02/27/2015

Last night I dreamt of the city

by  Apa Agbayani
Photo by JL Javier
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Filmmakers Lyka Gonzalez and Yumi Catabijan are different kinds of dreamers.

Lyka considers every question carefully then offers a thoughtful, deliberate response. Yumi runs with her first thought and develops a compelling answer from there.

“I think Lyka’s the more relaxed one; I’m the type to get really anxious, fast,” Yumi says of their dynamic. What the two share, however, is a love of storytelling and the drive to share a story with the world.

The Ateneo de Manila University AB Communication seniors’ thesis film Agos: The Manila Dream was recently accepted into the Cannes Court Métrage Short Film Corner, the French festival’s program for short film producers and directors to screen and distribute their work.photo-4

City illusions

The film, written by Yumi and directed by Lyka, is a fantastical exploration of the enigma of the city.

Agos begins with Nina, a young girl from the province, asking her mother why she never moved to the city. The mother tells Nina a story of the city as she envisions it — a place of both beauty and terror.

We see the city through Nina’s eyes. In breathtaking scenes of a girl navigating Manila, Lyka and Yumi offer a portrait of the city as a place that’s beguiling but ultimately lonely.

“Basically, it’s how people not from the city come to see the city as a fantastical place where their dreams come true,” Yumi explains.

“People seem so enamored of their vision of a city,” Lyka adds. “But when we’re in the city, it’s so exhausting and it’s not a livable place.”

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“Sh*t, Cannes!”

What’s it like to find out your film is playing at Cannes?

“That night, I was crying,” Lyka says. She laughs about it now, but at the time, she refused to believe they had made it. Yumi shows me the text conversation where she told Lyka in all caps that they “R IN THE CANNES SHIRT FILM CORNER.”

Making a film is one thing. Now, Lyka and Yumi face the challenge of screening Agos at the festival and marketing it to producers. It’s a learning process, but Cannes is a great place to start.

Having attended the festival in 2014, Yumi seems ready to return — this time as a Short Film Corner participant. “I feel so legit! Ganoon ‘yung feeling na, ‘Sh*t, Cannes!’”

“What I saw in Cannes is everybody’s welcoming… It’s a melting pot where you can actually go talk to producers. There’s an opportunity to sell your film (and) show your talent.”

If everything goes as planned, they’re set to take Agos to more festivals. And, if they manage to finance the project, they hope to expand it to a feature-length film.

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Dream team

One of the biggest challenges filmmakers face, Lyka observes, is not only dealing with financial constraints, but also having faith in one’s work. “I think (you) have to believe so much in what you’re doing that you don’t get swayed about these practical considerations.”

“I think that’s what brought us to Cannes,” she says. “Yumi believed it so much, that we could actually get accepted.”

Lyka and Yumi are different kinds of dreamers and Agos is the fruit of their dreaming.

It’s only with Yumi’s brave vision and Lyka’s deft hand that they could have made a film like it — one that doesn’t try to strip the city of its mystery, but instead immerses you in its strangeness and leaves you with more questions than answers.

And, after all, isn’t that what dreams do?

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