By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Nov 21, 2020
Shorts: Temporal Fragments program
Joanna Vasquez Arong’s short To Calm the Pig Inside is making waves worldwide. The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam Festival (IDFA) features documentaries that move the viewer. To see her work travel from the Los Angeles Asia Pacific Film Festival to this event’s official selection is not only a big step towards recognition but also in showing to the world how survivors from 2013’s Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) attempt to reconcile with nature when it razed through the Philippines. Life is not easy in this country, which also has several active volcanoes!
The enormous devastation wrought upon Tacloban City left many people homeless and hopeless. The frustration only grew since the corrupt government wasn’t any help. This Filipino filmmaker lived nearby but delivers the content as though she was a local. The many photographs, artwork, news footage and clips used tell a very emotional tale of how difficult life became. The stories she collected showed not everyone is brave enough to stare back at the returning gaze of a tiger.
Viewers are presented first with a happy thought, but it gets sadder in later acts. The tales told are layered in various levels of meaning and recognizable forms. Some are told according to folklore–regarding “how Serge was courting her [the weather] in Samar but followed to Tacloban, where they reconciled and joined forces”–and others more allegorical, according to Catholic traditions. I found this introduction refers to how locals say they are used to the monsoon season. Feelings shift, and the hope their patron saint San Antonio represents is just that.
But it’s the haunting quality of her stories that give this documentary that edge. Juxtaposed with the tales about ghosts are also images and crayon drawings from children. The visuals are very striking, but I still wonder which is more scarier–picking up a hitchhiker who is a ghost or realizing that unless those outdoor warning sirens go off, will everyone survive the next time Nature very loudly roars.
There’s little things we can learn from this meditative work, and it’s certainly worth the examination.