Intervju med Andrew Leavold - Mannen Bakom The Search for Weng Weng

Andrew Leavold är förmodligen världens ledande skräpfilmsexpert och mannen bakom filmen The Search for Weng Weng, eller Dom Kallar Mig Minibond som den fått heta i Sverige. Han har skrivit, regisserat och producerat dokumentären, som är en personlig resa och uppfylld dröm vi tittare får äran att följa med på. Denna resa, vars slutdestination tog sju år att nå, både berörde och inspirerade mig. Jag tog kontakt med Andrew för ett tag sedan och när jag senare fick idén om den här temaveckan var han den första jag berättade det för. Han var väldigt positivt inställd till temat och gick genast med på att vara en del av den genom att ställa upp på intervjun, som ni nu kan läsa nedan.
I think there's no better way for you to introduce yourself to my readers than to tell us all about the video store you once owned called Trash Video, as well as your undying love for trash cinema.
OK, here’s the concise version: I was an expat kid growing up in the Middle East, aged 9, when Betamax arrived, and I could suddenly watch all of the films I was previously denied. Horror films were my greatest love, but I watched everything (I still do, A to Z Grade, but especially the left-of field stuff!). And I dreamed of owning my own cult video store. In 1995, aged 25, and after working for the welfare department for 5 years, I bought enough rare VHS tapes to open Trash Video, a little rental store specializing in genre, arthouse, classics, animation, and obscenely rare movies, and started a 15 year adventure in the cult movie world. Of course the other dream was to become a film maker. That took a little longer. While the shop was not doing so great I directed a few underground things, real cheap and nasty, but was also seen as a collector and historian of weird and unknown cinema… the love of forgotten Filipino B films brought me to a Manila film festival, I decided to start a documentary about my favourite Filipino B film actor, and it all went REALLY weird after that...
Skyltfönstret till den numera nerlagda filmbutiken
Could you tell us about your introduction to Weng Weng and how it had such a powerful impact on you that you finally decided to make this movie?
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was in the early 90s, before I opened Trash Video. My friend knew I was looking for this Holy Grail of weird Asian cinema, and gave me a bootleg VHS copy of For Y’ur Height Only. I watched it with my mouth open – I couldn’t believe that such a film could exist! So self-aware, and yet so incredibly dumb! And its star, this two foot nine karate-kicking miracle who seemed to perform all of his own stunts… For some reason I was obsessed with the absurdity AND humanity of Weng Weng, and I made it my life’s mission then and there to find out all I could about him, even if the internet didn’t exist and there was no way of uncovering biographical information on him. I even dreamt of being in the Philippines, telling someone on the phone I was an Australian film maker (which, in the late Nineties, I wasn’t!) in the Philippines to make a documentary about Weng Weng. Ten years later, I actually WAS in the Philippines!
It took you seven years and a hundred hours of shot footage before you completed the movie. How many trips to The Philippines did that include and how did you manage to finance them?
From first trip to premiere, ten trips. All self-financed on borrowed money, with a tiny amount of government funding here and there - all except for the final shoot on Trip Nine, where Kickstarter funds paid for the four weeks’ wrap-up sequences. It took me the entirety of those seven years blindly working out the missing pieces to Weng Weng’s story, and then assembling them into a narrative that made sense to non-Weng fanatics! I think I still have the charts I drew, over a hundred of them, showing all the ways the story could be pieced together. Luckily an editor found me – Canadian Jim Scott – who, as well as being a huge Weng Weng fan, is a genius at piecing together weird tales about outsiders.
Andrew filmar Weng Wengs bostadsområde, Baclaran
In March of 2013, you started a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of reaching at least 30 000 dollars to cover the costs of post production. Your goal was reached less than two months later in May and the amount ended up at 34 073 dollars pledged by a total of 333 backers. Did the response from that many fans overwhelm you? Did you have any idea Weng Weng had that many dedicated fans out there?
No idea, though I was banking on there being enough interest in a film on lost Filipino cinema, otherwise it would have been almost a decade of work down the toilet. Kickstarter’s an all-or-nothing proposition, so I was sweating bullets until the campaign had reached that magic $30K mark, and at times it looked like we may not reach our target. But luckily – miraculously! - we did, and the film is so much better from everyone’s contributions. It helped in the last fortnight of the campaign to request “I Heart Weng Weng” photos from all of the globe. They make me smile every time I watch the end credits, AND remind me how close we sailed to defeat!
Sadly, the most important discovery in your documentary is the fact that Weng Weng is no longer with us. Had that not been the case, what is the one question you would have liked to ask him more than any other?
