a film by Joseph Mangat

Are you ready?

Before we start, I want to say something about interviews. I realize that people take a filmmaker’s responses really seriously. There’s this sense
that interviews are supposed to be important. But I might answer a question, and then contradict myself in the next question. So please don’t hang on every one of my words, because what I say isn’t really that important.

Okay. Well, let’s start from the beginning. When did you first know that you wanted to make films?

I love films. I watched a lot of movies ever since I was young, although mostly Hollywood ones. But I don’t remember ever saying “I want to make the next Jurassic Park!” Hollywood movies never interested me in that way. It wasn’t until I began watching foreign films, particularly Asian Cinema during the late 90′s and early 2000′s; guys like Wong kar Wai, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, for some reason their films were the films I wanted to copy.

It is very common for filmmakers to become obsessed with their favorite filmmakers and want to emulate their style. Do you still feel a need to “copy” certain directors, or has your approach changed as you’ve gained more experience?

I don’t think I will ever stop copying completely. I can’t imagine a filmmaker never in some way copy another. But my approach has definitely changed. I think that now it is less about copying a style, and more about a method. I realize what makes the films I like interesting is how they are connected to the filmmaker’s own experiences. This has opened me up somehow. Now when I make a film I am more willing to relate it back to me as a person. I know that if the film goes through me and is shaped by my experience, it will be worth something. Before, my films were more like duplicates. They weren’t really films, but exercises. Now the stories I choose and my method for telling them has to go through a process that relates directly to me. So my films have become more personal and more specific.

How important is the location of your film?

For me, it’s the most important thing. I haven’t made a lot of films but all the ones I’ve made were conceived because of location. It’s my initial form of inspiration.

What is it about the location in Shoes that inspired you? What’s it like to make a film in San Diego?

It’s very difficult. Although San Diego is a beautiful place it doesn’t make it interesting; it’s a very generic city. I think that’s how everyone else sees it too and it’s usually filmed in a very generic way. The challenge lies in finding what is distinctly unique about San Diego; I want to find people and stories that can’t have come from anywhere else. This can be easily done in places like New York, Paris where its very recognizably distinct and the spaces and the people are inherently interesting.

Would you consider making a film elsewhere, like back in the Philippines, where you were born?

Yeah, absolutely. But it would have to be something that’s mine, channeled through my own experiences. I wouldn’t want to just direct a movie there about something I’m not interested in. It has to relate to me somehow.

Tell me a little about your experience while filming Shoes. Was it smooth and calculated or was it messy?

It was a very small production, very small. This allowed it go pretty smoothly, especially once I realized that I could do almost everything on my own. I was working with my sister. So there was complete trust from the start. The whole thing was meant to be small and intimate. I made a choice to limit things, so I could work on the details and really shape things the way I wanted them.

Speaking of copying other filmmakers. Now that I think about it, there was a point in the production where I caught myself trying to copy. I was really worried about how to frame the shots. I kept composing things as I thought someone else might do it. I shot two scenes in that way. But suddenly I realized it wasn’t working. It felt too…it didn’t feel real. It felt like I was copying. So I told the crew to go have lunch, while I reevaluated things. I completely changed the dynamic. I decided to start directing my sister while holding the camera.  We actually shot those two scenes again, without a tripod. I just held the camera the whole time. This made things more relaxed and spontaneous, and it felt more honest.

Did anything else happen during the production that had a significant impact on the project?

Going in, there wasn’t a precise color scheme I wanted to use. In all honesty I never thought about it until I was filming. Then these primary colors started appearing everywhere. This surprised me. I decided to go with it and during the rest of the production I starting looking for places and items that would have very bold reds, yellows and blues.

What’s your favorite thing about Shoes?

The colors.

What has been the reaction to this film?

Not many people have seen it yet. It will have its festival premiere at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.  But, a few of the people who have seen it don’t really know what to think of it. I don’t think they see it as a real “film.”

Why? Is it because it seems so simple?

That and there’s nothing really happening. Not much of plot. Even when the girl steals the shoes, there are not consequences to her actions. So it doesn’t follow that traditional story arc.

Do you have any misgivings about that?

No. I actually like the film a lot. On one level, it’s homage to Truffaut’s 400 Blows. It uses the same premise of an adolescent getting into mischief. Although400 blows showed a regular kid doing what regular kids do, it was still a bit too sentimental and dramatic for my taste. I wanted to cut the sentiment out and push the regular-ness a bit further. When I was teenager my parents had no clue what I was up to outside of school and home. I wanted to show this and also explore this idea that not all kids are bad and crazy. Unlike a movie like Kids, where you’re dealing with big, dramatic subjects like AIDS and drugs, I wanted to tell a story about an ordinary girl living in the suburbs. It seemed more challenging to take this subject on and still make it compelling.

What are you working on next?

I just finished another short called Every Death has a Story. It’s a very different project. When I’ve shown the two films together, some people are surprised that I can actually make a “real” film. Every Death definitely has more recognizable dramatic movie elements. There’s more tension. There’s also more dialogue. And more blood.

So what’s after Every Death?

Well, now I’m thinking of doing another short in the spirit of Shoes. Maybe I’ll call it Pants.

Joseph Mangat is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. He was born in Manila, Philippines and moved to Southern California when he was eight years old. His passion for cinema started in High School, watching films by Masters such as Godard, Hou, Bergman and Antonioni. He began making films during his undergraduate study at the University of California, San Diego where he was mentored by Professor and Avant-garde Filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin.