The camera looks up at a person smoking a cigarette while a plane flies overhead.

Issue 003 Fall 2021 Interviews

Out of Water: an interview with Miko Revereza

by Amir George

Disintegration 93-96 (2017), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.


Miko Revereza’s No Data Plan (2019) is a nomadic hurdling across stunning landscapes primarily unfolding on an Amtrak train from Los Angeles, California, to Rhinecliff, New York. The film offers a fugitive trajectory that braces with tension throughout as Revereza contemplates risking his safety. The gripping narrative alternates between a bleak story of a familial affair and childhood memories guided by an entrancing rhythm.


His follow-up to No Data Plan, the short film Distancing (2019), is rich with themes of family, loss, alienation, and displacement. We see the procedural shots of a doctor with Revereza’s ailing grandfather lying on a medical table, riddled with images of Revereza thumbing through the blank pages in his passport from the Philippines. Empty phone banks and abandoned suitcases circle in a deserted baggage claim, and grainy night footage is taken at LAX. 

Revereza continuously merges tantalizing conversations with moments of intense mobility. In his films movement is constant, a reflection of his lived experience. Revereza’s films operate on functions of objectivity, truth telling, and reflexivity. He has carved out a distinctive fingerprint through impulsive documentation that grants the ability to access the unknown.


An extreme close-up of a person's face looking up, perhaps in shock or fear.
Distancing (2019), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.

Revereza recently relocated to Oaxaca, where he has been polishing his latest work, El Lado Quieto (2020), a documentary-style collaboration with Carolina Fusilier. It takes place off the Pacific coast of Mexico, on the island of Capaluco, at a once-bustling vacation resort that is now deserted. Revereza and Fusilier together activate the essence of the Siyokoy, a mythological sea creature from the Philippines, contorted with science fiction motifs. Curiosity unravels as the Siyokoy sea creature emerges from the water after traveling the strong current from the Philippines. The Siyokoy interacts with the spectral sounds and navigates through the architectural afterlife of the Capaluco island. 

El Lado Quieto speculates on the future inhabitants of architectural remains and takes on a triple consciousness, performing acts of provocation, presence, and invisibility. Meditations of the Siyokoy develop in real time to the sounds of ghosts from the island’s past.

Since Revereza and I first met in 2018 at True/False Film Fest, I have gravitated toward his work and how effectively he considers an alternative approach to the nonfiction film genre as a whole. There are a myriad of textures surrounding reality, which Revereza masterfully blends without relying upon traditional documentary aesthetics. Our conversation touches on the creation of El Lado Quieto and the navigation of life and practice with an internal compass.


A balcony of a home which sits near water - visible in the background - features two chairs and a table. Sunlight pours into the space.
El Lado Quieto (2021), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.

Amir George: How has your practice been since Distancing?

Miko Revereza: It is sort of an ongoing, diaristic video film practice, writing practice. It just kind of goes along with living life and seeing, filming when I feel like it, whenever I feel compelled to. These days, I feel less obligated to pick up the camera, and I’m enjoying the sort of off-camera time, a lot more of just letting things resonate, and using the most inspired moments. 

Since I bought this Sony camera four years ago, I’ve been triangulating my personal path, but also in relation to the sort of path of different empires, the US and Spanish empire.

AG: In El Lado you speak of empires as apocalyptic cults. Did that idea come out of your journey?

MR: It was literally a conversation throughout and just [Carolina Fusilier’s and my] minds thinking out loud. We were having these ideas in our minds, and it’s just like our streams of consciousness. 

AG: What was the process of making El Lado?

MR: I think we pitched the concept of the film to the Asia Culture Center. We were applying for this grant for it, and then it was like writing a synopsis for a fictional film of this creature. That was the premise, the creature going from the Philippines, getting sucked in this current, and ending up in Mexico. So we were writing just the premise and then just kind of took a more documentary approach of making these filmic portraits of places as if navigating an island through the eyes of this sea creature. 

AG: How were you thinking about architecture while making this project?

MR: We were exploring these immense structures, these potential sites. The sort of infrastructure, like the port, has evolved into American hegemony after the Spanish empire, and now it has evolved into a party city. This is sort of the remnants of all the evolutions of vacation and also exploitation. So I think there’s a lot of feelings going through these spaces. It’s kind of interesting to just feel the spaces emotionally and also approach them intuitively. Certain stories seep into the film itself, creating a new life of the struggles or things that have been forgotten or ignored.

AG: When you see a place like that, you just expect to see people. Whether it’s people at the gate or those people in line, or people getting tokens, laughing, or walking, it’s always an active place.

MR: Yeah. In other places in Acapulco, it’s still very active.

AG: Your previous work has a lot of movement going on—you’re moving through memories, train stations, airports. How does it feel to be still for a while?

MR: It felt good. We were thinking more about this film just being underwater, where there’s this sense of constant movement, there’s this flow, and then everything is expanding and contracting. Underwater, light is constantly bending, perception is bending. And then outside you have these really straight lines like columns, and you do have movement sometimes.

AG: What does the sea creature represent to you?

MR: We wanted to retain a sense of mystery about the sea creature, not to project much of ourselves. We were creating antics for the sea creature, but it’s impossible to write a narrative for a sea creature. It will always be a sort of personification of humanness, like Nemo or something.


