Cinemalaya 2019 Pitstop: 'Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag ay Paniniwala' by Francis Guillermo

This chilling psycho-horror short film tell a story about the disappearances of people and their identities. Dylan, the son of the town captain Soliman, had seen the missing people and knows where they are. But when Soliman and other townsmen began their search, Dylan knew that they might suffer the same fate. But when the search failed and Soliman made his way home and as days passed, Soliman’s team would come across bodies that seems to have no souls. Then one dark evening, Dylan knew Soliman had made it home, but it wasn’t his father. 

This short film Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag by Francis Guillermo is also a political allegory on effect of the Marcos regime on the disappearance of people and their loss of identities. Inspired by the Philippine Mythological Folklore of Tambal, a creature who copies an individual while it leads its victim deep into the woods, the film questions and explores the mystery and fear surrounding the loss of identities and access to truths during the Martial Law.

The film competed in the Short Feature category at Cinemalaya, which celebrates its 15th year in existence this year. Just like in previous years, 10 original feature films and 10 short films were in competition for top honours in the film festival. For the first time in history this year, Cinemalaya went on the road across the Philippines, bringing its screening programme to Pampamga, Ilo Ilo, Legazpi, Naga, Bacolod, Davao and of course Manila. 

SINdie spoke with Francis for some insight into his mysterious film. Here is our interview.

What was the inspiration for the film?

The film was made under my Cinema 2 course in Far Eastern University during the final year of my Communication Degree.  We had to make a short film as one of the final requirements before graduating. But 2 years before the Cinema 2 course happened, I’ve already wrote the script during my Scriptwriting class. O

ne inspiration and origin of that script is the idea that not many young people of the current generation talks about the old fantasy/mythical creatures of the Philippine Culture. During my young years I would fancy hearing about different creatures that would run my imagination with fear and curiosity. But I’ve noticed that most of these stories are no longer being told as much as they were. 

There used to be countless films and TV episodes about these creatures but now, as the world moves forward to more technological things and different points of interests, it felt for me that these wonderful creatures are starting to fade.  

Are there contexts regarding this film that viewers from outside of Philippines may not understand immediately?

There are four contexts within the film that readers from outside of the country may or may not know. And it is sad to say that even my own countrymen might not know these contexts very well either. I’ll start off with the creature. The creature in the film is the Philippines’ version of doppelganger. It is called ‘Tambal’. It is a creature that has no definite form and lives within the forest, constantly looking for victims. The Tambal, usually taking the form of its previous victims, would gain a person’s trust and lure them deep into the woods. The Tambal creature would then copy the physical form of its victim and could do whatever it pleases with the purpose of being able to live as a human within our human world.  

The second and third is from the old Spanish Colonization Years  and the Philippine Martial Law under the Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. During the 1972 Martial Law, there were many reports of various disappearances within the country. While during the Spanish Colonization, these stories about creatures of the night were created by different priests in order to hide and create a terrifying explanation about the kidnappings and death of those who opposes their system. All of this Philippine Culture and History has led to the creation of this story which indirectly reflects to the intended fourth context, the current Philippine problem of Fake News. 

During my rewriting stages of the concept, the biggest concern of my country was the various killing under President Duterte’s Drug war, where most killings had no reasonable truth. In my imaginative mind, what is happening during the Drug War and how these deaths were being masked as death of “drug dealers” or “drug addicts” and the lack of the truth to the many deaths and even disappearances of people is quite similar and reflective to the story that I was going for. So I thought why not mix it all up since the current Leader of our country seems to like to keep us lost and spinning in circles in what is truly happening.

The reason why I said that even my own countrymen might not now these context is that because a lot of Filipino people are actually falling for the fake information from the killings of the present and a lot of Filipino people had seem to be forgetting about the past history of Martial Law. It is as if the current President is some sort of Tambal rewriting the past and the present.

What was the production process and challenges you faced, considering this was a final year project?

