komPASS | Descend to Tallinn (or: visiting MIGUEL LIANSÓ, getting to know DOUGLAS CANDANO)

In July 2020 I met Miguel Llansó. His film Jesus Shows you The Way to the Highway was one of the highlights at last year’s DIAMETRALE – Filmfestival für Experimentelles und Komisches in Innsbruck. I had the pleasure of doing an interview with him (see HERE). Following that delightful virtual conversation, we kept in touch. Somewhere along the line, I even got the chance to reading the script to his new movie. „I am trying to do something a little bit more commercial. However the producers told me that my script is not commercial at all. I am fucked“, he told me. I do not want to give away anything, but this much I can say: It will potentially blow your mind. Besides filmmaking, Miguel teaches at the Baltic Film, Media and Arts School in Tallinn. Every November, the capital of Estonia hosts the PÖFF – Black Nights Film Festival, one of the biggest film festivals in Europe. I took this as an occasion to visit him.

Tallinn | Bild: Johanna Hinterholzer

When I arrived in Tallinn late in the evening, snowfall greeted me, and my view was clouded by fumes I emitted with each time I exhaled. A mixture of spookiness and Christmas was in the air – the snow-coated wooden houses, dark trees with bare branches and the ancient, frigid stone walls. A picture so coherent, I could barely imagine it ever not being winter there. 

Miguel had invited me to a little party in Telliskivi, a former industrial area turned hipster heaven. On the way there I came across a strange self-driving something. The little vehicle had six wheels was roughly knee-high, a bright orange flag signaling it’s existence. It drove alongside me for some time until we arrived at a junction. While I continued walking it stopped for a very long time, waiting for the perfect moment to cross the street. Somehow, I felt sorry for the thing, it seemed lost and lonely. Later I found out that it was a food delivery robot. It was not the only salutation from the future I received during my days in Tallinn. One example: Spacy looking air purifiers as Covid protection replacing face masks. Estonia is considered a paradise for startups. Technical innovations are strongly encouraged here, and access to the Internet was declared as a basic human right in 2000.

Tallinn | Bild: Johanna Hinterholzer

The party was on the 3rd floor of a former factory building. Everyone there was talking about movies. So were we. Talking point of our conversation: the 1974 film Die Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner by Werner Herzog, in which he accompanies ski jumper Walter Steiner, also known as the „Bird Man,“ on several stops of that year’s World Cup season. Herzog once stated that it is one of his „most important films.“ Thanks to the film, ski jumping seems to be enjoying a following among indie filmmakers. Miguel told me that he followed the Four Hills Tournament (Vierschanzentournee) every year. What fascinates him most about the sport is the moment you jump, it is so decisive and final. Once you are in the air, you can’t stop. You are going down, whether you want it or not. „I’m doing something very similar.“ said a man who had been sitting a bit on the sidelines. „I totally know that one moment when you get going and there’s no turning back.“ „What do you do?“, we asked.  „I am a competitive eater.“ His name was Douglas, Douglas Candano. He told us that he and his team were currently training for a world record in Burger eating. He also showed us a video of one of his opponents competing against a grizzly bear. Later on, I found out that he came all the way from Manila to Tallinn to attend the premiere of the film Love is a Dog in Hell, which he co-wrote with Khavn De La Cruz, who also directed it.  In 2019 Khavn’s gangster-film Ruined Heart: Another Lovestory Between A Criminal & A Whore was show in the Leokino-Cinema in Innsbruck as part of the International Film Festival Innsbruck (IFFI). I witnessed how the movie literally moved the audience – half of the attendees walked out, the other half laughed, clapped, cried. I belonged to the latter. So, when Douglas suggested I should come to the premiere of Love is a Dog in Hell I was immediately excited.

After two days of eating elk and hours of playing scrabble in cozy cafés to escape the cold, the time had come. Love is a Dog in Hell takes the Greek myth of the hopelessly romantic singer Orphea and transforms it into an apocalyptical musical. The heroine of the film, named Orphea (portrayed by Lilith Stangenberg), is eager to do all it takes to see the love of her life Eurydike, who died of food poisoning, one more time. Even if that means going through literal hell and back. She dives into an anarchic underworld, portrayed by the city of Manila. Accompanied only by her guitar, she sings her heart out and never gives up on love, even when the world around her falls apart. 

We left the premiere a little overwhelmed by the excess of stimuli, the catchy musical-numbers still ringing in our heads. And although the fresh Baltic air did it’s job and cleared our minds there was still the urge to talk about what we just saw. Luckily Douglas was ready to answer my questions (see interview below)

Interview with DOUGLAS CANDANO

– co-writer of the movie Love is a Dog in Hell (directed by Khvan de la Cruz) that premiered at the PÖFF – Black Nights Film Festival 2021 in Tallinn. Douglas told me how the film came about, what the writing process was like and how he found his way to writing.

