Skilty Labastilla

A Is for Agustin, the debut feature of Grace Simbulan, is one of the notable releases of 2019. It premiered in QCinema 2019 and screened in the 2019 Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival. This piece presents my review of the film and my interview with Grace Simbulan, the film’s director. In the interview, we talk about her background as a filmmaker, anecdotes about the production of A Is for Agustin, and her views on ethical filmmaking, women in documentary, and TV vs cinematic documentaries, among several other topics. I hope a lot of upcoming filmmakers can read this as it provides useful insights about coming up with one’s first full-length film.


A Is for Agustin follows Agustin Amado, an Aeta man in his early 40s whose hollow cheeks and sun-drenched, wrinkled skin provide quite a contrast to his child-like grin and gentle disposition. He and his wife make charcoal for a living: the middleman pays them P150 for each sack and sells the same sack for P250. This exploitation of the poor and uneducated is a fairly common scenario anywhere in the world, and it’s one of the reasons why Agustin decided to enroll himself in a public elementary school in his remote Zambales barrio. 

Simbulan, like several other female Filipino documentarists of note (e.g., Ditsi Carolino, Ramona Diaz, Babyruth Villarama, among others) who act as fly-on-the-wall observers and eschew talking heads, patiently follows Agustin as he navigates the world of schoolchildren even as his own son is enrolled in the same school. The chaotic classroom scenes are juxtaposed with Agustin’s serene way of going about his livelihood, mundane conversations with his as-meek wife, and scenes of the couple going caroling for loose change in the town center.

Film historian Nick Deocampo recently mentioned that good documentaries are 80% finding the right subject and the rest everything else (mainly camera placement and editing), and it seems to be the case in this documentary, as the subject matter alone is interesting enough for one to keep wanting to know what will happen to Agustin. What’s not shown in the film is Agustin actually graduating from grade school a year or so after his son does, and in my interview with Simbulan, she noted that she did not want to end the film on a Cinderella note where all’s well that ends well. The film instead ends with the son’s graduation and leaves the future for Agustin hanging. Asked about Deocampo’s equation, Simbulan adds that the filmmaker’s sensitivity is a crucial ingredient ― knowing when to pick up the camera to record what’s happening and when to know to respect the film subjects by keeping the camera shut.

The film is effective in showing the absurdity of a society where those who fall through the cracks of formal education are left to fend for themselves. While Agustin’s decision to go to school to escape exploitation is laudable, this individualism mindset puts the onus of bettering one’s life on the shoulders of poor people like Agustin rather than on the state. We see countless heartwarming stories in TV documentaries ― such as Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho and the like ― of the marginalized lifting themselves up from squalor through sheer hard work and luck, and we forget that structures still exist to put these people and millions of others in squalor in the first place.

An example of this education-as-a-personal-responsibility ethos is shown in several classroom scenes where Agustin is clearly having a difficult time solving math problems yet there is no effort from the teacher to help him understand or to correct his mistakes. In many public schools, assessments are rarely meant to be formative and feedback for improvement is seldom given. There’s no surprise that the Philippines ranks lowest in reading comprehension in a recent international survey. Yet teachers are not to be blamed for this as they are often overworked, underpaid, and deal with overcrowded classrooms. The problem as we all know is systemic. 

Today’s formal education exists in large part to cater to the needs of the capitalist world, that is why indigenous learning and knowledge, which value egalitarianism (not hierarchy and inequality), protection of nature (not exploitation), and community (not individualism) are rejected. Agustin, at the tail end of the film when he decides to temporarily stop schooling to give way to his son, rues that his brain is waning like sunset, while that of his son is still rising. He says this at 40 years old, an age where modern-day humans should be at their prime. 

One of the film’s limitations, brought about by its strict adherence to the immersive fly-on-the-wall approach, is the narrative becoming too dependent on the actions of the film’s subject rather than on elucidating on some of the issues that it uncovers along the way. An example is the throwaway mention of the government’s Alternative Learning System (ALS), which aims to address the needs of those who fall out of formal education. A teacher tells Agustin that he should have been enrolled in ALS, which allows for more flexibility in terms of schedule and learning pace, instead of being in a traditional classroom with young children. Agustin’s reply seemingly points to the inconvenience of going to a farther school to avail of ALS services, and in a latter voiceover, he mentions that ALS requires a grade school diploma, which is actually not the case. Had the filmmaker pursued this inquiry further by interviewing ALS staff, or suggesting to Agustin that he could maybe visit the ALS office, viewers could have a more nuanced understanding of the issue of alternative education and the attending issues surrounding its implementation.

