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Understanding Filipino youth culture through regional cinema

Youth culture in the Philippines isn’t defined by one term. In a nation of 7,641 islands and 110 ethnolinguistic groups, being young means different things to different people. We live under one flag, yet there’s a disconnect with each other’s culture. 

So how do we try to change this? Maybe the answer lies in regional cinema. 

Viewers gain new perspectives through regional cinema’s lens. And thanks to these filmmakers, their coming-of-age stories shorten distances and demolish cultural borders. These stories may not represent every kid within our 110 ethnolinguistic groups. But don’t worry, that isn’t a bad thing. It only means we need to give more storytellers from different regions a platform 

From Tuguegarao, Cagayan: Glenn Barit, “Cleaners” 

In the early 2000s, growing up in Tuguegarao meant building Friendster profiles, knowing who “American Idol’s” David Cook was, and tuning into MYX after class. When Glenn went to Manila for college, he learned that almost every Manileño went through the same phase. “It just differs slightly with language, food, culture, and how each adapts with what can be consumed.”

This was his mindset while creating his QCinema 2019 entry, “Cleaners.” “It’s a term for a group of classmates cleaning their classroom after classes. When I was conceptualizing, I realized cleaning can be used thematically for different high school stories.” By using photocopied stills colored with highlighter pens, he immortalizes memories of high school life in his hometown.

“Coming-of-age films have a gradual way of showing how harsh the world can be.”

“It’s where my high school memories happened. I thought it would be more nuanced if I filmed these recreated memories in the actual place where it happened,” he says. “I realized we can tap local talents. We got local actors and interns are interested in filmmaking and other art forms. Sadly, pursuing the arts remains a privilege there. We hope this somehow opens doors for them.”

Capturing high school life in Tuguegarao isn’t his only goal. For this storyteller, he used nostalgia as a way to encourage deeper conversations on growing up. “Coming-of-age films have a gradual way of showing how harsh the world can be,” he explains. “They tell different ways of losing innocence, so we can understand how the world operates unforgivingly. It reminds us to navigate through it all kindly.”

From Minalin, Pampanga: EJ Gagui, “Kalinguan Tane Ing Lutu Nang Ima

Bringhe is Pampanga’s answer to paella. Traditionally, this dish contains meat, vegetables, green peas, and chorizo. Determining recipes usually require a simple Google search. But that’s not the case for “Kalinguan Tane’s” (“Time to Forget Mother’s Cooking”) Letty, as she attempts to recreate her late mother’s signature bringhe

“The idea came from my belief that you make your own success,” the young Kapangpangan filmmaker explains. “In relation to the film, I want to give Letty a new mission in re-creating herself without her mother’s shadow, that she can also have something original to offer, to give her a chance to be as unique as her mother.”

“Developing coming-of-age stories helped me understand my own experiences.” 

EJ sees his short films as a chance to reflect on past experiences. By centering it on his hometown’s native dish, he manages to create a tale of loss and internal growth. “Developing coming-of-age stories helped me understand my own experiences. Through my short films, it made me appreciate them artistically and see how I‘ve matured as a person.”

Read more: 7 relatable Filipino coming-of-age films for young LGBTQ+ people

Kalinguan Tane Ing Lutu Nang Ima” deals with loss through the painful ordeal of recreating someone’s palate. Cooking her mother’s bringhe means recreating something she can’t perfect, an attempt to immortalize a loved one’s memory. This short film forces us to answer: “Who are we without the people we love?”

From Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Del Sur: Xeph Suarez, “Si Astri maka si Tambulah

What does it mean to be queer in a traditional community? And what more in a conservative Sama Badjao community. The Zamboangeño filmmaker Xeph Suarez attempts to answer this in his critically acclaimed short film “Si Astri maka si Tambulah” (“Astri and Tambulah”).

“It shows a different story about the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community,” he explains. “Most of the current queer stories in popular media are set in Manila. I wanted to show these issues affecting LGBTQ+ Filipinos in the provinces.” This film is centered on a young queer couple, the 16-year-old Muslim transwoman Astri and her 17-year-old boyfriend Tambulah trying to protect their love after Astri’s father forced her to marry a woman she’s betrothed to.

Read more: “Homebound” is a queer coming-of-age short on friendship and homesickness

Growing up, Xeph watch coming-of-age queer stories on YouTube. It helped him become more confident as a gay man, which eventually helped him come out to his loved ones. He returns the same favor to young queer Zamboangeños by giving them a story to relate to.

“One must be sensitive when tackling tradition, yet be as honest as possible in discussing your stance on the issue and your advocacy,” he admits. “The film shows there are traditions and practices prohibiting the LGBTQ+ community from fully expressing their truths. I want to show that love is love—regardless of culture.”

From San Mateo, Rizal: Gilb Baldoza, “Kontrolado ni Girly Ang Buhay Niya

Honing his passion for queer filmmaking, this young Rizaleño’s thesis film explores life as a gay teenager below the poverty line. “I wrote ‘Kontrolado ni Girly’ as a journey from the province to the city. We shot it in San Mateo and in Brgy. Batasan, which is right in the middle of San Mateo and Quezon City,” he explains. “It shows how the rural youth, personified by Girly in the film, seeks a brighter future in the city—and how the city and life’s realities challenge this dream.”

Girly’s story sheds light on Filipino queer representation. This is a story for young Filipino queers who are uneducated, underprivileged, non-masculine, jobless, and abused. “I wrote his character to validate the existence and struggles of young queers living in this age of sexual and gender equality revolution,” he says. “I want to not just show, but immerse viewers into the reality of living under multilayered oppression.”

“Most of the current queer stories in popular media are set in Manila. I wanted to show these issues affecting LGBTQ+ Filipinos in the provinces.”

He developed this short film in the #MeToo movement’s height. In his perspective, he wants people like Girly to have their voices heard. “This film became a way of saying these struggles also happen to the LGBTQ+ community and that Girly’s story and other women share the same goals: to gain control of their own lives and to stand up against patriarchy, discrimination, poverty, and harassment.”

“Girly” became a way to educate others and a personification of the filmmaker’s personal growth. “I sought coming-of-age films to educate myself on the human condition, as I reflect on growing up from poverty,” he reflects. “Through them, I learned my struggles with sexuality and socioeconomic status are intertwined and inseparable.” 

From Biri, Northern Samar: PR Patindol, “Hilom (Still)

Dioskouroi retells the tale of mythical twins Castor, a mortal, and Pollux, an immortal. In the original Greek story, they were inseparable until Castor died in battle and left his twin inconsolable with grief. In order to bring his brother back, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality so Castor will be saved. Zeus placed them both in the sky, reuniting as a constellation named Gemini.

Read more: “Homebound” is a queer coming-of-age short on friendship and homesickness

The tale inspired PR Patindol’s short on twin brothers who survived and want to heal in their hometown, a small fishing village ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda. “The story of Hilom (Still) was inspired by an incident when I was growing up when the discourse on sexual identity was necessary. Through these young twins, we intended to explore what innocence and what love is.”

“I sought coming-of-age films to educate myself on the human condition, as I reflect on growing up from poverty.”

Hilom is a young person’s coming-out story. But at the heart of it, it runs deeper than early romantic love. “What was deliberate was to highlight the strength of the bond between brothers “I hoped that the film’s final frame conveyed an uplifting resolution. This image of twins connected in water, like they once were in their mother’s womb, was important to me,” he says. “After the hurt, what I believe the twins discovered, is that they have each other.”

This story was originally published in our fifth anniversary issue and has been edited for web. The digital copy of Scout’s 36th issue is accessible here.

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Rogin Losa
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