For the 12th edition of the Jeonju International Film Festival, the focus was on Kidlat Tahimik, a rare talent in filmmaking whose works are beacons of uncompromisable vision. While most famous for his long works like Mababangong Bangungot (1977) and Turumba (1981), he has made several short films which attest to the singularity of his creative process and the integrity of his perspective and creativity, traits which have become essential in the Philippine's burgeoning new cinema.
Ang Balikbayan (Memories of Overdevelopment, 1980-2011)
Perhaps one of the greatest films that will probably never get made is Kidlat Tahimik’s account of the first circumnavigation of the globe by Enrique, Magellan’s Filipino slave. Ang Balikbayan (Memories of Overdevelopment), a thirty minute collection of scenes from what could have been the film, is, for the moment, the closest the world will ever get to the non-existent film. Kidlat Tahimik narrates the events of Enrique’s voyage in a surprisingly straightforward fashion, more descriptive of how the final film would be than anything else, lacking the usual fanciful and humorous wit that defines most of his films. The film is a work that is too long in progress. Enrique’s circumnavigation of the globe is hardly a product of skill. It is however a mixture of many things, of skill, of ingenuity, of friendship, and of luck. The film that is in progress, as seen from this narrated version, showcases everything of those traits, except, sadly, luck.
Orbit 50: Letter to My Three Sons (1990-1992)
Made for his fiftieth birthday, Orbit 50: Letter to My Three Sons reveals the source of Kidlat Tahimik’s filmmaking powers. He is a father first, and a filmmaker second. Structured like almost all of his films where found footage are playfully edited together and provided sense and substance by his honest and often humorous narration, the short film appears to be a dedication to his three sons, Kidlat, whom he acknowledges to be his creative father considering that his filmmaking name is borrowed from his son’s birth name, Kawayan, whose artistic impulses rival his father’s, and Kabunyan, whose youthful playfulness reveals his father’s own joyous unpredictability. Seen today, the film performs as an enduring ode to the beautiful simplicity of family life in the midst of the more alluring world of arts. That he chose to honour his children instead of his career in his fiftieth orbit around the sun reflects the very unique attraction of his life’s creative work.
Celebrating the Year 2021, Today (1995)
In the year 2021, it will be the 500th anniversary of the circumnavigation of the world of Magellan’s slave, a Filipino. Starting from the Philippines where he was captured, he was brought to Portugal via the Indian Ocean, sailing off the coasts of India and Africa. When Magellan went to the Philippines from Portugal, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to South America and crossing the Pacific Ocean to the island of Mactan where he was killed by the island’s chieftain, he brought with him his Filipino slave, who at that moment, is the first person to have circumnavigated the globe. The story was supposed to have been a film by Kidlat Tahimik. However, budgetary limitations have halted the project. A few clips from the terminated project make their appearance in this short, a testament to Kidlat Tahimik’s creative resourcefulness. Undaunted by the hindrances to making his film project, he instead has planted trees in various places around the world. By 2021, the trees would have all grown, and would be steadfast testaments to Filipino ingenuity as well as markers for the historical footnote of Kidlat’s filmmaking fantasy.
Bahag Ko, Mahal Ko (Japanese Summers of a Filipino Fundoshi, 1996)
The tragic tale of the bahag, then a garment of respect and now a mere costume that is treated with ridicule and shame, is one that has colonization and its effects of extreme Western influence as antagonists. With Bahag Ko, Mahal Ko (Japanese Summers of a Filipino Fundoshi), Kidlat Tahimik takes the garment as a symbol of everything we have forgotten as a result of being the subjects of imperialist powers for more than three hundred years. The film starts as a conversation between Kidlat and his son, Kabunyan, where idle chatter about Marilyn Monroe’s immense sex appeal transforms into a discourse on the malleability of concepts of beauty. The film then transports the discourse to Japan, where the tragic tale of the bahag, or fundoshi, is shared. At that point, Kidlat Tahimik, makes the adverse effects of modernization and its requirements of cultural homogeneity, an international concern.
Our Film-grimage to Guimaras (2005)
In August of 2006, an oil tanker sank off the coast of Guimaras, an island famed for its pristine beaches and nearly untouched natural beauty. Almost immediately after, the Independent Filmmakers Cooperative of the Philippines spearheaded a project where several of its filmmakers, which include Khavn dela Cruz, Raya Martin, and Roxlee, are to make a film in reaction to the oil spill. Kidlat Tahimik’s contribution, aptly titled and brimming with the director’s trademark levity amidst the heaviness of his themes and topics, humorously starts off with his promise to his cat to bring home fish from Guimaras. The “film-grimage” is documented with hardly any frills, and fuelled primarily by Kidlat Tahimik’s unrehearsed and therefore veritable wit. The resulting film has all the marks of an impromptu project. Notwithstanding its obvious simplicity and probably all the more because of the unlikely humour that surrounds the humble production, the film resonates with a mature understanding of the gross repercussions of the oil spill.
Some More Rice (2005)
The Philippines and Japan are linked in so many ways. However, Kidlat Tahimik, ever the idiosyncratic artist, explores the connection via rice, staple food for both nations. However, what Kidlat Tahimik explores in this short documentary is hardly relegated to rice as food, but rice as a way of living. Narrated by Kidlat Tahimik from letters he wrote to a Japanese rice farmer and Akira Kurosawa, whose Seven Samurai (1954) serves as starting point of the film’s discourse and also as the source for its curious title, the film details the several similarities and differences between the two cultures. As the film goes on, as its discourse moves from the facile to the intimate, it reveals a sympathetic heart for farmers, and more importantly, a fluent understanding of the human condition. Notwithstanding physical, cultural and economic distance between the two nations, Kidlat Tahimik convinces that the connections are more real than hypothesized.
Bubong (Roofs of the World! Unite!, 2006)
Kidlat Tahimik’s always curious creativity is now focused on shelter. Starting with a hike up the Himalayas where he notices his guides carrying heavy roofs to the villages up the mountains, the film moves around the world, depicting various roofs, from the ornate bronze domes of Buddhist temples to the humble bamboo structures of Kidlat Tahimik’s Baguio home. Much more than a document on anthropological details on roof-building, the short film only makes use of the detail to forward the resilience that is shared by humanity, no matter how different in terms of culture. Although carried heavily by the utilization of the roof as a metaphor to the virtues that connect cultures, the film, like most of Kidlat Tahimik’s works, is fuelled not by a need to prove a logical flow or predictable sense. Thus, the film follows no structure and instead persists like a collage made from footage collected through the years. Despite its lack of form, the film is a masterfully conceived and joyously executed essay on the fundamentals of human living, as seen through eyes that have travelled and witnessed the world.
(The reviews in this article were commissioned for the programme of the 12th Jeonju International Film Festival)