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EXCLUSIVE: Here’s What Charo Santos Thinks About The State Of Philippine Cinema

 

Charo Santos makes people curious. It’s because she embodies seemingly contradictory personas. She is known as one of the most powerful and influential forces in Philippine media and entertainment. And while many are also familiar with her work as an actress (Lino Brocka’s Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak and Lav Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo come to mind), she is a household name, thanks to Maalaala Mo Kaya.

Through the show, one of the country’s most powerful women becomes everyone’s friend and confidante. Asia’s longest-running drama anthology is where Charo has carved a place in the hearts and consciousness of viewers. She is well-loved and even fondly called “Ate Charo” by many. She is everyone’s favorite “ate” whose calm, soothing voice has the ability to offer reassurance that, no matter what your life story is, everything will turn out fine.

In person, Charo is very much like her MMK persona. If reassurance and lightheartedness had a sound, her voice would be it. But instead of being the formal “ate” we are used to watching on the TV screen, Charo is much warmer, even upbeat, in person. The accidental leader is generous with her stories and not stingy with humor.

“I saw you pause,” she laughs as she motions me to sit down for the interview. As it is customary for interviews, I had to ask if I could record our conversation: she said no. But of course, she was joking, and all tension in the room evaporated.

 

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Top, jacket and pants from Joseph and jewels from Diagolf

 

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When asked which movies resonated with her the most, Charo’s face lit up. Here was someone who loves and appreciates stories. “The Sound of Music is my favorite. I can relate to it because my family life is similar. I’m in a blended family. I also love movies like Gone with the Wind, Titanic, and even The Shining. I also like Notting Hill, My Best Friend’s Wedding. All the Disney movies.” Genre doesn’t matter to her as long as a movie is hinged on a story well told.

This is ultimately what drew her to work with lauded indie filmmaker Mikhail Red. Aside from the young director’s reputation of being adept in the language of film—from cinematography to art direction to acting—Eerie is not a traditional Filipino horror flick. This entry to the recently culminated Singapore International Film Festival, aside from eliciting screams from its viewers, has a compelling story dealing with complex themes.

Set in an all-girls convent school, Charo plays a strict headmistress opposite Bea Alonzo, who plays a clairvoyant guidance counselor. These two characters clash because of their respective beliefs: the nun represents the old guard who has deep roots in tradition while the counselor serves as the face of a younger generation that possesses a freer sense of thinking. It also tackles societal issues such as abuse and problems concerning mental health.

 

“During the premier, people were screaming. Sumisigaw talaga sila!... I guess as a horror piece, it was entertaining and effective. It met its objective of being scary.”

 

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Charo tells Metro.Style that the film was well-received in Singapore, saying, “During the premier, people were screaming. Sumisigaw talaga sila!” She taps me on the knee as she says this, obviously proud of what the film was able to accomplish. “I would see couples, nakasubsob na lang ‘yung mukha nila sa mga partner nila. I guess as a horror piece, it was entertaining and effective. It met its objective of being scary. I hope that when we have our premier night here [in Manila], we can hear the screams in the cinema!”

As an artist who loves stories and is literally in the business of storytelling through film, ABS- CBN’s Chief Content Officer is more than pleased to represent the country in the global stage through the Singapore International Film Festival, the red carpet of which she attended last year in an elegant black and white ensemble. And like Ang Babaeng Humayo, Eerie, to the actress, is a homecoming of sorts as she has roots in refreshing Philippine Cinema, something she did when she was part of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in the early 1880s. She says, “I felt really proud to be there in [Singapore]. It’s an opportunity for Filipino talent to be showcased in other parts of the world.”

Indeed, the world has gotten much smaller in more ways than one in recent years. It’s relatively easier to enter film festivals because of a highly globalized world, plus there are many technological advancements that change the way we consume media. Of these things, the industry veteran in Charo points out, “These are interesting times. There’s disruption. Everyone in the industry is still learning. For example, [we have to find out] what the millennial take on storytelling is. A love story is a love story is a love story, yes? It’s the telling of the story that changes. It changes and adjusts to the kind of audience who’s watching. Kasi sa Sampaguita, nu’ng time na ‘yun, things were a bit slow, melodramatic, masampalan. These days, [stories are more] internalized and in some cases, darker. Some people don’t like happy endings. They want something to be left for their imagination. But the older market always wants happy endings. It’s different per generation.”

