I believe you can get me through the night
Well, that is a pretty nice opening shot, right?
This is a community of T’boli. We get a small introduction to the village, its people, and their way of life.
Young K’na, daughter of the village chieftan, leaves her friends and goes into the house where a bunch of women are weaving. Her mother scolds her for stepping over the t’nalak loom despite being told not to do that. She tells K’na to go over to her grandmother, Be Lamfey.
Be Lamfey shows K’na some leaves. K’na asks why only her grandmother can see the patterns. Be Lamfey tells that they were given by Fu Dalu, the goddess of abaca. Be Lamfey says that maybe K’na will be a dreamweaver like her one day. K’na says that she would like that, but how would that happen? Well, she will need to have a strong back to bear the weight of the loom, a sharp eye for detail, nimble fingers to tie knots in the fabric, and k’na…dreams. Her name is Dream? Well, okay, then.
So, K’na helps her mother and grandmother weave. Or, at least she is learning.
K’na’s mother is in labor, and K’na goes to see. Her mother is in intense pain, but that is to be expected, right? But she is screaming a lot…a lot…until she stops.
Mother and baby are dead.
A group of villagers, including K’na’s father, the village chieftain, send the bodies out on the water. Where they go is not shown.
K’na meets with her grandmother, who tells her that she had dreamt that she was riding through the sky on a great eagle. K’na looks off in the distance, which Be Lamfey as her not paying attention. K’na tells her that she was, but she wishes that she could see the wings.
While they are weaving, Be Lamfey assures her granddaughter that Fu Dalu will grant her dreams soon enough. In the meantime, they will need to get more abaca from Fya Notun for the new design. And only her finest fibers this time.
K’na goes to see Silaw, Fya Notun’s son, who is prepping some abaca fibers. She tells him that Be Lamfey needs some, the best. He tells her that there is some drying in the field and that it will be ready later on. I cannot be certain, but there appears to be some mild flirting between them.
Sure enough, the abaca is ready when K’na returns. Silaw notes that she did not check that they were high quality. She says that she is sure they are, but he…uh…invites her to check, just in case Be Lamfey is unsatisfied, of course. Well, that is good enough an excuse to stick around. She tells him about Be Lamfey’s dream of flying on an eagle. He asks whether K’na has had her own dreams. Not yet. Silaw says that she will become their youngest dreamwever…and the most beautiful. After a little bit more chit chat, she leaves having barely examined the abaca.
K’na wakes up to find some abaca fibers tied to a plant outside. She takes it and…what is the significance of this is? Did Silaw visit her while she was asleep?
That evening, K’na is walking through the village greeting people when someone throws something into the fire at the kiln house, causing an explosion and sending everyone running.
Once things have settled, K’na’s father, the chieftain, goes to inspect the damage. Apparently, someone threw an explosive into the fire. People saw the suspects flee northwards.
K’na was slightly bruised in the chaos. It is not bad, so Be Lamfey can tend to it pretty easily. K’na wonders what happened. Her grandmother says that it must be troublemakers from the north. K’na asks why, but Be Lamfey tells her that it has to wait for another time. In the meantime…what was that abaca doing in her hair? K’na drifts off to sleep as her grandmother brushes her hair and sings. When she wakes up, she sees another strand of abaca outside. This time, it is tied around a flute.
K’na is getting frustrated trying to weave. Be Lamfey tells her that she has to go slowly, being mindful of both the parts and the whole of the piece. I am not sure if her advice helps, but K’na keeps soldiering on.
Evening comes and so does a story from the elders. A long time ago, the people of the north and south lived together. At some point, maidens from the village began disappearing. It was believed that they were eloping with men from neighboring villages, but it was eventually discovered that a huge snake called sowu had been responsible. The villagers killed the snake and the problem was solved. The story now over, a few of the boys start play acting battle by the fire.
Meanwhile, the chieftain and his advisors consider what to do. They pretty much confirm that the northerners caused the explosion. The advisors all seem to favor retaliation, but the chief is not so bloodthirsty. Sure, they can strike back, but are they ready for what happens after that? After all, the northerners have three times as many men as this village. That doesn’t seem that difficult, as this village seems to have at most thirty people. The advisors insist that the courage of the men in this village is ten times theirs. Still, the chieftain is not willing to risk war based on an ancient feud from before any of them were born. At the very least, he orders patience.
Be Lamfey approaches K’na as she is playing the flute, telling her that their ancestors used to play the flute to call back the hiding new moon. K’na says that she has heard talk of war with the north. I guess now is a time for K’na to hear the story. Be Lamfey was only a baby at the time. No one remembers what happened and she knows it only because her own mother told her the stories.
