Monday, July 13, 2015

Thoughts on "Racing With Legends" - a Documentary Film about Philippine Motorsports History

More thoughts on challenging the First World vs Third World Dichotomy

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: An expansion of a thought on a previous Post
Previous Post: Shopping Mall in Marilao, Part II

I don't think I actually posted a review of this! So now, I will.

Racing With Legends is a feature length documentary film about the Philippines' motor racing history. I purchased two DVD copies for about $100 landed here in Canada. Kind of a heavy fee, but I really wanted to support a fellow filmmaker and car enthusiast. One copy I kept for myself, the other, I gave to my older brother, Ian.

As a documentary it can best be summed up as such: Highly informative and interesting for those in love with the subject, but possibly in need of better storytelling.

Throughout the viewing of the doc, I was riveted with the facts and figures they were throwing around. So was my Dad! But in the end, we were the target audience for this. Would someone with less than an outright enthusiasm for cars ever be as enamored with this documentary work?


Just like the children of most of the pioneers and legends in this documentary, my Dad is a baby boomer. Though he himself never did anything beyond spectating, he witnessed the burgeoning car culture in the Philippines during the late 1950's to the early 1960's. Saw its rise in the late 1960's when he was in his late teens. Experienced its peak during the 1970's when he was in his 20's.  And also suffered through the economic slump of the 1980's. Then, when the 1990's came along and the Philippine economy started picking up again, he started taking me and my brother to race events to spectate when we were kids. When we left the Philippines for Canada in the late 90's, Philippine motorsport was taking off again.

So, for my Dad, Racing With Legends was a reminder of what he had read about in his favourite broadsheets and local car magazines back when he was younger, what he saw when he got older, and what became for him a fun thing to watch with us - his kids. Most importantly, it also rekindled some "Filipino Pride" - that while the Philippines may not be globally renowned for sports and pastimes with a bit of prestige (motor racing, sailing, rowing, equestrian sports, ballet, theater, even filmmaking!) it can surprise the international world once in a while. "We're not all hardworking immigrants!" he'll say against perceived underhanded compliments that always praise the Filipino for being good workers, good maids, and what not. For him, this film is a symbol that Filipinos can be artistic, can be 'sports minded' as he would put it, and can be competitive even in things often recognized as the realm of the rich first world economies.

For me, it's also those, but a bit more. I may not have lived through what my Dad experienced, but I'd like to think I had an idea. More than that, however, this movie for me has become a symbol of everything that frustrates me in my life today, here in Calgary, and why the Philippines has such a special pull.

Acting purely as film critic - without ego and yabang- I feel this is a short film, stretched to feature length. A lot of the statements could have been pared down and yet still preserve the point. Ummmms, Aaaahs, and all sorts of verbal stalls definitely could have been cut outright and patched up with B-Roll - of which there just never seems to be enough! I was looking at too many talking heads and not enough historical racing footage and or stills. Speaking of stills: The teaser has the "Kid Stays in the Picture" trick put on them, whilst the feature itself only has the "Ken Burns" pan going on, giving the final cut a feeling of having been rushed through post. I'd like to comment on the music - that it feels canned and that it just kind of plays and plays without controlling tempo and mood - but that's something I myself will have the least control over for my project. In all, I feel all the nuts and bolts of Racing With Legends has a loose feel to it. Maybe tighten it up and torque it down some more.

And yet I cannot deny that his film is done and renowned in the Philippines, whilst mine is still in limbo, undergoing daily crisis.

Steven Flor and his team deserve all the kudos and accolades they can get. I for one am glad that they did this. More than ever too, I am proud to be (of) Filipino (descent) [1].

Over there, Racing With Legends raised close to 50% of his requested funds via crowdfunding, while I got barely anything for mine (we both started our fundraisers in 2013 [2]). He's sponsored by both International and Philippine based companies (Brembo and Petronas, among others) and I get told by an elder in the very car club I used to belong to that "The Cold Truth is that you are in this alone", as though its not enough to ignore my fundraiser, he actually had to shit on it.

I think it's just the difference in cultures: Going back to how my Dad thinks, I think Filipinos are hungry for validation.

