September 20, 2014

salamindanaw returns

The second edition of SalaMindanaw International Film Festival will take place from November 25 to 29, 2014.

The call for submissions is now open for the following sections: Asian full length, Asian shorts, and Mindanao shorts. Narrative, documentary and experimental films are welcome. Films must be produced after January 1, 2013.

Deadline of entries for the Asian section is on October 20, 2014, while the Mindanao short entries must be submitted before October 25, 2014.

For info and inquiries, please go to SalaMindanaw's Facebook page.

September 19, 2014

the birth of tradition

This is a behind the scene photo of the first scene to be shot in The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children in Matanao, Davao del Sur, in 2009.  We shot the film without a script.  We went on location with a big idea, and would just leave it to geography and atmosphere to bring out the story.  This scene, of women talking about their desire to seek greener pasture as overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, was decided because the artesian well, locally known as poso, amidst the oversized biga leaves looked 'nice' for a rural conversation. 

But what became important about this day is that it set the tradition for my succeeding films, that is,  lunch on the first day of all my film shoots must have on the menu sinful ginataang monggo (mungbean stew in coconut) and grilled tilapia and pirit (baby tuna).  This was suggested by my assistant director Yam Palma which myself and production manager Elreen Supetran Bendisula agreed to. Dutch scientist and writer Louise Fresco wrote, "Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It's not about nutrients and calories. It's about sharing. It's about honesty. It's about identity."

During the shoot of Limbunan, the tradition of having grilled or deep fried catfish on the first supper, and crabs on either lunch of the second or third day were added, not to mention overflowing Coca Cola round the clock because that's the preferred 'energy drink' of my cinematographer Coicoi Nacario and tech supervisor John J. Barredo. Red Horse beer being part of tradition is totally predictable. Peanuts on the other hand are not allowed. And even before the shoot commences, I would ask Elreen, a Catholic, to offer flowers and eggs in the Carmelite Church and pray for good weather and no rain. 



is a mantra you learn in film school. It’s the Om Namma Shivaya of the indie movement when a studio to bankroll your film project is hard to come by. When you’re a student filmmaker, the next best thing to a Harvey Weinstein is Mom and Dad. You suddenly become extra sweet to them. You become subservient to their every command. You wash the dishes, scrub the bathroom tiles, or take out the garbage. The maid you explain has too many errands on her hands. She can use some help around the house. Besides you have free time. Retreating to your room you suppress the urge to squeal like a pig. You maintain your calm. You assure yourself that patience is a virtue. Later you can throw tantrums at your production team and make an awful excuse for this behavior by saying, “I am an artist. I am entitled to my fits.”

After school your parents expect you to PA for, or if you’re truly lucky and talented, write or direct the next blockbuster starring Daniel and Kathryn. But you haughtily dismiss this idea saying that it’s beneath you. Dad shakes his head and regrets supporting your choice to go to film school. Deep in his heart, he still wants you to have a change of heart and become a bureaucrat or a lawyer.

Finally when you have an idea for your debut film –a ten-hour movie composed of a dozen shots featuring a cart, a horse, a transvestite impersonating the Virgen de la Guadalupe, and an awfully bored peasant reflecting on a koan— your father reluctantly gives you money to produce it. It’s the rave in European art houses you explain. You appeal to his guilt.

“Dad, I would only get half of your money. Don’t worry. I already wrote a film proposal to (insert name of a funding organization).”

As soon as Dad leaves the room, you revert to the saccharine personality of an eight-year-old kid and ask Mom if she can cook for ten members of the production, three meals a day for two weeks. Before she can even protest you shower her profusely with gratitude, sealing your contrived act with a kiss on her forehead.   

Then you talk to other potential producers. Dilemma. Should you wear the signature indie-filmmaker look – denim jeans, ukay-ukay shirt, and Chucks? This way you will look sincere. Or show off in the latest Italian designer shirt and jeans? It can give a semblance of financial stability. The downside is you cannot beg because you will only look like a poseur.