By focusing solely on the perspective of Agustin, the film becomes more of a human interest story than a topical one, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In my view, though, documentary filmmaking in the Third World can push some more into active/activist filmmaking, where storytellers and story-bearers can work hand-in-hand to push for change. Can A Is for Agustin make Agustin’s life better? Does the strength of the film lie mainly on the viewer’s capacity to empathize and to rail against the world’s injustices? How can documentary cinéastes’ rage be scaled up to reach decision-makers? Is shining a light on the stories of the marginalized enough to overhaul the oppressive capitalist system? Is it unfair to put this responsibility on documentary films only and not on fictional films?

I have been thinking about these questions and wrote a bit about my thoughts in my commentaries on Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang (In The Claws of A Century Wanting, Jewel Maranan, 2017) and Yield (Victor Tagaro, Toshihiko Uryu, 2018), my favorite local films of 2018. But I also bring this up in my interview with Grace Simbulan, who is currently US-based pursuing graduate studies, where we discuss her filmography and details about her eight-year journey with A Is for Agustin, among others.


Skilty Labastilla: Hi, Grace! What got you into filmmaking? What's your background?

Grace Simbulan: It was coincidental. I didn't have that kind of story where it started with me as a kid liking films. My background was in behavioral sciences in UP Manila. I wanted to take up Psychology and then my brother was taking up Film. So i saw him editing, doing all this fun stuff at home and I was like, “Why am I reading all these books?” And he's, like, editing and shooting and having so much fun. “I wanna do that too!” 

So in second year I transferred to Diliman and took up Film and I fell in love with the medium. I had so much fun learning about how to operate the camera, how to interact with people, because film is a very collaborative medium. I had fun basically learning how people make their films, where they get their inspirations from. I'm a people person so I enjoy this medium because of that and also what it can do. That's why I sort of delved into documentary filmmaking because I get to see different places and explore using my camera and also just hang out with the people who I document or interact with. 

SL: Is your brother also into documentary filmmaking or is he in another field right now?

GS: That's what's funny because he started doing Film but then he ended up not making films after he graduated. He did like web design stuff and so now he's in Brisbane, Australia working there making website stuff for a school or… I actually don't know what he's doing. He's doing some IT-related stuff.

SL: You had one year in behavioral sciences. Were you able to take some major courses that you felt were able to help you in your filmmaking?

GS: I started with Behavioral Sciences, so that's a combination of Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology. And then I did Film for four years and then after that I was like “Oh I want to go to graduate school in Psychology”. So I had one year of Psychology masters in UP Diliman. 

After that I was like “Wait a minute, everyone's working in film while I'm studying”. (laughs) It's like a long complicated process of me trying to figure out whether I wanted to work or I wanted to study. And so for 10 years I sort of worked in film, did advertising jobs, did documentary films, made videos for NGOs and that kind of work, and then I just set myself an objective that I wanted to make a feature film. After that I was like “Okay, after my feature film I'm going back to grad school. So that's why I'm here.”

SL: So are you still taking up Psychology?

GS: I’m in a different field. It's an interdisciplinary field in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It's called Southeast Asian Studies, a graduate studies program all focused on Southeast Asia.  

SL: Cool. I’m in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department of Ateneo. Interdisciplinarity rocks! Let’s talk about your films. Before you made A is for Agustin, I noted that you were involved in some feature filmmaking as part of the crew.  And then you made a short called Bonifacio, which is actually, in terms of themes, very much a relative of A Is for Agustin.  Can you talk a little bit about that period in your career? 

GS: After college I delved into NGO videos and then I was commissioned by the European Union to create a medium-length documentary about mining in Cabanga, Zambales (that's Agustin's area). And so because mining was a very dangerous topic back then, like the Aetas were getting death threats from the companies, being just fresh out of college I was kind of scared to delve into something that was so dangerous. So I did an ocular and saw that it was an indigenous land of the Aetas. I thought “Why not divert the angle of the documentary and focus on the indigenous peoples in the area? Flesh out the plight of the Aetas in the community, and, in a way, touch up on different problems like mining, education, their problem with their ancestral land and getting a certificate of ancestral domain title, and how the bureaucratic process is really tedious, especially for the indigenous peoples?” 

So when I made that documentary it took me a couple of months just going back and forth. And it was actually from there that I met Agustin, because when I was doing the educational leg I saw him and he was planting in the garden with the kids. I thought maybe he was like a janitor or a worker in the school, and then the teacher told me “No, he's actually in Grade 1”. And I was like “Really?” So I included him as part of the interviews for that mining documentary, and then learned that he has such a charismatic character and I just kind of fell in love with his motivations and his outlook in life. He's so cheerful despite being in this community, surrounded every day by the slow violence that's very pervasive in their community and that they kind of got used to.

