It was Saturday and in the early afternoon when I caught the train and headed to Ayala Center. I was going to Kuppa Fort Bonifacio to meet with the Director/Executive Producer of PUREZA The Story of Negros Sugar and he is none other than a kasimanwa, Direk Jay Abello. Through the course of our correspondence until the meeting, I have always called him Direk for he has notable for such films as Namets which featured Negrénse cuisine at its best with a flare of a love story. I was running late then clad with my formal clothing for an even afterwards. My rap-dash walk was replaced with a sigh of relief when he told me he will be late.
When I entered Kuppa, I sat by a good spot by the window waiting for Direk when he texted me that he was already there in a shirt colored grey. I immediately noticed him in the other corner and went to greet him. His simple attire and humble disposition makes the coat and tied clad me a bit shy. He invited me to sit down and with a French-pressed coffee at hand, he greeted me and asked of how I was since I looked haggard from all the walking I did. Direk Jay has lived for many years now in the busy Metro Manila and was educated here too, in De La Salle – College of St. Benilde to be exact in a course actually unrelated to filmmaking.
Direk Jay graduated BS Management with plans to work in big companies like San Miguel but was drafted by his father to work as a farm administrator in his family’s farm in Isabela for three crop years. In the lean months after planting sugarcane, he routinely spends time in Bacólod City. It was here that he developed an affinity with performing arts when he got involved with a theater and the intricacies of production. He eventually managed his sister’s orchid farm and cut flower industry when she went to a convent in Marawi City. Feeling that is was called more for performing arts than farming, he went to Manila and pursued film.
When asked if what of all his films gave him the hardest effort, he immediately quipped PUREZA since it entailed countless hours of research and interviews. The idea to film PUREZA date back in 2008 at the successful premier of his film Namets when a group of sugar planters from a foundation asked him if he can do an audio visual presentation on the events of the sugar industry. If one can remember, the last part of the 1970’s in the height of the Martial Law era heralded the fall of the sugar industry. The group led by Joey Gaston, Gina Martin and among others met at Joey Gaston’s Café Uma and laid work for the film PUREZA.
It was agreed that Direk Jay would produce the film while the foundation will be in charge of raising funds. After rounds of raising funds by convincing sugar planter and farmer groups that this would be good for the sugar industry, the film was in the making. It took them ten days of going around the province to gather a pool of people to interview. According to Direk Jay, they interviewed in the course of the film a total of one hundred and sixty (160) people and that does not include those people interviewed off cam. The number includes ninety (90) to one hundred (100) sugar planters and sixty (60) to seventy (70) farm workers in total.
They also interviewed for academic information economists like Prof. Solita “Winnie” Monsod of the UP School of Economics and fellow Negrénse Dr. Bernardo “Bernie” Villegas of the rival UA&P School of Economics. The economists were able to give compact and comprehensive view of sugar’s economic aspect especially Dr. Villegas, whose family is involved in the sugar industry as well in Negros Oriental. Asking him about the “seven-year cycle of sugar planting” that was mentioned in the trailer, he said that it was mentioned by his Dad. Incidentally, my Dad also mentioned seven years, though unrelated, with muscovado sugar.
A setback with producing the film that Direk Jay mentioned is there are countless issues involved with sugar. Most often, there are new issues coming out like the recent Coca-Cola premixed sugar controversy among many others. It is easy to get distracted with a number of irrelevant issues which he tried avoiding on the course of filming PUREZA. From a number of issues tackled, PUREZA boils down on the question of the industry’s oppression, land reform and the controversial ASEAN Free Trade Agreement which is a looming threat to the sugar industry with the opening of the Philippine market to rival cheap sugar from Thailand.
All of the filming and recording left them with approximately 360 hours of material which includes all possible angles for tackling issues on the sugar industry. In the initial editing, the had a film that ran for three hours and was trimmed down to two hours and fifteen minutes. This was even trimmed down to one hour and forty-five minutes. Much of the production is how the directors sees the situation of the sugar industry but the questions tackled at hand will not have an answer. It is up to the readers to answer those mind-opening questions. When will this be shown in Manila? Very soon enough and something to look forward to.