Mangkukulam, Aswang, Duwende, Engkanto and Sigbin.
You have surely heard all of these before. And you would probably agree that when these are mentioned, especially to kids, a sudden horrifying atmosphere builds up.
It’s unforgetful how these creatures of Philippine folklore were described to us as grim monsters. There might be childhood memories of you crying when you were told “Sige ka, kunin ka ng Kapre”. But what if these narratives are just connotations carried along by generations to impose fear disguised as disciplinary measures?
This is where the director and writer of one of Cinemalaya Shorts finalists, James Allen Fajardo, is taking us as he turns his ephemerals into a film called “Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things”. The film, which centers around a Tikbalang (horse demon) who also lives as a teenage boy, will take a step forward to debunk the killing gossip of Tikbalangs.
Making Tikbalang as the main character is in a way peculiar that it wasn’t portrayed as a villain. “The film was intended for the Filipino audiences--- to change our perspective toward the tikbalang; towards the forbidden love that they have. And in general, towards the mythical creatures who have always been portrayed or represented in film, in prints and in other media forms as the bad creatures or as the villain. I think the film “Looking for Rafflesias” aims to break the stereotype or the judgement towards the mythical creatures.” The interesting approach of Fajardo to the terrifying creatures is a brave act to break social views existing as norm.
Although Fajardo is so ingenious on this film, little did we know that filmmaking was actually not his first choice.
“When I was applying for UPCAT, my first choice was BAA (Business Administration and Accountancy) because that's where you can be rich. We had this perspective during high school that if you are going to business, you will become wealthy in the future.”
Unfortunately, James’ UPCAT grade did not reach the quota for business courses. He even applied for other universities with the same choices but all became a series of failures as if he was being told that ’business is not for you’.
It was indeed frustrating for him. Yet, these turn of events seem to be one of the best twists he had ever experienced.
“At first I was disappointed but behind it, there's somehow a relief because it wasn't really something that I wanted to do. I just wanted to pursue business because of the idea of getting wealthy. I know to myself that it was not what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
James, who finally lives free from the thoughts of profit-making, gladly shares to us that filmmaking is a passion turned into a profession.
For him, everything started when his former academy in high school invited them to attend a Ricky Lee Scriptwriting Workshop for High School students. Eventually, the attendees were encouraged to join film competitions and one of his experience’s highlights is their Metro Manila Film Festival experience. “It's a special category wherein filmmakers will use mobile phones to create a 5 minutes short film… fortunately, we won.”
That special moment becomes a reaffirmation to James that maybe, filmmaking is for him. But during those times, it was just perceived as a hobby. It’s actually when he’s in college that everything he felt during high school made sense. “Filmmaking has always been in my heart even when I was writing my applications and putting business as one of my choices.”
ABOUT THE FILM
Of all possible characters, it’s intriguing why James chose Tikbalang. He already mentioned his intentions about breaking the stigma surrounding mythical creatures yet the film’s core is actually more than just ‘befriending’ monsters.
“They [Tikbalang] are popular for their forbidden love and we even have an old narrative that when it's raining while it's sunny, it means that there is a tikbalang getting married. And we are experiencing rainshower because the heaven is against that kind of love. And this forbidden love that tikbalang has… is relevant to the characters in the film like Darren and Gubat (main characters of the film). They are both male obviously, but they are sharing an intimate relationship in the film.” How the movie aims to tell that homosexual relationship isn’t immoral implies that Fajardo’s entry is not just a folklore-based film. It will surely initiate discussions concerning LGBTQ+’s call for civil union and rights, which is still an ongoing debate in the Philippines. “It can be applied not only to the Tikbalang but also to the queer people in our society where [homosexual relationship] is still considered a forbidden love when it comes to having wedding or getting married in our society.”
BTS Photos during the Film Production of "Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things"
Aside from its social relevance, Looking for Rafflesias and other Fleeting Things is also inspired from the historical occurrences between the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States and Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon). The CIA back then used ingenious strategy to create psychological warfare and impose fear on the public.
This socially and historically empowered film was actually and supposed to be a thesis film of Fajardo in UP. And, being pushed through in the midst of a pandemic, James did not deny how challenging it was. The production must have been done in April but because of a lockdown, it was cancelled. “It was [even] hard to cast an American actor for this film so we have to meet a lot of adjustments”. As luck would have it, their production found a Filipino actor with foreign features and accent. And the production finally made it in December, 2020.
THEN AND NOW
“If I’m going to watch my previous work again, it would be different, weird and cringey”, James honestly shares. He knows how unlimited he feels way back in high school because there’s no discipline being taught that he gained from a Film School. But if it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t be able to realize that filmmaking is his call.
“When I was in high school it was really different. You’re a young spirit that really explores filmmaking and I think that it is a good start to your film career. To learn to just be free, to be yourself and explore these kinds of things. Then as you jump to film school, you will really learn the proper way of filmmaking.”
James’ journey all started from a little opportunity of movie-making yet look where his passion has turned him now. That’s why this is also the same message he’d like to tell the young filmmakers: To check what’s in their heart, to free the notions their mind has and to live the dream just as what he has done.
When James was asked for his perspective about the young generations’ take on the film industry, he believed that the emergence of social media apps with short form contents like Tiktok would turn people to appreciate short films more. “Since now and even before short films were always [somehow] neglected [by the public]. Like they're not taking the spotlight for film competitions. Even though there's a short film section, it was not the highlight of the festival [but with the current realms], it is something that we [filmmakers] can explore in the future.”
“I wanted to translate the fleeting experiences that I’ve experienced into a film. But more importantly, the film was intended for the Filipino audiences”. James is firm that the film will deliver a message that reflects the Philippines' social context. From the heinous image of folklore characters to the queer’s struggles, it also has a political representation of extra-judicial killings rampant in the curren administration.
“We always assume that they [folklore creatures] are always bad to the point that they can be used by the ruling class to serve their interest. The film aside from its statement towards the tikbalang, it also has a political statement towards the state-sponsored killings… relevant with the current administration in the Philippines.”
Its strong gist with a profound inspiration is the reason why Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things is a must-watch on this year’s Cinemalaya Shorts Category. Surely, there is more to look out for especially that James revealed that it is more than aesthetics and hearsays. Along with 12 more films, Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things can be streamed from August 6- September 5, 2021 at ktx.ph.
Coming soon... James Allen Fajardo's The Daily Daily Video only here at The Film Dream website.
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