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Widely considered the ‘father of independent cinema’ in the Philippines,1 Kidlat Tahimik made his first film Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare, 1977) with expired film stock, discarded by a German film school.2  Realised with a budget of just 10 000 deutschmarks (then about $4 000USD),3 Perfumed Nightmare eventually premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Prix de la Critique Internationale from the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI), as well as the Ecumenical Jury Prize.4 Praised for being “both real and surreal, poetic and political, naive and wise,” 5 Tahimik’s film is a lighthearted, existential comedy about post and neo-colonialism. It’s also extremely entertaining. Susan Sontag declared, “Perfumed Nightmare makes one forget months of dreary moviegoing, for it reminds one that invention, insolence, enchantment – even innocence – are still available on film.”6

Like the director, the protagonists in Tahimik’s films tend to be resourceful and plucky, rooted in the Philippines’ provinces while they long for the prosperous and exotic places they’ve seen in the dream machines of cinema, TV and radio. The worlds of these films – just like the Philippines themselves – are naturally polyglot and multicultural: inflected by myriad Indigenous languages and cultures, by Asian migration, by Spanish colonialism (and especially Catholicism), and by American occupation (via military relics, Boy Scouts and Voice of America propaganda). As Tahimik’s films trace the material, cultural, and psychological aspects of life in the Philippines, they articulate a sanguine “Third World”7 perspective on life in our interconnected, globalized planet. This is to say, Kidlat’s characters have agency. While the films acknowledge the economic inequality and power differences that are inherent to capitalist society and the neocolonial order, they also declare that having less does not mean being less: rather, scarcity makes these protagonists more inventive, more clever, more charming.

1521 galleon – IBAGIW ArtFest, Baguio

In his later film Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? (Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?, 1994), Tahimik’s young son Kidlat asks what “Third World” means. The elder Kidlat replies “In America, Japan and Germany, it’s mainly machines that work. … Here, people power moves things.”

“So Third World is people powered?”

“Third World is a way of life – a road, a route for surviving without wasting. If you chop wood by hand, or if you use a power saw, this affects the way you attack bigger problems.”

“Third World is a way of solving problems?”

“Yes. Third World is a way of solving problems.”

Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?

To take a few examples from Tahimik’s films, Third World problem-solving includes shaping blades from scrap metal in Turumba (1981), where a blacksmith declares, speaking Tagalog: “This machete blade I hammered from the ‘shock absorber’ of a Mercedes Benz. The best steel I know.” Perfumed Nightmare’s story is driven by the jeepney, a quintessentially Filipino vehicle: U.S. Army jeeps abandoned in the Philippines after WWII were refashioned, en masse, into rococo buses. Sinong Lumikha ng Yoyo? Sinong Lumikha ng Moon Buggy? (Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?, 1979) focuses on the fantastical Philippine Official Moon Project (POMP) whose spacecraft consist of reimagined detritus from Bavarian farms, “With a little dressing we can convert this old fertiliser tank into a POMP skylab!”

Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?

To use a term proffered by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tahimik’s protagonists tend to be bricoleurs, people who improvise solutions using whatever tools and materials are available, “odds and ends” because “nothing else is at hand.”8 Resourceful and inventive, “the bricoleur is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks,” but Lévi-Strauss contrasts their “ways of being in the world and (materially) dealing with the world” 9 with that of engineers – such as the NASA rocket scientist idolized by Tahimik’s character in Perfumed Nightmare, for whom he has founded “the Werner von Braun fan club of Balayan.” While the director Kidlat Tahimik pays tribute to bricoleurs, the youthful protagonist he incarnates listens to Voice of America with near-religious fervor, which enthralls him with stories of von Braun, NASA, and American technological might. Waking up from a nap amidst the rice paddies and water buffaloes, Kidlat confesses “I do not dream of Disneyland anymore, mama. I dream of Cape Canaveral.”

Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?