When the potential producer starts quoting the Far Eastern Economic Review in an attempt to turn you down without hurting your feelings, you proceed to Plan B.

You post messages on various art and film e-groups.

In need of actors and camera!

Minimal fee. Independent production.

The truth is you don’t have a budget for camera rental. You only intend to borrow. You can repay this favor by being the PA of the camera’s owner when he makes his film.


Four days ago, I was riding a tricycle with my friend Ryan in Zamboanga. He asked me how did I develop my literary writing when all these years I've worked as a technical writer or journalist. The former is fluid and personal, while the latter has to adhere to a certain level of rigid formality.

"Blogging," I answered. "I started blogging in 2005. After I've done my assignment for the day in the office, I would write a blog entry."

It started on this site.

Now I feel guilty I have abandoned Blogger and moved to new, more fashionable blogging sites like Wordpress and Tumblr. What an ingrate. But I blame Adsense for my migration. They can be so insistent.

So I'm resurrecting this site after a long hiatus. 

July 22, 2013

salamindanaw international film festival emerges

A new exciting event emerges in the Philippines' tuna capital. 

The inaugural SalaMindanaw International Film Festival organized by the SOCSKSARGEN Center for Film Arts, Inc. and the Mindanao Center for the Moving Image will unroll its red carpet in General Santos City from November 26th to the 30th, 2013 coinciding with the Mindanao Week of Peace.

The Festival shall present feature films by established Filipino and international directors alongside short films by budding Mindanao filmmakers in six sections (5 competitive and one non-competitive exhibition): Asian full-length film competition, Asian short film competition, Mindanao short film competition, Summer Film Camp shorts, General Santos inter-school film competition with the theme “Caring for the Seas”, and International Perspectives.

For details on how to submit entries, please go to

July 19, 2013

czech it out

Our friend the Czech journalist Pavel Vondra writes:

"The best piece of writing I came across this year is a torso of an unpublished manuscript of a book on the roots of the Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines. It was given to me by a sister of the author together with an incredible story of how he had disappeared from the face of the Earth nearly four decades ago while writing it [at the height of Martial Law]. Now an incredibly talented film director of the best film I've seen this year is on the verge of making a documentary that would try and shed some light on what happened to Frank Gould in Mindanao in 1974. All he needs before he can do so is a little bit of money to cover the costs of the search/film. Please support this project - the fundraising campaign is in its last week and still more than 50 per cent short of its goal. I'm sure most of us can spare ten dollars or more to make it happen. Thanks."

July 11, 2013

please support

We have thirteen days left into the campaign to raise funds for my new film, Through the Deep Shadows. Please help us make this film happen. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Frank Gould is as relevant today as it was in 1974. In fact, the number of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings under the Aquino administration climbed to 16 and 142. More than just numbers, the statistics signify numerous lives and rights being trampled upon.

To contribute, please go to

July 7, 2013

7 things i like about gensan

In February I moved to the archipelago’s southernmost city together with my two cats, Basmati and Aslan. We live in a small studio in the middle of General Santos only two blocks away from the mall and the city's main Catholic university. I have called this city home since then, braving the unfamiliar sandy topography, the regular asthma attacks, and the scorching heat that rendered itself intolerable due to the regular brownout which lasted until May.

General Santos is pretty laid back compared to Davao. You can drink until the wee hours of the morning and smoke anywhere. Davao has imposed a comprehensive smoking ban, and partying is only good until two in the morning. Life here has its perks.

1. Seafood is cheap.

The self-proclaimed "tuna capital of the Philippines," seafood is relatively cheap here. If you find a a vendor selling tuna for more than PhP200 (US$5) per kilo in the market, you can accuse him of robbing you. Tuna kinilaw (Filipino version of ceviche) at Cafe Amoree (Microtel) costs PhP150 (US3.75). It can feed a party of 4. You can savor grilled baby tuna in the carenderia row along Champaca Street for PhP50 (US$1.24). I'm talking about a 300 gram fish here. But for more seafood options, my favorite place is the row of seafood restaurants along Tiongson Avenue where they serve pinaputok na tilapia (grilled tilapia wrapped in foil) this one slathered with copious amounts of butter, grilled squid, and sizzling bagaybay (tuna gonad). 

