Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Baboy Halas: Wailings in the Forest (Bagane Fiola, QCinema 2016)

Lumads (non-Muslim indigenous peoples from Mindanao) have been on the news lately. An allegedly panicky police officer rammed a police van into a throng of indigenous peoples holding a peaceful protest at the US Embassy. He maneuvered the van in a helter skelter way and even ran over a few persons. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan condemned the savage dispersal of the rallyists, who were hosted by UP Diliman.

Violence seems to follow lumads everywhere they go. In the hinterlands, they experience harassment from mining groups and logging companies intent on exploiting their lands. Sadly, some companies use the military to scare off lumads. Several lumad groups keep their communities off-limits to members of NPA. Still, they suffer from the war between the NPA and the military.

Lumads though are a tough breed. Their resilience and spirituality will help them survive all these ordeals.

The serenely beautiful Baboy Halas takes a glimpse into the lumads of Maharlika, Dawag, and Tabontabon, Marilog District, Davao City. The film, done in a documentary style, eschews straight-forward narrative. Even without a compelling story, I’m mesmerized with the things happening onscreen.

The award-winning lush cinematography captures the soothing verdant surroundings. There is something calming with the featured forest. It is not a foreboding one like the forest of Apocalypse Now and the jungle of Platoon. There are no man-eating carnivores or blood-sucking insects preying on humans.

The forest is a bountiful place offering sustenance and shelter for the lumads. The river flows with clean water. The sounds of birds chirping are music to the ears. A wild boar occasionally wanders into the paths of hunters. An excellent scene shows a family working together to cook a meat-based meal. All the things they need for the feast are provided by the generous forest. They just need to pray for them.

An admirable trait of lumads is their tendency to implore the help of spirits or dwellers residing in the resource they need. They may be skilled hunters but if a deer won’t pass by they will go home empty-handed. They may be adept in survival skills but if they do not have patience they will die of hypothermia.

The highlight of Baboy Halas, no, make that of the entire set of QCinema Circle Competition films, is the amazing ‘slow burn’ scene in a cave. This is something that should be seen in a darkened movie house and not described verbally. Suffice to say, it involves a hunter imploring the help of the fire dweller. He is wet from the rains and needs the warmth of a fire to help him get through the cold evening.

I have personally seen an Aeta demonstrate friction fire lighting with the use of wild bamboo sticks but this is the first time I’ve seen fire emerge from sparking rocks. No amount of CGI effects can convincingly replicate small sparks emanating from clashing rocks.

The excitement and thrill of seeing the sparks grow into a fire is palpable. Just as the hunter was humbly praying, I was also wishing for the fire to burst forth. I was feeling the shivering temperature of the movie house and was empathizing deeply with the rain-soaked hunter. When the fire did appear it was a heartwarming magical moment.

Director Fiola says the main protagonist in the film is the hunter. There is a more important character in my opinion.

The main character of the film is the old-growth forest. Forest silhouettes tell stories of their own. A zoom out shot of the forest shows how frail and vulnerable a lumad is amidst his vast surroundings.

I was elated with scenes wherein I see figures embedded in the forest. A creek scene shows a lumad standing over a rock that looks like a giant tortoise. When it didn’t move, I realized it was really just a rock. Another scene involves a lumad deep in the heart of the forest. Across the lumad is a trunk that seems to encase a human being clad in orange attire.

The forest is a visually and aurally strong character. Images can unexpectedly form from every nook and cranny. The cacophony of sounds reveals a multi-faceted character but mostly suggest a peaceful, calm personality.

The gentle forest and the lumads are basically peaceful in nature. Violence arises when outsiders push through with their racist, lustful, and greedy ways.

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