Like other great comedic writer-directors, Tahimik stars in his own films as an everyman character vulnerable to the norms, fads and passions of the society he inhabits. As with Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Keaton’s Buster, and Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot, Kidlat’s character often appears naive and childlike as he embraces wildly imaginative situations, then adopts and extends their logic, just as children do in an imaginative play. Indeed, all of these comedians easily become the allies of children (think of Chaplin’s Tramp in The Kid (1921); Hulot in Mon Oncle (1958)). Likewise, in Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?, Kidlat is the only adult member of the Yodelberg Yoyo Society, whose members support the space project both materially (one child offers his old ice skates as landing gear) and intellectually: the children propose names such as “FLAME: Flight Lands Astronaut on the Moon… Eventually,” “FILM: Filipino Interested in Landing on the Moon” (“sounds like a one-man space program,” observes Kidlat), and “FLOP” before settling on the “very dignified” name of POMP. Like these comedic predecessors as well as Georges Méliès, Kidlat exuberantly follows the logic of his extraordinary “discoveries.” While searching for fuel alternatives to power his lunar excursion (it’s the late 1970s, the height of the energy crisis) Kidlat learns that the Weeping Madonna – an apparition of the Virgin Mary – was actually the first person on the moon. She appears to him in a vision, thankful as she laments: “all over the world are reminders of my giant step for mankind.” Despite myriad icons that show her standing daintily on a crescent moon, or wearing a cloak and crown of stars, her feat has been overlooked, “because American astronauts could afford television primetime.” The Virgin then graciously shares the technical details of her voyage with Kidlat: her trip was fueled by onions, which is also why she weeps!

Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?

Of course, one big difference between Kidlat and his comedic forebears is that their “everymen” (like the directors themselves) were white men from imperial countries at the height of colonialism. Chaplin and Keaton’s careers – and the everymen they embodied – were part of an American empire torn between competing values of democracy and white supremacy, especially in relation to the Philippines.10 Tati’s career likewise coincided with the peak, then partial collapse, of the French Colonial Empire. Kidlat Tahimik, on the other hand, was born and raised in the shadow of John Hay Air Station, an outpost established by American President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, five years after the U.S. acquired the Philippines for $20 million, payable to Spain, at the Treaty of Paris, where there were no Filipino representatives – despite the U.S.A’s purported mission to liberate the Philippines from its colonial oppressor. Four decades later, John Hay Air Station was bombed by the Japanese on the same day as Pearl Harbor; shortly thereafter Japan also captured the gargantuan U.S. strongholds of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base on the same island of Luzon. The U.S. recaptured these bases – and reclaimed the Philippines – at the end of WWII, and John Hay Air Station – as well as Clark and Subic Bay – continued to serve the U.S. military until 1991, long past the official date of Filipino independence (1946).11 Thus Kidlat, born in 1942, lived under Japanese military occupation until 1945, official American colonialism until ‘46, and in the shadow of the American military – while immersed in hegemonic American culture – for decades thereafter.

Perfumed Nightmare

All this helps explain Kidlat Tahimik’s keen sense of postcolonialism as a way of life. While his films all incorporate a degree of writing, performance, and mise-en-scène, they’re set among the absurdity, inequities, and surreal syncretism of our real, capitalist, globalised world. In the opening sequence of Tahimik’s first film Perfumed Nightmare, protagonist Kidlat sets the scene:

This is the bridge to our village. It is the only way into Balian, and it is the only way out. Our bridge is three meters wide and ten meters long. It is our bridge of life. The Spanish soldiers built the bridge after destroying the original bamboo bridge built by my grandfather. Then the U.S. Army engineers wanted to widen it for their military convoys, but they failed because of the strong winds of Amok Mountain nearby. The bridge is used by everybody. It is used by those who make big profits [Image: a big red truck carrying freshly sawed hardwood drives across the bridge.] And it is also used by those who make small profits. [A boy peddling ice-cream walks across.] … The bridge is also used by promoters of Miss Universe contests. [Beauty pageant contestants on a float.] The bridge is used by leaders who promote discipline and uniformity [Images: a marching band and military school parade.] It is used also by the followers. It is our bridge of life. Today I am still trying to make that final crossing, to freedom.

By focusing on the bridge, Tahimik portrays the local experience of global forces: colonialism, military conquest, extractive capitalism, cultural hegemony – all have crossed the bridge into Baliyan. Kidlat’s epigrammatic voiceover suggests that, even as local culture is affected by the winds of change, the people still appear true to themselves, steadfast as Amok Mountain, the jungle, and the seasons.

