Antoinette Jadaone: TO THE STARS AND BACK

Antoinette Jadaone: TO THE STARS AND BACK

Words by Ansis Sy; Illustration by Tej Tan

Direk Tonette talks about her journey from being a Filipino rom com fan to being one of the leading filmmakers of our generation

I first discovered Antoinette Jadaone after watching “Six Degrees of Separation from Lila Cuntapay.” I watched it with my ex (but that’s for another story) in Teatrino, Greenhills and I remember laughing my head off while also shedding a tear or two. It was funny,heartbreaking, and simply excellent.

Without ever being reductive nor predictable, Direk Tonette has mastered the art of hugot with “That Thing Called Tadhana,” “Love You to the Stars and Back,” “Alone/Together,” and “Never Not Love You.” She is a romantic comedy girl at heart, but she’s also not afraid to break away from the formula to make her unique voice heard. Her latest film, “Fan Girl,” which tackles our celebrity worship and toxic masculinity, proves that Direk Tonette has a lot more important stories to tell.

So when given a chance to pick her brain, I didn’t hesitate to be the one to talk to her. In this interview, Antoinette Jadaone talks about her journey on becoming the Direk Tonette we now all know and admire.

Antoinette Jadaone - Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay

Also a Fan Girl: Antoinette Jadaone’s Early Years

Ansis: Direk Tonette, tell us your story.

Direk Tonette: My love for Filipino film started really early because everyone in my family is a big Filipino cinema lover. When I was younger, going to the cinema and watching movies together was like an event. Cinemas were not in the malls at that time. They were stand-alone movie houses where we would bring picnic baskets and watch movies featuring Tito, Vic, and Joey; Dolphy and Babalu; and Romnick Sarmenta and Sheryl Cruz from “That’s Entertainment.”

In our house, my aunt had a video camera, which I borrowed a lot. l used it to shoot our family get-togethers. That was my first exposure to filmmaking without really knowing it. Then in my senior year of high school in St. Paul Pasig, I chose as my elective video production which I really enjoyed.

Film was only my second choice when I took the UPCAT. But I really enjoyed that whole senior year of learning how to shoot music videos, documentaries, and short films, so much so that I shifted out of Broadcast Communication to Film after a year in UP.

My background at this point had only been Filipino movies. UP was where I learned about other films and directors such as Wong Kar-wai and Assayas. It was where I was taught about world cinema, Hollywood, and film theories. But the real me has always been a rom com girl.

Ansis: And how were you as a student in UP?

DT: I was one of the founding members of a film org, UP Cinema. I believe they’re in their 17th year now. Despite being active in our org, I was also grade conscious. My goal during my stay in UP was to graduate cum laude, at least. Loving what I was studying helped me a lot. My lower grades in college were in my non-film subjects like Spanish or P.E., but my short-film classes, and my directing and cinematography classes, I excelled in.

Ansis: A traditional Filipino family would say there is no money in art, but you were inspired by your family’s love for the movies. So when you decided to study film, were they supportive?

DT: Yes, they were very supportive! My grandfather was an engineer and my cousin was an architect, but my mom was very creative. She was very crafty. I guess that’s where I got my natural inclination towards the art.

Ansis: I read that after college, you started working with Direk Joyce Bernal. That’s where you got your start in Star Cinema. Can you tell me more about that?

DT: Part of the activities of our org was to invite film practitioners, filmmakers, and directors to hold workshops. I mentioned I’ve always been a rom com girl by heart, and one of the more popular romantic comedy directors who made me excited and who made me laugh was Joyce Bernal. When we were looking for speakers for that directing workshop, I volunteered to be the one to contact Direk Joyce. I wanted to be a rom com director, and what better training to get than being part of Joyce Bernal’s team. So when I got to speak with her, I told her that if she would ever need someone for her team, I would be available.

After graduating, I got a job doing TV commercials. My boss was generous enough to give me my first commercial at the age of 23, even if I didn’t have the experience. But I would still always tell him that my first love is film, so when Direk Joyce needed a script continuity supervisor and messaged me out of the blue, they let me go. I dropped everything at the TV commercial job, even though I knew it was a very lucrative job.

Watch: “Fan Girl” trailer

Direk Tonette: A Leading Lady in the Film Industry

Ansis: Since it’s International Women’s Month, we’d like to highlight women leaders. Would you consider Direk Joyce to be one of your mentors? And do you have other women mentors who inspired you or pushed you forward?

DT: We were three in the team, Direk Joyce, myself, and Irene Villamor of “Sid & Aya” and “Meet Me in St. Gallen.” I was inspired by the both of them because of their work ethic and how passionate they were in film. My work ethic now is because of them. I worked with them for more than five years and my love for movies grew bigger just by working closely with them and by watching them work

Ansis: You have so many highlights in your career, from “Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay” to “That Thing Called Tadhana,” and recently “Fan Girl.” What has been the most memorable so far?

DT: It would definitely be “Six Degrees” because it was my first film. It was a baptism of fire. I was only 26 or 27 years old when I made it. I’d been working with Direk Joyce for more than four years by then, but it was still not enough to prepare me for my first film.

I was so passionate about doing it, but it was also heartbreaking at the same time. The main problem was really finding more money for me to finish it. “Six Degrees” taught me to follow my gut as a filmmaker and to do things as I know it.

Ansis: What do you think it means to be a woman in the local film industry?

