by Pablo A. Tariman
How do you feel filming a story that is done to death on Philippine media?
One asked American-Indian director Ben Rekhi this question as his film, Watch List, hits the cinema on February 19.
He said he was inspired to do the film when he saw this picture of a mother lovingly looking at his dead husband who was a victim of extra-judicial killing. “I became restless after seeing that picture. I became so obsessed with it I decided to do my fifth film with that subject in mind.”
A few years back, Rekhi was hired by George Clooney to shoot the behind the scenes for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and went on to produce the Spirit Award-nominated feature film Bomb the System. He wrote the English Dialogues for Sir Ben Kingsley and Amitabh Bachchan in the Bollywood film Teen Patti.
Said Rekhi: “On TV news, you only get the details of who did that, who were the victims and the straight reporting on why they ended up that way. Watch List goes beyond that. Film speaks a universal language on what the truth is. It is also a window to the real human condition. Of course, there will be several perceptions. It could be very personal and at times political. But in this film, I tried very hard not to color it with my perception. Hence, politics takes the back seat.”
He believes that a film is an authentic window to the human condition and thus everything should look and feel real.
Hence, he cast actors that not only to fit their roles but could also carry the depth of emotion.
Rekhi was very impressed with his Filipino cast.
Among them was the lead star Alessandra de Rossi.
“I was very fortunate to get the ideal cast. Alessandra’s (de Rossi) talent is something I’ve never seen before. Jake (Macapagal) who is very well known in Hollywood for his work in Metro Manila, brought a level of intensity that is going to surprise people. Art Acuña is also a force of nature. One of the breakout performances is Micko Laurente who plays Alessandra’s teenage son. I think he’s just going to absolutely break people’s hearts.”
Thus far, Watch List has made the rounds of many international film festivals among them the Deauville American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Bahamas International Film Festival, International Film Festival of India, Nashville Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival.
It recently won the Most Disturbing Fiction Film Award at the 2020 Tournai Ramdam Festival in Belgium.
Rekhi relates his experience with a Filipina who watched the world premiere at the Seattle Film Festival. Ben recalled, “She stood up after the screening and started crying. She said, ‘I grew up in these neighborhoods, and I’ve never seen them portrayed like this before. It’s so real.’”
How Filipino is Watch List with Filipino cast and Filipino experience and an American-Indian director?
“It’s a Filipino story through and through,” the director said. “I just happen to be an Indian-American. My researcher is a Filipino. Rica Arevalo did a lot of research before the shoot and the result is this film.”
He is not a stranger to Oriental subjects.
In 2018, he directed and produced a documentary series for PBS which profiles minority voters called The Hidden Vote.
Watch List is the story of a woman (De Rossi) whose husband is killed and ends up the family breadwinner and protector.
Concluded the director: “It’s a very human story. At its most basic, it’s about the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her children.”
Opening on February 17, Watch List also stars Jake Macapagal, Art Acuña, Lou Veloso, Jess Mendoza, and Angeli Bayani with Micko Laurente and Timothy Mabalot.