Perfumed Nightmare

Turumba (1981) is the only film in which Kidlat does not appear as a character. Commissioned by German television, the narrative focuses on a family who makes their living crafting and selling brightly painted papier-mâché animals at an annual festival. When a German tourist-cum-entrepreneur falls in love with their crafts, it seems like a blessing… until her fast-growing orders transform the family into capitalist owners and workers. Suddenly, ‘time is money’ as the old saying goes, in a way that it hadn’t been before. Through this scripted drama, Turumba incisively depicts capitalism not just as an economic system, but as a hegemonic worldview, at the moment it becomes the dominant ideology in the lives, minds, and desires of one family.

Considering his films’ insightful critiques of capitalism, it may come as a surprise to learn that Tahimik, who was born and raised as Eric Oteyza de Guia, earned a MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1967 – just one year before Donald J. Trump received his bachelor’s degree there. De Guia then worked for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris (OECD) for several years, writing economic reports about international development. But then, Tahimik recalls, “I felt something inside me trying to get out: my duwende (inner spirit). It was expressing discomfort.” So de Guia took a few months off from the OECD, worked on a farm in Norway and started writing a theatrical play. After his sabbatical, de Guia hatched a plan to fund continued artistic projects. He commissioned Filipino artisans to hand-craft thousands of papier-mâché dachshunds, in order to sell them at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This was the first Olympics to have an official mascot. As it happens, the German entrepreneur in Turumba inducted the artisan family into the culture of capitalism through exactly the same commission. De Guia’s sales were brisk until, in the second week of the Games, Palestinian militants kidnapped and killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches in what became known as the Munich massacre. Thereafter, souvenir sales flagged and de Guia was left with thousands of Olympic dogs. Broke and jobless, de Guia moved into an artist commune on a farm outside Munich. There he “met (his) wife Katrin… and eventually met (their) first son.” He also met Werner Herzog, who cast him for a small part in Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974). De Guia learned filmmaking by assisting German film students, though Herzog admonished him, saying that he’d “never be a good Bavarian filmmaker.” He must instead be his own “Baguio filmmaker” self. 12 De Guia took this advice to heart and was soon working on Perfumed Nightmare with equipment a friend borrowed from his Munich film school. Once finished, the film was selected for the Berlinale, and the festival team asked de Guia if he would add credits. “What are credits?” he replied. Only then did the artist, in a stroke of cosmic inspiration, embrace the moniker of his everyman protagonist by typing “A film by Kidlat Tahimik,” thus exchanging his “passport name” for a “noncolonial name” that means “silent lightning” in Tagalog.

During this period of transition, shortly after leaving his job at the OECD, de Guia performatively tore up his fancy MBA diploma – an act that both catalysed and symbolised his emerging effort to decolonise his mind. It’s striking that Tahimik left the Philippines to study business at one of the world’s most coveted schools, then worked at a major economic think-tank, before he became consciously critical of – and finally rejected – the “cocoon of American dreams that the Philippines had been living in as a country.” In fact, he claims that it was only by making his first film that Tahimik became aware of this cocoon. Describing the origins of Perfumed Nightmare, Tahimik explains that:

The “perfumed nightmare” refers to a seductive aspect of modern culture enticing us to be like our colonial masters while discarding and even throwing into the garbage bin the precious holistic knowledge of our forefathers. In this national obsession, the perfume of seduction eventually begins to sour. … My film was… trying to question what one country’s culture, when imported wholesale, can do to another’s.

Elsewhere Tahimik laments how colonisation – and even the Philippines’ national system of public education – have effectively “robbed” Filipinos of their “tribal assets.” In combination with the “Trojan Horse” of Hollywoodian cultural hegemony, Tahimik contends “Our culture was seduced by the perfumed nightmare of benevolent assassination” – his nickname for the euphemistic American policy to colonise the Philippines via “benevolent assimilation.”

