Poster courtesy of FDCP Cinematheque Iloilo

‘Ginauhaw Ako, Ginagutom Ako’ and our Obsession with “Old” Iloilo

By joseph batcagan

Ginauhaw Ako, Ginagutom Ako - Project IloiloOne of the moderately popular groups here in Iloilo’s Facebook-sphere is ‘Old Iloilo’. The popularity of this group is obviously simple: members share photos and stories documented from the city’s early years. And Iloilo City, if we’re going to believe tourism slogans, is just a place in love with its past.

Contributions from the group’s members, on the other hand, are pretty impressive. Photos of mansions, government buildings, churches, cinemas, trade schools dated from the different decades of Iloilo are regularly shared there; search any place in its toolbar, and some enterprising soul would have already posted a photo scoured from some dark library somewhere. Not bad for a group that’s mostly made up of some Ilonggos simply being hardcore nerds for history.

It’s easy to see why history holds so much appeal to many Ilonggos these days, even if they might just be otherwise “casual” on the subject: at the very least, it lends us perspective on where Iloilo stands now compared to where it was generations ago. For those who lived in Iloilo City for a significant amount of time, it’s hard to be impacted by any changes we notice because it’s almost always gradual; a new sign at a beloved downtown store may not register much to you at first, until you see the spaces cleared inside and it’s apparent that it’s getting to be another convenience store where burned out students and aimless drunks coexist.

If anything, we could argue that all those rapid changes would have been disconcerting to Ilonggos. It may be clichéd to say we’re “conservative”, but with all the Spanish influences surrounding us here, it’s not hard to see why.

So, it should prove to be no surprise why ‘Ginauhaw Ako, Ginagutom Ako’—touted as the first full-length, Hiligaynon language film ever—was re-screened (please don’t make me look for another word) recently, especially since it seemed like many Ilonggos are now rediscovering their aptitude for nostalgia. If you’re a regular reader of this site, then you probably know what those are. Ever read our previous articles on old cinemas or renamed city streets? Apparently, they’re benta to a lot of you folks around these parts.

But for everyone else who don’t get the hype behind ‘Ginauhaw Ako, Ginagutom Ako’, it reads like a ‘Maalaala Mo Kaya’ episode for film buffs: the film was thought to be completely for over twenty years lost until a copy of it was tracked in Belgium during the early 2010s. Directed by Leonardo Belen and businessman Quirino “Quin” Baterna (whose advertising agency, Ilonggo Productions, financed the production of the film), the film was eventually restored by France’s National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image, though the years-long project can only do so much to fix some sequences in the movie, where nothing but vestiges of decaying film accompanied whatever dialogue or action was supposed to be shown onscreen.

Still, I guess that’s part of its appeal to today’s Ilonggo audience, though. ‘Ginauhaw’’s particular selling point is that it’s a movie filmed in 1980s Iloilo. During the movie’s premiere in FDCP Cinematheque, it seemed like no one cared about the plot;  it seemed like majority of the audience reacted more from seeing what changed and remained in Iloilo City ever since the thirty-odd years from when ‘Ginauhaw’ was filmed (though there was, of course, that one person constantly exclaiming, “Ay, kilala ko ini siya!” during select scenes).

For instance, the opening sequence that greets the viewer are the numerous shanties dotting the shoreline of what looked like Calumpang during the ‘80s. For the current Ilonggo film community that’s frequently partnered with agencies concerned with promoting “tourism”, scenes like these are very rarely shown on film these days. However, since we have to remember that ‘Ginauhaw’ was produced by an ad agency, it seemed to foreshadow the Ilonggo film industry’s current preoccupation with showing the “best” of Iloilo (it is, after all, a clearly written criteria in the last CineKasimanwa film festival).

As ‘Ginauhaw’ barrels mercilessly through its 90-minute running time, copious scenes in the film are dedicated to showing the logos and interiors of local spots Iloilo City denizens are already familiar with, with the exception of those being screened through a more retroactive lens. There’s Amigo Hotel with its gilded carvings of nondescript indigenous people on its poolside wall; there’s the Lizares Mansion, which doesn’t look half as scary when it was being filmed at daylight; there’s Tatoy’s, which looked suspiciously spacious and with nary a parked car in sight; there’s Jaro Belfry looking majestically old and with no fence covering the perimeter; and, this one proving to be a personal discovery, scenes showing Asilo de Molo—the closest thing Iloilo City now has to a retirement home—being an orphanage during the Martial Law era. Just to make sure that that really wasn’t the plot’s intention, I checked out Asilo’s website right after coming home from the screening: a blurb there wrote that the place was “a cradle for the hundreds of orphans in the past”.

And of course, what would an Iloilo film be if there’s no prerequisite scene centered on Dinagyang, just for the sake of showing it to audiences? That particular scene is one I found most interesting: here is a festival that connotes glitzed-out extravaganzas to Ilonggos of this generation, and the film reduces it to its most barebones representation by showing “tribes” parading around with drab tarpaulin banners and the seeming lack of separation between “warrior” and “audience”. This is a Dinagyang we used to only imagine thru first-hand retrospectives and poorly edited blogs made manifest by the film.

However, if there’s only one scene that should tell you that ‘Ginauhaw’ was really made by Ilonggos, it’s probably this scene: an undercover narcotics cop, who’s assuming cover as a taxi driver, was introduced to a female character. After getting introduced to each other, the sequence ended with him just point-blank saying to her, “Ipapasiyal kita [I’ll show you around].”

Even as far back as the ‘80s, we’re certainly responsive to our need of impressing visitors to the city.

‘Ginauhaw’ is a curio from the past, and it’s best that you keep that in mind if you’re planning to catch—and, more importantly, enjoy—future screenings of it. If anything, the renewed interest in what was once an obscure Hiligaynon film should prove to everyone else that there are more things worth mining from the past than mansions and churches.

Ilonggo food, however, is eternal. But that’s an argument for another time.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.