10/16/2015

The heart is a lonely hunter

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There are only so many ways you can tell a story about heartbreak. The heart knows its cracks and bruises, no matter how its history is told. In the case of Petersen Vargas’ Lisyun qng Geografia, this bitter sting still clings in the memories of its two leads, Tib (Earl Policarpio) and Tric (Ross Pesigan), high school friends who have crossed, one unwillingly, the borders of their intimacy. The 20-minute short has grown legs on its own since debuting as Vargas’ thesis at the UP Film Institute last year. It has taken a surreal trip from to film festivals in Mindanao, Pampanga, Thailand, Mumbai, and finally, this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival, where it earned Vargas the Best Director award.

Vargas, only 23 years old, treats his inclusion in this year’s Cinemalaya as a homecoming of sorts, having trooped to the CCP in the previous years, religiously watching Cinemalaya films. Though Lisyun has made rounds of the aforementioned film festivals (it was even included in the ANI section of Cinemalaya in 2014), getting into the main slate of this year’s competition, which solely focused on short films, afforded Vargas to reach out a wider audience for his little labor of love.

Ang laking factor nung cinema because there are people who come up to you and say “Kwento ko din yan or ‘Naka-relate ako, thank you for making this’,” Vargas says.

Through Lisyun, Vargas has finally released hold to this particular memory, completing the process that has taken over him the moment his yearning turned into an exercise; committing his first heartbreak into something larger than itself and only faintly familiar.

The premiere would also be Vargas’ coming out of sort, at least to his family (who produced the film). Those close to him would recognize Tib and Tric’s story; its parallels to Vargas’ first broken heart, and the familiar territories in his hometown—places where he actually shot, adding to the gravity of the film’s weight.

“I was always afraid of how they would react to the film because it’s obvious that it’s about me. It would be rude of me if I didn’t invite them in the Cinemalaya premiere. During the Q&A the first question was, “What inspired you to make this film?” I was the last to answer so while the other directors on stage were giving their answers, I wasn’t paying attention to them. All I keep thinking was whether I should lie or tell them the truth. So I chose to come out.”

Vargas admits that his brand of filmmaking hews too close to his own history. Even the epigraph of Lisyun comes from someone he’s loved and lost. For him, just like the films of his influences John Torres, Raya Martin, and Whammy Alcazaren, cinema is a medium of remembrance, exposing little truths and blowing the up for the world to see.

“I knew how deliberately personal the process of filmmaking could really become for you,” he says. “Right now, I could say that everything I’ve worked on, and will continue to make in the future, will be stories that come from my own experience. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of reinventing your own truths and shaping them into something else entirely.”

The strings that tie his filmic memories is music, just like any other lovelorn twenty-year old. Lisyun’s soundtrack was a willful effort to tailor the songs to the personalities of its characters. The tracks, written and performed by Ourselves the Elves, are like ghosts, carrying remembrances and tracing the footsteps. They speak on behalf of Tib and Tric, filling in the gaps left by their eventual dissolution, and at the same time, hinting at their possible reconnection.

Through Lisyun, Vargas has finally released hold to this particular memory, completing the process that has taken over him the moment his yearning turned into an exercise; committing his first heartbreak into something larger than itself and only faintly familiar.

“I still remember the first time I showed Lisyun during the Likha Adarna showcase at the UP Cine Adarna, feeling an odd detachment from it, and towards the end, became just some sort of relief. I made the film, as I’ve already told people a bunch of times, only for closure. But when I’ve seen how more and more people react to it, especially the way my story seemed to have been also the story of many of its audiences, that I realized there was more to it than just being a personal expression of one of my deepest, most complex regrets in life.”

The Geography Lessons (Lisyun qng Geografia) EP/DVD is now available at ourselvestheelves.bandcamp.com

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