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A Closer Look at LAAPFF’s Spirited Away Program

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival - FilmFreewayBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Regal L.A. LIVE:
A Barco Innovation Center

1000 W Olympic Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90015

Sept 29, 2021
9:00 pm

Thematically, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s Spirited Away shorts program is an apt title to describe a set of works that deals with spirituality. It’s a topic few understand when they are about philosophies from smaller regional areas.

Udval Altangerel is a Mongolian filmmaker whose works explore anthropological subjects, and to introduce this group of films, she wrote for the program guide, “Guided by shamans and ancestral spirits, we traverse the line between the living and the dead, tradition and transformation, fiction and nonfiction.”

This unique set of eclectic works do more than define humanity’s relationship with Nature. There’s spirits, wisdom and counter-culture to be found in each. Fans of slam poetry will like Hinga. This piece argues for change. Unlike the fight to keep Fairy Creek pristine in my neck of the woods, this performance theatre is captured onto film and explores the complexity of what the Filipinx people in the Bay Area are passionate about. They want a utopia that transcends political and geographical barriers. Their message isn’t hard to follow, but it’s the rhythm which sets an unusual pace.

Of the six, The Fourfold is the best of the lot. It is an animated look at the traditional belief systems and rituals from Mongolia and Siberia. Here, Nature rules supreme, and the stones do more than contain the spirits of the land. The visuals are a gemologist’s wet dream come true, and it shows the natural life cycle of the land as we stroll through a wet painting of the worlds that lurk within the very microcosm of a quantum universe. Plus, we get a message on why this Earth must be preserved.

The Eyes of Summer is more of an experimental piece and very subjective in its message about how to commune with the spirit world. This story is set in a remote village in Southern Sri Lanka and it follows a young girl as she wanders through one world and enters another. The jungle world is filled with spirits, and although we can’t see them, the camera infers they are there, living in the fauna. The abstract nature of this film makes this work tough to interpret. It’s worth admiring more for the camera work than anything else.

On the following pages are a closer look at two works which deserve a closer attention:


Set in a rural coastal village in the Philippines, Hilum is about a teen, Mona (Audrey Alquiroz), who is trying to help the family make ends meet. Besides being a coming of age, this tale is a peek at the life of the improvised side of life. This girl is supposed to be a mourner-for-hire, but she can’t shed a tear. After using a trick to induce some wet works, her mother isn’t impressed. She doesn’t even know why she can’t cry until she seeks the help from a Shaman instead of a psychoanalyst. The reason is simple, she can’t afford to see one. 

This piece is rather simple, and I was particularly interested in the symbolism of the moon as it is used throughout. It’s not regarded as a teardrop in the sky, and nor has it been used in indigenous cultures. It’s more often used to represent the shift of time and the changing of the seasons. In this film’s case, it controls the tides and also one’s emotional state. Writer/director 

Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan gives this lunar object in the sky a mythic quality that’s eventually understood as it’s also representative of something lost in this young girl. She never truly mourned before and all it took was a breaking of that wall so she can finally express herself.

A Sip of Water

This documentary looks at what being a (Korean) Shaman is. Interestingly, these people are not respected in Korean society. They are considered unlucky and though this short by Hyuna Cho does not explain all the details, I could see why they are feared because of the supernatural forces they are tuned into. They exist to deliver messages to those willing to listen. As for those who don’t, well, nothing can be done and it’s not expected everyone will follow those words of wisdom.

According to, all the major religions peacefully coexist with shamanism. While this practise is mostly  about divination, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. This hauntingly colourful animated work beautifully expresses what else these practitioners do when they are not called upon for help. They are often meditating.

Part of what they do is comforting. Yes, they can talk to the dead and commune with various deities, but there’s more to this practice depending on where that shaman is from. All anyone has to do is look at those lands where the tribes have not contacted modern man. Some are regarded as healers, and others specialize in last rites. But in this case, perhaps all that’s needed to believe is to take a sip from a blessed water to have their eyes wide open instead of shut.

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