The international independent film community may be sprawling in size separated by continents, countries, and language but it's united by a love for film, and a desire to share that passion. That's why, during a predawn night in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, a late evening in Slovenia and Europe, and an early afternoon in the United States and Canada, hundreds of people found themselves in shock after learning of the senseless deaths of film critics Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, killed Sept. 1 as their home was robbed in Quezon City, Manila.
To speak of Tioseco, a Filipino raised in Canada who returned to Manila, and Bohinc, a Slovenian based in Ljubljana until recently, is to speak of film, cinephilia, and love; it is also to speak of how we can create deep bonds with people scattered across the globe whom we see only once or twice a year, if that, but to whom we still feel united due to a common cause. Though I was in yet another part of the world, I was fortunate to have known and counted as Alexis and Nika as friends, even though I had only seen them at festivals here and there and in their Quezon City home. Judging from a fledgling memorial on Facebook, others feel just as connected to the two. That's partly because of the closeness of the film community, and partly because of the effect they had on people.
Having returned "home" to Manila to assist with the family business, Alexis (ever the good son) found himself running it after his father passed away. His true passion, though, was cinema. It was Lav Diaz's Batang, West Side (2001) that changed his outlook on film, and a 12-page interview with Diaz that changed his future. After that the early 20-something kid with the bright eyes and brighter mind dedicated himself (or as much of himself as he could spare, after the family business) to film, and specifically Filipino film.
"While I love cinema in general, a passion that has grown exponentially over the years, I feel no need to put myself in service of that which doesn't need it [Hollywood]," he wrote in a moving article in Rogue magazine. "Philippine cinema has given much to me, and one must pay back one's debts." He became a film professor and film critic, and was the driving force behind arguably the most influential, intelligent blog on Southeast Asian cinema, www.criticine.com . In 2006 (at 25!), he was named by The Philippine Star as "one of the most important young people in the country today" for his efforts to promote his nation's cinema.
Born and raised in Slovenia (about as far from the Philippines as one can get), Nika was also one of those young protégés who make the rest of us feel guilty for pissing away our youth. In her 20s she edited Ekran, a major film magazine, and helped organized the highly-regarded Isola Cinema Film Festival. A huge admirer and promoter of American (and Californian) experimental filmmakers like James Benning, Bruce Conner, and Lewis Klahr, she was also active in the Ljubljana Film Festival and IndieLisboa, and had begun promoting Slovenian films to other festivals.
In 2007 the two met at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Both had been able, fortunately, to overcome the vast difficulties facing writers from "smaller" nations when it comes to attending festivals. There will be Americans, Brits, Western Europeans galore, Japanese, Canadians, and Koreans all over, but unfortunately very few representatives from anywhere else. Both Alexis and Nika were able to finagle funds, festival invitations, and jury memberships to help their travels. "I never expected to have the opportunity to travel for/from film, especially not on the expenses of others, but slowly the opportunities presented themselves," Alexis wrote. "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. A version of this piece was first published in Filmmaker magazine's blog at www.filmmakermagazine.com/blog .
To read the full article from Alexis to Nika, visit Rogue Magazine at http://rogue.ph/columns/entry/the_letter_i_would_love_to_read_to_you_in_person/P1/