After that documentary, the Aeta chieftain actually told us “Hey, your documentary kind of pushed the local government in the area to put an end to the small-small scale mining. I’m still not sure if it's true or not but he was the one who said, like “We really appreciate your little film”. Because in that documentary we also interviewed the mining company owners, so I guess they were kind of scared: “Why are we being hounded by people with cameras? Why are we being questioned about, like, land ownership and all that stuff?” And we also interviewed the Mayor. So I think that kind of put pressure on their little town to put an end to mining. That interaction actually motivated me to make more films. I was like “Oh maybe film is a powerful medium whichever way you look at it, and it sheds light to different socioeconomic issues in wherever place you go. So that's one of my passion projects. 

But what was my bread and butter was working as an assistant director or an editor for both mainstream and independent films. I got into being an Assistant Director for the TV series Bayan Ko. It was a series just before the election, with Rocco Nacino. I did assistant directing for independent films. I apprenticed under Clang Sison who was the editor of Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005). I did editing for a time in Makati, doing editing jobs for advertising agencies. And then I wanted to get out of the four corners of the editing room because I think it was kind of unhealthy. I was just being fed fast food and then editing like 24 hours and sometimes even more. So I apprenticed under Bombi Plata: he's a really great assistant directing mentor. After that I got projects as an assistant director and then from there I was still making NGO videos.

SL: Through all these years that you're doing work as assistant director in some projects, were you already beginning with A Is for Agustin?

GS: Yeah, so when I was doing that mining documentary I was already thinking about documenting Agustin's life. But of course back then I was still building my rapport with Agustin. So from 2011 until last year I've been consistently going back and forth to Cabangan, Zambales and documenting. I think after 2011 that's when I fully got his permission to follow him around and document his story. It was kind of my rest from the hustle and bustle of Manila. When I would get really frustrated with work or the lack thereof in Manila I would go back to Cabangan, Zambales where everything was very simple and it kind of reminded me of what's really important, as cheesy as it sounds, in life. Like when you interact with people who actually don't have anything yet they're still happy. It kind of reminds me that whatever you're going through in Manila is all temporary.

SL: The film was part of QCinema, right? What made you decide to submit that film in the filmfest?

GS: The way that i was able to fund my film was through personal funds and through asking for donations from parents. That's what kind of propelled it until 2017, 2018. And then I met a friend who actually told me about venues where I could get film grants. The first was in South Korea -- called DMZ Docs. I pitched the film and then made a little trailer and then got a grant. But then it was still not enough to finish the film, and I thought “Yeah, let's do QCinema and try the post-production grant there”. I like the idea that it already had a sure festival because that's the main objective of the film, to be shown to Filipinos, to show Filipinos in Manila that these things exist. Even though it's a topic that's been heard over and over again we shouldn't turn our eyes away from these realities and just try to keep pounding them with what's happening around.

SL: When you pitched the film to DMZ Docs and QCinema, in your mind buo na ba ang kwento ni Agustin or continuing pa siya?

GS: When I pitched it in DMZ Docs it was still continuing. I didn't want just to end the film with him graduating and then you see that as sort of an ending for the film. I think just ending it in a happy tone doesn't give justice to what's really happening and I didn't want to give the audience a kind of that false Cinderella type of story when you start something and you finish it you'll be happy. Ii wanted to see the reality of what's happening that even though you try over and over as long as you're stuck in that systemic injustice, it's so hard to get out of it. It's a sad reality that I wanted to show people that as long as they're there -- of course there are outliers who get to, you know, really succeed from rags to riches -- but if we are in a system where we're constantly being fed lies and we're constantly being… I don't know how to put it...I guess it's so hard to get out of that most of the time.

When I was editing and I was reviewing the footage I thought that it wasn't ready yet and so I continued until I found the perfect ending.

SL: Were you the sole editor of the film?

GS: No, the editor of my film is actually an American, but he studied Filipino. He's very good in Filipino. He also used to be my partner so that made everything easy because we were just in one area and he lived in the Philippines for a year and a half. He's kind of introduced to the culture but of course because he's not really from the Philippines, it was hard to actually just give it to him and let him decide how to piece things together. So I did most of the assistant editing work, like “These are the things that I want to include in the film”. And so I would piece it roughly together and then I would throw it at him and he would edit it and sometimes he would say “It doesn't work; it doesn't make the story progress”. And so there's a lot of communication and back and forth, and at the end of the day it's just trusting your creative collaboration. As a director, producer, and camera operator as well of a documentary, it's kind of easy to get so obsessed with some of the scenes and some of the shots, but having a creative collaborator saying “No, it's not gonna make your story progress” is a really big help in just trying to narrow down or remind you of the focus of the film.

SL: How long was the footage that you worked with? How many hours?

