How did Paolo Contis and Yen Santos film ‘A Faraway Land’ in the middle of the pandemic

Published September 4, 2021, 8:58 PM

by Rica Arevalo

A Faraway Land is a streaming surprise hit

SHOOT WITHIN A FILM The reporter (Paolo Contis) shooting his subject (Yen Santos) at Faroe Islands

This pandemic created new dynamics in movie making in the country. Big studios have stopped creating movies for the cinemas. Popular stars are not active in the box office. The relevance of superstars and studio-produced projects seem “neither here nor there.” 

One development in moviemaking this quarantine is one does not need an established name or a studio to come up with a decent content.

Take the case of A Faraway Land produced by MAVX Productions and directed by Veronica Velasco. It was shot under the external sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark in Faroe Islands with “not your usual cast” Paolo Contis and Yen Santos.

It went straight to Number 1 on Netflix Philippines after two days of streaming. For a film to be given a chance at distribution even without a theatrical run is a rare thing. “I don’t know how long this phenomenon will last, but it has given independent films access to an audience that is usually impossible for them to reach,” muses the Through Night & Day director.

WINTER IS NOT COLD ENOUGH Filming during winter and following COVID-19 protocols

Velasco’s interest in filmmaking started when in Grade 2, she would head to the library of St. Therese’s College to borrow five books a week. “I think nauwi ako sa ganitong trabaho dahil mahilig talaga ako sa mga kuwento (I think I got into this job because I love storytelling),” she muses. 

How did she choose her actors? “Si Paolo bata pa lang, umaarte na, kaya ang galing (Paolo has been acting since he was a child, so he is really good),” muses the 2007 Young Critics Circle Best Film winner for Inang Yaya. “Kapag pinanood mo yung pelikula, akala mo adlib yung line, pero scripted talaga (If you see him in the film, you would think his lines are adlib but it’s really scripted).”

LOVE FINDS A WAY Yen Santos and Paolo Contis star in A Faraway Land

Paolo plays Nico, a one-man-team reporter who flies to the remote island to film successful OFWs in this self-governing archipelago. He becomes enamored with Mahjoy (Yen), a married restaurant owner who also sidelines as a fish “cleaner.”  

‘Paolo [Contis] has been acting since he was a child, so he is really good.’

The 2009 Cinemalaya Best Film winner for Last Supper No. 3 appreciates actors who take time to study and prepare their character.  “She (Yen) is a natural. She comes to the set prepared. Gabi-gabi niya pinag-aaralan yung script (Every night, she studies the script),” says Veronica.

SO CLOSE YET SO FAR Veronica Velasco (sixth from left) and the production team of A Faraway Land

The production team had to get a special visa from Denmark and follow Faroe Islands’ strict COVID-19 protocols. “When our plane landed, swab test, on the sixth day swab test again.”  There were only three active cases at that time of shooting. “We were able to shoot in a 250-year-old house at the outskirts of Tórshavn and the restaurant where Majhoy worked was owned by a Filipina who only did take out orders because of the pandemic,” she said.

Veronica is thankful for the OFWs and Filipinos they encountered in their winter and below zero, negative temperature shoot. “Our Overseas Filipino Workers were always on hand to offer help,” she says. “Without their support, hindi kami makakapag-shoot or matatapos (we wouldn’t be able to finish this film). The Philippine Embassy in Denmark also made it possible for the production team to get to the Faroe Islands.

KABABAYAN GROUPIE The Yen and Paolo with Filipinos in Faroe Islands

Paolo has shown that he can shift from comedy to drama instinctively. He had to carry “unknown” supporting characters on his shoulders and he did not disappoint us. Yen got her biggest break on the Philippine version of Pure Love, originally a Korean TV drama series. Is her career going full blast after A Faraway Land? As Mahjoy, there is quiet sadness as she juggles her life as a mother, wife to a “cold” husband, and her financial responsibility to her dependent mother in the Philippines. Acting wise, Yen demonstrates that she can play a box-office star in any dramatic role.

A lot of changes are happening this pandemic. With streaming, filmmakers become more dependent on technology. To not adapt to the changes would be unwise and unfavorable. “Of course I miss seeing films inside a cinema,” says the 2007 Star Awards’ Digital Movie Director of the Year. “Pero mas malawak ang reach ng Netflix (But Netflix has a wide reach).”

When A Faraway Land was released worldwide, Veronica was informed that the one-hour-and-41-minute film reached number one in Qatar and UAE, number eight in Singapore, and number nine in Kuwait.  

There is a huge demand for content worldwide and the situation now makes it dangerous to produce but MAVX is currently producing several films. “We’re leaving soon to shoot To Russia with Love,”Veronica volunteers. “Immediately after, we will film Whispers In the Wind, a film set in Japan.”

A Faraway Land is still streaming on Netflix.