Berlin Film Festival 2016: Director Lav Diaz claims 8-hour film with hour-long lunch break is not 'slow cinema'

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis is in competition for the top Golden Bear prize

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The Independent Culture

“It’s not slow cinema, it’s cinema,” insists director Lav Diaz following the screening of his eight-hour film at the Berlin Film Festival.

The Filipino’s historical drama Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) began airing at 9.30am and finished just before 7pm, with a one-hour lunch break factored into proceedings to aid any sore bums. 

It is in competition for the top Golden Bear prize, with Diaz hoping judges will not overlook it on account of its length. His is not the first movie to try and hold audiences over the course of a day, with Bela Tarr’s 1994 apocalyptic epic Satantango running for over seven hours. That film remains hugely acclaimed, with a 100% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and Diaz believes he can follow suit regardless of labels.

“We’re labeled ‘the slow cinema’ but it’s not slow cinema, it’s cinema,” he said at the film’s Berlinale press conference, Reuters reports. “I don’t know why…every time we discourse on cinema we always focus on the length. 

“It’s cinema, it’s just like poetry, just like music, just like painting where it’s free, whether it’s a small canvas or it’s a big canvas, it’s the same. Cinema shouldn’t be imposed on.”

Producer Bianca Balbuerna thanked the festival for “giving her freedom” and not asking her to “cut down the length”. 

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis focuses on the powerful role played by Andres Bonifacio y de Castro in the late 19th century Philippine revolution against Spanish rule and is the longest entry ever to compete for the Golden Bear in the Berlinale’s 66-year history. 

It earned a warm reception from the audience on Thursday, with more than half the 1,600 seats at the Palace Theatre still full by the end of the showing. Meryl Streep was in attendance as this year’s jury president.

Nineteen films are vying for the Golden Bear, which will be awarded on Saturday.

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