“Were you happy?” Or more specifically, “Was the rollercoaster ride worth it, despite the fact you were hardly ever paid and ended up forgotten?” In the film, I can only speculate, from what his family and colleagues told me, that he was a person of simple joys, and that he treasured his pre- and post-fame life in his old Baclaran neighbourhood as much as his fleeting superstardom. I’ve since collected more stories which suggest he was content merely with his talents being recognized, and that his family could be helped out with some food and the occasional pocket money. A beautiful little soul.
Vid Weng Wengs grav, tillsammans med brodern Celing
Despite not being able to interview Weng Weng, you met some very interesting people during the shooting of the movie. Did some of them become friends of yours that you still keep in touch with?
Definitely. I’m still in contact with most of the folk I interviewed, many of them are our drinking buddies when I head back to Manila. The family, I’m happy to say was able to help out financially via some of the Kickstarter contributions (when the film finally makes some money, I should be able to help more). Sadly Weng Weng’s brother Celing passed away in late 2014, but he came to the Manila premiere and was able to see how far his brother’s story had travelled. Weng Weng’s director Eddie Nicart, too, passed away around the same time, and we’d become very close to him and his family also. For Eddie it was the first time anyone had listened to his stories. His family told us he died happy, knowing his legacy was safe.
Tillsammans med bland annat Eddie Nicart och en annan filipinsk B-filmsikon - Franco Guerrero
You and your movie have been making the rounds on film festivals all over the world these past few years. How many countries has screened the movie so far and which country did you feel had the best reaction from the crowd?
I had to check… Wow. Twenty countries so far – USA and Canada, South America, all over Europe, the Philippines of course, a few other countries in South East Asia, and up and down Australia. From memory the greatest receptions were at our European premiere in Udine, northern Italy; in a tiny Spanish town near Barcelona called Vic, who put on an incredible Far East Film Festival; in a small arthouse cinema in Copenhagen; and our first ever screening in Manila, November 2013, where Daniel and I was so nervous I almost vomited blood! Hands down, though, the single most profoundly affecting moment was when we screened the film in Weng Weng’s former neighbourhood in the back streets of Baclaran in Metro Manila, outside the house where he was born and died in. It turned into an old fashioned street party! We put on soft drink and pizza for the kids, Empirador brandy for the adults. We then got drunk with them after the film, and Weng Weng’s relatives and neighbours all said, “Good job.” For a film maker and biographer, where you have a duty to get the story of someone’s life right, it doesn’t get better than that.
På den Europeiska premiären i Udine
Being from Sweden, I have to ask if there's been any interest shown by any of our film festivals to screen your movie, or if you've reached out to any of them for a possible screening?
Unfortunately no. My contact who previously worked at the Stockholm International Film Festival was unable to convince them to screen the movie back in 2014. So we missed the boat there. Being a one-man team I simply didn’t have the resources or influence to secure other screenings in Sweden. With the Minibond DVD release, hopefully this might change with our next film. If anyone would like to contact me about a screening, please email me - andrewleavold@gmail – as I’d love to hear from you.
Having watched the movie, it's obvious that your search was as successful as you could have hoped it would be. It truly is remarkable what you achieved considering what little you had to go on. With that said, does the documentary conclude the professional side of your love for Weng Weng, or do fans have something else Weng Weng-related to look forward to from you?
No, I have much more to do with the little guy. My book version of The Search… comes out early 2017, and is a greatly expanded work covering the much wider history of Filipino action films, action stars and their stuntmen henchmen, as well as the multitude of stories I’ve collected since the cameras stopped rolling. For instance, I’ve uncovered more stories about his so-called magical powers, and have tracked down information on even more lost Weng Weng titles – fourteen now (of which I’ve seen seven) and still counting. More family members have generously donated their stories to me, including a particularly poignant account about Weng Weng’s final night. My quest to come as close to Weng Weng as possible won’t ever end. And if I become as pretentious as Francis Ford Coppola I might even do a Search For Weng Weng Redux for the tenth anniversary in 2023.
I have to bring up the fact that you have quite an awesome tattoo of Weng Weng on your arm. How long have you had it and what's the story behind it? Was it with you at any point during the seven years you were shooting the movie? I bet a lot of the interviewees would have gotten a kick out of seeing it.
