoron? It's ridiculous." A few months later this obsession is replaced with one for Boy Bawang. That kind of lasts for four years.

I'm at Alexis's house early in the morning for a Super Noypi shoot. I'm surprised to see him up and about. He sits on his father's bed and puts in an obscure Eastern European film. He brings out his notebook and starts making notes. This is at seven in the morning.

I catch Alexis and Nika buying tickets for "Drag Me To Hell." I run up behind them and start shouting, "Are you two buying tickets for a film that is supposed to be entertaining? !" There is a look of shame in Nika's face, followed by a defensive "We love all cinema, Quark," declaration from Alexis.

Nika is complaining about food poisoning. "Oh my God my best friend for two days was the toilet bowl." The cute little blonde then starts making vomiting motions.

I'm with Alexis and Cecile. After much prodding by Tioseco, we watch Godard's "Une Femme Est Une Femme." He ends up falling asleep. He always falls asleep.

I'm sitting in Alexis's class, filled with eager students excited about the hot teacher and about being able to watch films in school. He announces that the first film will be a two-hour silent by Murnau. There is a collective groan.

Last dinner

"Have you seen this thing on the Internet? Keyboard cat? It's crazy," Alexis says, eyes wide, getting ready to launch another one of his monologues. Nika rolls her eyes and says, "Oh no. This is not even funny." He then goes on to talk about a scene from the gameshow, "Where in The World is Carmen San Diego," and how Keyboard Cat expertly appears in the youtube vid to play off an annoying contestant. He may be internationally respected Alexis Tioseco, but to me he was still that lovable dork.

At the height of his career, when Alexis was already flying around the world to judge for festivals, hanging with his idol Jonathan Rosenbaum and maintaining the renowned Asian cinema website Criticine, we weren't really seeing eye to eye creatively. He called me a sellout during a public forum and also didn't agree with me joining the Metro Manila Film Festival. Normally this would cause a rift between friends, but it didn't affect our relationship in the slightest.

Later that day we still ended up exchanging names to stalk on Facebook and debating on whether Wong Kar Wai really deserved all that praise. I think it's because we both knew that the other was coming from a genuine love of cinema anyway, and that was the only thing that mattered, really. Alexis would go against all odds and fight the biggest names tooth and nail for what he believed in, and I'm proud he did that till the very end.

I told him once, when he started petitioning against the Metro Manila Film Festival back in 2005, "Ano ka ba [What's wrong with you], Alexis? Don't you know there's no hope for the film industry? "Wag na tayong maglokohan [Let's not kid each other]."

He answered, in his Canadian accent, "Hay naku [Oh], Quark. I will dedicate myself to changing your view on that."

And he did. He really did.

Thank you, Mr. Tioseco.

One of the few
By Philip Peckson
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:16:00 09/04/2009

A LITTLE more than a year ago, I handled Alexis a draft of a film review I had written. I did so with pride for in this review I had powerfully exposed, I thought, the film's many failures. He liked some parts, recommended changes to several, but asked me this question: "Isn't it much harder to write about what you love than what you hate?" And then I stood like a man whose vanity has been called and worsens his shame because he envies the sincerity of another. Most critics love to criticize and a few criticize because they love something else. Alexis, you were one of the few.

Alexis the Great
By James Gabrillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:13:00 09/04/2009

ONE of the greates minds of the day, a stem in the heartening flow of contemporary writing and criticism, has passed on. Last Tuesday, Alexis Tioseco and his partner Nika Bohinc were shot dead inside their Quezon City home.

Alexis, film critic and teacher, possessed a clear and remarkable voice that championed local culture. Brisk reviewing would never suffice for him: He surveyed the possibilities of the medium and always kept the crucial – instead of the trivial – at the center of his analyses.

But more than that, he was an immensely kind man with a talent for friendship. His colleagues and students describe him as a shy gentleman, but he always exuded a kind of warmth and exuberance for the people around him. He had a rare combination of ability and modesty.

Alexis promoted his fellow countrymen's reappraisal of their outlook on local film culture. The journey was never easy, but his tireless spirit was a reminder of the power of reason as a force for good.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that a writer "ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." Anyone who reads Alexis' work comes away astonished by his intellect and taste. A number of us come away changed forever.