And I don't mean that in a bad way.

Like I said elsewhere, filmmaking, broadcast, and news media in the Philippines occupy a unique position:
"...for all that nation's faults, the media industry is actually the one thing that seems really truly robust, diverse, and thriving in the Philippines. both absolute and relative terms, [it] is way bigger than Canada's...
In fact, I have a tendency to regard [Canadian production numbers] as inflated, since there are a lot of Canadian-American co-productions. The Canadian film industry is also heavily subsidized, relying heavily on grants, tax exemptions, and other incentives. The Philippine movie industry, on the other hand, tends to finance its productions all from private local investments - Filipino initiatives fundraising Filipino money in order to fund Filipino ideas.

While I have no such numbers for Radio, Print and Television, I have reason to believe the same comparison applies - more Filipinos (once again, in both absolute and relative terms) simply watch more of their local productions, read more of their local writings, and patronize more of their art. Canadians by comparison, tend to write off Canadian productions as inferior to both American and other Internationally released works."
Hence why the elder dude from the car club I used to belong to would rather go "The Cold Truth is that you are in this alone", whilst an equivalent Filipino, being presented with an idea of equal merit would go "OMG!  Shut up and take my money!"

I guess Filipinos have had enough of Pacquiao being a world-class fighter. It's time they had their own Senna. They are hungry for inspiration, for symbols of hope, and for heroes. Though right now, a Filipino F1 Superstar is still a far off dream/fantasy, the mere thought of motorsports and motorsports heroes in the Philippines has a special feeling for Filipinos of all ages.

Going back to the question, "Would someone with less than an outright enthusiasm for cars ever be as enamored with this documentary work?"

The answer could very well be, Yes! 

While the narrative of a country filled with feisty underdogs, hardworking immigrants, and rags to riches heroes are ok in certain doses, I feel as though some 'Pinoys' have had too much. More than validation, prestige is whats' being craved. And motor racing, filmmaking, and other practices not "low brow" is a way to get some prestige. Think about it: Filipinos will back up anything that they think will give that 3rd world nation some pride. But some people have had enough of Boxers, Beauty Queens, and Billiard players.

I think Pinoys are ready for something new. And its never been more exciting to be a filmmaker and car guy and motorsport enthusiast in the Philippines.

It's too bad I wasn't the one who leveraged that growing desire towards my success [3].


Future Post: How the West is losing its place: Lessons from Filmmaking

Related Posts: Of Slalom Events and Car Culture
                              Erik Matti's On The Job
                              We All have Different Fortunes

Further Reading: Cannes: Philippine Cinema Comes to the Fore
                                    by Clarence Tsui, for Hollywood Reporter

                                    Racing With Legends
                                    Facebook Page



[1]. (of) Filipino (descent): Like I said elsewhere, it may not be fair to declare outright that "I'm Filipino" anymore.

[2]. we both started our fundraisers at the same time: I don't know the maker of "Racing With Legends" personally. Just that by sheer coincidence, we both had the same idea at the same time, both dedicated to the place where we each lived. 'cept of course, his is done, mine is in limbo, providing me with plenty of crises and mental breakdowns.

[3]. too bad I wasn't the one: I'm not in love with the tragedy / irony of this though. I'm supposed to uncover tragedies and give them public light - not have my own unhappy ending!

Sure is a good story though: "Man who, as a kid, moved from near the outskirts of Manila, Philippin
es to Calgary, Alberta for what was supposed to be a 'better life' finds that the first world has nothing for him. And so, the quest is on to get back to his roots." *cue epic music, a-la Peter Jackson movie*

Maybe it's premature to say, but how am I supposed to take anything but that from all this? I mean, it's not just a vague feeling, but it's an actual direct comparison! Two guys from different parts of the globe, same amount of credentials, same level of enthusiasm for both motor racing history and filmmaking, independently come up with the same idea for their respective places of residence. The twist: The dude in what's supposed to be the 'developing world' suceeds, while the dude in Alberta, CANADA - supposedly the first world where everyone is supposed to 'have it made' -  is having such a hard time.

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