They say don't look back, but sometimes it's important to see how far you've come. For this versatile and dedicated woman, looking back is such a delight because it made her the individual she is today.
Emerging from humble beginnings, Sheryl Rose M. Andes is a development worker, filmmaker, media scholar and educator. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Community Development and Master of Arts in Media Studies (Film) degrees from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
She is the director of 'Pandanggo sa Hukay', an official entry to the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2019 which won as 3rd Placer in the 68th Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature para sa Dulang Pampelikula.
'Pandanggo sa Hukay' talks about a woman's journey as a mother, daughter, and devoted midwife in the urban areas of Cavite who dances her way to have a better quality of life. The film serves as a microcosm of the reproductive healthcare situation in the Philippines, particularly happening in maternity clinics.
Andes has a decade of experience in non-government organizations as community organizer in Tondo and project evaluator or consultant for Catholic European funding agencies.
"Prior to embracing filmmaking, I've been in an NGO since after college kasi ang course ko ay Community Development. Pero nung 2nd year ako, nag-isip na ako na mag-shift sa film pero alam ko kasing mahal at hindi afford ng mga magulang ko."
"Nung college ako, hindi pa batas yung (Anti-) Violence Against Women. So isa kami sa mga nangalampag that time sa Caloocan sa Bagong Silang. Kami ang nag-convince sa mga konsehal, sa barangay council of creating Barangay Women's Desk. Now, we have it right now. I get to counsel abused children and women tapos tinutulungan namin yung mga staff ng barangay."
After college, she worked at the University of Santo Tomas Office for Community Development. She was assigned to the urban poor while her co-worker, who happened to be her batchmate, was assigned to the IPs or indigenous people in Tarlac. At that time, there was funding for the urban poor sector in Tondo. Basically, she would always spend three to four days a week in the railsides of Tondo where she actually also witnessed the life of gangsters. After a year of doing community work and counseling, she had decided to go back to studying while working.
"Fan ako ng documentaries at isa yun sa mga reason kung bakit ako pumasok sa film school. At that time, ako na ang nagpapaaral sa sarili ko."
"Lahat ng development programs, nasuyod ko yata. Children's program, women, mining, peasant, campaigns. Ina-assign talaga ako sa malalayo. Pumunta ako ng Casiguran Aurora, Sta. Ana Cagayan, at Bukidnon. Yun ang naging daan ko of discovering stories from different people. I chose small scale mining particularly in Nueva Vizcaya."
Andes also shared that she's actually from Mindanao in South Cotabato so she definitely knows how to speak Bisaya. She utilized it while she was working in some parts of the southern archipelago like Bukidnon, Davao, and Cotabato.
Hardwork is painful when life is devoid of purpose. Having the struggles of being a breadwinner wasn't easy for Andes.
"I stayed with the job because I really like it and I love it. I was also the breadwinner and so it brought food for my family. I was also able to help my brothers and sisters go to school. "
Nothing under the sun is ever accidental. However, Andes claimed that being an assistant director is one thing she had never imagined, but it is the stepping stone for a blessing in disguise.
"Nag-assistant director ako by accident. I didn't plan; I didn't even wish to be an assistant director. Nobody taught me how to do AD (assistant director) jobs."
"The first Cinemalaya (film) na na-AD ko ay 'Kusina', first full length at ang mga katrabaho ko ay batikan. The following year, Joseph Israel Laban got me for 'Baconaua'. 'Kusina' was just a walk in a park kahit na yun ang first Cinemalaya movie na in-AD ko. People would ask me, ano yung pinakamahirap na pelikula ko na nagawa and that's 'Baconaua' because we were 80% na nasa dagat. From that film, medyo pumutok ang pangalan ko."
After 10 years as community development worker, she took one-year sabbatical leave and tried her luck in the film industry.
"Hindi ako namimili ng trabaho. Tanggap lang ako nang tanggap."
"I was doing 'The Chanters', that's how I met Andrian Legaspi, the writer. Ginawa namin ang (The) 'Chanters' ng June or July, then March the following year or earlier than that, sinend niya sa akin ang script nung natapos niya from the workshop. That became 'Pandanggo'. Then sinali sa Cinemalaya, first time namin pareho na ako na ang magdidirect. I also wanted to co-write sana kasi first film ko pero pinigilan ako ng ilang kaibigan ko kasi tutukan ko raw ang dapat ang directing."
