"Traveling is a privilege, and not one that I take lightly."
I also met them for the first time at Rotterdam. I was there when they were introduced by our mutual friend, John Torres. I remember bonding with Alexis and Nika immediately. The festival environment, while filled with fellow travelers, is also intimidating, alienating, and totally full of shit, so individuals as grounded, personable, and truthful as the both of them stand out. Both inspired ease and good humor, easy laughter, and most of all talk, not of film or "cinema," but of ourselves, our lives and loves and utter disasters, and, of course, idle gossip about everyone else.
A few days later Alexis told me of a crush he had on someone there. "That tall blonde Slovenian?" I asked immediately. I knew the answer before he confirmed. We all did.
From there the two split their lives across the world, wherever film and whenever airfare could be found. Rotterdam, Berlin, Oberhausen, Paris, and finally, Slovenia and Manila. In 2007 they had had enough of seeing one another only during festivals (there's more to life than film, after all, but not much more). Nika visited Manila for two months (choosing July and August, a trial-by-fire or sweltering heat if ever there was one).
My wife and I visited them in mid-August of that year, staying with them at the Quezon City home now marked by tragedy. We have many wonderful memories of that time, all capped by Alexis' and Nika's amazing hospitality and friendship. We had only spent a few days together over the course of two years, but he treated us like long-time friends (something I would guess he has done to many people). We continued the bond over film. I brought them bootlegs of Nicholas Ray, Aki Kaurismaki, and Milos Forman; he gave me Ismael Bernal, Raymond Red, and, like any proud Filipino film buff, took us to a source of true pride: Manila's vast pirated-DVD malls.
During one calm moment, Nika, still adjusting to the growing pains of beginning to live with a lover (much less relocating halfway around the world), asked my wife, "How did you know that he was the one for you?"
"I just knew, almost immediately," my wife replied. "You will, too."
My wife and I won't associate their Quezon City home with the tragedy that befell them. Instead, we'll remember Nika looking up from Alexis's bed, across a pile of bootleg DVDs, with a 35mm print of Batang West Side on the floor and copies of Ekran on the chair, and quietly saying, "You're right. I think I knew, too."
"The first impulse of any good film critic, and to this I think you would agree, must be of love," Alexis wrote to Nika a year later in Rogue. For all of us lucky to be a part of the film community, this love for film, and for the friends we have made along the way who share it is what unites us. It's also what keeps our friendships going, even when we haven't reached out to one another in months or years. And it's what will keep people like Alexis and Nika in our hearts for a long, long time. Their true home still exists, in the words they wrote, the friendships they made, and the love they shared with us all. Our condolences to their family, friends, and loved ones.
Jason Sanders is Film Research Associate at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.