Expect one of the entries in this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival to be a true ethnic experience.
K'na the Dreamweaver focuses on the arts and culture of the T'bolis situated in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. The movie features a supporting cast composed entirely of pure-blooded T'boli and, to complete the immersive experience, is done entirely in the T'boli's native language.
The story is about the young T'boli princess, K'na, a dreamweaver being given visions by the goddess of abaca. She is forced to choose between love and duty when an arranged marriage is required to bring peace to the warring clans of Lake Sebu.
K'na the Dreamweaver is a tender love story that showcases the T'boli culture and seeks to create a new Filipino legend. It is competing in the New Breed category of the 10th Cinemalaya Film Festival that will run from August 1-10.
The lovely Mara Lopez plays the eponymous princess. She had to make a few character adjustments for her role as the dreamweaver.
"For the mannerisms of playing a T'boli princess, I think it came naturally because I'm a princess naman talaga, e," she joked during a launching party held recently at Café Ysabel, San Juan City.
"I think that it was a challenging part for me because I'm very makulit, I'm very loud, I'm very talkative and everything. But the nice thing about my character is that she is different from everyone. So even if she is a princess, she is hardheaded... Hindi siya masamang tao but she knows what she wants and she will fight for it even if it's not normal for a princess."
K’na writer-director Ida Anita del Mundo had to make unforeseen adjustments herself with regards to the origins of the movie. It started last year when she visited the area for two weeks. It was her introduction to the T'boli culture and what started as a major inconvenience turned into a blessing in disguise.
Ida narrated: "We were stranded in a T'boli village. I went there as part of the media. We were suppose to hike to a cave and come back but unfortunately, we were stranded because of heavy rains... the nice thing about it is we were able to immerse ourselves in the culture. They started singing and dancing, there was no electricity at all... that's what inspired me to write the film."
To make the movie as authentic as possible, the cast members had to learn the T'boli dialect. Mara Lopez is no stranger to such as she had to speak Bicolano in less than a month for Debosyon, her Cinemalaya entry last year. The actress also speaks three languages, including Japanese as she is half-Japanese.
"During the auditions, I was required to learn some lines. Direk was amazed because I picked it up right away... for this naman, I had a few weeks to learn it. We had lots of meetings with language coaches, with direk also...all the cast was there. We just do lines. We had audio tapes. Marami talaga to learn the language... I really wanted it to be authentic."
Bembol Roco, who plays the North Chieftain of the opposing tribe, has a short comment. "It was a very wonderful challenge for us to learn the T'boli dialect. It was really difficult but doable and I hope that we did justice to our roles."
Learning to weave was also very important aspect as Mara Lopez is touted as the dreamweaver. Superstition was involved as Mara relates her experience. "They tried to teach me how to weave, just the basic ones because there were a lot of scenes where I had to do it pero sobrang hirap. And actually it's very sacred, the t'nalak cloth. Parang mayroon silang pamahiin na you can't play with it or do stuff with it or people get sick. So for me naman, luckily I didn't get sick, kasi I had to use the real thing."
Male lead actor RK Bagatsing, who plays K'na’s true love Silaw, also had a supernatural incident while shooting the film. He recalled, "These elders had to perform a ritual because they said at that time, they're experiencing some bad spirits while we were filming. We had to gather around, hold hands together and throw coins in the lake just to drive those bad spirits away."
SHOOTING IN SOUTH COTABATO. The crew spent about two weeks in the beautiful Lake Sebu and, in that time, any misconceptions the cast had about the T'boli were debunked.
Mara observed: "Most of the tribes now, they're modernized na. They don't live in a bahay kubo or anything. They live in proper houses and they have electricity now and they wear jeans and they wear clothes. But during wedding ceremonies, they kept the tradition.
"There's some tribes kasi that are secluded pa but the people we were working with in Lake Sebu naman, they were already modernized na so they can speak Tagalog, they have phones, they have Facebook and all that. Which is funny but you can really see the contrast between the older generation and the younger generation.
“Kasi when I was there, the older generation, parang palagi silang nakasuot ng traditional clothing but the younger ones are mostly in jeans, clothes like what I'm wearing. Very modern na."
Alex Medina, who plays northern heir Kagis, the third man in the love triangle, added: "Surprisingly, they were like how people are here in Manila... They're open minded about change kasi they've seen it before; dun sa mga younger generation nila is what they're seeing now. The kids are different. The older ones, they know that and they're open to that. .. They have TV, they have cellphones, they always take selfies. They're very modern. But that's the great thing about it, they still keep the tradition alive."