The Director as Dreamweaver
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - DREAMS are the stuff that MOVIES are made of. Watching a movie is like entering a fantasy world and, in the best films, you can get lost in them. “K’na the Dreamweaver,” which is one of the ten New Breed finalists at this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival, aims to do just that – evoke a fantasy world and create a new Filipino legend.

We began shooting in South Cotabato, Mindanao on April 1. Perhaps it was an inauspicious date to start, April Fool’s Day, but what more are dreamers – and filmmakers – but fools? Cue “The Impossible Dream” as we embarked on what at times has seemed like the Quixotic adventure that is indie filmmaking.

Directing “K’na,” however, was never my dream to begin with. I had never given it any thought until the final screening with the Cinemalaya panel wherein they interview the proponent. The panel composed of Laurice Guillen, Joey Reyes, Mel Chionglo and Lito Zulueta loved the story of K’na. But, they had believed so much in the vision of the script that they wanted to ensure that the actual film would be faithful to this vision. They suggested – quite adamantly – that I direct the film myself.

I remember telling the panel that I had no experience at all and no knowledge of the technical side of filmmaking. I had a bachelor’s degree in Literature and masters in Creative Writing and this would be my first full-length film script as well. But, Guillen told me, this was exactly what she had told Mario O’Hara when he first suggested that she try her hand at directing. This was what set me on the path of agreeing to direct K’na the Dreamweaver. That, and the need to tell this story – a simple, honest love story that is intertwined with the rich culture of the T’boli people.

I first visited South Cotabato in 2013 to cover the T’nalak Festival for STARweek. Though the DOT media trip started out like any other, things took a sudden turn when our group hiked down a mountain to Kofnit Cave and we discovered that the proposed trek was not as easy as we thought it would be.

Halfway down the mountain, it had started to rain very hard. We reached Kofnit hours later than scheduled and since we were unequipped, it would be too dangerous to climb all the way back up to the T’boli School of Living Tradition, where we were supposed to stay for the night.

Instead we decided to stay at a lumad village in the middle of the mountains, a small village of only four or five huts. (At first we thought they were T’bolis, but they might also have been from the Ubo, an indigenous group close in geographical proximity and culture to the T’bolis.) To get there, we hiked in almost pitch darkness, with only a few of us equipped with flashlights or headlamps. There were many times when I thought I would slip off the steep path on the mountain that we were scaling and that would be the end of me. When we got to our camp, we were soaked from the rain, had cuts and bruises, and were just physically and mentally exhausted. Then, our hosts, lit only by headlamps and flashes of our cameras because there was no electricity, started to sing and dance. From the near-death experiences climbing in the dark to the warmth of the community where we stayed the night – that is what changed and is continuing to change my life in so many ways.

I had long been wanting to write an epic love story inspired by the Chinese and Japanese epic films, especially the works of Zhang Yimou. After my trip to South Cotabato, the story had found its setting. The culture of the T’boli people is so vibrant and their Lake Sebu awe-inspiring. Their t’nalak tradition became a motif that would weave the story together. There were many times when writing the script that I would tell my dad (filmmaker Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.) that there were scenes that I thought would be too difficult to shoot. His advice was to write the script as I envisioned – “It is the screenwriter’s job to challenge the director and everyone involved in the production.” Taking his advice, I didn’t edit out the dream sequences, and the rain scene, the battle scene, or the explosion. Little did I know that the director I was challenging was myself.

If writing is virtually limitless, directing, I have learned, is all about working with limitations. Or, making things work despite the limitations. To do this, a director needs a team. The best advice the Cinemalaya panel gave me before I left the final interview was to surround myself with the best people. I have been fortunate enough to work with people who are not only among the best in the industry, but the best for this particular film.

Assistant director Maki Calilung, who has worked on many foreign productions, was one of the driving forces on the set and she put things into motion. Award-winning cinematographer Lee Briones has a sensitivity that shines through in each frame. She had also lived in South Cotabato for a few months and was familiar with the place and its people. Until the very last moment before our ocular visit, we did not have a production designer. Finally, we were able to get in touch with Toym Imao who is mainly a sculptor, but whose eye for detail and artistic touch brought to life our pre-colonial T’boli village, which he and his crew constructed in nine days, using no nails. Diwa de Leon also came on board, bringing his expertise in ethnic music and the hegalong.

Throughout most of pre-production, we were working with funds out of our own pocket. It was exactly one month before shooting that we were able to connect with Fernando Ortigas and Ed Rocha through one of our associate producers, Mike Lim. They are the life blood of this film, not only with the funding that they have provided, but the enthusiastic support that they have shown for K’na.

They and everyone who has been involved in the film are kindred spirits who have seen the vision writen in the script and were willing to bring it to life, no matter how difficult it might have seemed. As Be Lamfey, K’na’s grandmother, says in the film: “Have faith. The design is there, even if you cannot see it yet.” Her advise on weaving is more than apt for filmmaking as well.

 

The shooting of the film – on location in South Cotabato – brought many other challenges. The Manila-based actors Mara Lopez, RK Bagatsing, Nonie Buencamino, Bembol Roco, Erlinda Villalobos, and Alex Medina had to learn the T’boli language in one month. Mara, who plays the title role, was chosen partly because of her aptitude for learning languages, though she is quick to say that T’boli is different and more challenging than any she had to learn before.

Buencamino and Roco would constantly tell me that they were challenged by the material.

K’na the Dreamweaver intertwines the T’boli tradition of t’nalak dreamweaving and the narrative of young princess K’na’s coming of age as she finds herself in the position to bring peace to her village and to put an end to an age-old clan war.

It is not intended to be a historical film – nor a political film or an advocacy film. It is a film made with sensitivity and reverence to T’boli beliefs and arts. At its core, K’na the Dreamweaver is simply an honest, sincere love story that becomes epic because of the vibrant T’boli culture and the majestic Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. With the seamless weaving of reality and fiction, the film evokes a fantasy world and aims to create a new Filipino legend.

 

In the end, filmmaking is very much like dreamweaving. It begins with one person’s vision – what the dreamweaver “sees.” But, to create the t’nalak fabric, the whole community is involved, from the stripping of the abaca fibers, the dyeing and weaving, and the shining of the fabric. In filmmaking, the support of each and every person on the cast and crew is needed to create a fantasy world.

In K’na, we were not only blessed to have a hard working and able crew, but also the support of the T’bolis that, like on that stormy night last year, welcomed us warmly into their community.

On the day we wrapped shooting, we all gathered around a campfire in the middle of our village set. When it came time for Barbara Ofong – the real dreamweaver of the T’boli community – to speak, she said: “Now, we are dreaming together.”

 

K’na the Dreamweaver runs from August 2-10 at the Cinemalaya Film Festival in CCP and Ayala Malls: Greenbelt, Trinoma, Alabang Town Center, and Fairview Terraces. For full schedule and other details, visit www.facebook.com/knathedreamweaver. For Cinemalaya screening schedules, visit www.cinemalaya.com

ALABANG TOWN CENTER ALEX MEDINA APRIL FOOL BOLI CINEMALAYA FILM FESTIVAL DREAMWEAVER FILM LAKE SEBU SOUTH COTABATO
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