Weaving a dream into film

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By Michael Kho Lim

Kna means “dream” in T’boli, the language of one of the ethnic groups of South Cotabato and Sarangani in southern Mindanao.

The T’bolis are renowned for their traditional tnalak cloth, which is tediously handwoven from abaca fibers. Many patterns for the cloth are manifested in a weaver’s dream, thus T’boli weavers are popularly dubbed “dream weavers.”

 

Dream project

Mara Lopez as K’na, the dreamweaver
Mara Lopez as K’na, the dreamweaver

Kna, the Dreamweaver is a dream come true for writer and musician Ida Anita del Mundo. Having a fondness for Japanese and Chinese epics as well as epic films such as the works of Zhang Yimou, Ida had always wanted to write an epic story. This dream began to see fruition when she had the opportunity to visit Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, in July last year as a reporter for The Philippine Starweek magazine.

The lake’s beauty inspired her and she found this to be the perfect setting for a story she had been developing, with the tradition of tnalak weaving becoming the thread that tied the whole narrative together, and the T’boli culture, including its art and music, further enriching the story.

Then Cinemalaya entered the picture. Del Mundo’s dream script became bigger than she expected. It’s coming to life on the big screen. The film tells the story of K’na, the village’s next dream weaver who is torn between following her heart and marrying someone for the sake of restoring peace in her community.

Del Mundo sees herself as a writer more than anything else. When she was persuaded to direct her own script, she was hesitant at first but delightedly accepted the role.

“When you are a writer, you can literally let your imagination go wild,” she explained. “When you are a director, you have to be more realistic. You try to make the vision a reality while having to adapt to what is available. So the most challenging part was to compromise what I had originally envisioned while writing the script because of the conditions on set, time constraints, etc.”

Cinematographer Lee Briones sitting atop the improvised rig that the camera crew built in lieu of a helicam
Cinematographer Lee Briones sitting atop the improvised rig that the camera crew built in lieu of a helicam

Here, creativity and resourcefulness came into play. For instance, the opening sequence was planned to be shot using a helicam, that is, a camera attached to a remote-controlled mini helicopter for aerial shots. However, the equipment was not available, and the team had to improvise.

“The camera crew strapped a ladder to a boat, and our cinematographer, Lee Briones, filmed the whole sequence on top of that rig, on the water,” described Ida. “I think that’s a testament to the skill of the team to adapt to the limitations of the shoot and the willingness of Lee to do what it takes to get the best shot.”

 

Dream cast

L-R: Mara Lopez, Alex Medina, Nonie Buencamino, Bembol Roco
L-R: Mara Lopez, Alex Medina, Nonie Buencamino, Bembol Roco

Casting actors for Kna was also a challenge. Either the actors had to learn T’boli or the local talents with little or no acting experience had to be coached.

Playing the title role is Mara Lopez, who is not new to learning a language for a film project. Last year, she had to learn two: Central Bikolano for Debosyon (Alvin Yapan, Cinemalaya) and Ilocano for Ang Kwento ni Mabuti (Mes de Guzman, CineFilipino). She considers T’boli to be the most challenging.

“It’s nothing like Tagalog,” Mara quipped, “but I think it was an advantage that I speak three languages so I picked up pretty smoothly. There were times when Direk Ida was surprised because I was already throwing ad-lib lines!”

RK Bagatsing plays Silaw, K’na’s love interest. Last year, he was part of Sitio (Mes de Guzman, CinemaOne Originals) and had to learn some lines in a native language in Nueva Vizcaya, but he said that this is nothing compared to learning T’boli.

“I wasn’t confident about every word or sound that came out of my mouth when we were studying,” RK shared. “It even got to a point when I was afraid that they would notice and replace me with someone else. But our language coaches worked very hard and never made us feel we had no chance of nailing it. If we were unsure of saying some words or lines correctly, we would ask her to say them out loud and pick up from there.”

Mara added that they met with their language coaches several times before the shoot and thought that they went through the script more than 30 times. Everyone in the cast also had a voice recording of the script in T’boli, which helped in getting the correct pronunciation and intonation, and in memorising the lines.

Dialogue cue card of Bembol Roco as north chieftain
Dialogue cue card of Bembol Roco as north chieftain

“I got one technique from Sir Nonie,” RK revealed. “He would pay attention to some key words after every sentence so he would know if there’s a need to change the beat or tone, emotions, objectives, etc. Sir Bembol had his cue cards, which proved to be very effective. I heard he was great in all his scenes.”

However, the real test for the actors was not really the ability to speak T’boli but how they were able to feel their lines so their delivery doesn’t sound mechanical. RK felt this a lot of times especially for his long monologue-like lines.

“Sometimes, you just get lost in the middle and have no idea which part it was or what those lines meant, but your lips just kept moving until you reached your cue word to stop.”

It was really a process for majority of the cast to learn T’boli given the limited time. Most kept going back to the English script to fully understand what their lines meant.

“It’s one thing to learn the language and saying your lines comfortably out loud,” RK continued, “but it’s another when you break down the script to make yourself feel connected with the character’s needs, motivations, instincts. Once you’ve done the work, I guess the emotions that go with the lines flow effortlessly.”

Rain sequence where K’na and Silaw first profess their love for each other
Rain sequence where K’na and Silaw first profess their love for each other

Mara particularly notes her confrontation scene with Nonie Buencamino (playing K’na’s father, Lobong Ditan) to be unforgettable, “because it was a heavy scene and our lines were so long!” She also loves the rain sequence with RK, where their characters first professed their love for each other.