DT: I feel blessed, grateful, and lucky that I am surrounded by other women filmmakers. We are not few. In fact, there are so many Filipina directors. We don’t have a problem similar to Hollywood where women directors are not given much of an opportunity. We are more open here in the Philippines. And it’s not only women directors. If you are part of the LGBTQ community, you can also be a director.

When you are a Filipina filmmaker, you become an ally of other Filipina filmmakers. The more we are in number, our voice becomes louder and gets to be heard more.

When you are a Filipina filmmaker, you become an ally of other Filipina filmmakers. The more we are in number, our voice becomes louder and gets to be heard more.

Ansis: What do you think of the current Philippine cinema industry as a whole and where do you see it going in the future?

DT: The stories that we have now are really diverse. Now, anyone can tell stories. Films, series, and any form of storytelling can be produced and heard, it’s just a matter of knowing if you are the right person to tell them and if they are worth telling.

It is exciting, especially since we just celebrated our 100th year of Philippine Cinema. That’s how rich our history as Filipino filmmakers is, and it can only grow bigger if we only allow more storytellers to come forward and tell their stories.

Maybe what I can wish for is more opportunities for our regional filmmakers. That is what is lacking since almost all of our filmmakers are based here in Manila or in the National Capital Region. It is rare for those in Visayas and Mindanao to get the same support as the Manila-based ones do. They have different perspectives on stories they want to tell because their backgrounds and histories are different. If we put a spotlight on their stories, our industry will be more fertile and exciting.

Ansis: Cinema is a really good medium to amplify the voices of storytellers we rarely hear from. I remember a line from your movie “Alone/Together” about how the artists should be saying something about the community where they belong to.
What else do you think is the power of cinema, especially in times like these — with the pandemic and the current political situation?

DT: I think cinema will magnify any statement or perspective that the filmmaker has. Cinema will outlive the filmmaker. It will become part of history. Ten or 20 years from now, film students will study the films we have today. These movies will be a mirror of the kind of society we are having at this time.

They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but is this true? We say “never forget” in excess. We say it so freely, but do we really not forget? Just like the films of Ishmael Bernal and Lino Broca of the 70s and 80s, when we watch them, they still tackle the same issues that we have now. How are we different today from the Philippines that Broca and Bernal showed? Cinema really mirrors the times, society, and life of a certain people. From here, we can learn — Are we changing for the better? Are we learning?

Ansis: Why was it important to premiere “Fan Girl” while we’re in a pandemic when we can’t go to the theaters to watch it on the big screen?

DT: We started developing “Fan Girl” in 2016. It was a really long process, but I think the time we took before we showed it to people was worth it. Showing the movie while we’re on lockdown was almost a need. While we’re all at home, we can consume a lot of art.

It is important for us as filmmakers to put out work and not let the current situation, pandemic, or political climate stop us from releasing stories that are important to us. When the current situation limits you from producing art, the more you find ways to create more art. For example, during this pandemic, a lot of Zoom films were produced.

A lot of streaming platforms were also recently released and this gave way for “Fan Girl” to have a new audience. It was a blessing in disguise. If it was screened in regular theaters, fewer people would have been able to catch it, and it would not have been watched in full because of censorship. Because we released “Fan Girl” online, the film we showed on MMFF is the same film that was shown in Tokyo International Film Festival and in Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival — without cuts.

How are we different today from the Philippines that Broca and Bernal showed? Cinema really mirrors the times, society, and life of a certain people.

To the Stars and Back: A Full Circle Moment for Antoinette Jadaone

Ansis: Speaking of consuming media this pandemic, what are you consuming at the moment? Do you have a series that you’re currently watching? Or movies?

DT: During the start of the pandemic, I watched “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I’m also rewatching early seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I am not really big on TV series since they are never-ending.

Right now, I watch more documentaries than narrative films. I think it depends on my mood — the kind of film or series I want to watch. Sometimes I watch comedy specials and late-night talk shows, free webinars, and master classes. It depends on what I want to learn that day.

Ansis: Since you mentioned “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” let me ask you what Rupaul asks the contestants during the finale, “What is your message to a younger Antoinette Jadaone?”

DT: I would say, “Just keep on doing what you love to do.” Maybe because I am an Aries, I am a go-getter. When I want something, I will not stop until I get it. Even if I look stupid or even if I am struggling. I’ve been like this since grade school and high school and especially in college. I’d tell my younger me, “Just carry on. Trust your gut. It will do wonders for you.”

Antoinette Jadaone - Love You to the Stars and Back
Ansis: And what’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects? What are you currently working on now?

DT: Right now, I am producing and handling a number of series and films for other directors. Dan Villegas, my partner, and I are busy with Project 8, the company that we put up in 2017. A lot of storytellers have many stories they want to produce but they do not know how to pitch or approach producers. If you are a new storyteller, you can’t easily gain the trust of investors, so that’s where we come in.

If we see potential in a story and in the filmmaker, we will help them develop what they want to make. We invest in them and we pitch the story to producers. I am enjoying brainstorming with other storytellers and filmmakers.

Although Dan and I have more experience than them, we still learn a lot from them. We see ourselves in them. When you grow older, you become more calculated. You are not much of a risk-taker anymore. But working with new and excited filmmakers brings us back to our old selves. This is why I am enjoying my work with Project 8.

Ansis: It’s a full circle moment. You started working with Direk Joyce Bernal and now you are paying it forward by helping new filmmakers.

DT: I hope so. I hope so.