June 21, 2013

a theory

There are many theories about Frank Gould’s disappearance. 

One account indicated that Frank, together with an ice cream vendor, were killed by Muslim rebels in Katuli village, just across Cotabato City, in Southern Philippines, because they were accused of being spies for the U.S. and Philippine government. This was at the height of the Moro rebellion at the Martial Law imposed by the Marcos regime. His body was thrown into the crocodile-infested river like the one in this photo to get rid of evidence.

The truth is out there.

To help us find the truth, please contribute to

or like us on Facebook at

June 14, 2013

now it's live

Please help us raise the money to make Through The Deeps Shadows and help solve a 40-year-old mystery.

June 13, 2013

where is frank gould?

I return to the documentary tradition to get to the bottom of a subject that remains a 40-year-old mystery. Through the Deep Shadows is a documentary on the search for American journalist Frank Gould who mysteriously disappeared in Mindanao, Southern Philippines, in 1974. He was covering the Muslim rebellion at the height of Martial Law imposed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

June 4, 2013

qiyamah is best filipino film of 2012

Zanjoe Marudo and I were on top of a snow-covered mountain. The wind felt like Death's hands. Zanjoe fastened the straps of his parachute. He held my shoulders, looked into my eyes and asked, "Are you ready?" I hesitated to reply. "The only way to conquer your fear is to face it. Let's jump," he grabbed me and we descended a thousand feet. We were objects falling in slow motion like the climax of Zabriski Point. I thought I would die.

And then the phone rang. I woke up. It was my editor Arnel Barbarona. 

"Hello, Arbs. What's up?"

"Hi, Teng. Congratulations. YCC named Qiyamah best film. It also won best editing."

"Okay. Thanks." I hang up the phone and went back to sleep. A minute later, I awoke again. I checked online and it was true. The Young Critics Circle Film Desk has named Qiyamah the best Filipino film of 2012. It also won best editing for me and Arbi, and best sound and aural orchestration for Arbi and my musical scorer Raphael Pulgar.

May 29, 2013


A day before my birthday, Chris Fujiwara, artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, announced this year's festival program. My fourth film, The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children, will be featured in the World Perspectives section. 

May 26, 2013

moro filmmakers' ordeal

QUEZON CITY – The late film critic Alexis Tioseco once asked me why there were no other Moro (Muslim Filipinos) filmmakers aside from myself. I didn’t have the answer so I gave him a blank, ghost-like expression. This was seven years ago. We were in a coffee shop along Morato and I was recounting to him that I just finished organizing a film workshop in Davao. There was a lone Moro participant in the workshop who was either too scared to get behind the camera, or confess to his parents that he wanted nothing to do with his imminent arranged marriage (read: he was gay). 

Now the cinematic landscape has completely changed. In the past few years, there has been a slow albeit steady emergence of Moro filmmakers. Last year alone saw the production of four full-length films by Moro directors. Taguri: Kites of Sulu, a documentary by Dempster Samarista, reveals the deep spirituality of the Taosug who have long connected and deeply understood the ultimate nature of man and the universe, way before armed conflict interrupted their tranquil lives. In Bangka Ha Ut Sin Duwah Sapah, co-directed by Fyrsed Alsad Alfad III, tells about a young mother who swims from one end of the river to the other using a makeshift bangka made out of banana stalks just to put her two kids to school. Keeping one’s promise is at the heart of Najib Zacaria’s Duwaya when a dying man’s last wish is for her daughter to get married to a visiting doctor who is already married. With 2012 pregnant with words of the apocalypse, I wrote and directed the allegorical Qiyamah, a meditation on the end of the world.

