Photo by Marc Belloni

Kita-kita: Observances on Modern Ilonggo Cinema and Community

By marc belloni

The Film Development Council of the Philippines—through its Western Visayan arm, the FDCP Cinematheque Iloilo—continually realizes its motto, “Bringing Filipino films to Filipinos”, by regularly screening indie Filipino creations side-by-side with its foreign movie showcases.

Discovering this haven of the seventh art—which also doubles as an art gallery—provides a continual source of wonder by inviting the viewer to assess and think about themes prevalent in the country’s collective unconscious: religion, civil war, romance, corruption and more. This venue is where my voyage in Ilonggo cinema started.

My first contact with the thriving world of the Ilonggo filmmaking scene started with ‘Salvi’ by T.M. Malones (2012), a case study in how a limited budget can be maximized through a balance of precise writing, a seasoned practice of photography and true symbiosis with the filmmaking crew. This movie appealed to my liking of stories with post-apocalyptic themes and how, in the midst of barbarity and cruelty, some humans retain glimpses of caring and kindness in an unforgiving world.

Salvi: Ang Pagpadayon - Project Iloilo
Scene from ‘Salvi: Ang Pagpadayon’ | Courtesy of Dark Media Productions.

If an Ilonggo film would embody the deep bond that is representative of Hiligaynon culture, it would be ‘Katapusan nga Handum’ by Aimee Apostol-Escasa (2015). The winner of the Short Film category in last year’s CineKasimanwa tells the story of a second-generation Filipino expatriate who visits his mother’s hometown of Iloilo to fulfill her last will. Amidst the mother’s soft voice-over narrating her dying wishes, the film gives the viewer an initiatory journey through the Ilonggo ideals of family, friendship and one’s bond to the soil to discover the main character’s roots via a calm and laid-back editing style.

The “communal” aspect behind the making of ‘Katapusan’ was evident when I had the chance to meet the director and her husband, Chuck Escasa, at my place. The “actors” and “crew” I ended up welcoming were either family or friends of the duo—nearly all of them non-professionals, but fast learners working as one with enthusiasm. I then realized the film they made was a reflection of their provincial lifestyle and culture.

This was the same process I observed from my friends who were making films last year: there’s Mia Reyes with ‘Ang Panglakaton’, the Antique entry in last year’s CineKasimanwa contest; Dennis Hubag with his mind-boggling ‘Maledictus’; Allyn Canja and Eric Barbosa Jr. with their tragic ‘One Week Later’; and Reymundo Salao with his slasher, ‘Ugayong’. I witnessed how they were pressured to meet the festival deadline while juggling between day jobs, budgetary issues and shooting schedules. They’re a tight-knit community maintaining close friendships with each other, and I’m sure their tambay moments helped a lot in dispelling the stresses they endured during filmmaking.

One Week Earlier - Project Iloilo
Scene from ‘One Week Earlier’ | Courtesy of Allyn May Canja and Eric Barbosa, Jr.

No local filmmaker would put themselves under so much stress if they have no platform to showcase their creations, and this is where the aforementioned CineKasimanwa film festival helps greatly. This is the brainchild of Elvert C. Bañares, another prominent Ilonggo filmmaker and lobbyist who relentlessly scouts, discovers and promotes local films.

Through this festival, all willing and able filmmakers of Region VI—whether experienced directors, amateurs, or beginners with class projects—were all featured in the festival’s four-year history. I could feel a pulse when their various supporters in the guise of family members, classmates or friends coming from their respective hometowns applauded these filmmakers’ hard works warmly. Again, I can only attribute this to a provincial sense of bonding.

Thankfully, Cinematheque also hosts workshops aiming to improve our local filmmakers’ techniques. For instance, multi-awarded Ilongga film editor Tara Illenberger deserves a token of recognition from her peers for guiding, in over the course of a few days, budding filmmakers like Salao or Vincent Montaño, and even Mass Communication students and various beginners alike. They were made to sit, learn and practice editing together as a community while realizing their personal—and almost obsessive—quest for improvement.

Dungol Behind the Scenes - Project Iloilo
Director Reymundo Salao and actors on the set of ‘Dungol’ | Photo by Marc Belloni.

This “outsider’s view” finally led me to being an official part of two filmmaking crews for the following short films: ‘Buang Bulawan’ by Malones (part of the 2016 Cinema One Originals Film Festival, Short Film Category, November 14-22) and ‘Dungol’ by Salao (will be part of CineKasimanwa 4 this December). Being an anecdotal helping hand gave me ample time to see things from the inside: mainly, how a director can count on the crew made up of long-time friends/partners and young interns to plan everything and execute it in the best way possible; how both young and seasoned actors can work in unison to understand the director’s vision; and how the feeling of achievement after long days on the set unites them all.

And if things get too stressful, you can always count on someone to diffuse the tension with a handy joke. They are family and barkada after all.

At this stage, it’s now clear that the Ilonggo filmmaking scene is thriving and will gain recognition. For that to be realized, the prominent directors keep on repeating the same advice to the newcomers who are welcomed to this little community: attend the workshops, learn all you can, refine and progress.

An earlier version of this article cited ‘Buang Bulawan’ as an entry to CineKasimanwa 4. The film was actually shown during the 2016 Cinema One Originals Film Festival on November 14-22, 2016. The article has since been updated.

Marc Belloni is a writer for Project Iloilo.