VIFF 2013: The Spider's Lair director delves into world of online scams
Imagine this: you log on to Facebook and find some impossibly dreamy hunk wants to friend you. You accept and strike up an online conversation with him. Soon, you find you're falling in love with him.
Think you wouldn't?
Filipino director Jason Paul Laxamana discovered it happens more often than you think it might.
Laxamana attended the Vancouver International Film Festival with his film The Spider's Lair (Babagwa), a tech-oriented drama about a straight guy named Greg who is coached by a gay associate and cons women and gay men with a fake Facebook profile. He develops relationships with them online and by phone, and emotionally manipulates them into sending him money. The scheme reels in plenty of money, until Greg finds himself unwittingly falling for one of his female targets.
In a chat with the Georgia Straight at the Dragons and Tigers Award ceremony at the Centre for Performing Arts, Laxamana said that the story he wrote was inspired by real life.
"I encountered people who became victims of such scams," he explained. "At the same time, I had the opportunity to meet people who did the scam for a living. So I just wove these stories together and researched what causes online deception."
Laxamana went one step further in his studying catfishing.
"To get into the mind of a scammer, I also did my own fake Facebook profile," he said. "I didn't scam people for money but I made people fall in love with that fake character, and I found out that it was very easy."
He said he thinks the phenomenon is indicative of how obsessed we are with appearances.
"You know the saying 'Looks can be deceiving,' right? When you have a Facebook profile, it's all about how you present yourself. So if you portray yourself as a beautiful person, a handsome person, most probably people will fall in love instantly with that persona. It says a lot about society, judging people by the face and stuff like that."
While his film is set in the Philippines, online scams occur everywhere in the world. However, he noted that economic conditions can make this problem more prevalent in some countries.
"I believe is that this is more of a universal thing….As long as you are part of Facebook, this could happen to you," he said. "But I guess scamming is more rampant in developing nations because there are a lot of poor people in need of money and they don't have jobs and at the same time, there are a lot of people desperate for romance so I guess that's what makes the case of the Philippines unique."
Although his film serves as a cautionary tale for the dangers of online deception, he spoke about how promising the Filipino film industry is right now, due to opportunities opening up to new filmmakers. In fact, The Spider's Lair reflects a new wave of cinematic voices.
"It's an exciting time for Philippine cinema because there are a lot of grant-giving festivals in the Philippines right now," he said. "Like for example, The Spider's Lair was a product of a grant-giving film festival back in the Philippines and there are four other more grant-giving festivals where aspiring filmmakers can submit their scripts and if they become one of the top ten or top five, they are given seed money to produce those scripts into films. So all you need is a script regardless if you are an experienced filmmaker or someone already in the industry. Because of this, there are a lot of new filmmakers who are being featured because it used to be that there are only a couple of people who controlled the industry but now anyone, as long as he has the talent, can come in."