Andes proudly revealed the background and achievements of the writer of the screenplay of 'Pandanggo sa Hukay'.
"Si Andrian Legaspi, actually nurse siya by profession, tapos late bloomer na gustong matutong magsulat, nag-workshop kay Sir Ricky (Lee). Tapos yun, sulat nang sulat, sali nang sali sa Palanca. So, pang-4th niya ito na consecutive year na nananalo."
The film was Andes' directorial debut and in cinema verité (truthful cinema), it satisfies the audience in the life of Elena, a 30-year-old single mother and midwife, portrayed by Iza Calzado. Iza displayed a nuanced acting, shown at the scene while she was preparing for the interview, which exemplifies what a woman like her has to withstand and live through, and still manages to keep going in life.
"Dati tinanong ako kung ano ang gusto kong mapanalunan. Acting award for Iza (Calzado). Na-nominate naman plus (Best) Supporting Actor for Ybes (Bagadiong) tapos even me for Best Director. Okay na rin. Okay na ako dun."
Pandanggo's cast also include Sarah Brakensiek, Star Orjaliza, Diva Montelaba, Earl Andrew Figueroa, Charlie Dizon, Acey Aguilar, Ybes Bagadiong, and Mercedes Cabral.
The film showcases the depressing and dreadful realities our society faces day by day, as well as how people defy every adversities throughout their lives.
(Trailer of 'Pandanggo sa Hukay' directed by Sheryl Rose Andes)
"Personal is political kahit sa documentaries ko. Dala-dala ko ang 'docu' eyes ko and my (community) development eyes and background as well sa una kong feature. Hindi pwedeng hindi kasi the film is about women, reproductive health issues, women issues, directed by a woman and was maneuvered by 80% women.”
When it comes to casting, Andes had to make sure that the characters' flaws make them interesting and their transformations make them likable.
"Ito ang theory ko; ang mga womanizer, yung mga babaero at sisiga-siga ay under the saya. Kahit naman siguro gaano kasama ang isang tao, meron at meron iyang katiting na kabutihan pa rin."
Pandanggo's side commentary on the state of the country's marginalized pregnant women and poverty-related crimes are evocative of 'Motherland' (Bayang Ina Mo) directed by Ramona Diaz, and the starkly realistic narrative entitled 'Kubrador' (The Bet Collector) by Jeffrey Jeturian, respectively.
Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. On the contrary, Andes believes that the people who doubted her before motivated her to persist in her craft. Even though she is gradually making a name in the film industry, she would still look back to where she started as a documentary filmmaker.
"Lagi ko siyang tine-take as a challenge, when people doubt on you. Literal na bine-belittle ka kasi maliit ka. Feeling nila kinakaya-kaya ka. I also thought na hindi ko kayang magdirect ng narrative that time kasi nakafix lang ako sa docu. At the end of the day, I would still prefer to be identified as documentary filmmaker. True enough, after Pandanggo, mas nauhaw ako for documentaries."
"I was bullied because I am a female director. Ang tingin nila sa akin ay AD lang ako. Ito yung mga tao na nag-doubt sa akin pero kailangan mo pa rin silang pakisamahan kasi nandun pa rin kayo sa circle kasi ang liit ng mundo."
"Kasi ganun ang Pilipino. Magdrama ka ngayon, bangon ka ulit kasi wala naman tayong karapatan na magdrama masyado."
The harsh stereotypes that society labeled women to be, in fact, gave her the determination to continue working on the issues she wants to address and the crafts and advocacies close to her heart. She instills life on learning in the hopes of honing and producing a new breed of filmmakers.
At present, she teaches documentary and digital cinema production courses in MAPUA University.
"Yung journey ni Elena, naging journey ko rin. Naging therapeutic yung teaching."
Creatively, 'Pandanggo sa Hukay' balances humor and violence just like a graceful 'Pandanggo sa Ilaw' dance. It is truly in finding our purpose in life which makes our life meaningful. As for Thomas Merton, "Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony."
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