An extreme close-up of a baby's face, seen in grainy quality, as if on a TV screen.
Disintegration 93-96 (2017), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.
A close-up blurry image of a person's face, seen from the side looking down.
Disintegration 93-96 (2017), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.

AG: The shadow of the creature was Godzilla-like almost. 

MR: I suppose we kind of modeled it to be movie-esque. But Siyokoy has been in a lot of horror films in the Philippines, so we went off of that basis of what it looked like and then just played around with it.

AG: Can you tell me about how the collaboration with Carolina came about?

MR: A pandemic romance. We were both in the triannual together in Manila. Carolina is a digital artist and also does video work, mainly does paintings and installations. So we met and bonded. Around March or April, Carolina had this online reading that she had to do. So she created this story about this sea creature emerging from the ocean and being able to explore in human form. Then we kind of just played around with it. We had this idea, and pitched the project for funding. It all came together pretty fast. The movie is in a sense a pandemic film. There’s no people in it.

AG: Only ghosts and shadows. 

MR: Yeah. 

AG: Which is cool. There are the voices too. How does improvisation play a role in your work?

MR: It was all improvised. Before filming, maybe we observe the place and see what catches our eyes, exploring the place, filming slowly. We may have had only one opportunity with a place where we may not be able to return. I think the biggest improvisational part was in editing. Our conversations with each other and how we relate to these spaces, they’re improvisational because our conversations were improvised. 

AG: Is the sea creature the destroyer of these empires? Or are these places a refuge for the creature?

MR: We had these questions, like does the creature fantasize to be human? Or why does the creature fixate or explore these spaces, and what types of imagination does the creature have in relation to spaces? Also, how well do creatures repurpose human architecture when it’s evacuated? Is it merely a functional sort of sanctuary to protect oneself from the forces of nature or something? I read somewhere that Godzilla got his power by nuclear atomic energy, so it’s like negative energy, how it terrorizes. 


Through a blurry window an outdoor space is visible, almost as if at a zoo or an aquarium emptied of water, though it is not clear that it is either.
El Lado Quieto (2021), dir. Miko Revereza. Film still courtesy of Miko Revereza.

AG: Is the creature in El Lado powered by peace?

MR: Yeah, and by curiosity.

AG: They’re a place maker.

MR: That’s true. 

AG: Then that leads me to think about home and abandonment. 

MR: Estrangement, exile, places you haven’t been a while, but these are like personal places. Then consider being on the other side of the border of the United States, in the Philippines, and not being even American—literally feeling out of water, and in a completely different context from myself, where it’s not the language that they used, that I grew up with. Tagalog is my first language, but I didn’t grow up using it. So then it sort of re-assimilates. But it felt like a fish out of water. That’s kind of a direct metaphor, I suppose. 

AG: Selfhood is home. 

MR: Yeah, selfhood is home. I never really identified with any places as home no matter how long I’ve lived in that place. When I was in the US, it wasn’t home—I wasn’t a legal resident. So then, on paper, bureaucratically, they didn’t allow me that home. But spiritually, the Philippines didn’t feel like home either. So I don’t know. I feel torn. The concept, the word home, it brings up complex emotions or attachments to it. 


Footnotes:

1.  For a poignant filmic portrait of Ahmed Bouanani, see Ali Essafi’s Crossing the Seventh Gate (2017, 80’). 

2. Two of Bouanani’s books were published in English translation in 2018 by New Directions: The Hospital (fiction) and The Shutters (poetry). 

3. The Years of Lead is the name given to a period of violent political repression in Morocco, roughly between the mid-’60s and the late ’80s, under the reign of King Hassan II.

4. Expressions from Ahmed Bouanani’s posthumous book, La Septième Porte: une histoire du cinéma au Maroc 1907-1986 (Rabat: Kulte Editions, 2020). This history of film in Morocco is co-edited by Touda Bouanani and Berrada.

5. See note 4.

6. “J’ai choisi la voie du mythe”, Maghreb Informations, March 23, 1973.

7. Un film qui ne s’enracine pas profondément dans nos réalités ne m’intéresse pas”, Maghreb Informations, June 29, 1974.

8. The first interview is included in full. I omitted three questions from the second interview, for length and consistency.

9. An English version of the poem, under the title “Memory 14,” is included in Ahmed Bouanani, The Shutters, trans. Emma Ramadan (New York: New Directions, 2018).

10. Fourteenth century in the Islamic Hijri calendar, which roughly corresponds to the twentieth century AD.

11. While making a plea for maintaining the cultural memory of a precolonial past, Ahmed Bouanani warns against the trap of idealizing it as a Golden Age since it was a deeply unequal, feudal system.

12. Blad siba, which translates roughly to “anarchy zones,” refers to areas of Morocco that were out of the control of the central state.

13. Wechma [Traces], which came out in 1970, is considered to be the foundational feature film of independent Moroccan cinema. It was produced by Sigma 3, a small cooperative of four filmmakers who all chipped in to the enterprise and pledged to work on each other’s films. Bouanani was a founding member of Sigma 3 and the editor of Wechma. The collective came apart after this initial project.

14. Centre cinématographique marocain, the National Film Center.

15. A type of Italian film featuring the character of Maciste, a massively powerful protagonist who performs heroic feats.