Monday, April 6, 2015

Into the Indie-genous World of Kidlat Tahimik

Note: This photo-essay in a slightly different version appeared in the 27 Mar - 02 Apr 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for the Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

Kidlat in cap and gown (he graduated from UP and Pennsylvania's Wharton School and
bahag (he embraces the indigenous culture of the Cordilleras to this day, having grown up in Baguio City).

Indie-genous from indie and indigenous:  for his being the “Father of Philippine Independent Cinema”, a title given Kidlat Tahimik by his fellow film makers,  and second, for making Filipino cultural threads shine through his unique, playful  and humorous film narratives.

I had two occasions to meet indie genius Kidlat (formally Eric de Guia, 72, of Baguio City): at the screening of Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III on 23 March, and at a forum with film students at the UP College of Mass Communications the next day.

In August last year, during the 10th Cinemalaya Film Festival, Kidlat received the Cinemalaya Gawad Balanghai from the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Cinemalaya Foundation for his outstanding contribution to Philippine independent cinema.  This was in recognition for giving the “[indie cinema] movement impetus through his pioneering efforts.”

Kidlat turned over Cimemalaya
Balanghai award to Yason Banal of
UP Film Institute for safekeeping.
But before the film showing, Kidlat, “the silent lightning”, struck at the Cinemalaya Foundation. He expressed a strong protest against the new policy of scrapping the New Breed category in the next Cinemalaya film festival, which would mean that new film makers will compete with the veteran directors.  Kidlat symbolically returned the Balanghai award: he gave it to the UP Film Center for keeps, and he will take it back if Cinemalaya rescinds the new policy. 

Balikbayan #1 took 35 years to finish.  Kidlat narrated that it all began in 1979 when his oldest son Kidlat was five years old, Kawayan was three, and Kabunyan was not born yet.  The busy years were from 1981 to 1985.  He said that he came to realize in 1988 that he wanted to be barkada to his sons who were growing up. He decided “to be father first rather than a film maker.”  He wanted focus in his role in family bonding.  Thus, he “hang” his 16 mm camera, so to speak.

He resumed shooting again in 2013. The 16mm technology was out already, and digital was very much in. He felt it was a cosmic chance to finish the film after seeing his son Kawayan with a thick mane and fully bearded, perfect as the new Magellan. He had just come back from the retrospective shows of his films in the United States.

“Magellan was just a prop in the film,” Kidlat stressed. It is Enrique de Malacca’s story: “umikot sa mundo [si Enrique] at umuwi sa kanyang bayan ...he was the first OFW, the first balikbayan.” The film narrative, he jested, was “according to the gospel of Kidlat Tahimik.”

Home to the reincarnated Enrique became an Ifugao village in 2013. Here he is a wood-carver where old customs and values are very much alive.

In good humor, Kidlat said that Enrique made the complete circumnavigation. In his fiction, Enrique was an Ifugao lad who flew to Cebu using his native blanket.  He could have been captured and brought to Malacca by pirates, where Magellan purchased him from a Chinese trader, brought to Portugal and Spain. Of course, he was part of the expedition in search of Spice Islands, and it was his duty to give Magellan a bath!. According to Kidlat’s gospel, Lapu-Lapu, a babaylan, not a tough guy, killed Magellan.  The poor Ferdinand did not complete the round-the-world trip back to Sevilla.

Balikbayan #1 is also about the power of language. Enrique was into translating his native language for Portuguese and Spanish ears. After the long sea voyage, they landed in Limasawa.  Enrique could not understand the Warays there but he understood the rattle of Bisaya words of his tribe mates when they got to Cebu/Mactan.  Language was the key that opened the islands to the Spanish empire. The aside is, of course, the post-1898 experience tells that it was through language that Pinoy culture got Americanized.

The film is a family movie. “The family is in the film,” Kidlat said, “for practicality. The cheapest actors are my sons.”  Kidlat himself portrayed Enrique de Malacca. Son Kawayan played the new Magellan, the other sons Kidlat, Jr. and Kabunyan did cameo roles. His wife Katrin was the original Queen Isabella.  And they were all involved in the production.  Kabunyan did the poster design five days before Berlin.

Kidlat talking about his approach to art.

The musical theme is something familiar to Pinoys:  Yoyoy Villame song of the discovery of the Philippines by Magellan.  Villame, according to Kidlat, in good humor, is the “best teacher of Philippine history” because of this signature song.

At the student forum, he told the students of his indie path: how he made films when his ‘duwende’ wanted him to tell a story.

He said that he had no scripts, no theoretical base, all “kapa-kapa” and “pakiramdaman”. He cites the crazy architecture of his Oh My Gulay restaurant in Baguio, “walang eskuwalado”, and where the Jose Rizal statue has a “bahag” underneath the overcoat.  “Don’t be a square!,” he humored the film students.  “Don’t be a Mother Lily!” in his swipe of Pinoy formula movies; “Don’t be Hollywood!,” a caution on sex-plus-violence to ensure box-office hits.  The indie path, he said, does not lead to PST (patok sa patilya).

Kidlat looks forward to the day when he can teach again. He has proposed to what he calls the “creative colleges” of the University of the Philippines (Fine Arts, Architecture, Mass Communications, Music) to offer a required elective that he will handle, a collective course defined along Sikolohiyang Pilipino or the Pinoy “Kapwa” psychology, where the students will be encouraged to find old core values in defining their methodologies for producing creative works.

Year 2021 will be the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in Limasawa and his death in Mactan.  Will there be official celebrations to mark the quincentennial of the “discovery” of the Philippines?

Who will remember Enrique de Malacca, the first Pinoy who made the first around-the-world journey across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans 500 years ago?

Probably, Kidlat Tahimik will expand or make another Balikbayan film for Enrique!

Kidlat with the image of the propagandist Marcelo del Pilar. He received
the Gawad Plaridel from UP CMC a fewyears ago,

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