Tahimik grew up in a Baguio family that, by all appearances, was comfortably ‘assimilated’: his mother was the country’s first female mayor, and his father (like young Kidlat’s hero Werner von Braun in Perfumed Nightmare) was an engineer. But since he decided to quit economics and become an artist, Tahimik has grown ever-closer to Filipino Indigenous communities that actively resist assimilation. The Igorot or Cordilleran peoples have been resisting Western hegemony for nearly 500 years. Their continuing struggle for autonomy and recognition makes frequent appearances in Tahimik’s films, and Kidlat credits his decades-long relationship with the Ifugao people (the Cordillerans who live in Ifugao Province) with helping him understand “the contradictions of ‘development’ as that notion is used by the World Bank and by our country’s leaders.” More compelling for Tahimik is the notion of kapwa: a key term in Filipino identity and psychology that means both ‘self’ and ‘other.’ In contrast to ‘development’ goals that focus on private property and capital, kapwa is, in Kidlat’s words, “the shared self—whenever we make a decision, we consider the other, which is a paradigm opposite to the individualistic cultures that Western societies have generated.” Kidlat’s understanding of kapwa is inflected by his time living and collaborating with the Ifugao people: Tahimik has lived on a rice paddy, where he participates in collectivised Ifugao agriculture, ever since he swapped parcels of land with his Ifugao friend Lopes Na-uyac over 20 years ago. Tahimik has also used his cultural capital, knowledge and time to bring outside resources to this community: a Japanese grant provided ten cameras for the Sunflower Film and Video Collective, which started when Kidlat taught several Ifugaos to facilitate video workshops. Another grant, “financed a ‘School of Living Tradition’ at which young people once again learn to weave and dance.”13 Though his films only hint at this relationship with the Ifugao people, Tahimik’s wonderfully sprawling epic Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? (1994) includes an ode to Igorot autonomy in the face of government neglect, as they build a bridge using traditional materials and techniques, folk-knowledge rather than engineering. This canny combination of ancestral knowledge and autonomy, paired with the resourceful creativity of the bricoleur, are what Tahimik describes as “Indigenius!” The practical intelligence and humor manifested by this term are markedly not frozen in time: they’re adaptable and contemporary, just like the Native peoples Tahimik portrays in his films.

Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?

The opening sequence of Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? (1994) actually unfolds not in the Philippines, but in the iconic American landscape of Monument Valley, where John Ford filmed his classic Westerns Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956). The first shots show a child playing with toy trucks in the sand, in front of this iconic landscape. Soon we hear the child’s voice: “In the Old West, before all the multilane highways, covered wagons struggled along the dusty trails daring to enter the realm of the unknown.” Presently a Winnebago14 appears, winding through a Monument Valley road. The child’s voice continues, as the images show two people tinkering with a rusty machine in the desert: “In the land of plenty, junk gathers dust, or simply rusts into dust. In the land of not-so-plenty, wipe off the dust, and what do you get? A rusty Third-World projector!” Soon we meet Tahimik’s Navajo friends, the Jacksons, who reside here in Monument Valley. By opening the film with Native Americans who are obviously modern – and who don’t conform to the stereotypes of Indians, played by white people in redface for the films of John Ford, that made this landscape famous – Tahimik playfully portrays the problematic caste system that is both whitewashed and mythologised by American Westerns. Moreover, by emphasising the fact that these First Nations people live in a “land of not-so-plenty” tucked inside a wealthy “First-World” nation, Tahimik proclaims his film to be a work of “Third World” and “First-Nations” solidarity. The subsequent title card, which features a painting of Indigenous Filipinos and the declaration “Third World Projector Presents…” drives this point home. At different points throughout the film, we revisit the Jacksons of Monument Valley. In one of these visits, papa Jackson saddles his horse and then, cryptically, drives off in his pickup, his trusty mount trotting behind. Soon we learn that this is how they travel to John Ford point, the magnificent picture spot where Jackson mounts his steed to pose for tourists. In this scenario, Kidlat’s camera records the real life (and anti-stereotypical) ways that the Jacksons exploit the unnatural resource of Native American stereotypes that Hollywood has fused to this landscape in the American cultural imagination.