The production of these films was made possible through Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) – Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival program. Before this, I made two of my films under the auspices of Cinemalaya for Limbunan, and Cinema One Originals for Cartas de la Soledad

Notable short films have also been produced recently like Omar C. Ali’s Asa Ka Faith?, the Cinemalaya 2012 finalist Bohe by Nadjoua Bansil, and last year’s Gawad Urian nominee Renek by Doss Pacasum. Add to that, Adjani Arumpac’s long overlooked 2006 full-length documentary Walai resurfaced last year in Cinema Rehiyon Film Festival. Had I known the existence of the film earlier, it would have readily answered Alexis’s question. 

While Moro filmmakers have announced their arrival, it is the sort of whimper that seems to be cautionary rather than celebratory. With non-Moro filmmakers continuing their great interest and fascination with Moro narratives, Moro filmmakers are left on the sideline begging for their stories, and to a certain extent, the right to tell these stories that are theirs to begin with. 

summer film camp, 2013.

The SOCSKSARGEN Center for Film Arts, Inc., with funding support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, recently organized the first ever Gensan Summer Film Camp held at Water Gran Beach Resort, Bawing, General Santos City with moi as workshop director. It was five days of sun, beach, cinema, 5 mentors and 22 students filmmakers melding into one unforgettable experience. 

It's moi emphasizing a point in the directing class.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Participants execute a scene for their directing exercise.
LET'S PARTY! Whoever said learning is boring has no sense of humor.
My cinematographer Coicoi Nacario and I demonstrate how we execute a scene together.
And then we partied some more.

May 25, 2013

norte, a new page in history

Four Filipino films are in Cannes this year. Un Certain Regard section features Adolf Alix's Death March and Lav Diaz's Norte, End of History, while the Cannes Classics presents a restored version of Lino Brocka's Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag. The parallel section, Directors Fortnight, screens Erik Matti's On The Job. All four films have premiered in the Festival. While Matti's opus has cornered the market, it is Diaz's masterpiece that critics are raving about. Pulitzer prize-winning critic Wesley Morris, in his Grantland article, describes his first Diaz encounter:

Not one of these film professionals seemed terribly compelled to spend four hours in the dark after sitting for 110 minutes looking at a sunless Midwest. It was a warm, sunny day. Best, perhaps, to explore that, instead. But I found myself drifting toward the lobby, anyway, past a woman in a gold-and-cream ball gown who was having her photo taken, and into the theater. Doing this was entirely involuntary in a way that's never happened to me. The festival director, Thierry Frémaux, brought the cast to the stage, including the woman in the dress, then the director, a small stylish veteran named Lav Diaz. I was hoping they wouldn't notice that the house was maybe half-full. 
They took their seats, the lights went down, the movie came up, and I sat there. Two-hundred-fifty minutes later, the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life. (Note: I've actually never clapped for a movie before.) When Diaz made his way back inside the theater to join the cast, the applause grew, and the whistling and cheering commenced. You always hear Cannes stories of 20-minute standing ovations, but I always seem to miss them. This didn't last 20 minutes, but it was long and special, yet didn't feel remotely adequate thanks for what had just been given to us.

May 11, 2013

prambanan temple, 2012.

Beyond tall trees, the towering spires of Prambanan Temple slowly come into view. My heart leaps in excitement as the car decelerates before the stoplight. I am in Yogyakarta for a week now. It is my last day. After the frenzy of the film festival which closed last night, my hosts decided that I do what any ordinary tourist do in this city, that is, visit its renowned temples. My flight to Jakarta leaves in four hours, so instead of visiting the more famous Borobodur Temple more than forty kilometers away, we head to the temple ruins in Prambanan which is just fifteen minutes away from the airport.

The light turns green. Our car picks up speed, turning to the left. Before we penetrate the street leading to the site a billboard of a man with striking Arabian features wearing a turban, his mien saintly, and beard bordering his face greets us. Deka points to the billboard and throws a question. “Do you have habibs in Mindanao?”

“What is a habib?” I ask. 

“A habib is one who claims that he is a descendant of the Prophet,” Deka replies.

