Debuting film fest ‘Pista ng Kapuluan’ highlights Filipino culture, identity

A poster for Filipino filmmaker Xeph Suarez’s film “Si Astri maka si Tambulah (Astri and Tambulah)”.
A poster for Filipino filmmaker Xeph Suarez’s film “Si Astri maka si Tambulah (Astri and Tambulah)”.

Alabang Town Center, in partnership with TAYO Change Agency Co., opened the exhibit for “Kamalayan: Pista ng Kapuluan,” a youth-curated Filipino art and film festival, on Sunday (Sept 25) in time for the celebration of the Philippine Creative Industries and National Film Month.

“The event is focused on creating a visual environment of exploration on Filipino identity for young people and those young at heart against the backdrop of globalization,” according to the festival’s official media kit.

“It is usually only the large-scale blockbuster films that are known to the FIlipino public, but even I just realized how small of a section these films represent in the grander scale of the scene,” said “Pista ng Kapuluan” Project Manager Gino Yang.

The event will immerse the audience into an audio-visual experience through its box-style theater dubbed “Kaha ng Kapuluan” and a community wall allowing moviegoers to openly write or illustrate their thoughts on Philippine culture.

The official poster of Filipino art and film festival “Pista ng Kapuluan,” which will run from Sept 25-30, 2022. (Photo: “Pista ng Kapuluan”/Media Kit)
The official poster of Filipino art and film festival “Pista ng Kapuluan”. (Photo: “Pista ng Kapuluan”/Media Kit)

The project will feature independent films by various Filipino filmmakers from northern and southern Philippines. It will showcase a total of 49 short films, divided into two main programs, and the award-winning full-length film “K’na, the Dreamweaver,” directed by Ida Anita Del Mundo.

Ten of the short films were specially curated by Pasalidahay, a film collective based in Davao co-founded in 2015 by Jay Rosas, Bagane Fiola, and Yam Palma.

It “shows a unique glimpse of stories from Mindanao, among other films specifically chosen that were produced in the South,” said TAYO Change Agency’s Cultural Director Bjork Colao, who also curated the other film program alongside filmmaker Luna Mendoza.

The films will be screened daily for the entire duration of the event. No prior registration is needed and the screenings will be available for free.

Diverse stories

The festival organizers said that they ensured that each film included in the lineup “speaks about the archipelago and the Filipino culture.”

“The films were suited according to a storyline that transitions from an introduction of the Philippine islands, following life in the archipelago, our untold stories and the intrinsic creativity of the Filipino people, and lastly, our diverse and fluid identities as people of the islands,” Colao said.

“The films were organized not specifically by their genre or theme, or their geographical origin, but we made sure to exhibit the fluidity of story from the north and south,” Colao added.

Meanwhile, when asked how “Pista ng Kapuluan” differs from other film festivals, Yang said that “the event in its entirety is trying to convey a message or feeling through the combination of our films.”

“This event was originally thought up for Independence Day, so we came up with the theme of challenging event-goers to ask themselves, “What does it mean to be an independent Filipino?” Yang added.

Rebuilding a cultural heritage

“Pista ng Kapuluan” will also serve as a fundraiser, through voluntary donations, for Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions (SLT), a T’boli cultural center and homestay based in South Cotabato, Mindanao. It is overseen by TAYO Change Agency’s longtime partner Oyog “Maria” Todi, according to Yang.

“As a local creative company, many of our designs and ideas are rooted from our culture and account of our native forefathers, following this we are always active in playing our part to preserve our cultural heritage,” Yang noted.

“We have actually been working with Maria since the early days of Kamalayan and recently, due to the calamities, their main cultural center in the heart of their village was destroyed, so the proceeds of this event will be geared toward the rebuilding of this site,” he added.

Pasalidahay founder and main programmer Rosas also considered the event’s advocacy for Lake Sebu indigenous peoples groups when asked to curate a short film program for the festival.

“The festival’s theme is not very strict or focused so I tried to program films that touch identity, culture and social awareness, which are some key themes put forward by the group and the entire festival,” Rosas said.

“This is also why I programmed Shai Advincula-Antonio’s “Tembong (Connecting),” which is about the tradition of weaving among the T’bolis in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Another short film called “Habi (Weave)” also tackles the dying tradition of weaving in a town in Davao de Oro,” he added.

The rest of the films in the said program will showcase regional identities and cultures, as well as LGBTQ+ narratives, including Xeph Suarez’s “Si Astri maka si Tambulah (Astri and Tambulah)” and Ram Botero’s “Pamalugu (In Limbo).”

Other shorts also provide a glimpse of the sociopolitical landscape in Mindanao, including Anna Miguel Cervantes’s “Mga Gipaambit Gikan sa Tubig (Whispers from the Waters of Mindanao).”

“My program, I think, shows a diversity not only in filmic expressions but also in narratives. The title of the festival I think highlights our country’s archipelagic nature. Which is why in the end I settled for a program that focuses on works made by filmmakers from the region, or who have regional roots, as a kind, or act of, decentering,” Rosas remarked.

TAYO Change Agency Co. is the same organization behind Kids for Kids Philippines, whose “Kapuluan ng Kabataan” campaign supports Lake Sebu SLT.

Challenges and future plans

However, the festival’s curation process did not come easy.

“At the beginning we did not know who to start contacting for the films and were worried about the willingness of directors to lend their films for this event. As time went by and [after] we reached out to our first few contacts, it surprised us to see how intertwined the Filipino film scene is,” Yang said.

“After the first few directors got back to us, the rest was history since everyone linked us up with their peers and they were all especially keen to the cause the event is being held for,” he added.

When asked if the agency hopes to continue the project in the future, Yang said that “our country is still well into the process of discovering our identity as Filipinos, so this surely won’t be the last time we hold an event like this.”

Visit “Pista ng Kapuluan” on Facebook to learn more about the festival.

This article initially stated that the organizers formally launched the festival on Sunday (Sept 25). However, due to typhoon “Karding” (Noru), the official opening program has been postponed and will be moved to a later date, yet to be determined.

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist, covering entertainment and lifestyle stories for Yahoo Philippines. Follow them on Twitter @baltarle for latest news and updates. The views expressed are their own.

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