Ask Erik Matti about it and he’ll tell you this: Food is more than just for survival.
He explores the relationship between people and food through the HBO Asia series “Food Lore.” Erik is one of the featured Asian directors in the eight-episode series.
Titled “Island Of Dreams,” the Philippine episode tells the story of Nieves (Angeli Bayani). In bid to secure brighter future for her family, she leaves her husband (Yul Servo) and children to work as a domestic helper in Manila. Returning home for the annual fiesta, she soon realizes that she may have grown estranged from her beloved family as her jubilant homecoming takes an unexpected turn.
At a press conference, Erik said he aims to present an “inclusive” story on Filipino way of life. Thus, his episode features the celebratory life Filipinos have apart from the usual “poverty porn” that have already been shown ad infinitum in other international projects.
“We probably had 40 dishes that I wanted to feature. Why a lot of dishes? I don’t want to be regionalistic, that’s one… the ‘Island Of Dreams’ can feel like any island in the Philippines. We wanted this to be very Filipino rather than just Ilonggo. Of course, we shot it in Negros, pero we are not saying it’s in Negros. We’re saying it’s any other island in the Philippines,” he explained.
“Same with the food that we chose. We chose a cross-section of the best that we can have of our regional cuisine… We have kare-kare, we have inasal, we have all sorts of dishes just so everyone feels that the show is inclusive.
“Kasi tayo, ’yan ang problema, we’re kind of watak-watak as a country… I’ve always dreamed of showcasing Ilonggo food but for this one I thought, I shouldn’t. I should be inclusive of all the other dishes that we have.”
One of the goals of “Island Of Dreams” is to inspire viewers to aim higher and strive for greatness. Erik noted that it’s almost norm in Philippine society to just “settle” or what others call the “pwede na ’yan” mindset.
“Inasmuch as this episode is about food, this episode is also about filmmaking in Philippine context, and also everything about our country. Our country has stopped being ambitious or figuring out the best..,” he said to that effect. “When you go to a place like Hong Kong, there’s a guy who just does noodles for 80 years and he has figured out down to the last centimeter, and down to the last ounce of flour, what’s the best chew of a noodle. Tayo, we always settle, we don’t go for perfection even if we can never get there.”
Erik went on: “Parang ganu’n siya, a lot of people would like to settle and here’s Angeli (the actress who portrayed the lead character in the episode), she wants to see things, is curious about finding out things. We have all these ideas, good ones. We do good work, but we always settle for something because there’s not enough money, there’s not enough resources, there’s not enough time for research. And we just equated it to food. That sometimes, food is just survival but we can actually do something to make it taste better.”
Erik talked about how he came up with the story of “Island Of Dreams.”
“We had several permutations but a lot involved writing a food story. With Filipinos kasi, we’re the most un-Asian in the Asian region. I mean, we’re more Spanish, we’re more Latin American rather than Asian-Asian when it comes to food,” he explained.
“The first thing we asked when we were writing the script was what do we wanna know about the Philippines that the international audience would be excited to know about. For one, I said, we have to include a fiesta. Number two, how food brings together communities, ’di ba? Sa atin, family style, everyone digs in, and it’s the conversation that really matters. So, those are the things we considered.”
“Island Of Dreams” will make its world debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival on Oct. 31, a few days ahead of its TV premiere on Nov. 3, 10 p.m. on HBO and HBO Go.
“Food Lore” also features stories from India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.