Interview with “HERE AND THERE” [Dito at Doon] Director JP HABAC [OAFF 2021]

“Here and There” [Dito at Doon], the latest film directed by JP HABAC in the Philippines, depicts the whereabouts of "remote love" for a female graduate student who spends all of her time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It received its world premiere screening at the 16th Osaka Asian Film Festival(OAFF 2021).

The film stars Janine GUTIERREZ, winner of the Best Actress award for “The Girl with the Gun” [Babae at Baril](OAFF2020) at the FAMAS Awards 2020, and JC Santos of “Broken”(OAFF 2021)and “Mr. and Mrs. Cruz”(OAFF2018), who co-starred with Janine GUTIERREZ in “The Girl with the Gun” as an antagonist. “Here and There” not only depicts the real feelings of two people whose worlds mix online and offline, but it also depicts people in various positions living with anxiety, such as the anxiety over the strict rules governing going outside during a lockdown in the Philippines and the gradual increase in infected people.

We conducted an email interview with JP HABAC, the director of “Here and There” [Dito at Doon]

This film is a very realistic representation of how young Filipinos live under a strict lockdown in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: while they lose control of their emotions, they sometimes find small joy. Why did you decide to make the film so realistic? Also, how was the lockdown in the Philippines in real life? How long was it and what kind of restrictions were imposed?

JP HABAC :This is a good opportunity to tell stories that reflect the realities of our recent climate and to send a message of what is happening in our society. The Philippines has the longest lockdown in the whole world, spanning for more than a year now. A lot of industries have been hugely affected, including the entertainment industry.

How did you spend your time during the lockdown?

JP HABAC :I was stuck in my apartment all by myself so I had no choice. I worked from home. Finished a lot of films and series available online. I learned how to bake and I almost got myself into vlogging, and fortunately, I didn’t.

The protagonist, Len, played by Janine Gutierrez, who made a stunning debut last year in "Babae at Baril", shows off her charm to the fullest in this film. How did you end up with casting her? Also, did you bring in her real-life experiences as a woman in her 20s when writing the screenplay?

JP HABAC :Casting Janine Gutierrez for the role of Len was the easiest decision we had for this project. When her name appeared on the list, I immediately told the team that Janine was the best choice. Moreover, Janine is an outspoken individual who uses her platform to send a message to everyone, which I think is similar to her character in the film.

What do you find attractive about JC Santos, who you also worked with on your previous film?

JP HABAC :What I admire about JC is that he’s a versatile actor and he has a good chemistry with whichever actress is paired up with him.

There must have been many difficulties until you resumed shooting. How did you overcome those difficulties? Please tell us about your efforts and shooting methods on the set. Also, what kind of guidelines were established in the Filipino film industry?

JP HABAC :During lockdown, a lot of film workers lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Because of this, several guilds were created to help them go back safely to work. Safety protocols were set like shooting hours per day were reduced to 12-14 hours and the amount of manpower was lessened to follow social distancing protocols.

One of the appeals of this film is its cinematic expression which makes the audience feel as if the characters are close to each other when in reality they can only be connected online. What did you consider in order to express the idea of "being connected but not being able to see each other"?

JP HABAC :When I thought of the treatment, I considered the general theme that I explored in the film which is uncertainty and the idea of connect-disconnect.

In this film, there are people in various positions, such as those who refrain from going out, those who cannot take time off from work (like Len's mother), and those who are unemployed and continue to work as a delivery person (like Caloy). In particular, the argument between Len and Caloy shows the disparity and disconnection due to their different positions. Are such cases increasing in the Philippines?

JP HABAC :The reason why this film resonates so much on a personal level is because I know a lot of people --- friends and family --- who experienced this kind of exchange. So I must say that these cases are increasing here in the Philippines.

How did you get Jerrold Tarog, the director of "BLISS" (screened at OAFF2017), to do the music?

JP HABAC :Jerrold Tarog is also the musical scorer of my first feature film, I’m Drunk, I Love You.

What message do you want to convey through this film? What do you want to work on in the future as a filmmaker who is living in the COVID-19 era?

JP HABAC :Since we are confined in spaces, it is important to be reminded that we can always form connections with others — no matter the distance. We just need to embrace the idea that life is more bearable when we let people in. Also, I still want to tell stories that reflect the realities of our society, in whatever genre there is.

by Yumi Eguchi  

Supported  by Jason MAHER

Here and There [Dito at Doon]

Director:JP HABAC

2021|Philippines|100min|Language: Filipino