The production process was really a problematic one. But film making is crisis management so we had to do what we had to do. The film was shot in the city of Tarlac and the production had to happen within 24 hours. And as you can see, majority of the film setting happened late at night. So we had to start around four in the afternoon due to actor schedules, and we wrapped up around 10 in the morning the next day. And even with that schedule, a few parts from the script were omitted since the budget can no longer afford another day.  

Apart from the Production struggle, it was harder to convince the crew to work on such a gruesome schedule given that not everybody in my thesis group was a Cinema enthusiast. But I’m glad to have gained a lot of trust and support from these people that led to the creation of this film.

The film raises more questions than answers but tis there a point to keeping much of the film vague and opaque?

 Belief as the Light in Darkness had one question that lead to many. The question was “in a world that turned into darkness, which light would you believe in?” I want the people to watch the film and not understand. But I want them to feel it creeping in. The fear of not knowing what it is. The fear of not knowing what’s wrong. The fear of knowing nothing yet knowing something isn’t right. 
The fear of knowing that the more they chose to not understand, the more nothing is being done with it, and the more it gets worse. With the hope that maybe, with the questions, they’d stand and ask, and ask, and find a reasonable answer and solution to the truth of what is really going on. We are losing people, we are forgetting culture, and we no longer understand the truth. I want people to feel like they are lost in the woods. Victimized by what they do not know, or what they thought they did.

What has the response been so far from Cinemalaya?

I’ve been hearing and reading mixed reviews. I remember during the early cuts of the film, one of my creative consultants Director Jet Leyco asked me if I wanted the film to be narrative or if I wanted the film to be more about “pakiramdam” which roughly translate as feeling. And I told him I don’t want people to understand, I want them to feel it. 

He then responded that it is a good film, and that he liked it, but I had to accept and endure beforehand that not many people are going to like it. And he was right. A lot of people are rating my film the lowest out of the rest of the shorts, and I’m not surprised.  But from time to time I do meet people who commend the film. Regardless of feedback I appreciate every review and perspective. These reviews show me the holes I need to fill in for my future films that will all hone my cinema into the beauty I dreamt of it to be.

How would you describe the film to others? Was there something you were working towards such as genre?

I would want to describe it as a horror film but not the horror that people are accustomed to. A part of me would like to consider it a thriller, and sometimes I would even call it out as fantasy. Some colleagues even go as far as calling it art house. The exact genre that I would call it would never end in one single definite genre. I guess we can say that perhaps the film is as indefinite as the creature within it.

What was the research or inspiration for the project?

There are roughly not enough research about the Tambal. I had to work with one little photo that you can find in google when you search for Tambal Creature. The rest I had to imagine and create in my mind. What they look like, the characteristics that differ from humans, how the victims disappear, how they sound etc. and I think that’s the beauty in Cinema. It’s really limitless. 

The inspiration is something personal. There are hundreds of other creatures in Philippine Culture, but the Tambal somehow caught my interest more than the rest of the bunch. I find myself in the stage of life where I am still deciding my own voice, my own perspective of the world, my own identity. And upon recalling the scary creatures told back then, the Tambal was something that caught my attention. Because in a way, a Tambal wants to be someone of his own. I do too.

Interview by Rifyal Giffari

About Francis Guillermo

On the 21st of September of 1996, a peculiar child was born with primary complex and an urge to never remain at one point. Despite growing up as if the world ran out of air to give, this child never remained still and never saw the world stop. Until one day, he met the Cinemas. Inside where the temperature was different and the surrounding was meant to drown you in darkness, the whole world stopped for three hours as he slowly swims into a new, unidentified, and unfamiliar world. Today he lives in Quezon City, Philippines and has learned to create worlds, bend time, and create fictions to share (and even to keep to his own), within the countless corners of Cinema. Within arm’s reach of the current generation and the next generation of Filipino film makers, Francis Guillermo aims to become a prominent film maker of his own generation.

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