Paul Soriano directing Bela Padilla for "Mañanita"

Paul Soriano directing Bela Padilla for “Mañanita”

If there is one trait director Paul Soriano is to be admired for, it is his big heart. A silent, hardworking producer, he financed notable films like Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016), Mariquina (2014), and Transit (2013).

Today he enters the spotlight as the director of the lone Filipino film competing at the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), his most personal film to date, Mañanita starring Bela Padilla.

“It took me 13 years to gather the strength to tell a story this way. The inspiration came when I started studying a style of filmmaking called ‘Transcendental Cinema,’ which to me means finding beauty in the mundane, capturing simply what life gives us, feeling the quiet, listening to your soul, and watching the time pass by,” reflects the 38-year-old filmmaker.

Mañanita focuses on a dismissed heroine from the military who tries to hunt her parents’ killer. A phone call alters everything for this suspense drama film. Paul drew inspiration from Oplan Mañanita, a Davao del Norte initiative, soon to be implemented nationwide, in which cops serenade suspected drug dealers and pushers early in the morning to convince them to turn their backs on drugs. To do his research, he flew to Davao as soon as he saw the news on TV.

Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis director Lav Diaz teams up again with Paul on Mañanita, this time as his screenwriter. “Ever since I produced Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis, we developed a close brotherhood of sorts, a friendship, mentor-teacher type of relationship,” says the Berlin International Film Festival winner of the Alfred Bauer Award. “He wrote me a one-page treatment that, after several more meetings, turned out to be an eight-page script we collaborated on. He then gave me the freedom to translate it and make it my own.”

The world premiere in Tokyo is an affirmation of Paul’s dreams. “I’m able to tell stories for a living. That’s basically ‘living the dream’ and I’m humbled, blessed, and I work hard every day so that I can do this for the rest of my life,” he confesses.

Bela Padilla in "Mañanita"

Bela Padilla in “Mañanita”

Paul embraces failures with grace. “It is inevitable. There is doubt every day, but I try to keep a positive mindset,” he says. “Failure teaches you patience, to control what you can and to let go of what you can’t. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t fail a lot and I will continue to fail, but that’s what makes being successful even more special. You never stop learning.”

Wearing numerous hats or literally his favorite black cap—as producer, director, screenwriter, husband and father, what is his favorite “profession?” He exclaims, “1,000%… being a father!”

The grandson of actor Nestor de Villa is excited about his journey as a filmmaker. “Being a part of film festivals is a way and a source, an outlet to be able to show people my dreams and imaginations, it’s very exciting and inspiring to be invited to these film festivals simply because I get to watch and experience other filmmakers dreams and imaginations and come home with more ideas, inspirations, and stories to tell,” the Santa Clara University graduate reveals.

He has a heartfelt message to the international audience who bought tickets to the TIFF Mañanita premiere: “I just want to thank them. I’ll be very thankful to all those that make time to watch my film in Tokyo and, with hope, my film can speak to them in a positive way, that they will learn something new and be inspired.”

The 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival Best Director for Siargao is looking forward to fulfilling his goals in 2020. He grins, “To produce more films, to tell more stories, and to continue to always be there for my family.”

Mañanita screens nationwide in cinemas on Dec. 4.