Douglas Candano | Bild: Douglas Candano

How did you get into writing in the first place? 

I got into writing through reading. When I was a kid, my parents would buy me a lot of books, mostly history and world mythology, as well as some fiction. By the time I got to university, I discovered the works of authors such as Borges, Marquez, Grass, Calvino, and Barth. Reading their works inspired me to make my own stories.

What stories did you like as a child?

Mostly stories from the Greek and Norse myths. Some of those that come to mind include Icarus, Arachne, Orpheus, Thor’s trip to Jotunheim, and the decline of the Æsir towards Ragnarök. I also really liked the English version of the Journey to the West – I think there was an abridged series of 34 children’s books that was released during the 1980s.

When did you start writing?

During university. Given my childhood, I tended to gravitate towards creating stories that would bring together history, world mythology, and anything else that would enable me to move the desired plot forward. I was part of my university’s literary journal, and was fortunate enough to be accepted as a fellow in several national writers’ workshops in the Philippines, and get my stories recognized.

Do you remember a specific moment/incident that made you think: „I really have to write about that!?

Definitely. My stories take a long time to produce so I would have thought deeply about their various elements by the time I’ve actually started writing. As an example, my latest story took me almost eight years to write. In this sense, all my stories have specific moments that made me decide that it would make sense to continue, if only to get the story out of my system. (Check out one of his short stories HERE.)

How did you get involved in screenwriting?

Since most of my fiction has no dialogue and I’m not visually inclined, I never considered screenwriting. It just so happened that Khavn, who I’ve known for decades, approached me to ask if I wanted to collaborate with him to make a punk musical based on the myth of Orpheus set in Manila and starring a German actress with songs in English, Filipino, German, and Russian. Khavn told me that the initial inspiration for the project was Dino Buzzati’s Poem Strip, which I had enjoyed as an application of the Orpheus myth. The premise was so ridiculous and intriguing that I immediately agreed. 

When did you start working on Love is a Dog in Hell

I think Khavn approached me in late 2017 or early 2018 and we had various storylines drawn up throughout 2018, with filming starting in early 2019. Eventually, it was decided that we had enough material to create two films – the Filipino component of Orphea, and Love is a Dog From Hell, which are only tangentially related. 

What was the process like?

The process of creating the various storylines generally consisted of back and forth discussions and revisions that eventually appeared in the final version. From a disguised Euridiko appearing to Orphea throughout her journey and her inability to recognize him, the possibility of Orphea’s day job being a mad bioengineer, to scenes that represented the thematic sins of Dante’s circles of hell. Love is a Dog from Hell was really a synthesis of these and other elements.   

What fascinates you about the Orpheus myth?

I find several elements of the myth fascinating. From Orpheus’ descent into Hades in an attempt to bring back a person who has essentially stopped existing, to the inherent limitations of love, and the human propensity towards self-sabotage. 

Did it turn out as you imagined it when you were writing? What was it like seeing the finished movie for the first time in Tallinn? 

Although the initial cuts of the film weren’t exactly how I pictured things, I thought what resulted was awesome since our artists interpreted things in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. Examples of this would be RoxLee’s animated scenes, as well as Martin Yambao’s design, especially of Orphea’s guitar. Consequently, although I had an idea of the film by the premiere, I was also surprised at how things turned out, with the hellish elements being accentuated in the final cut. I also couldn’t help but notice that the audience appeared to enjoy the film. Although we were primed to expect a heated Q&A session, this didn’t materialize and I took the good audience feedback as a sign that our film managed to appeal to certain people outside our team, which really made things worth the effort.   

Would the story work set anywhere else than Manila, for example here in Tallinn? 

I would think so since the plot’s component variables can always be changed accordingly. However, this would have to be grounded on knowledge of the place where the story would be transplanted. So, in the case of Tallinn, it would be good to learn more about Estonian culture, history, and social issues. This would probably take a fair amount of cultural immersion and research, but should be feasible, nevertheless.  

What does „hell“ mean to you? 

I’m honestly not sure, although I would think that it would involve various forms of pain and suffering, from the physical to the psychological.

What does the title of the movie “Love is a Dog From Hell” mean to you?

I hadn’t read Bukowski’s book when Khavn suggested the title but at the time, I thought it appropriately captured the absurdity and longing that characterized Orphea’s underworld descent. 

| Johanna Hinterholzer

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