“We have those all right, plenty of them,” I retort as our car makes its way to the gate of the temple. After Deka pays the parking fee we enter the vast parking area. Cars are a rarity in these parts as tour buses rule much of the concrete space. We stop in a shaded area. I leap out of the car in eager anticipation.  The sky rumbles, gradually turning into the color of gunpowder. Kristina retrieves an umbrella in the back of the car while Ema takes the box of donuts that we picked earlier in the gasoline station. As we walk to the ticket booth, Kristina turns her attention to Deka and Ema. “When we get close, please do not talk to Teng in English. Be silent for a moment. Just stand there and act like locals.” Kristina explains to me that the entrance fee is different for locals and foreign tourists. Foreign tourists pay double. 

Slowly we walk to the ticket booth, eyeing each other in silence as though we are about to commit unspeakable acts of terror. We try our best to suppress a nervous hilarity as Kristina negotiates with the woman in the ticket booth. The woman looks at me with suspicion. For a second I get jittery. Deka gestures to me as he squats on the pavement. My expression turns quizzical. “Javanese people like to squat like this,” he says. Okay, act like a local, so I imitate him. Ema’s body shakes as she tries to contain her laughter. “You are squatting all right, but you are speaking in English. It will still give you away.”

“Ssshhhh,” Deka and I hush her.

Kristina signals to us with the tickets in her hand. We walk to the entrance gate and line up like school children. Kristina hands over our tickets to the gatekeeper who feeds them one by one to a machine. We hold our breaths.  The gatekeeper gives us the green light. 

“The woman in the booth asked me if you’re Malaysian,” Kristina tells me after we walk a good distance from the entrance gate. Unable to contain ourselves, we burst out in rambunctious laughter. Excitedly I walk in haste, leaving my hosts behind. Up ahead, tourists snap pictures against what I presume as the temple. I could not see it from where I am as trees line the walkway concealing the ancient structure. Before I could get a glimpse of the temple, a giant billboard explains the restoration efforts in the site. In May 2006, a massive earthquake shook central Java causing huge damage to the temple. Large pieces of debris, including carvings, were scattered over the ground. The temple was closed to visitors until the damage could be fully assessed. The temple reopened its gates several weeks after the earthquake. Restoration continues to this day. 

My hosts catch on. I rejoin them. The four of us climb the stairs to the temple in reverent fashion like the drag queens surmounting King’s Canyon in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. I could actually hear musical score swell in my ear as we inch closer to the temple complex.  I gasp in awe of the colossal structure before me. I am transported to another world.


I’m quite disappointed the Manunuri (that is, the Filipino Critics Society) snubbed my film Qiyamah in their annual awards’ major categories, and chose to recognize the film’s technical achievements for production design, cinematography, and sound design only.

The critics group, ironically, has its own share of criticisms, the most conspicuous of which is its shunning of mainstream cinema. There is not a single nomination for any mainstream film this year, not even in the technical categories. Director Erik Matti, whose newest film On The Job premieres at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes this May, tweeted a reaction: “Mainstream doesn’t equal mediocrity. Commercial doesn’t equal stupid. In the same manner, indie doesn’t equal important or cheap.”

Blogger/critic Francis Cruz offered more insights on the Philippine film awards scene:
[T]he Urian seems to live in an imaginary world where only indies are shown in the malls. Mainstream films are hardly ever nominated, even for the awards covering technical craftsmanship, which is admittedly the Achilles’ Heel of the indies, as professed by many write-ups circulating in the net. The Urian, however, is really a private affair and their decisions are reflective not of the pulse of the masses but of the individual politics and taste of the members. A quick look at any year’s roster of nominations would reveal surprises that would raise accusations of lack of taste and abundance of liberties. Perhaps the most glaring of the accusations would be that the members of the Manunuri have become so out of touch of what is current, they no longer watch films in the theaters and only wait for screeners to reach their lap. Despite the accusations, the Urian remains to be the country’s most believable awards. Whether or not they are now only riding on the prestige of what was a very glorious past is really another question. 

Cinephile John Ariel Rojas hopes that, “the Manunuris will be more scrutinizing and reflective of what their awards stand for.”

Oh, well.