Celebrated filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik’s film Balikbayan #1 (Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III) premiered in the International Forum of New Cinema section and won the Caligari Prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival that took place February 5-15, 2015.
Sponsored by the German Federal Association of Communal Film Work and filmdienst magazine, the Caligari Film Prize was awarded to Balikbayan #1 by a jury composed of Michael Baute, Maximilian Becker, Barbara Fischer-Rittmeyer, Nils Daniel Peiler, and Dr. Margarete Wach.
This was not director Kidlat’s first time to premiere at the Berlinale, however. Thirty-eight years ago, in 1977, his groundbreaking independent film Perfumed Nightmare also premiered in the Forum section and won the Fipresci Prize, which indicates the best film of the section and is awarded by the international film critics association. Winning the Fipresci Prize at Berlin that year ushered the fiercely original filmmaker into the international cinema community. His return to the Forum section with Balikbayan #1 after three decades demonstrates his commitment to his weltanschaung (comprehensive worldview).
Balikbayan #1 tells the story of Enrique of Malacca. As Magellan’s slave, he used his linguistic and navigational skills to guide the explorer on his quest to travel the circumference of the world. However, Magellan died on the way, falling short of achieving his goal.
Enrique, at last a free man, returned home and completed the voyage, thus becoming the first man to circumnavigate the globe. His story is paralleled by a present-day character trying to discover who Enrique of Malacca was upon the discovery of film rolls dug up from the ground. The film explores the themes of rebirth, memory, cultural heritage, and cinema itself.
Kidlat Tahimik started shooting Balikbayan #1 in 1979, taking thirty-five years to complete the film. According to the director, “The filming itself was a story to be lived out.” He used various cameras, from 16mm Bolex, Video8, to the most recent digital technologies, making Enrique’s journey through the time-lapse visual corridor even more compelling.
The director showed his latest opus to a diverse audience of European film enthusiasts and even excited Filipino fans, as they witnessed his return to the Forum screening at the Delphi Film Palast Theater on February 10, 2015. Joining him were his wife, Katrin De Guia, whom he cited as his inspiration and biggest critic, as well as his first son, Kidlat Jr., and his second son, Kawayan, who had a major part in the film.
After the screening, in true Kidlat Tahimik fashion, the director performed a satirical skit, and then finally performed his adopted native ritual dance. He reminded the audience and future filmmakers to embrace their heritage and express it in their own distinct styles.
Meanwhile, outside the cinema the director likewise arranged a mini-installation of props and ethnic objects that resonated with the story told in Balikbayan #1 composed of wooden figures, cloths, and arrangements that amplified his life among the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras.
"This film may be my swan song," the filmmaker said toward the end of the discussion. But if it is indeed his last, then he hopes it may be a calling for Filipino cinema and a new movement toward making films with stories that are truly Filipino.
Film Development Council of the Philippines Chairman Santos was present during the premiere, expressing, “Kidlat is a true lebenskünstler (‘life artist’). The Philippines is most proud and happy with his comeback to Berlin after all these years.”