Curiously, Kidlat’s trajectory rhymes with that of the Philippines’ national hero José Rizal, the polymath ophthalmologist whose novel Noli Me Tángere (1887) is credited as the first articulation of Filipino nationalism. Like Tahimik, Rizal left the Philippines to study and work abroad (in Spain, France and Germany), where he became more acutely conscious of Spanish abuses in the Philippines, and of the rights and freedoms enjoyed outside the colony. Like Kidlat in Monument Valley, Rizal also had a formative encounter with American Indians – albeit in Paris, in 1889, at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show: a spectacle that wrapped extraordinary horsemanship into a rough narrative about American cowboys ‘taming the West.’ But unlike white American spectators, who were likely to understand the show as an allegory of the ‘noble savage’ succumbing to a ‘superior race,’ Rizal and his comrades interpreted the show as a demonstration of Indigenous resistance to colonial oppression. Shortly after the show, Rizal and his expatriated Filipino friends started calling themselves “Los Indios Bravos,” in honor of the brave Indians who inspired them.15 After a few more years of agitation from abroad, Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1892, and continued to press for political reform. He was executed by the Spanish colonial government in 1896.

Like Rizal, Kidlat Tahimik is balikbayan – a person who has left the Philippines to work abroad, then eventually returns – a Filipino experience so common that it merits a label in Tagalog. Tahimik’s ongoing historical epic Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment (Redux III, 2015; Redux VI, 2017) focuses on the first alleged balikbayan: Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malacca, who many historians believe was the first person to successfully circumnavigate the globe. Exactly five-hundred years ago, in 1521, after traversing some ¾ of the globe, Magellan arrived at Mactan island in what’s now the Philippines, where his men were astonished to hear Enrique speaking the local language. In the ensuing encounter with the Mactan people, Magellan was killed by a poison-tipped arrow and Enrique – now a free man according to Magellan’s will – managed to stay on the island despite attempts by the new captain to force him back onto the ship and re-enslave him. Since he spoke the local language, historians believe Enrique was from a neighboring island, and that he likely traveled home thereafter, thus completing the world’s first circumnavigation. While historical accounts of their voyage focus on Magellan and scarcely mention his slave/valet/translator, Tahimik chooses instead to center – and play the part of – Enrique. Historically-informed, Balikbayan #1 is speculative and revisionist history. Beyond that, like Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?, Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment transcends categorical boundaries: it’s both epic and personal, diaristic and historical as it slips between registers to tell Enrique’s story and Kidlat’s, as well as the story of its own making.

Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment

A common thread and recurrent obsession in Tahimik’s films is that of travel and the vessels that propel voyagers: galleons, rockets, jeepneys and vehicles of all kinds. Indeed, his 1989 manifesto Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking makes explicit his oeuvre’s relationship to different modes of travel, and to their varying philosophical/economic implications. There Kidlat declares:

Making a film is like taking a long trip. The film voyager can load up with a full tank and bring a credit card along to insure completion of the voyage in as short a time as possible. The voyager can also load up with a few cups of gasoline and drive until he runs out and scrounge around for subsequent cups of gas to get to his destination, without worrying about how long it takes to complete the voyage.16

Tahimik’s films have consistently hewn to the “cups-of-gas filmmaking” mode of production, which makes for some extremely long production times. Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? was made over fifteen-odd years, and during the course of the film we see his young son Kidlat grow into adulthood – like a more experimental, personal, collaborative, and political version of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014). Kidlat’s short film Memories of Overdevelopment (1980) has grown and morphed into many different versions of Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment: Redux VI came out in 2017, and he’ll likely release another (final?) version this year to mark the 500th anniversary of Enrique’s voyage, which would make for a 40-some year production cycle. Early on, Tahimik nearly missed converting Memories of Overdevelopment into a “full tank” production fueled by Francis Ford Coppola’s proverbial credit card. Coppola wanted to help finish the film, but the letter he sent to Tahimik in 1983 never arrived. Nevertheless, Kidlat claims to have no regrets, because if Coppola had invested perhaps – as per Tahimik’s manifesto – “the real director of the film [would be] the comparative cost of capital in time deposit,” and therefore filming schedules would have been “dictated by the laws of the investment world, where films are mainly a consumer product to be served like McDonald’s hamburgers.”17 On the other hand, since he has been able to let “time be his ally,” Kidlat affirms that “the film becomes an interaction between me and the cosmos, because I have escaped the straitjacket of FTC [Full Tank-cum-Credit Card] fillmaking.”

