By Rica Arevalo
Although in-demand cinematographer Neil Daza has lighted several notable films like Yamashita: The Tiger’s Treasure (2001), Dekada ’70 (2002), Feng Shui (2004), Emir (2010), Bwaya (2014), and top-rating television shows Maalaala Mo Kaya, Princess and I, and Be Careful With My Heart, his first love is photojournalism.
As a photojournalist, he has covered the post-Edsa revolution while President Corazon Aquino was in power in Malacañang, the Mendiola massacre, and the NPA rebels in Sagada, Mountain Province.
“I have been doing documentary photography ever since, on my own,” says the 56-year-old Gawad Urian awardee for Bwaya. “I always bring my camera and shoot. Through the years, I collected them and realized that as a cinematographer, I am on my 25th year!”
Recalling all his images, he came up with “Neil Daza 25 Times, Images from Behind the Camera,” a photo exhibit capturing 25 years of documenting theater, cinema, and television. More than 30 photographs will be displayed starting this Thursday (Aug. 3) at the Pasilyo Vicente Manansala, CCP Main Theater in time for the 13th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2017.
Tinkering with his second-hand Nikon camera became his obsession in high school. “I was around 12 years old when my uncle gave me an old SLR camera,” says the UST Fine Arts graduate.
Neil was one of the 20 Asian documentary photographers and filmmakers invited by the Gwangju Arts Council in South Korea to exhibit photographs and short films in a multimedia documentary exhibition, Conjunction Points in 2005. “My work is cinematography,” he says. “My photography is for my personal level. It’s therapeutic for me.”
With over 45 credited film and TV projects listed in IMDB, Neil has a confession: “Making movies, ang gulo gulo niya! (It is a crazy environment!) I need to detox myself. That’s why I do photography.”
As a cinematographer, he has garnered awards from the Young Critics Circle, Star Awards for Movies, Golden Screen Awards, Gawad Urian Awards, Film Academy of the Philippines, and the Cinemalaya Balanghai.
His major influence is early social realist painter Jess Abrera and admires film auteur Mike de Leon. “I have worked with Direk Mike in Bayaning 3rd World. Mataas ang standards niya, (He has high standards) in all aspects, production and output,” the Mowelfund graduate recalls. “He taught me, ‘This is the way to make a film.’ Kita mo talaga yung director’s vision. He has a script for production design, a script for cinematography, meron syang notes, seeing how you would light the scene.”
Neil has just wrapped up shooting for Star Cinema’s Ghost Bride and the Cinemalaya entry, Sonny Calvento’s Nabubulok.
In his Artist’s Notes, he writes, “I held my first motion picture camera in 1991 and just like before I never left for a shoot without my still camera. These are snap shots I’ve taken for the last 25 years about movies; taken mostly in between takes, downtime, and rehearsals. These photographs shuttle between real and unreal. Style, format, concept, it doesn’t matter. I just want to take photos.”
In an exclusive Manila Bulletin Lifestyle interview, he muses, “I shoot for film and TV. But sometimes I am more excited with what I am going to shoot in photography.” His photos come from different formats—from black and white negatives and digital point-and-shoot camera to the newest DLSR cameras.
Neil Daza 25 Times, Images from Behind the Camera runs until Sept. 10 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.