Cebuana’s docu wins in Slamdance film fest

By: Ruben Nepales - Philippine Daily Inquirer February 02,2020 - 09:50 AM

‘HEARTBREAKING AND BEAUTIFUL’ A scene from “To Calm the Pig Inside (Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos),” Joanna Vasquez Arong’ s film on the impact of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013. The film won the documentary short grand jury prize at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. | Veejay Villafranca 

LOS ANGELES — “To Calm the Pig Inside (Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos),” director Joanna Vasquez Arong’s cinematic contemplation on the effects of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) on Tacloban City and the municipality of Guiuan and their residents, won the documentary short grand jury prize on Thursday in the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Slamdance, which was started in 1995 and coincides with the Sundance Film Festival, also in Park City, spotlights emerging artists and low-budget independent films.

The jury, in honoring Arong’s film which she wrote, directed and produced after spending time in postcalamity areas in the Philippines, wrote in its letter to the Filipina filmmaker, “This is an unknown story that is both heartbreaking and beautiful, weaving history, politics and personal narrative.”

The letter informed Arong, who was born and raised in Cebu, that the award qualifies “To Calm the Pig Inside” for consideration in the Academy Awards’ best documentary (short subject) category next year.

Arong, who started her filmmaking career in Beijing, debuted her first feature documentary, “Neo-Lounge,” in 2007.

“Neo-Lounge” recounted intimate stories of foreigners who went to Beijing searching to break from their past. The documentary won several awards in various festivals.

Arong’s next two films, “The Old Fool Who Moved the Mountains” and “Sunday School” (which was filmed in Zambia), also earned accolades in various film festivals.

She also created film installations for galleries and museums in Cebu, Manila, Chicago and the city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico.

‘The common person’

The filmmaker posed for photographers in Park City with her Sparky, the trophy given by Slamdance to its winners.

“It’s been quite a long journey in finally sharing this film with the world — I was just so happy to have this film accepted in the festival,” she told the Inquirer.

She added, “Initially, I didn’t even know it was in competition. And soon after the festival director, Alina Solodnikova, confirmed it was in competition, I ended up missing all of the deadlines for the deliverables to the festival, as I kept getting stuck at the dock or at the airport, first due to Typhoon ‘Ursula’ and then the eruption of Taal.

“Seeing the destruction in Boracay Island a couple days after the typhoon struck there brought back memories [of] seeing the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda on Tacloban and Guiuan over six years ago. And then Taal erupted.

“At the festival, I was quite surprised to see how many people came up to talk to me about the film, and about the stories I share in the film. Many told me they now had a better understanding of how these calamities affect the common person.

“So when our film was announced [as a winner], it felt a bit surreal, but I felt grateful that the film also touched the jury as I read the letter they presented to me. With this win, I hope this will open more doors and the film will be seen and find its audience around the world.”


In her director’s statement about “To Calm the Pig Inside,” which is in Cebuano, Arong wrote, “The Philippines is vulnerable to natural disasters including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and typhoons. At least 20 typhoons pass through the country every year.”

Joanna Vasquez Arong

“Just at the end of 2019, a few islands known as tourist destinations were devastated by Typhoon Ursula, and the long dormant Taal Volcano close to Manila erupted at the beginning of 2020. In this context, it is frustrating to hear similar stories of continued suffering from mismanagement of these disasters.

“After spending weeks line-producing on a film production on the devastation Supertyphoon Haiyan wreaked around the Philippines in 2013-2014, I felt there was another layer to the stories which had not been shared. Locals recounted to me their reflections, disappointments, dreams and even the jokes they shared with each other in order to cope with the trauma. And through time, they continued to express their growing frustration toward the government response to their plight.

“At first, since I am from a neighboring island (Cebu), I thought it was not really my story to tell. I then decided to approach this story as a personal film essay, interweaving my own experience with the stories I heard from the community at large. ‘To Calm the Pig Inside’ became a contemplation on how people cope with both personal and collective pain.”

Arong plans to direct her first narrative feature, “The Sigbin” — named after a mythological creature known to be loyal to its master — which explores the relationship of an assassin and his daughter he only recently discovered.

The other winners in the 26th edition of Slamdance include Heather Young’s “Murmur,” which won the narrative feature grand jury prize; Merawi Gerima’s “Residue,” the audience award; and Hasan Oswald’s “Higher Love,” the documentary feature grand jury prize.

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TAGS: Cebuana, supertyphoon Yolanda, Tacloban City

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