Ana Serrano is ushering Canada’s film industry to greater heights.

Imagine watching a film and being able to control what storylines to follow. It’s a new concept in filmmaking that many got a taste of in the 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival held in Quezon City in October of 2008, through a film called Late Fragment.

Late Fragment was an entry from Canada, the first interactive film in North America, but many were pleasantly surprised to discover that one of its producers was Ana Serrano, a Filipina born and raised in Manila. She may not be quite a household name yet in this country, but she’s considered one of the big shots in Canada’s film industry—she’s the director of the Canadian Film Center’s Media Lab, whose Interactive Narrative Feature Program co-produced Late Fragment with the National Film Board of Canada.

It was a special homecoming for Serrano, who visits Manila every two years or so, because this is one time she is able to showcase the one project she and her colleagues worked hard on for many years. It was also especially meaningful that she is able to do it in the country she grew up in and where her mother, writer Tita Angangco, and stepfather Tim Warner established strong ties with the art community.

Serrano now finds it electrifying that the new generation in the country’s literary, art and film scene continue to be quite inspired.

“I’ve now discovered a whole new generation of talent in Manila. I’ve been reading Pinoy blogs, and looking at young artists coming up, web developers, animators, young filmmakers in the digital lokal [category] in Cinemanila. It’s cool.”

Some say she was destined to forge new paths in the creative field,  but Serrano never envisioned herself doing what she does now. Serrano left for Canada with her family when she was 10 years old. English Literature was what she studied in university, having been nurtured in the world of words that her parents were in. Serrano ran a reading series, as well as poetry and other literary magazines.

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Then in the 1980s, the “desktop revolution” came with many entrepreneurial writers producing self-published ’zines using this new digital technology.

“I embraced the digital revolution head on in the publishing world.” Serrano says. “I remember picking up the first issue of Wired magazine around 1999 or 2000 where they started talking about the fact that the publishing world will change once you add moving images and animation.”

That piqued her curiosity and got her started on exploring new media as a means of telling stories.
“I always liked being an underdog and being in an industry where it’s more challenging, where no one knows what’s going on...” she muses.

An underdog’s life may be a struggle, but Serrano says it isn’t always on the negative side.

“Maybe it’s because I felt like I could bring a different point of view to the mainstream… I found it really refreshing to be the different one.”

Serrano says living in Canada doesn’t make her less of a Filipino. In fact, she feels that her Filipino roots remain as strong as ever.

“I actually have very fond memories of being in Manila, most of them have to do with family. I remember the family caravan vacations where we would all go to Matabungkay or Baguio or something like that. I remember family members playing mahjong,” she recalls. “I think that’s critical—to know that I can be so far away and, coming back, [I can] resume that familial tie so easily, as if I never left.”

 

THE EXPLORER

Exploration of things unknown is nothing new to Serrano’s family.

“My grandmother, Dolores Angangco, was an explorer herself. She was one of the first doctors of her time. She was the one who actually gave me the money to go do my post-graduate work in new media. She said ‘This is something new and you should try it.’”

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And look where it got her—she’s been named one of  the “100 Canadians to Watch” by Maclean’s, Canada’s national weekly current affairs magazine. She’s also garnered three 2003 Canadian New Media Awards and was selected to represent Canada as an expert panel member for the 2003, 2005 and 2007 World Summit Awards, a project of the United Nations’ World Summit on Information Society where a panel judged the best of new media content from around the world in the fields of e-health, e-government, e-entertainment and the like.

“That was really an amazing time,” she says of her participation in the UN events. “There are all sorts of things that are going on in small pockets in Africa and places like the Philippines where people have real needs and are so entrepreneurial and resourceful that they leap-frog certain technological solutions and make up their own. In doing so, they come up with innovative products and services. I think it’s really important to recognize.”

 

A BRIGHT FUTURE

While some may see Philippine cinema as an ailing industry, Serrano sees it differently. To her, cinema is a global industry that’s becoming energized by filmmakers gaining access to new technologies—they’re still the same storytellers who can now spin tales through a variety of means.

“It’s all about new media. You now have so much potential for a group of people who never had access to expressing themselves this way to do film,” she says empathically. “And that’s what digital is all about, where with three, four or five hundred dollars, or maybe even with your cellphone camera, you may be able to make a little short film. It’s really your talent as a storyteller that drives the success of your film. And although production quality still counts, it’s not so much about how expensive your equipment is anymore. So it’s almost like a better, level playing field out there.”

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This will not be the last we’ll see of Serrano, that’s for sure. She’ll definitely be back to soak up more of the film and art culture here.

“It’s really been amazing because it’s all about finding the new Filipino youth who are in arts and media and really, really internalizing the fact that Filipinos are really talented, especially in this sphere—visual arts, media arts, all forms. Being surrounded by such talented people is really exciting and heartening for me.”

 

(First published in Marie Claire, January 2009; photo by At Maculangan)

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