Winner of the 1st short film PH at Sundance “an ode to the identity of Igorot” by the filmmaker

Scene from “The Headhunter’s Daughter”

For many years, stories of Indigenous peoples in film and media have been told through the lens of outsiders looking within, resulting in misrepresentation and fictionalized stereotypes.

But, encouragingly, “indigenous cinema around the world” is “reaching new heights”. And directors like Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan, who is of Ifugao Igorot and Visayan descent, are now able to reclaim their stories and present them from their own perspective.

“Telling our own stories makes them feel alive in a way that they hadn’t really been, because colonial history has always told our stories for us and portrayed us through their eyes,” Eblahan told the Inquirer in a recent interview.

Eblahan made history in January, after winning the Philippines’ first-ever win for a short film at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Her dreamlike and elegiac drama “The Headhunter’s Daughter” entered the Shorts Program 4 section of the annual event and won the Grand Jury Prize.

It also made its European premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France earlier this month.

“As Indigenous filmmakers – especially young ones – now create a whole new cultural and cinematic landscape, a new generation of self-claim and a unique sense of revolution is emerging: taking our own stories and telling them within our own selves. unique, no matter how complex, deep or simple they now feel like ours,” said the 25-year-old filmmaker.

Filmed amid pandemic restrictions, “The Headhunter’s Daughter” is about an aspiring country music artist from the Cordillera region named Lynn (Ammin Acha-ur), who sets off on horseback to the bustling city of Baguio, where she tries to participate in a television singing contest.

Described as having a “spellbinding” and “poetic” vibe, the film was praised by a Sundance juror for its “magnificent cinematography, direction and acting”, which helped to “capture a unique sense of place”.

“’The Headhunter’s Daughter’ was inspired by young dreams of becoming a musician and attempts to spiritually reach my father who died when I was young. It’s also an ode to my personal relationship with my Igorot identity,” he said. and influence his vision as a filmmaker.

Regional anchoring

“Standing away from my regional roots draws attention to the multicultural and complex essence of Filipino identity. For me, it’s important to be known as such, because it establishes a cultural lens as to when audiences watch our films,” he said. “In this way, the personal stories I create are seen in the context of geography and history, and with a more open approach in understanding the narrative.”

While Sundance originally planned to resume in-person activities and screenings this year, the surge in the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has forced the event to return to online means for the second straight year. But it was an understandable and responsible decision to make, Eblahan said.

“We were on our toes, kind of expecting the kind of news that would come out of Omicron’s surge, and hoping for the best for all festival organizers and programmers around the world… Other festivals were starting to come through. line, what we were afraid would happen at Sundance. But I believe it was the safest and wisest choice to make,” he said.

After the Sundance run of “The Headhunter’s Daugther,” Eblahan said he looked forward to more screenings around the world, including in the Philippines, of course.

“We are still fresh in the festival circuit for the film, so we expect more premieres in different parts of the world. But of course we are looking forward to a local premiere, and especially a premiere in North Luzon, as a way of honoring the country where we shot our film,” he said. Besides “The Headhunter’s Daughter”, Eblahan’s early shorts have also been screened and won at various festivals overseas: “Umbilical Cord to Heaven” won Best Experimental Experience at the National Film Festival for the Talented Youth in Washington, USA (2019), and participated in the Ann Arbor Film Festival in Michigan, USA (2020).

“Hilum,” meanwhile, won the International Student Jury Prize at the 2021 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.

And Eblahan is just getting started. Asked what people expect in the near future, he said there are more projects to come, including one whose concept revolves around nature as a driving force for storytelling and development. characters. – calls the protagonist. It would be interesting to push that limit,” he said. “But what if all of a sudden, ‘nature’ becomes the main entity that grinds down the boundaries of our characters to the point of making their patience and soul bend, remotely or from within?” he told.

“I’m excited to share them regardless!” said Eblahan.

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