The distinction Tahimik draws between “Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking” seems all the more relevant today. In a cinematic landscape that’s been supercharged by cash-flush streaming services, “FTC fillmaking” reads as a synonym for “content” commissioned by the major “content providers.” As slick and entertaining as this torrent of programs may be, this system will never produce films like Tahimik’s. His cups-of-gas films are more personal, philosophical and critical than anything produced by Netflix and their ilk, and the laughter Tahimik’s films summon in my belly, the joy they conjure in my head and my heart, provide deeper pleasures because somehow – even when fanciful – they feel more true. Case in point: last Summer, as both the COVID-19 pandemic and economic inequality surged around the globe, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos rode their inflated net-worths into space. Rewatching Who Invented the Yo-yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? in the shadow of their ego-fueled orbits was, at once, an extraordinary sendup of the system that creates and enables narcissistic billionaires, and a poetic meditation on the desire to travel into the unknown. At one point in the film, frustrated in his attempt to engineer (or rather, to jury-rig) a personal spacecraft, Kidlat is encouraged by the Weeping Madonna, “You’re on the right track, Kidlat. Just the way you play yo-yo. Simple, concentrated, but playful.” Her prescription, which reads as a mission statement for the filmmaker as much as advice to the protagonist, inspires Kidlat to ditch the electronic communications system and crucially lighten his load. “I have trimmed down the weight to the barest essentials: space vehicle, astronaut, yoyo, egg.” 18 Finally able to take off successfully, Kidlat must now rely on an ancestral communication system to announce his successful landing: the children who supported the mission look up at the moon, cup their hands to their ears, and tune in to our hero’s distant yodel.

Filmography

Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare, 1977)
Sinong Lumikha ng Yoyo? Sinong Lumikha ng Moon Buggy? (Who Created the Yoyo? Who Created the Moon Buggy?, 1979)
Ang Balikbayan (Memories of Overdevelopment, 1980)
Olympic Gold (1981)
Yanki: Made in Hongkong (1982)
Turumba (1983)
Takedera Mon Amour: Diary of a Bamboo Connection (1989)
Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? (Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?, aka I Am Furious… Yellow, 1989 and 1994)
Orbit 50: Letters to My 3 Sons (1992)
Our Bomb Mission to Hiroshima (1995)
Celebrating the Year 2021, Today (1995)
Bahag Ko, Mahal Ko (Japanese Summers of a Filipino Fundoshi, 1996)
Banal-Kahoy (Holy Wood, 2000)
Aqua Planet (2003)
Some More Rice (2005)
Our Film-grimage to Guimaras (2006)
BUBONG! (Roofs of the World! Unite!, 2006)
BalikBayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment (Redux III, 2015; Redux VI, 2017)

Bibliography

Aaron Cutler, “The Duwende’s Call: An Interview With Kidlat Tahimik,” Essay Film Festival (2015)

Adam Cook and Daniel Kasman, Circumnavigating Cinema: Kidlat Tahimik’s Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III, Cinema Scope, Issue 62 (March 2015)

Aily Nash, “Kidlat Tahimik by Aily Nash,” in Speaking Directly: Oral Histories of the Moving Image, Federico Windhausen, ed (San Francisco Cinematheque, 2013) p. 74 – 88

Catherine Russell, “Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self,” in Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999)

Christopher Johnson, “Bricoleur and Bricolage: From Metaphor to Universal Concept,” Paragraph, Vol. 35, No. 3 (November 2012) p. 355 – 372

Christopher Pavsek, The Utopia of Film: Cinema and its Futures in Godard, Kluge, and Tahimik (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013)

Christopher Small, “‘That’s Thirty Years of Footage I’ve Accumulated’: Kidlat Tahimik on BalikBayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment and His Pioneering Career in the Philippines,” Filmmaker Magazine (April 16, 2019)

Craig Geoffrey Scharlin, “A Filmmaker and His Film,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1980) p. 30-32

Daniel Immerwhar, How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States (Vintage Digital: 2020)

Dodo Dayao, Khavn de la Cruz and Mabie Alagbate, eds, Philippine New Wave: This is Not a Film Movement (Quezon: Noel D. Ferrer, MovFest, & Instamatic Writings, 2010)

Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992)

Joanna Konczak, “Film review: The Perfumed Nightmare (1977) by Kidlat Tahimik,” Asian Movie Pulse (February 18, 2019)

Kidlat Tahimik, “Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking,” Discourse, Vol. 11, No. 2, (Un)Naming Cultures (Spring-Summer 1989): p. 80-86

Kidlat Tahimik, “Memories of an Inner Flame Traversing Tierra del Fuego,” Senses of Cinema, Issue 98 (May 2021)

Kidlat Tahimik, Stephen Teo, Serge Daney, Manop Udomdej and eight others, “The Asian Filmmakers at Yamagata YIDFF Manifesto,” Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology, Scott MacKenzie, ed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014) p. 469 – 470.