That was during Trip Four, January 2008. It was my co-producer Daniel Palisa’s first visit to Manila, so we did a lot of dancing on stripper poles and blasting .45s in supermarket gun ranges – the usual Manila craziness! We found this dodgy backyard tattoo parlour in the backstreets of Ermita near where we were staying. The guy laughed at me when I asked for “Weng Weng as a Catholic Saint”; it turns out he was the president of the Tattooists’ Guild! Later that night we went to a cocktail party with one of Weng Weng’s co-stars, and he couldn’t believe his eyes at the still-bleeding portrait of Our Midget of Guadalupe. It’s now a ritual every Manila visit: “Show me your Weng Weng?”
Andrews Weng Weng-tatuering
In the movie, you mention that you'd been screening the Agent 00 movies for people many times in the past. What kind of reactions did the movies get from the crowd? Did they seem prepared for what they were about to see? I ask because I remember going to a screening of The Toxic Avenger in my town a couple of years ago where a woman left the theater after about 20 minutes. This amused me because you'd think people going to see a Troma movie would be somewhat prepared for what they were about to see.
Oh I think Weng Weng films affect audiences on a much deeper level than Troma’s, no offence to Toxie. At some point they stop laughing AT a two foot nine mini-Bond and begin to marvel at his sheer fighting prowess. Then of course there’s the moment you start to become aware of the sheer fragility and humanity of the person behind the cartoon. Rez Cortez says it best in the film - you realize he’s a person you’ve been laughing with, and he becomes heartbreakingly REAL. It’s no wonder we have footage from all over the world of people yelling “We love Weng Weng!” at the end of the film. 
Out of the Weng Weng movies you've seen, which one would you say is your favorite and why?
For Y’ur Height Only is Weng Weng’s masterpiece, no question. The surreal dubbing and the mind-numbingly absurdist action combine and compound the weirdness. I also love his Dolphy films, plus the long-lost Legs...Ktawan...Babae! (“Legs...Body...Girl!”) which he has a tiny part in, starring Hagibis – the Philippines’ hetero Village People – joining Tony Ferrer as Agent X44 to bring down a drugs syndicate led by For Y’ur Height Only’s Professor Von Kohler. There are cowboys, bikers, kung fu fights, disco line-dancing (“Legs! Legs! Legs!”), porn stars in bikinis, and Weng Weng fist-bumping the dance floor’s ceiling during the final musical number.
Weng Weng i Legs...Ktawan...Babae!
Your love for filipino cinema goes further than just Weng Weng, which is evident when looking at your filmography. Tell us about the other filipino cinema projects you've been involved in and what lies ahead.
Originally the Search… was pitched to a TV station in Australia, and they forced us to change it in to Machete Maidens Unleashed; I’m still researcher and Associate Producer on that film. In 2015 the family of Rudy Fernandez, the late junior Action King, asked Dani and I to make a documentary to honour his seventh year passing. The Last Pinoy Action King also talks about the intersection between entertainment and politics, as well as the desperately poor Philippine audience’s need for saviour figures, and premiered in Manila late 2015 and is just starting to do the international festival circuit. Right now I’m about to fly to Manila to complete the third in our “Guns, Goons And Gold” trilogy, tentatively titled The Most Beautiful Creatures On The Skin Of The Earth, covering erotic cinema, censorship, scandal and the propaganda of porn during the Marcos regime. That one is destined to raise more than a few eyebrows!
Teaser poster till The Last Pinoy Action King
Lastly, do you have any advise for filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers who wants to embark on a personal journey similar to the one you had in your search for the little fellow who changed your life forever?
Just start it. Don’t ever think about what your audience will look like or what they will expect, or what the critics will say, or how much money and fame you will get from it – chances are that even if it does get finished, unless you’re incredibly lucky, not many people will ever see it. But the fact that you have finished your personal quest changes your life forever, and will be the catalyst for many more adventures to come. But, as men much smarter and more enlightened than me have said, it’s the journey and not the destination, right? Just make sure you pack enough comfortable socks, because the road can be cold and rocky, and totally worth taking.
Stort tack till Andrew Leavold för intervjun samt för bilderna han personligen delat med sig av till bloggen!
Andrew Leavold - Baclaran - Dom Kallar MIg Minibond - Eddie Nicart - For Y'ur Height Only - For Your Height Only - Francis Ford Coppola - Franco Guerrero - Guns, Goons And Gold - Kickstarter - Legs...Body...Girl! - Legs...Ktawan...Babae! - Machete Maidens Unleashed - Stockholm International Film Festival - The Last Pinoy Action King - The Most Beautiful Creatures On The Skin Of The Earth - The Search for Weng Weng - The Toxic Avenger - Trash Video - Troma - Weng Weng

Häftigt att du fick till en sådan matig intervju -- snyggt jobbat

Svar: Tack!
Pappa Älskar Film