Hanyas, the youngest sister of Be Lamfey’s mother, was the only dreamweaver that the village had for years and her t’nalak was the sought after from villages all around. Because of this, Hanyas was arranged to be the chieftain’s fifth wife. But she was already in love with another man. So, the two eloped before her wedding and fled toward the south bank. In anger, the chieftain banished Be Lamfey’s family and its supporters from the village. They headed south as well, but never saw Hanyas or her lover again. And until Fu Dalu visted Be Lamfey almost a decade later, that exiled community had no dreams or dreamweavers.
And up the tree sneaks Silaw, thinking he’s so slick tying the abaca to a branch. Be Lamfey sees him, of course, but does nothing.
The days pass and K’na gets to weaving without aid from her grandmother, who is getting more and more frail. When she is not working…and sometimes when she is working…she hangs out with Silaw.
K’na and Silaw are in the abaca-drying field, playfully arguing over the significance of the different colors. Suddenly it starts raining, so the two try to take down as much abaca as they can. It is not enough, but whatever.
Then Silaw says it. He loves her. He says it again. A third time. K’na says it back. She laughs as Silaw screams with joy to the storming heavens.
K’na returns home that evening to find her grandmother about to die. K’na begs her to live, saying that she has so much to learn. Be Lamfey tells her to just keep dreaming; that the design is there even if she cannot see it yet. She repeats that over and over.
That night, K’na dreams that she walks across the water to see her mother and grandmother as they show her a waterfall.
K’na smiles as she wakes up. Fu Dalu has contacted her. That happiness is short-lived, as she runs outside to see her father holding her grandmother. She has died. Now K’na must be the dreamweaver.
This film is made by journalist Ida Anita Del Mundo, who comes from a family of filmmakers and artists. She, herself had not intended to make movies until she met a community of T’boli people of South Cotabato in Southern Mindanao, who lived a lifestyle that was not quite as modernized as some of their counterparts elsewhere. Del Mundo was moved to tell their story beyond writing an article. And, two years later came this movie. I am not entirely sure when the movie is supposed to take place, but I am guessing at a time before the “lowlanders” came to encroach upon their land and introduce more mainstream Philippine cultural norms.
How accurate was the movie’s depiction of the T’boli? I have no idea. I do know that the lead, Mara Lopez, is ethnically half-Japanese and, like Del Mundo, was born in the United States. Still, Del Mundo was fully aware of her status as an outsider, and took pains to represent the people as authentically as possible. And…there is no way that I can judge as I have no clue. I did do some reading up afterwards, but it is hard to get a feel from those articles or videos. The movie did make it seem that dreamweaving was something specific to K’na and her grandmother when one article that I read said that it was something expected of all women. I don’t know which is right. The film does seem to kind of downplay the social structure or hierarchies, but there are little hints of it.
Still, one thing that I like about the movie is its presentation of this world. A lot of the movie is just shots of the villagers going about their day along with nice footage of the natural surroundings. Some things are explained, other things not. You do not necessarily need to understand every single thing that they do, but at least get the impression of what they do. It is a fairly simple film in that respect. Short as it is, it also takes its time to just make the viewer comfortable with the characters and their lives. They are not representatives of the culture. They are not people audience surrogates. They are just people and this is their life.
There is a plot, of course, and it goes in a direction that I had not really expected. But aside from hints, the story does not really get going until over the halfway point. And while I may have liked for there to be a little more time spent on that story, it was not the centerpiece of the movie. It does just enough to throw a wrench into what could have simply been tranquil romanticization of a culture prior to it getting tainted by modernity. And since the characters are portrayed as people, it is not simply asking how the culture responds to this issue or asking you how you would. It just shows how these specific people respond and what the consequences are. The movie tries not to judge them for what they do. You don’t have to agree, but you can maybe understand.
There are some faults in the movie. Del Mundo may have had connections in the film industry, but she was not herself a film creator. She seemed to be concerned with making sure the film depicted the people and their way of life as accurately as possible. Perhaps it did, perhaps not, but other matters may have fallen by the wayside. The story, while not slight, does seem like it could have been expanded upon, especially with the various time jumps. The movie was certainly not in any danger of running too long. The acting can be a bit stilted, which may have been due to some of the actors not being fully comfortable with the language of the T’boli. There is also an action sequence that…eh…probably could have been cut down. The budget of this movie did not go to fight choreography or stunts. Still, if the movie’s reach exceeded its grasp, it at least shows that its heart was not going to be restrained by its pocketbook.
If you have 90 minutes, this is a lovely movie into which you can absorb yourself and get lost.
WTF ASIA 224: Snow Trail (Japan: 1947, approx. 89 minutes)
WTF ASIA 225: Lobster Cop (China: 2018, approx. 93 minutes)