A chat with a PWD who writes and directs award-winning short films

Gil Cadiz

Jao Manahan has no idea what his condition is called. He shares that even the doctors his family consulted are not quite able to identify his case. All he was told was that he has an orthopedic impairment that limits his hand skills. Despite this congenital difference, Jao says that his hands are generally functional. What he can’t do is play the guitar or the piano.

Jao was born in Quezon City but his family moved to Bataan where he spent most of his student life. He describes his childhood as a bit reclusive. He played with his toys alone and fixated on the Cartoon Network on TV all day. He’s thankful for his family’s move to Bataan as the provincial life was instrumental to his turning into an extrovert. He played under the sun with his cousins and friends who understood him and didn’t make a fuss out of his condition.

Fast forward to today, and the once reclusive kid is now an award-winning short film writer and director. At 24 years old, he’s made nine shorts, so far.

We the Pvblic reached out to Jao for some Q&A. Read on to have a glimpse into the mind of a young artist whose full potential has yet to be reached.

1. What’s your most unforgettable experience relating to your orthopedic impairment that shaped how you view people and life in general?

When I received a Best Cinematography award at one of the film fests I’ve joined, I saw that as an opportunity to tell people through my acceptance speech that there are no boundaries. That our possibilities are limitless. I showed the audience my fingers, my hands, and told them that these didn’t prevent me from handling a camera. These didn’t stop me from shooting, from writing and from drawing. I will do what I can and what I think I can. You’ll never know the extent of your capabilities if you won’t explore them.

2. What got you into writing and directing short films and how exactly did you get started in it?

It was at first a requirement. I developed my interest when I was in fourth year high school. There was a film project, and for some reason, I got very excited. The passion built up when I took Communication Arts in college, where I had photography and film classes. I’ve made commercials, music videos, super shorts and short films. I’ve made a mark in my works, like a signature that whoever knows me and sees my videos, will say “That’s Jao’s.”

3. Which of your shorts is the most memorable for you? What’s your inspiration for making it?

The most memorable film I’ve done was Kawil. This is the film where I had my mom’s full support. She was there from start to finish. This film was a childhood dream. I’ve always wanted to create something out of this folklore in our town.

It’s about the crown of the Virgin Mary being stolen one night, and accidents started happening one after another during the days after. I witnessed almost all those deaths in our town. The Virgin’s face went from being pleasant to furious, which made people conclude that she had something to do with the misfortunes that happened. I didn’t believe it at first, but I visited the chapel every day even before her crown was stolen, so it kind of convinced me. This had the biggest budget, among my short films. My actors were all from Manila and our shoot location was in Bataan. We’d ride a boat to get to the setting and to go home at night, we’d ride the same boat, using torches as our light. Those memories are really for keeps.

4. Which one received the most accolades? What’s your inspiration for making it?

Alipato. It was a last-minute idea, actually; like, it just popped up and I had to do it. I was in Hong Kong then to shoot a makeup video tutorial. There’s a competition running in the Philippines and my friends were urging me to join. The deadline was June 30, but I won’t be home until July 2. When I saw how OFWs live and survive abroad, I immediately thought of something. I punched it in together with the idea of EJK and titled it Alipato. I didn’t know I’d have a chance among the 200 entries. I sent it last-minute to Globe’s 5-Minute Video Challenge and I was ranked first place. But, the award was eventually given to someone else as Alipato already received another award prior to it. Then, the film received more nominations and awards throughout 2017.

OFFICIAL SELECTION – ActiveVista Film Festival | OFFICIAL SELECTION – Subangan Film Festival | WINNER – Neon Short Film Festival | OFFICIAL SELECTION – Sine Kabataan 2017

5. What’s your creative process like?

When there’s a story that’s bugging me, I write it immediately on my notebook or on my phone, especially when I have the energy or gusto to do it. In shooting and production, your eye is very important. Your eye is the director of the camera.

6. How did you end up as a Strategic Marketing Associate at Transportify?

On 2018, I stopped filming since I wanted to focus more on other things that I wanted to do. Like what I said before, I’m exploring everything that I can and what I think I can. I didn’t see filmmaking as the only thing I can do. I became a freelancer after resigning from my previous job. I became a marketing consultant and a graphic designer. In August this year, I saw an opening at Transportify and gave it a shot. I got the first good message on my birthday, where I met Noel Abelardo (Transportify Co-Country Manager). It was one of the toughest interviews I had. I never thought I’d make it. My prayers were answered. This job was my birthday gift.

7. How are you able to apply your filmmaking skills on your work in marketing?

As I’ve learned in marketing, in my previous jobs, videos are one of the most effective tools in marketing. It’s not static and people can be easily hooked and attached. Also, I am used to tight budgets. By being resourceful, I get to create a good one. I believe it will help the company, in terms of marketing and saving cost.

8. Do you have plans of directing full-feature films in the future?

We can always do that if there are possibilities, opportunities and interests. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, that’s why I’m doing shorts.

9. What’s the most important thing that you want people to know about people with disabilities?

That it won’t stop me from doing what I want. As long as you can; as long as you think you can. I myself am a living campaign for that. You won’t learn English if you won’t speak the language. If you say you can’t, then you can’t. The term disability means you’re not able to do something. I can hold a camera despite these fingers.

10. What’s your message to your fellow PWDs?

Go on and do what you want. I have the choice of proceeding with surgery but I’d rather not. I want to show to people that we’re valuable. I want them to think that we’re different in a way that we can do what some others can’t, despite our circumstances.

EXCELLENCE AWARD – C.H.A.N.G.E. Short Film Festival

Check out Jao Manahan’s Viddsee channel here.

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