May 23, 2020


Qiyamah (The Reckoning) is my third film. It won best film in the Young Critics Circle of the Philippines Citation for Distinguished Achievement in Film, in 2013. The critic Tessa Maria Guazon wrote, "While Qiyamah partakes of the nothingness that shape apocalyptic films, it grounds it well within a local moral world; that of the small village, its council of men and the ties between women. It foregrounds tainted innocence as it tries to ferret out the workings of evil in a world which little by little has shrunk both in its physical realm and within the imagination of those who inhabit it. Qiyamah underscores the fickle nature of our individual desires and dreams, whose value and gravity becomes apparent only in context of relations with others."

May 19, 2020

Digital decluttering

I decided to embark on a digital decluttering project while on quarantine. The objectives are mainly to organize my files and create a digital bank of all the files I've accumulated all these years from movies, photos, documents, ebooks, presentations, to the raw files of my own films; to free up the space of my MacBook so that I can upgrade the operating system, and lastly to reduce my digital footprint. 

The first two objectives I accomplished with ease. First I copied all contents from my MacBook to a hard drive. With a lot of patience I sorted through files stored in 16 hard drives. I decided on what will stay and which to delete. I ended up deleting 10 percent of my files, which were my former students' works and papers. I also had to decide on categories for folders - the decision was between creating a file system based on year or type of files. I decided on the latter so I ended up with 3 hard drives of movies, 12 hard drives of raw files of my own films, and 1 hard drive of documents, photos and presentations. I also thought of a back up for important documents which are stored in the Google Drive of my email address. A Gmail comes with a free 15Gb of data storage. If you want to upgrade your storage, you can do it for a fee. Another Gmail stores back up of my three recent films which still get invited to film festivals. That way file transfer is also convenient. My iCloud, on the other hand, contains photos. So I don't need to bring hard drives with me all the time.

The reduction of digital footprint can be quite challenging. It's easy to permanently delete old Facebook or Twitter accounts for as long as you still remember the password. It's also important that you can access the email address that you used to create the accounts. Social media platforms usually require verification via email. 

What I find challenging is the deletion of email addresses, particularly Gmail. I have about ten Gmail addresses which I used for various reasons. I no longer use half of them, hence, the desire to delete them. But Gmail has a very complicated verification process before you can delete your address. Gmail asks you to access a linked email address for security reason. That was no problem. But they also ask for the mobile number that you linked your account. This was problematic because the emails that I created ten years ago were linked to an old mobile number. So they're staying, for now, until I can find a way to convince Gmail that I no longer need the email addresses. 

May 15, 2020

The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children

The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children should have been my first film. We started shooting the film in 2008, two years before Limbunan (The Bridal Quarter) was released in 2010. However, editing took four years to complete and we finally released the film in 2012. This quasi-documentary premiered at the CINDI Digital Seoul Film Festival earning the approval of international critics. Later in 2012, it screened at the Cinemanila International Film Festival and won Digital Lokal best film and best director. It was screened in more than a dozen international film festivals and exhibitions in the following years. 

May 14, 2020

Recreating sound and look in a period film

When I was pitching Masla A Papanok (Bird of History), I was asked the question, "What does the bird look like?" Papanok is the Maguindanaon word for bird. So I began describing the bird and how I intended to shoot the scene to the QCinema International Film Festival selection panel.

Masla A Papanok takes place in 1891, towards the end of the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines. One day a huge bird suddenly appears, which, according to local superstition, is a bad omen.

Much later, when I was got the grant from QCinema to shoot the film, I asked my father to recall accounts of those who have seen this mysterious bird in the past. It was a big black bird, he said. He likened it to an eagle, but much larger. He has not seen it himself, but has heard of many stories about it. I imagined that it might have looked like the thunder bird Argentavis magnificens, or the giant teratorn (photo above). 

My father cautioned me, however, to stop obsessing on the physical features of the papanok. I wanted to argue that I needed to imagine how this bird looked like because film is a visual medium, but I was also eager to learn more. You see, in Maguindanaon lore, the appearance of this bird is bad omen. People in the olden days say "inunian na buniga" to refer to this event. Roughly translated, "the sounding of the big bird." When people hear the sound, they know that bad things are bound to happen. The sound of the bird is, therefore, the ominous presence more than the sighting. To imagine Masla A Papanok is to imagine how it sounded.

