Filipino film on Palawan tribe inspires Lao cinema

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews/21 March) — An independent film that depicts the indigenous tradition and beliefs of the Palawan tribe in the Philippines opened a curtain with new light in Lao cinema. Young Lao filmmakers and audience, including Filipinos and foreign expatriates saw last week the movie Busong, which means “fate” in Palawan dialect.

The director, award-winning Mr Auraeus Solito, a.k.a Kanakan Balintagos (which means Hunter of Truth), visited Laos and showed his film, which is first part of a trilogy based on Palawan province. It won the Grand Prize at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in the US and was selected for Director’s Fortnight in Cannes Film Festival. The second part was “Baybayin” or Philippine indigenous writing.

“The Lao filmmakers saw the possibilities of indigenous cinema,” Kanakan said, having attended the screening during the annual film fest Vientianale and by the Philippine Embassy here. He received compliments from the audience, especially from Lao filmmakers like Mr Lee Phongsavanh who won an award for his short film.

“Filmmakers are cinematic visual people who can see. Perhaps the feeling is similar when I saw Okinawan filmmaker Takamine Go’s film “Untamagiru” as a blooming filmmaker. His film opened my mind’s eye on the possibilities of a culturally strong indigenous cinema,” Kanakan said.

Exploring the four corners of Pha That Luang in Vientiane where he was enchanted by a solitary Ganesh ring that perfectly fits on his finger, Kanakan said he might be coming back to Laos for possible cooperation with Lao filmmakers.
21kanakanFilipino indie filmmaker Kanakan Balintagos strikes a yoga position in front of Pha That Luang in Vientiane, while a monk passes behind him. MindaNews photo by Lorie Ann Cascaro

“I would love to share what I know to this young breed. The Laos filmmakers should be inspired by the emerging new wave in neighboring countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There has been a great indie film movement in South East Asia the recent years. I’d also love to have a Laos-Philippine co-production in the near future,” he noted.

During the Busong screening, Philippine Ambassador to Lao PDR, Ms Maria Lumen Isleta observed that young Lao filmmakers who were among the audience expressed hope that they could learn more from Kanakan. She added that others wished that workshops would be conducted so that they could learn more about many facts of filmmaking including screen writing.

“Others wondered how the director was able to film the butterfly scene which they found quite interesting but possibly difficult to execute,” the ambassador said. She was referring to a scene showing butterflies coming out of Punay’s (Alessandra de Rossi) wounds.

Ms Isleta cited that a foreign diplomat was very impressed by the film. “He fully understood why foreign directors had chosen it and made the grade for screening at the Cannes Film Festival,” she added.

Kanakan had met with Lao filmmakers in Vientiane and seen a “very inspired movement, especially that digital technology has revolutionized cinema and has leveled the playing field.”

Citing that Lao film industry is very young with one or two local feature length films a year, he said Lao cinema is in the “cusps of greatness” as the young filmmakers are talented and open to experiments. “It reminds me of our generation when digital technology began in 2004 and gave us true freedom in expressing ourselves, our stories, and our beliefs through cinema,” said the renowned director.

Kanakan said he loves all his works, composed of two short films in 16 mm, a music video, two documentaries and six feature fiction films. “But perhaps, Busong holds dear in my heart as it is based from my mother’s stories to put me to sleep,” he added.

“My indigenous relatives’ stories and my own personal story of rediscovery of my tribal roots were all interwoven into a form that is so different from western forms. I have told our story to how my tribe tells story and that is a story is born out of another story that is born out of another but in the end they all somehow interweave into one story!” he said.

Kanakan is working on the third part of his Palawan trilogy titled “Sumbang” (Deluge) which is about the time of the shaman-chieftains and how they lost their great magic. He explained that Palawan shamanism is about respecting the environment and fellow human beings. “When man is one with nature, magic happens. Magic is simply respect for nature. Nature follows man when man respects nature. When man and nature is one, anything is possible.”

As an experimental director and wanting to explore possibilities of cinema, Kanakan is inspired to go back to his documentary roots. He is doing a documentary film on Sugar Pie Desanto, a forgotten pioneer of Blues in the US who is half Filipino-half Afro-American. She rose from the ranks with Etta James, her best friend. She was named after “ampalaya”, a bitter vegetable that Filipinos love. “That is why the title of the documentary is “BitterSweet”, from ampalaya to Sugar Pie,” he said.

Asked to describe a good movie for him, he said, “A good movie not only makes you laugh or cry, but makes you think and rediscover your humanity.”

Although he is yet to see more of Lao culture and indigenous communities in his future visit, this artist noticed the similarities in texture of the clothing and fabric in Laos and the Philippines.

Lorie Ann Cascaro of Mindanews is a fellow of FK Norway exchange program. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by Vientiane Times.