Starweek Magazine

Through the glimmer of Embers

Edu Jarque - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A contemporary wave of Filipino filmmakers continues to gain momentum in racking up awards in the international stage.

Bimyana, a story of an Aeta girl, conceptualized and executed by the emerging director Kim Zuñiga, was in the Top Three of the Manhattan International Film Festival in New York last March. In the same month, the Filipino independent film Shift directed by Siege Ledesma – the story of a boyish call center agent Estela (Yeng Constantino) and her gay colleague Trevor (Felix Roco) – was the Grand Prix or Best Picture winner in the 9th Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Perci Intalan’s psychological thriller Dementia earned recognition twice at the Saint-Tropez International Film Festival, held in France in May. It was named the Best Foreign Language Film with lead star and multi-talented Nora Aunor chosen as Best Actress in the same category.

Cherie Gil likewise bagged the Best Lead Actress in a Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Madrid Film Festival last July for her work in Gabriel Fernandez’s movie Mana (The Inheritance), also judged Best Film.

And yet another filmmaker’s brainchild has joined the roster, being recently recognized at the Mexican International Film Festival Student Category.

The MexIFF, held annually, is “founded on the premise that the language of film is universal and a dynamic force in bridging cultural understanding.” It serves as a celebrated avenue that encourages young artists on the craft of screenwriting through the affirmation of original talent and their new voices from all over the world.

The film is Gamugamo, or Embers, where the coming-of-age journey of two girls, brought to life by child actresses Barbara Miguel and Renaissance Tuason, is illuminated as they first encounter pornography and sex. Set amidst the humble background of rural poverty and adult figures played by Star Orjaliza, Amante Pulido and Ruby Ruiz, the duo is pushed to realize the implications of what they have seen, confusing it for horror given their innocence and imagination.

It is breathtaking and compelling, very much like the project’s prime-mover.

The director is Marikina-born Will Sim Garcia, a young Filipina creative who currently works as a filmmaker for corporate videos and advocacy documentaries for human rights organizations.

Gamugamo, which had its origins as an undergraduate thesis in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Digital Film Making Program, was previously recognized for Best Storyline in UP Cebu’s UPelikula 2015, and for Best Cinematography at her alma mater’s CineSB 5inco Independent Film Festival’s The Chair Benildean Thesis Competition. It was also showcased in Seattle, Washington during the Diwa Short Film Showcase, a Filipino initiative to develop budding artists in film.

As a student, she took part in the Student Publications Office as a literary and content development writer, while on scholarship. She also trained under director Brillante Mendoza as an intern and edited videos, along with producing three short films a week.

Of narratives she desires to put into cinema, she says that her vision is inspired by Filipino stories, which are close to her soul and which can champion our culture, our women and our beliefs as a people. 

Close to her grandmother, she developed a sensitivity to storytelling. She relates her own personal struggles and triumphs in the development of her works, from challenges at home, intimate heartaches, the difficulty to finance her vision and up to her own artistic and existential tribulations.

A hint of progressive and creative subversiveness is made apparent by her mission to challenge existing systems of oppression in society through the visual power of film.

With a tendency towards surrealism and vibrant colors, she is inspired by films such as La Montaña Sagrada, a 1973 masterpiece by Mexican-American Alejandro Jodorowsky, highly symbolic in a commentary on human nature and society. This, alongside the Chinese epic drama, the Curse of the Golden Flower directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 2006.

One of the shorts she can infinitely play on loop is the dark and disturbing, yet satirical and visually striking, Backwater Gospel.

Leaving an impression on her experiences in the profession is Supot by Phil Giordano I for his master’s thesis film under New York University’s Tisch Asia, which deals with culture and the pursuit of a boy’s assertion of manhood after refusing circumcision. 

Of inspirational masters, she turns to the Japanese director, screenwriter and manga artist Satoshi Kon and the auteur Wong Kar-wai of China, internationally renowned for his visually unique, highly stylised, emotionally resonant work.

On what’s in store for Garcia, she remarks that she has always wanted to shoot her sketches for a psychedelic music video where she can build a world from her imagination.

Given an opportunity to offer her advice to aspiring individuals who have yet to dive into the field, she delivers two words: simply and succinctly, she says “Be filmmakers.”

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