The flowering of true film criticism in the country is unimaginable without him. Then again, his writing spoke for the moment and beyond. So Alexis Tioseco may have died, but his words endure.

A world without Alexis
By Philbert Ortiz Dy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:14:00 09/04/2009

I WOULD like to talk about courage.

Despite us having many of the same friends and working in the same field, I met Alexis Tioseco only this year. It was January, in Rotterdam. We were both there for the festival; I as trainee of the young critics program, he as festival guest, as the accepted authority on the films of our region.

I told him I didn't know what to expect, and I was kind of scared. It's one thing to be panning the latest Joel Lamangan movie at home. It's another thing to suddenly be in an international film festival, talking with people who have a lot more experience and knowledge about film.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

Over the next few days, every time I ran into Alexis, he would be introducing me to another critic, another festival programmer, another obscure filmmaker whose work I had to see. He would introduce me by talking about my work. "He sat through Melancholia and blogged the entire thing," or "he did a set report on a Joel Lamangan film." And people would give a knowing chuckle, and let me into their circle. Alexis vouched for me, after all.

I do not know what I would've done without Alexis. Holed up in my hotel room, perhaps hiding from the Germans berating me for not having seen much Skolimowski, just trying to get through writing my festival reports, I could not imagine what it must have been like for Alexis just a few years ago, taking on this criticism thing all on his own, being sent to strange lands, having his opinions questioned, challenged and asked for by people with decades of experience above him.

We all know, of course, that Alexis did swimmingly, and that he had become one of the most respected and beloved critics of the region. Soft-spoken, eloquent, and so confident in what he had to say, Alexis easily won over the international critics' community.

Fighting for change

I would like to talk about courage.

A few months back, Erwin Romulo asked me if I could write a cover story for the Philippines Free Press about the Cinemalaya Film Festival. I told him there wasn't anything to write about, since Cinemalaya hadn't screened the films for the press.

Then he proposed I write an opinion piece about the failings of Cinemalaya, reassessing the festival's goals. I replied, "I could do that, but that sounds like Alexis territory."

See, while I have spent most of my career simply writing about movies, Alexis was the guy you'd go to for the bigger picture. He was the guy who would fix things, going after the systemic flaws of the industry as a whole. He once rallied some of the industry's top filmmakers to put their names on a position paper critical of what the Metro Manila Film Festival had begun. He's been the champion of our cinematic heritage, fighting for a way to keep prints of old films from disappearing completely.

And he'd been talking about the flaws of Cinemalaya long before I even became aware there were problems. Again, it was Alexis territory, and I feared encroaching on that space.

Erwin urged me to write it anyway. When it was published, Alexis made sure that it was read by everyone who mattered. He was interviewed on TV, and he kept quoting my article as if I had said things he couldn't have said any better.

But though I talked a good fight, I was never the one at the vanguard of the argument.

Alexis was. Everytime.

He stayed

I would like to talk about courage.

I always cringe a little when people talk about a senseless death, because it implies the existence of a sensible death, of which there is no such thing. Life, for all its drama and irony, is the sensible way to be.

Every death, be it noble, natural, random, painful or quick, is like a tear in the very fabric of our consciousness. There is a void left where a person used to be, and no level of understanding will ever make that better.

On the morning the news broke of Alexis and Nika's death, the term was used liberally. By it, of course, people meant that the circumstances of their death were by no means logical, that they could not trace a line between the previous events of the couple's lives that would lead them to such a horrible fate.

But even that is not accurate. The line is actually pretty clear.

They are gone because they stayed.

Alexis could've gone back to Canada, or used his credentials to get a job pretty much anywhere else in the world. He could've, like so many others, taken one look at the insurmountable tasks facing anyone who genuinely wants to change things in this country, and abandon it all for greener pastures, brighter shores.

And Nika could've stayed in Slovenia, closer to her family and everything she'd already worked for in her country.

But they were here. Out of love. Alexis stayed out of love for our cinema. Because there was so much he wanted to fight for, because he was brave enough to fight for all of it. And Nika, dear Nika, stayed out of love for Alexis, finding the courage to leave almost everything behind for a dreamer and his dreams.

Love gives us courage, after all.

I would like to talk about courage, because I am afraid of a world without Alexis. He was a colleague, an ally, a friend, someone who gave me courage to keep doing what I do, even if no one is listening.

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