Shireen Seno & John Torres

Still from Big Boy (2012). [source] 

We interviewed Shireen Seno and John Torres on February 2, 2022 via Zoom. The interview centered on Los Otros, their Manila-based film lab that serves as a making, curatorial, screening, and discursive space. Shireen and John discussed how Los Otros came to be, how it evolved, and how they collaborate with other groups in the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly. Listen to their discussion below.

Shireen Seno on the set of Nervous Translation (2018). [source]

John Torres on the set of Lukas the Strange (2013). [source]

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1. Jasmine's introduction.

Jasmine frames the interview as centering on the work of Los Otros as an film organisation. Jasmine and Philippa are working on a project on film organizations in Southeast Asia, interested in the commonalities and resonances across different organizational practices, as well as the kinds of films that are being made. 

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2. A prehistory of Los Otros.

Before Los Otros became a shared screening space in 2003, it started as a personal space for John in his old condo to explore creative works in 2001. During this period, Los Otros was primarily an editing space, as John learned about image processing, cameras, and VHS tapes from his father, a photography enthusiast. Music has played a big part in Los Otros as well. John wanted to share the space with strangers, helping them with his editing skills but also just spending time with each other with the presence of sound and music. By the time Los Otros became a screening space, John already had a projector and a screen. Since pirated DVDs were accessible, he was able to share films that were hard to access. Despite being in an early phase, these screening events cultivated connections and became an informal means to distribute independent Filipino short films. 

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3. Locating Los Otros.

Even before Los Otros became a more official entity, John called it Los Otros because he shared a feeling of in-betweenness with the people who came to the space, many of whom are in-between musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers. After Shireen and John developed a relationship, they moved into the house where Los Otros is currently based. This house has been rented by John's father to store John's books from when he was a child, mostly marketing sales books and hypnosis books. Shireen and John moved in to the second floor and they eventually set up the first floor for Los Otros after clearing out the books. Despite the move, Los Otros is still located in a university area full of vibrant energy and new ideas. John shared the fun fact that the house is located on Empathetic Street and near Comfortable Street and Shy Street. 

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4. Evolving Los Otros.

Los Otros attracts a mixture of people: friends and regular collaborators (including people from the Tito & Tita collective), film and art university students, and others. In the beginning, Shireen and John were screening dance films in the garage. As the first floor got tidied up, Los Otros took a formal turn to host artists and filmmakers traveling to the Philippines. Their friend Merv Espina (then curator of the Green Papaya Art Projects and involved in WSK Festival of The Recently Possible) played an important role in co-hosting events, including a workshop by experimental filmmaker Jangwook Lee. Jangwook demonstrated alternative ways of making film without a camera by freely manipulating film strips, which spoke to many of the attendees who were technical artists. He also donated two 16mm projectors and a whole 16mm workflow to Los Otros.

Stills from Los Otros. [source] 

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5. Sharing and skill-building.

Events at Los Otros are free to the public. Since a lot of their film equipment and collections come from the generosity of others, Shireen and John see Los Otros as a DIY Lab to pass on skills and resources. Los Otros now has a full set of celluloid film equipment for filming, processing, and projecting, to the extent that archives and galleries would borrow from them. As for projects, Los Otros has been mainly focusing on Shireen's and John's works along with those of Tito & Tita. Shireen clarifies that Los Otros is not really a collective, but a labor of love from her and John plus the larger sphere of friends and collaborators upon whom they rely. 

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6. Home and work space.

Shireen shares that the fact that they live and work under the same roof factors into Los Otros' communal spirit of sharing. Food and drinks are always present in the gathering. Shireen recounts one participant of Jangwook's workshop who was nervous about working with film for the first time volunteered to cook (i.e., sharing his specialty) and listen in the workshop (i.e., experimenting with film art). Despite their house being not the most comfortable with the heat and humidity, John thinks people feel relaxed and open to new ideas when they are invited/situated in a less rigid space of someone's home. In a way, Los Otros is part of a network of artist spaces that run from open houses in the metro Manila area (e.g., the Green Papaya Art Projects). 

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7. Miko Revereza and Tito & Tita.

Shireen is producing Miko Revereza's new film Nowhere Near under Los Otros and Miko's own nomadic production company. Despite not being able to return to the Philippines due to the pandemic, Miko has been very involved with Tito & Tita. He was on the last shoot and edited that project before he left Manila. Miko has been part of the collective from afar as well. For Shireen, she got involved with Tito & Tita when she was making her first film Big Boy (2012). Members from Tito & Tita were involved in the production as the crew and even the cast, with shifting roles. Shireen bonded with them over shared influences and aspirations, and has been hanging out and sharing resources with the collective members throughout the years. 

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8. The "Capital" Project.

Jangwook and his lab Space Cell invited Los Otros along with other collectives to the "Capital" project in which participants contribute footage with space-time specificity that everyone have access to and make their own film as a collective. Within each collective, the participants engaged with the idea "Capital" grounded in the specific environmental and historical contexts of their locality. These were then edited by a representative from each country into single channel video works of up to 60 minutes with a specific set of rules. John enjoyed editing across spaces and time focusing on the nonlinear feeling. He sees it as a viable communal group diary to document what is happening with one shot and be in conversation t with strangers through their shots. 

Still from We Still Have to Close Our Eyes (2019) by John Torres [source]

Still from Nervous Translation (2018) by Shireen Seno [source]

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9. Parenting and filmmaking.

In this section, John and Shireen share how parenting has changed their practice of filmmaking, and how they continue making films while caring for their children before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. John experimented with making We Still Have to Close Our Eyes (2019), a feature film that he dedicated as a gift to his daughter Aki. As a young father, John has become more comfortable with documenting peripheral spaces, in-between moments, filming at home, and crowdsourcing footage. Practicality has also played a bigger role in Shireen's filmmaking, with two of her recent works utilized archival and found footage to work around not being able to leave the home. Their children are never invisible from their works, even in screenings and talks (as you can hear from this interview as well). 

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10. Southeast Asian networks.

John and Shireen definitely see Los Otros as overlapping and conversing with other Southeast Asian experimental filmmaking groups. They have been to several gatherings with other groups like Hanoi DocLab, and are a part of the May Adadol Ingawanij's Animistic Apparatus project. Shireen shares that many of these Southeast Asian film spaces go through similar struggles, and that they occupy similar kind of space in between a domestic lived space and an open house. John recounts his early experience of bonding with other Southeast Asian filmmakers through unexpected affinities and commonalities during his first international screening in Singapore and a side trip to Malaysia. Shireen also points out the difference between Los Otros as a more casual space, and Forum Lenteng as a much more systematic and formal organization. 

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11. Architecture.

Shireen majored in architecture in her undergraduate study. She did not specialize in design but more focused on history and criticism of architecture. In this section, Shireen reflects on how studying architecture may have influenced her work. Her first short Seeing Machines (2006) was more directly related to built spaces. Her architectural training especially comes through in relation to her play with scales in Big Boy (2012) and Nervous Translation (2018). Shireen also differentiates how her more metaphorical filmic approach to space is different from architecture's literal concern with built structure or film set.  

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12. Current projects and farewell.

Jasmine thanks Shireen and John. Shireen shares what she might accomplish during her upcoming residency in Germany. One possibility would be to work on the script for her next feature film The Wild Duck. Another possibility is to work on another short, which is not only more feasible to make but also a means for her to possess her own works. John is going to Singapore for a shoot commissioned by Singapore International Festival of Art. This feature film expands on a short film with the premise of human beings surrendering their bodies to become avatars in a mobile driving apps. There will also be an installation component to the project.