Cebu is known for its award winning creativity in various industries such as accessories, furniture, and fashion design. Film making is one of the frontiers which Cebuanos are starting to conquer. We will proudly be adding a new name in the ﬁlm industry: Aiess Alonso, a visual storyteller born and raised in Cebu.
One of the most respected Film festivals in the world, Cannes, has recognized this passionate ﬁlmmaker’s storytelling with her debut ﬁlm, Katapusang Labok (Last Strike) which was nominated for the Short Film Corner. The obvious concerns on struggles and social injustice are causes she has avidly fought for as an activist. Making a debut ﬁlm that was close to her heart has deﬁnitely paid off in more ways than one.
The ﬁlm has carefully infused Cebuano culture and the plight of the ﬁsherfolk that are rarely depicted in mainstream media. The mindful execution between drama and humor makes it a highly entertaining movie to watch, but doesn’t fall short on giving its viewers an eye opening reality that not many have seen.
The film has been recognized both locally and internationally:
• Binisaya Film Festival 2012, Best Short Film, Cebu, Philippines
• Cinemarehiyon 2013, “Across the Islands,” Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
• Green Film Festival in Seoul, Non-competition, South Korea, May 2013
• “New Filipino Cinema,” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, USA, June 2013
• Cannes Film Festival 2013, Short Film Corner, France
• In competition, NUFF – Nordisk Ungdoms Filmfestival – Youth Cinema Revolution, Tromso, Norway, 2013
• In Competition, Shorts Category, Cinemalaya Film Festival (Shorts), Manila, Philippines, 2013
Read up on our interview with Aiess Alonso:
032: Where and what were you doing when you found out that your ﬁlm Katapusang Labok got into Cannes Film Festival?
Aiess: I submitted my ﬁlm online and it usually takes around two weeks before Cannes gives feedback about the status of the submission. I received a nomination email in less than an hour after I uploaded Katapusang Labok to Cannes. I was still at home and it didn’t sink in just yet. It was a surreal feeling because I considered Cannes an “unreachable dream.” But I took a chance and I was recognized for it.
Because of this nomination, I felt my ﬁlm came full circle.
Aiess: It was mostly inspired by the struggle of ﬁshermen, a story shared in one of our Christian Formation classes of Mr. Alicias back in high-school. It was one of those stories that leaves a very strong impression on you.
When I was thinking about my thesis, I knew that I wanted that story to be resonated in my ﬁlm. I also decided to set it in the language and culture of Cebu to pay homage to where I came from. And I’m more comfortable in telling a story based in my home town. Half of the ﬁlm was shot in Bantayan, the town where my family is from.
I infused it with a lot of Filipino practices. Like the belief of picking ﬂowers from the caro or [parade] ﬂoat that would serve as a good luck charm or a cure for illness.When I was doing my research, I consulted with an organization of ﬁshermen in Cebu to discuss their biggest issues. One of which is the illegal corral hunting being done around the province which damages their livelihood.
I wanted to show the language of Cebuanos because the ﬁlm industry in the Philippines has become monopolized by Manila and its Tagalog movies. There is an apparent shortage of ﬁlms in the Cebuano and Visayan languages. I wanted to ﬁll that void.
032: The ﬁlm has very apparent themes on struggle, the Sinulog Festival and social injustice. How were you able to intertwine all of these facets into a cohesive story? What inspired you to make a story about these concepts?
Aiess: Environmental welfare has always been an advocacy that I’m very passionate about. The abuse of the environment. I wanted to tackle the issue of poverty that cripples a majority of the Filipino people and is a stark contrast to the Sinulog celebration that has always been festive and vibrant.
I infused the ideologies I learned in my ﬁlm classes to give meaning to the Film’s plot. Post Colonial Theory and Hybrid of Cultures can be clearly seen in the Sinulog which is derived from ﬁesta inﬂuences of the Spaniard’s culture appropriated into the Cebuano heritage.
The Marxist Theory on Religion and Marxist Sociology of Religion is clearly reﬂected in how the protagonist practices his own interpretation of faith in the context of religion which has a touch of superstition and pagan beliefs.
It is all tied together by this blind faith which has become the so-called “opium of the masses.” It is the belief that all problems will be resolved through divine intervention. I wanted to portray the message that having faith is important, but taking action is just as crucial.
Aiess: I’ve always been fascinated and felt connected to Latin American ﬁlms which has a strikingly similar culture as our own. I was greatly inspired by two Latin American Films, Amores Perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Motorcycle Diaries by Walter Salles. Katapusang Labok is visually similar to Latin American Films because of the warm colors and earth tone hues it has.
How the protagonist tackles his strife is quite similar to how Gael Garcia Bernal’s character in Amores Perros went through. He delved into gambling through dog ﬁghting because of poverty. The gritty side of my ﬁlm was executed in the same way as Amores Perros.
Motorcycle Diaries on the other hand is about the political awakening of Che Gueverra. In the ﬁnal scene of Katapusang Labok, the protagonist is staring at the sea which I wanted to show that something in him has changed; that he has had an awakening.
When I was at Cannes, Colombian viewers approached me to say that they were able to connect and relate to Katapusang Labok because the ﬁlm resembles their culture especially in the aspect of religion. I really wanted to give the ﬁlm a Latin American inspiration yet still being very much Filipino.
Aiess: The biggest struggle for any Filipino ﬁlmmaker is ﬁnancial resources. The question is always, how will you make it if you don’t have the money? It is also worth noting that getting people to watch your ﬁlm also requires money because of the distribution and marketing costs it needs.
Other than the ﬁnancial aspect, regional ﬁlmmakers have more struggles because the resources of the ﬁlm industry is concentrated in Manila. There is also lack of technological resources and talent. It is quite difﬁcult to cast actors who speak in a local dialect. It is disheartening because regional ﬁlmmakers have a lot more stories to share that hasn’t been portrayed in the mainstream movie industry.
There are stories about Muslim Mindanao that haven’t been told yet. Although there is a deﬁcit of resources, we’re quite rich in terms of stories.
032: With all these recognition, we would like to know what your thoughts are on the current state of Philippine cinema. What do you think is the future for the country’s ﬁlm industry? What do you want to say to aspiring Film makers?
Aiess: Philippine cinema is developing and headed in the right direction. From the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema in the 50‘s and 60‘s there has been an obvious change in the substance of the ﬁlms. Cinema has now become an escape and entertainment. But other than those made in Hollywood, there is another side to the world of cinema in other countries that has substantial depth in their ﬁlms. Filipino Independent ﬁlms and the fresh vision of young ﬁlmmakers, also have depth and avant-garde way of story telling that is at par with other international ﬁlms.
Even if there is a lack resources, there are ways and the opportunities available to make ﬁlms. Grant giving bodies such as Cinema One Originals provide for deserving ﬁlmmakers who are just starting. Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals are an avenue where Filipino independent ﬁlms can have the chance to be featured abroad. Ironically, our independent ﬁlms receive more appreciation and recognition abroad than in our own country.
To aspiring ﬁlmmakers, always remember to tell stories that matter most to you. And always remember, in whatever ﬁlm you make, you can never take the politics out of the story.