Murtaza Vali, LIGHTNING STRIKES: Murtaza Vali on the art of Kidlat Tahimik, Artforum, (November 2019)

Patrick F. Campos, “Kidlat Tahimik and the Determination of a Native Filmmaker,” Kritika Kultura, Vol. 25, No. 081 (2015)

Rainbow Album [Niji no Arubamu], Tokyo: Cinematrix, 1994.

Robert Silberman, “Was Tolstoy Right? Family Life and the Philippine Cinema,” East-West Film Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (December 1989)

Roland B. Tolentino, “Jameson and Kidlat Tahimik,” Philippine Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (First Quarter 1996) p.113-125

Sharon Delmondo, The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004)

Stephen Hong Sohn, “Los Indios Bravos: The Filipino / American Lyric and the Cosmopoetics of Comparative Indigeneity,” American Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 3 (September 2010)

Tendai John Motambu, “I AM FURIOUS YELLOW: on Kidlat Tahimik’s Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? (1994),” Spike Island (2020)

The Perfumed Nightmare,” Kidlat Tahimik (2016)

Tilman Baumgärtel, ed, KINO SINE: Philippine-German Cinema Relations (Manila: Goethe-Institut, 2007)

Tobias Hering and Tilman Baumgärtel, “‘You’re so different, but you’re exactly alike.’ Interview with Katrin de Guia,” Plaridel, Vol. 16 No. 1 (January – June 2019

