By Nickie Wang
Asia’s Titanic is not an Asian version of the 1997 movie about the sad tale of star-crossed lovers portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. It’s not even a love story. It’s a full-length documentary that narrates a mishap far more disastrous than the ill-fated maiden voyage of the ship that sank after its collision with an iceberg.
It premiered on National Geographic Channel (NGC) (Sky Cable Channel 41) 9 p.m. last night.
Asia’s Titanic tells the tragic sinking of MV Doña Paz after colliding with an oil tanker, just few days before Christmas of 1987. It is a powerful and dramatic story made by a Filipino production team that equals the hallmark standards of NGC. It is the first documentary directed by a Filipino for the channel.
Asia’s Titanic director Yam Laranas shared his view with the Standard Today why he chose to pitch the MV Doña Paz mishap when he received the invitation from the NGC.
“It’s the bigness of the event,” Laranas said. “When it happened, I was just fresh out of high school and I had no capability to interpret that sort of trauma in me because when I read the newspaper, I realized more than 4,000 lives lost, how can that be possible? I’ve been telling people: You go to [SM] Megamall A; imagine everyone inside the building is dead. That’s how tragic it was.”
Laranas, whose film credits include Sigaw, Balahibong Pusa, Hibla and Patient X (currently under production), spent almost four years with the help of a talented and hardworking team to produce the documentary. According to the director, the research process took so long because they had to meticulously check every detail to maintain international standard followed in producing documentaries.
“We have learned so much from this project including the way we tell the story. They [NGC] guided us because this is not reportage, this is not current events, this is storytelling. They always warned us that we’re not forensics, we’re storytellers,” the filmmaker explained.
With first-hand accounts of survivors and rescuers and actual transcripts from Philippine congressional inquiry into the tragedy, and archival footage of photos and the reenactments from the collision, Asia’s Titanic dissects MV Doña Paz’ tragedy and retells the story that changed the lives of some 26 survivors.
“The drama comes in naturally. You don’t even have to motivate anyone because we have real survivors on camera and they are willing to share their experience,” Laranas furthered.
Laranas explained that as a filmmaker and as a storyteller, his main objective in making the documentary is simply to tell a story and not to investigate. Asia’s Titanic is not about asking proper authorities to revisit the intrigues and mysteries that surrounded the tragedy.
This is not a documentary that calls out justice for the victims. It’s up for the people what to do or how to react when they see this, the filmmaker emphasized.
In a very interesting conversation with Asia’s Titanic director before the exclusive preview held at the Rockwell Cinema on Aug. 18, we asked him why they gave the documentary with such familiar title. Laranas defended that they could have called the project The Doña Paz Tragedy but their main objective is to convey stories of people who experienced the disaster. He put an emphasis on the stories behind the disaster where thousand lives perished while swimming on a sea of fire while the others were already trapped inside the ship and drowning.
“For every tragedy, there is a real drama unfolding, there are real people, and real death and survival. Titanic is famous, and the only way to catch the attention is to take the Titanic’s name and bring it to us,” Laranas explained and made it clear that they are not making any comparison although Doña Paz had more casualties amid being just quarter of the size of the famous ship that sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 2004 horror flick Sigaw is one of the films that have been affixed to the name of director Yam Laranas. According to him, the remake of the film, which is entitled The Echo, is coming out on Sept. 23 and will be released under Viva International. It was produced by Vertigo Entertainment, which is known for producing other Asian horror flicks like The Grudge, The Ring and The Departed.
“The news came out early even before we did production. People thought that we already did the production,” Laranas answered why The Echo, which stars Iza Calzado and Hollywood actor Jesse Bradford, will be commercially exhibited in the country only now.
Laranas noted that filmmaking in the US is quite different compared to the local setting. He said that it takes about a year to develop a script, and the grueling part of post production goes under meticulous work before a film is released for commercial exhibition.
“I had to live in New York and study for a while and at the same time, production took us about a year. We are technically a low-budget film, $5 million is super cheap compared to your G.I. Joe or to your Transformers. We are actually the lowest in the rank of pecking order. And it so happen that there’s crisis so we are not the priority,” he added.
The strategy of The Echo’s producers was to go worldwide and tap different audiences to assure return of investment.
“So far, right now, we’ve managed to earn more than our budget already, so that’s the fun part,” Laranas ended.