On the other hand, RK recalls a memorable experience he had with Mara: “One time, when we were done shooting our scenes, we borrowed one of the locals’ boats and paddled our way through the lake. The sight was stunning, and the weather was perfect. We were at the heart of the Lake. We stayed there for a while and admired everything. But when it was time for us to go back to the set, we couldn’t. There was something about the wind that time that made our boat go circling around the same spot as we paddled. Then the locals were sent to get us back.”

As for the local talents, Ida was impressed with Hazel Ann Sulan (young K’na) and Sarah Jane Cayugan (K’na’s mother) during the birthing scene.

“They really blew me away,” Ida exclaimed. “The scene was supposed to be just a small one, but their outstanding performance elevated the whole scene. Credit should also be given to assistant director Maki Calilung who prepared the local actors.”

 

Dream team

Father and daughter tandem: Producer Clodualdo del Mundo Jr and writer-director Ida Anita del Mundo
Father and daughter tandem: Producer Clodualdo del Mundo Jr and writer-director Ida Anita del Mundo

At this point, I must say that I’m part of Ida’s dream team as associate producer. Putting the team together wasn’t as difficult as the

first time I did it for her father, Clodualdo “Doy” del Mundo Jr., when we did Pepot Artista, Cinemalaya’s very first best picture. The challenge this time was really getting the funds to run the production. Ten years ago, I could have worked wonders with the seed grant, but today no one can do magic with half a million. I think fate has it in me to be involved in “big” but low-budget productions. Experience tells me that it’s no longer by chance but by design.

The project’s timing seemed right at first because I have been waiting to get my hands back on producing films and the idea to be working with my “sister-in-arts” was great, but the universe had another plan for me, so Sir Doy had to take over the reins of being a producer. Just as Ida is following in her dad’s footsteps, so am I following in my mentor’s.

It is also interesting to point out that some members of the dream team belong to the second- or third-generation artists. Ida comes in third after her father and grandfather Clodualdo del Mundo Sr., who was a komiks and radio writer and literary critic. Mara is the daughter of Maria Isabel Lopez. RK is the brother of Raymond Bagatsing. Alex Vincent Medina (as Kagis, Silaw’s rival for K’na’s affection) is the son of Pen Medina. Production designer Toym Leon Imao’s father is National Artist for visual arts, Abdulmari Asia Imao. Kudos to Toym’s team who built a whole village in nine days with only bamboo, rattan and cogon bundles and not using a single nail in the construction process.

Associate director of photography Miguel Cruz is son of production designer Rodell Cruz. Music scorer Diwa Felipe de Leon also belongs to the third generation. His father is National Commission for Culture and the Arts chair Felipe de Leon Jr. and his grandfather is National Artist for music Felipe Padilla de Leon. Language coach Karina Mae Todi Wanan is the daughter of Maria Todi, Kna, the Dreamweaver’s language coach, translator and cultural consultant.

Coming from a family of artists, Ida’s parents are very supportive — almost over-supportive, in fact, as she would say.

Erlinda Villalobos as Be Lamfey and Hazel Sulan as Young K'na
Erlinda Villalobos as Be Lamfey and Hazel Sulan as Young K’na

“There wasn’t any pressure from the family,” Ida affirmed. “I guess the pressure comes from defining my own style and establishing myself as an individual — proving to others that I’m not just riding on my dad or grandfather’s coattails. But I am less worried about proving myself in general and more focused on making a great film.”

Having no formal background in filmmaking, Ida underwent a crash course with her dad. Sir Doy started with the basic terms and told her to always think of the beginning and ending of the scenes and how they relate to the other scenes. But perhaps topping the list of reminder would be this: “There will be pressure because everyone is waiting for your decision; take your time.”

Ida sees herself to be very different from her dad, whose works are generally urban in orientation. She is more interested in epics, legends and fantasy. After one difficult shooting day, Sir Doy told Ida that he never had scenes as big as some of those in Kna. The assistant director and I couldn’t agree more, too. Ida should have seen our reactions after reading the script.

Staying in Lake Sebu and being away from the hustle and bustle of the city for two weeks has made the whole filming experience enjoyable for everyone.

“We were like a family,” Mara disclosed. “Direk Ida was not only my director but my friend. She was also my body double!”

RK finds Ida to be very down-to-earth, and a director who gives them artistic freedom, too.

“This is my first Cinemalaya project, and being with very well-known cast makes me a little nervous, but she makes us feel comfortable and instills the confidence in us.”

So now that Ida has tried her hand on directing, will we see her directing more projects in the future? “I guess yes, but not as a ‘career,’” she clarified. “As in, not as a TV or commercial director. But if there’s a project that I believe in as much as Kna, the Dreamweaver, then it would be wonderful to direct again, because the experience was really amazing. Seeing your words come to life and interacting with people who have analyzed and studied your script was really surreal and rewarding.”

The dream of Kna, the Dreamweaver was realised through the generous support of Tuko Film Productions and Buchi Boy Films, in cooperation with SQ Film Laboratories and the provincial government of South Cotabato.

 

(Editor’s note: For more information about the film, visit and like www.facebook.com/knathedreamweaver. The 10th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival runs from 1 to 10 August at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt 3, TriNoma, Fairview Terraces and Alabang Town Center. For more details, visit the festival’s official Facebook page by typing “Cinemalaya-2014-Year-10.”)

 

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