Endnotes

  1. While this moniker is often repeated by critics and journalists outside of the Philippines, the filmmaker himself has declared “Kidlat Tahimik is a tatay (father) and a filmmaker – in that order!” While Tahimik is referring specifically to his biological children – who are often his accomplices and collaborators – Filipino filmmaker Miko Revereza reports that artists and independent filmmakers across the Philippines also call Tahimik “tatay,” the Tagalog word for “dad.” This is because, for decades, Kidlat has supported the arts, artisans, and independent filmmaking in his home city of Baguio and beyond. He founded the Sunflower Film and Video Collective to help the Ifugao community preserve and document their own culture from an Indigenous perspective. Tahimik also teaches at the University of the Philippines, and he gives a biannual Bamboo Camera Award to a Filipino filmmaker who makes films that “speak from (their) duwende… not just the usual blockbuster formula.”
  2. The Perfumed Nightmare,” Kidlat Tahimik, 2016
  3. In a 2019 interview, Kidlat’s wife Katrin de Guia declared that those 10 000 deutschmarks were paid by Werner Herzog to Tahimik for his Jeepney, which was in Europe because Kidlat had convinced the Philippines’ Olympic delegation to import it so he could drive the team around in an ostentatiously Filipino vehicle at the Munich 1972 Summer Olympics. She also describes how the budget included a few seashell lamps Kidlat’s mother had sent from the Philippines, which were given to the bewildered owner of a Munich film studio in exchange for editing room time. See Tobias Hering and Tilman Baumgärtel, “You’re so different, but you’re exactly alike.” Interview with Katrin de Guia. Plaridel: Vol. 16 No. 1, January – June 2019. Since at least 1980, American writers have asserted that the budget was $10 000USD rather than 10 000 deutschmarks, but I could find no source for this figure so I choose to cite Katrin De Guia. See Craig Geoffrey Scharlin, “A Filmmaker and His Film,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Issue 12: 3 (1980) p. 31.
  4. Christopher Small, “‘That’s Thirty Years of Footage I’ve Accumulated’: Kidlat Tahimik on BalikBayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment and His Pioneering Career in the Philippines,” Filmmaker Magazine (April 16, 2019)
  5. Gene Youngblood, quoted in “Perfumed Nightmare,” Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre
  6. Quoted in Joanna Konczak, “Film review: The Perfumed Nightmare (1977) by Kidlat Tahimik,” Asian Movie Pulse (February 18, 2019)
  7. Although now démodé due to its implied hierarchy, the term “Third World” is the one preferred by Tahimik in his films and written manifestos, though its meaning has shifted over time. When it emerged, “Third World” countries described themselves as such in order to remain neutral in relation to the “First World,” capitalist, NATO-aligned countries of the West, and the “Second World” Communist countries aligned with the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the term “Third World” has come to imply countries and regions that are “developing” economically or industrially (in comparison to the highly “developed” “First World” economies of Western Europe, the U.S., Japan, etc.). Though geographically imprecise, the terms “Global South” and “Global North” are now preferred by some over “Third World” since they don’t imply relative value or hierarchy to countries in either group. In this article I tend to use Tahimik’s formulation since I quote him directly, and because it has particular political, historical and cultural associations: i.e. with the “Third Cinema” movement, to which Tahimik’s films are often compared.
  8. My translation from Lévi-Strauss’s formulation “rien d’autre sous la main,” quoted by Christopher Johnson in his article “Bricoleur and Bricolage: From Metaphor to Universal Concept.” Paragraph, November 2012, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp 361.
  9. Ibid, 364.
  10. Daniel Immerwhar incisively describes this “trilemma. Republicanism, white supremacy, and overseas expansion – the (U.S.A) could have at most two. In the past, republicanism and white supremacy had been jointly maintained by carefully shaping the country’s borders. But absorbing populous nonwhite colonies (i.e. the Philippines) could wreck all that.” Daniel Immerwhar, How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States (Vintage Digital: 2020) p. 515
  11. At 421 square kilometers (261 square miles), the Subic Bay base was nearly the size of Singapore. For the record, the U.S. still has a significant military presence in the Philippines.
  12. Aaron Cutler, “The Duwende’s Call: an interview with Kidlat Tahimik.” Essay Film Festival, 2015. See also: Wonder, Wander – #2: Meandering, Uncertain, Predestined. A conversation between Kidlat Tahimik and Jordanian curator Noura Al Khasawneh.
  13. This account is from Kidlat’s wife Katrin de Guia (Ibid: Hering and Baumgärtel), though these stories are corroborated by Campos and others. Katrin de Guia’s doctoral dissertation on the psychology of the Philippines focuses specifically on kapwa, and she has published a book by that title (Kapwa: The Self in the Other. Anvil Publishing, 2004). Together, Katrin de Guia and Kidlat Tahimik have organized conferences wherein “Indigenous people from other nations (gather) with local Indigenous people… to share experiences of preserving their cultures. We bring together academics who are interested in Indigenous psychology and tribal elders who are practicing Indigenous psychology without being aware of it; then, in between, are the culture-bearer artists, who are not only making art about Indigenous people, but who themselves still operate by that kind of shared self thinking.” (Tahimik quoted by Cutler)
  14. Winnebago has become synonymous with (and the genericised word for) motor home / RV, and indeed this one has the word painted across its side; but the name comes from the exonym applied to people of the Ho-Chunk nation, whose current tribal lands reside in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.
  15. Sharon Delmendo, The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines (Rutgers University Press, 2004).
  16. Kidlat Tahimik, “Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking,” Discourse, Spring-Summer 1989, Vol. 11, No. 2, (Un)Naming Cultures, p. 81.
  17. Quotations are from Kidlat Tahimik’s manifesto “Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking.” Discourse, Spring-Summer 1989, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 80-86. Tahimik’s assertion that he has no regrets is part of various published interviews, including this one where he adds that it made “for a more interesting film.”
  18. The yoyo represented POMP’s effort to advance the Philippines’ participation in the Space Race – Kidlat would be the first person to play yoyo on the moon. Moreover, Kidlat observes that the ancient Filipino technology of the yoyo is “only one step away” from the “sophisticated rotating gyroscopes” necessary for space travel. The egg was Kidlat’s (and his chicken Buan’s) compact solution to send the first chicken into space; Kidlat declares: “on the moon there will be no question which came first!”

About The Author

Charles Fairbanks is a filmmaker, wrestler, teacher and occasional writer. Originally from Nebraska (USA), he now lives with his daughter and a small pack of dogs in Oaxaca (Mexico). His latest films The Modern Jungle (2016) and (((((/*\))))) (2020) were co-directed with Saúl Kak, a Zoque artist and activist from Chiapas, Mexico.

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