What Time Is It There?

One director introduces another: Filipino director Raya Martin on Isiah Medina’s “88:88.”
Raya Martin

MUBI is presenting the exclusive online premiere of Isiah Medina's 88:88 on March 18, 2016. The great Filipino director Raya Martin (La última película, Independencia) has generously offered an introduction to the film. Click here for more information in 88:88, including interviews and a director's statement.

There was a time when a virtual flight simulator was rare enough that a minor forgotten program on the early Windows platform became a treasured obsession. It was nothing like your best-selling games today, nor was it some viral experience. The simulator went around through everyone’s mails in Eudora, in an era when executable programs weren’t promptly perceived as destructive. The flight simulator was simple: you are looking out directly from a generic cockpit, navigating through a three-dimensional barren landscape that was neither Mars nor Morocco. In my fragile memory bank, the light-colored hues alternated between aquamarine and pink. There was nothing else to do in this application but move forward. But one thing made it special: the journey was endless. 

Where does one start on Isiah Medina’s multiversal debut feature 88:88? Possibly with darkness, or the birth of an image, or the initial perception of it, or even with the history of cinema quickly rupturing into parts of music, literature, philosophy. “And,” in Medina’s words, “we follow each consequence.” This consequence is simply composed of overlapping categorical layers of format, framing, treatment, further blurred by precise tensional editing between the images and their sound (that even has its own categorical layers intersecting with each other). In these parts, Medina speaks lovingly to the girl, captures movements of and among his friends, rationalizes to the wind. Onscreen, he attempts to become a lover, survivor, political aesthete. Yet Medina remains omnipresent as a filmmaker, consciously rivaling images and lending sound to us and to himself. In a striking movement mid-film, Medina graciously enters a crescendo into music video territory, momentarily leaving sound text and inviting us to immerse in pure imagery. But this momentum breaks, proposing yet another rabbit hole. Medina never goes there, but somehow you just reach it. 

But how can we really approach a work from someone whose generation was born already submerged in images? What is the perception they can speak of? What is the materiality we should talk about in moving images, when we are given tools to flood ourselves, but paradoxically lack the access to terminate them? Where does the journey go, where does it take you?

Medina was once interested in perception. In his compact 16mm short SEMI-AUTO COLOURS, he treats film camera as video companion, following the same friends around and shooting screens and scenarios. It feels like a luxury from a filmmaker whose most recent work is immersed in the concept of poverty. The repetitions are slacker, yet he has always treated them as an economic filter. Even in his feature, Medina maintains that repetition is dictated by economic conditions (similar to suburban monotony). People meet and escape, and the variations in these repetitions are barely perceptible, even when the images are different. While one can already see his studiousness, this is even more pronounced in 88:88, where a comfortable imagery we pretend to mean something mean nothing; Where he refuses to argue about post-capitalism, begs for hunger, thirst, craving… Structures are made to destructuralize, which is why as a structural film, it takes flight as documentary (whatever that could mean today). 


But what is more documentary than negation,

what's more documentary than political invention?

Than intervention? We need to document intervention.

What lingers in Medina’s proposition of presentness is the impossibility of achieving presentness in cinema. The performativity in his work never resonates as naïvete: it only manifests as a generous indignation of the conditions he presents. These conditions are worldly, in a sense that “losing trust in the infinity” is worldly. What does it mean today to inhabit cinema, as the universe is violently brought down into molecular units? Can we make cinema not a mental respite, but an actual shelter? 

In the meantime, most of us are on someone’s watch. In the tradition of advertising watches, the unwritten rule is to set them at 10:10. This allows the hands to frame the brand and logo, usually placed in the upper midpart of its face. In marketing, it is popularly believed that a “smiling” watch is more attractive to customers. (Previously, watches were set at 8:20, but it was felt to be more sad and negative.) A more mythical approach to this tradition is the belief that it had originated from the frozen watches of Lincoln and MLK, or even the casualties of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. “It’s just a feeling you get,” an author says about such subliminal marketing.  

The best way to watch this movie is by holding the laptop close to your face and getting a bigger picture.

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