But how does one make a period film for 1.5 million pesos (US$30,000)? Clearly the biggest challenge of producing Masla A Papanok was how to mount the film's production design with very limited resources. The first task was turn to archival photos of Cotabato, the milieu of the film, which were taken during the last years of the Spanish colonial period. These photos offered a lot of insights to the production - from creating an authentic look to deducing knowledge on the political economy and social life of the Maguindanaons of the late 1800s, which would then inform the visual design of the period. As there is little extant tangible heritage of the period, imagination filled the gaps. For instance, basing on the photograph below, fabric was a luxury only the rich or nobility could afford in those days. Servants and members of the lower class had to make do with a singular malong (tubular cloth) as garment and would wear it to cover the breast down. Trading with the outside world was a lifeline of the economy, so a lot of goods and commodities came from Chinese traders. As a result, the Maguindanaons wore camisa de chino ('Chinese shirt') and malong made of cotton and silk cloth (rather than the traditional inaul weave of the Maguindanaon).

Old photographs are a window to the past, a time and place that we will never be able to visit. They capture images that are frozen in time. Much of my work as a writer, a filmmaker, an observer of culture are produced by encounters with photographs. I am particular with images of the common folk as they could provide a more accurate assessment of the social, economic and cultural conditions of the past. With meager material resource, there is little room for staging or art direction.

May 13, 2020

Limbunan (The Bridal Quarter)

Produced in 2010, my debut film Limbunan (Bridal Quarter) has been screened in film festivals worldwide including the Venice International Film Festival where it was the closing film of the International Critics Week. It established my reputation as a staunch proponent of slow cinema. It will stream online for free for a limited period.

To donate, please click here.

May 11, 2020

An ugly truth about blog monetization

So I resumed my blog after an absence of five years. I noticed some changes in the blogging landscape. For some of us who started blogging more than a decade ago, it was more to do with expressing ourselves, writing our observation on just about anything, or chronicling our day to day experience. However, blogging nowadays is driven by marketing of information on a particular subject or niche. Blogging sites are full of advice to focus on a niche or lose an audience. But while I'm not ready to do that yet here (I talk about a range of topics that I like from film to books, travel to shopping, current events to cultural anthropology), I'm quick to adapt a few changes. I learned that Google Adsense has been disabled in this blog for inactivity. It was easy to monetize your blog through Adsense then. There was virtually no requirement except to open a blog and post regularly. Due to stiff competition today, Adsense has set some new requirements focusing on number of traffic and quality of the blog. I'm not sure when my Adsense will be approved or activated again, so while waiting I searched for alternatives to monetize my blog.

May 10, 2020

Blogger as a reliable blogging platform

I have been using Blogger as my preferred blogging platform for close to fifteen years now. It's easy and convenient, and it's also free. Blogger is one of the earliest blogging platforms developed by Pyra Labs in 1999, which was bought by Google in 2003. All you need is a Google account to start a free blog on Blogger. Once you create your Gmail account, it can easily be activated as with other Google features. It requires very minimal technical skills. Because it's powered by Google one can expect a secure blogging platform with little no hassle.

Blogger has fallen out of favor because of its perceived limited blogging tools. The theme design templates might be few but third party templates are available for Blogger which are either free or priced low. I don't see this as a downside for this blogging platform. In fact, the simplicity of the theme options makes you focus on the content of your blog. Too many customization options offer unwanted distraction. You are also tempted to use everything at your disposal. Nobody wants to read a blog that looks like an overly decorated Christmas tree. 

January 2, 2020

A decade in review

I'm back again. Considering whether to resume blogging again or not, I reviewed the entries of this blog and realized it has been a decade. There are things in my past that are well chronicled here, worthy of reflection on how to move forward in the new decade. 

The last ten years was an exciting time. In December of 2009 I started preparation for my debut film Limbunan after it was announced a week earlier that it was selected as a finalist of Cinemalaya 2010.

In 2010 we shot the film and learned valuable lessons in filmmaking. I felt the outpouring of support from the creative as well as the Moro community especially when Limbunan was invited to the Venice Film Festival. It was election year and there was a vacuum in FDCP leadership so our grant application was on a standby. Back then DCP conversion was a whopping 200,000 pesos (US$4,000). Money I didn't have. Good thing NCCA under the leadership of Malou Jacob was quick to support us. We also organized fund raising screenings in Davao and Cotabato with the help of then Bureau of  Cultural Heritage director Atty. Toie Mitmug. That year alone Limbunan was invited to a dozen international film festivals. More would follow in the succeeding years.