 

“I felt really proud to be there in [Singapore]. It’s an opportunity for Filipino talent to be showcased in other parts of the world”

 

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Clothes from Joseph and jewels from Diagolf

 

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While participating in an international film festival is a small yet strategic move to take Filipino talent to the global market, Charo is quick to point out that while many creative avenues are now available to artists, actors, and directors, the quality of storytelling must constantly improve: all advancements musn't be taken for granted. “The storytelling should only get better. There’s a proliferation of content in all platforms. With streaming platforms available and full of good storytelling, we should up the ante! The writers, directors, and producers should come up with stories that are compelling... It’s one thing to have a great idea and it’s another thing to translate the idea into film. You can have a great premise, but if the writing is not able to translate that into a screenplay that will put together all the elements in a cohesive manner, if the director is not able to breathe life into this, then you don’t have a good story [or] movie.”

All of these insights and observations are made by someone who is constantly interested in the progress of Philippine media. It's no wonder that even after her retirement, Charo keeps on doing creative work. When she's not taking challenging roles like Sister Alice, she works as a consultant in ABS-CBN and also serves as the president of its university.

Now that she has taken a step back from her career, she assumes one of the most fulfilling roles she’s ever had to take: being a grandmother. Thinking of her grandkids puts a bigger smile on her lips. “I have fun with my grandchildren. I spend time with them and I am now rediscovering the world through their eyes, through their perspective.” When she shares this, it's easy to picture her walking hand in hand with small children, taking a look at plants or tiny ladybugs. Being a grandma suits her well.

Aside from being with her grandkids, she travels, dabbles in painting, does gardening, and even cleans the house. She looks at me with a bit of incredulity when I asked her about her current life. “I'm a normal person! Nothing about me is exceptional. I'm normal,” she says.

 

"There’s a proliferation of content in all platforms. With streaming platforms available and full of good storytelling, we should up the ante!" 

 

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Of course, having this cocoon of normalcy is hard to believe, given all that Charo has accomplished in her career and life. She won a beauty pageant at a young age, worked as a production assistant in pre-martial law ABS-CBN, did her bit to uplift Philippine cinema through a government-owned organization, worked with the biggest production houses in the Philippines, became the country's official “Ate” and confidante, and served as the first woman CEO of her home network—and all these point to one fact: Charo Santos-Concio is a powerhouse.

The young, bright-eyed, small town girl from Oriental Mindoro, plucked by fate from a simple life, the unlikely leader, has accumulated a wealth of stories. This is what she does for a living, and this is her life.

When asked how on earth she managed to achieve feat after feat, she simply says, “It was never my ambition to reach the top. It was never in my consciousness. I went to work, gave my full commitment, and I guess I must have been fortunate enough that the bosses noticed and the results of the hard work were there.” Upon saying this, she pauses for a bit, perhaps remembering a fond moment in her journey. “You know, everything I do, I put my heart and mind into. I never imagined I'd be here. There are no small or big things for me. Everything is important, everything is significant and meaningful. I give my heart and soul to everything that I do, so I guess there are epic projects and there are indie projects, but I give the same passion. Wala akong minemenos.”

As our interview ended, Charo Santos-Concio clasped her hands and got up. We shook hands. “I hope you learned something,” she says. As I nodded in enthusiasm, others who were in the room—those who were silently listening to the stories the whole time—chimed in, “Kami rin po! Thank you. We learned a lot!”

 

 

Produced by Geolette Esguerra

Photography by Rxandy Capinpin

Creative direction by Chookie Cruz

Liaison editor: Grace Libero-Cruz

Makeup by RB Chanco 

Hairstyling by John Valle

Styling by Veron Gonzalez 

Video producer: Joan Ko

Videography by Giancarlo Escamillas

Special thanks to Beyond Flowers PH