How do you keep an audience glued to their seats for 8 hours...or at the very least, stop them from calling it quits after every mandatory intermission? Hele Sa Higawang Hapis definitely doesn’t do itself any favors. Shot completely in black and white, featuring long, static tracking shots and what the Hollywood Reporter calls a “trademark disregard for trying a viewer’s patience”, the 2016 Lav Diaz independent film is definitely no popcorn flick.
And yet, at the end of its marathon 485 minutes, author and critic Jessica Zafra was moved enough to write, “We would have happily stayed in our seats to watch some more.”
What lessons on content can we pick up from Hele’s uncompromising artistic stand?
Stick to your vision.
While both John Lloyd Cruz and Piolo Pascual headline the film’s posters (playing two characters familiar to every Filipino who’s had to read El Filibusterismo for high school), it’s fair to say that box office receipts aren’t the end goal of Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis. Rather, the film is meant to be a strong statement on the state of the nation, as refracted through Diaz’s lens.
It’s familiar territory for the filmmaker. His other films, including the acclaimed Norte, The End of History tackle the same themes, and clock in similar endurance-testing running times. Released at about the same time as superhero film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Hele proves that there is room for thought-provoking, audience-challenging content.
Don’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence.
Instead of relying on close-ups and camera cut-aways, Diaz keeps his camera work as still and unmoving as possible. “It is this cold approach to film making that makes his films read like a book,” writes Justin Joyas on GMA News Online.“The static framing lets viewers notice everything within a frame.”
To demand much from your audience is often a tall order. Understandably, it’s one we hesitate to make. But consider this: Demanding much from the audience means demanding much more from yourself. Instead of falling back on the lowest common denominators, we should challenge ourselves creatively and artistically to produce something that’s worth their intelligence.
There is freedom in the long form.
Conventional wisdom says that people’s attention spans are getting shorter, and everything else should follow suit. From 30-second recipe videos to quick looping GIFs, publishers are forced to become experts at dishing out digestible content that could be consumed, then disposed of, as fast as you can scroll through a Twitter feed.
Lav Diaz, then, must have missed the memo. As Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis and his other movies show, longer content gives you the breathing room for important, relevant, and thought-provoking storytelling. Plus, it’s something that audiences—yes, even millennials—are looking for. “Millennials are a discerning audience that can sense when content is being simplified or cut short for brevity or ease of reporting,” writes Chris Giliberti, Chief of Staff at Gimlet Media, in a guest post for Forbes.“We prefer the full picture—in all its complexity, length, and difficulty to obtain—for its authenticity.”
The fruit of a hardline artistic vision, there can be no doubt that Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapisis anything less than authentic. And while not everyone appreciates it, this film is proof that there is a big enough—and passionate enough—audience out there who are looking for the real deal.
Have you ever attempted content that’s as long, daring, and artistic as a Lav Diaz film? Tell us about the experience below!