CEBUANA filmmaker Joanna Vasquez Arong’s short documentary film on the harrowing effects of the 2013 Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda on the residents of Tacloban City in Leyte and Guian, Samar won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary short at the recently concluded Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The Slamdance Film Festival is a 25-year-old festival focused on emerging artists and low-budget independent films. Its feature competition is limited to films made by first-time directors with budgets under $1 million and without US distribution. It is held at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
Titled Ang Papakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside), the festival described the documetnary as a “contemplative film that ponders the effects a typhoon leaves on a small town where myths are woven to help cope with the devastation and trauma.”
According to other media reports, the award qualifies Ms. Arong’s film for consideration in the Academy Awards’ best documentary (short subject) category next year.
The 19-minute film was created by Ms. Arong as a “reflective essay pondering on trauma that’s passed on from both family schisms as well as from calamities. How does one heal from personal trauma and how does a community cope and likewise heal from collective trauma,” according to an interview she gave with Slamdance.
“After spending weeks line producing on a film production on the devastation super typhoon Haiyan wreaked around the Philippines in 2013-2014, I felt there was another layer to the stories which hadn’t been shared yet. 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 towards the government response to their plight,” she explained, before adding that since she’s from a neighboring island, she felt “it was not my story to tell” and thus approached the documentary as a personal film essay.
The film festival, which ran from Jan. 24 to 30, gave its top award, the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize, to Murmur by Canadian filmmaker Heather Young. The film is about an older woman who compulsively adopts her loneliness. The had previously won the Fipresci Discovery Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Ms. Arong has directed four other shorts/documentaries, starting with Neo-Lounge in 2007, which IMDB describes as “a look at an eclectic international group of people who gather at a hip Beijing nightclub.” The film won Best Documentary at the 2007 Brussels International Independent Film Festival. She also won a Gawad Urian award for Best Documentary for 2010’s Sunday School. — ZBC