STOP10: Keith Deligero and breaking down 'Babylon'

 
I learnt a new word from filmmaker Keith Deligero's short film Babylon - Barangay, which refers to the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. Nestled in the air-conditioned comfort of the theatre at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, I am being transported to the Barangays in the more rural parts of the Philippines through Keith's work. I reckon unless a local friend is going to bring me there and host me there, being able to see a place like that for myself might be a pipe dream.

The world that Keith inhabits is a highly intriguing one. Originating from Cebu, there is a strong sense of earthiness about him. He is known for the BINISAYA Movement which he started with a group of friends in 2009. Under the movement dedicated to promoting and exhibiting Cebuano and other Bisaya Dialect films, he often carries around a projector and screens films to local communities in places like basketball courts, basements, rooftops and even beaches. One look at his films reveals another side to him. He is out to live vicariously in the Barangays his films are often set in, subverting common village wisdoms and literally painting the town red. A look at  Lily (2016), which swept several awards at CinemaOne Originals, reveals the anarchist in Keith.

 

 

 

But he is more than that - a clever and stylish troll if Babylon is anything to go by. Babylon tells an absurdist tale about two girls who travel back in time to assassinate a dictator of a Barangay, in an attempt to rewrite history. Told in choppy edits (but choppy in a confident style), the film rides on the framework of a thriller, dazzles with caricatures like a music video, and evokes a touch of an éxquisite corpse style reminiscent of Bohemian Rhapsody the song. It is also an assault on the senses from the vulgar political campaigning to chickens that can talk, all culminating in a bloody mess at the end. It is discernible the film is an echo of a certain reality, an obtuse reflection of what's happening in the Philippines, but getting Keith to articulate the logic behind it would be like squeezing blood from a stone. He is one those filmmakers who knows how to start a fire but would rather not rationalise the process.

 

Still, he entertained us with this interview and we couldn't be more excited to pick his brain.

Jeremy (J): I read that you have been making films for more than 10 years. What got you started? Were you making mostly independent works?
Keith (K): My first short film was Uwan Init Pista sa Langit, it was shot in 2007, Babylon is only my second short film, it was shot in 2017, I have made 4 feature films between the two shorts.

Babylon is a very important film for me because I consider it as some sort of a celebration of 10 years of making films with my friends. It brought back the fun in making films. The feature films were also fun to make but the bigger the budget you have the more pressure you get.
 
 
 
We never went to film school, Uwan Init Pista sa Langit was our film school, we made the film just for the heck of making a film, and I guess filmmaking just got in to us from there. Nobody told us was going to be a very difficult ride. But here we are currently doing another feature film.
 
My last two feature films were done under Cinema One Originals, prior to that we were making stuff on our own. I’m not very comfortable in using the term “independent” from what I learned every film is very "dependent" to a certain budget regardless of how big or small it is. It will also be dependent on the people you make the film with. So maybe I’m more into “dependent” filmmaking. Hehe.

J: What kind of topics interest you? Or rather what do you get inspired by?
K: I was never really conscious of the inspirations but looking back now, I think I have been exploiting the movies that I have seen on TV while I was growing up. When I was growing up it was never cool to be watching Filipino movies whether it is action, drama or horror. So while I was trying to be cool by watching JCVD on Double Impact or Robocop and teen movies like American Pie or I Know What You Did Last Summer I was secretly rebelling against the idea of "cool" by watching Filipino stuff  like Anak ni Janice, Dahas, Horsey-horsey: Tigidig-tigidig
 
 
 
By the way, we never had access to home video or cable, I was getting all these stuff on free TV. During holy week there would be no programming on tv, that’s when they would show old Filipino stuff like Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag along with The Ten Commandments.
So I guess, the films I have done so far are in the veins of all of those things on TV put together. It was just when I was already making films that I started exploring the important "film school" films. The thing that I’m maybe very conscious in making films is I get a lot of ideas from paintings, sculptures, and music to fuel an idea in developing a film.

J: How has this 10 year journey been? What were some of the highs and lows.
K: I have always stuck to my way of making films. It is very none formal and very vernacular. Vernacular not just in the dialogue but very vernacular in terms of film language. And I have stubbornly fought for this idea of cinema and even put a film festival that champions films that challenge the common idea of cinema
My heart has been broken so many times by film International festivals. Babylon is our first film that ever got into an international film festival. We generally get positive reactions from the audience with our films but we constantly get snubbed by awards. In those ten years I been so used to getting all sorts of rejections. Haha.


 
J: What do you feel about the current political situation in the Philippines?
K: I am all for freedom. Love and respect for the freedom of everyone = Peace and order.
J: Do you think film can serve as an effective medium to shape the perceptions of millennials in relation to political views? Or millennials in the Philippines even interested in politics at all?
K: I guess... But usually a film with some sort of political intention has a tendency to be a bad film. Hehe. I like bad films. (pause) About millennials, I think it's the other way around. Millennials are shaping Cinema and Politics. I think millennials can take care of themselves.
J: What do you do to pay your bills?
K: I direct commercials and corporate video stuff when I’m not making films.




Babylon was screened as a competition finalist under 'Shorts B' at Cinemalaya 2018. It has its world premiere at the Berlinale Short Film Competiton.

Interview and photos by Jeremy Sing


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