GS: A lot. I actually forget but it was like hundreds and hundreds.

SL: Sure. Did it make it hard for you to remember, or did you have a system of “Okay this particular shoot, I know this will be part of the final video”?

GS: Since 2011 I was thinking of making the documentary already so I was always reviewing the footage, piecing things together. But what I hadn't decided back then was whether to make it a short documentary, a mid-length documentary or a full-length documentary. But I was always looking at the footage trying to piece it together, making notes. I have a notebook full of notes, so that kind of helped the editor as well to actually help me decide how to mix and match, or how to rearrange scenes, or how to put things together. I think just having that notebook and having all those notes really helped me and the editor in the final project.

SL: Nick Deocampo, the film historian and documentary filmmaker, recently mentioned in a masterclass in the Daang Dokyu Film Festival that documentaries are 80% subject and 20% everything else, like editing, camera work, etc. Do you agree with him?

GS: Hmmm. Maybe 30 or 40 percent everything else. Because I think what made it work for me was the years that I spent in the community, just knowing how to hang around and knowing when to pick up the camera, and having that sensitivity of when to just be in the moment and just watch things unfold before you without bringing out your camera and recording. Because sometimes having the camera would ruin certain moments. So I would say yes to that but at the same time I think as a filmmaker and as a human you kind of build that sensitivity of knowing what are the things that I should document. Like there are many many moments when the scene looked really good in camera, like when they're fighting and whatever, and I really wanted to pick up my camera, but then you know as a person, as a friend of Agustin, you didn't want him to feel awkward and you didn't want to put him in that kind of situation. So I think also the sensitivity of the filmmaker and the kind of relationship you build with the...I don't like using the word “subject”. I don't know what term they use. It always makes me cringe to call them subjects because it feels so condescending. Yeah, so “subject”, the camera, the technical stuff and i would also include the filmmaker’s agency in putting things together. I think that's because having a good technical background and having a good story isn't enough. There has to be that person who mediates between the two and makes sure that your “subject” is protected and respected and made sure that he also has choices, that he's just not a passive actor or person taking in all or experiencing things. He can also say “No, I'm not comfortable being filmed right now” or “No, I'm not in the mood”. As a filmmaker I see those cues from Agustin and I would be like “Okay, Agustin, I'll just see you tomorrow” or “I'll see you next week” or “I'll see you whenever, and just let me know when you're okay or whatever”.

SL: I understand your perspective. It's interesting that you brought up filmmaker’s sensitivity to the equation because I’ve really been thinking a lot about the role of ethics in filmmaking, particularly documentary filmmaking, regarding consent and the things that you've talked about, but also taking up their time. In Anthropology especially, we take it very seriously, right? I notice that in documentary films the audience is left clueless about the continuing role of the filmmaker on the life of the film subject. Ang iisipin natin, “Okay, most of the time we go to the marginalized sectors,  we film their lives with the intention of shedding a light on the issues that they're facing but then even us in the Young Critics Circle, we're still trying to understand, is that act in itself exploitative? It’s like “Okay i'm doing this for my career. I'm shedding light on issues of the poor but then I leave and then I go somewhere else. What are your thoughts on that, Grace?

GS: That's actually something that I've been contemplating and still struggling with, especially since i've been there since 2011. There were a lot of moments where I would just go in the community and see that these things exist. Like sometimes Agustin wouldn't be eating three meals a day, and I would think “What am I doing here? I'm making a film, I'm documenting someone's struggle, and for what? Would it better his circumstance? And it was such a hard thing to think about. Whenever I would be there I would always think “What is this film really doing? Is it to improve someone else's life by shedding light?” Which is kind of similar to a White savior complex: I'm here with my camera and i'm gonna show other people what reality is like.  I'm still trying to marry that concept with my values but, I don't know, it's still something that I am struggling with currently. These are the things that are so hard to think about. I  have this communism class recently and that's sort of one of the things that we always talk about, like “What is your role as an academic to the common people or to the masses? Is it enough to just talk about and write papers and apply all these theoretical frameworks about other people's lives? It's still it's a very hard subject that I’m still struggling with. 

Especially when I would present this film to other people and then they would ask “How can we help?” It's so easy to say “Okay, just give them cash”. But that's not how it works. You can't just (give) money and expect that everything would be better. So whenever they would ask “How can we help?” I would say “I really honestly have no idea, because that's also one of the things that I wanted to do.” But still I'm still struggling with that as of this present day. 

If you just give them money, then it creates that culture of dependency on aid or on outside help. So I think that's also one of the reasons why I pursued grad school, because okay, I've made a film about someone else and I've shown it to the Philippines. And then what? Nothing's happening. I am just furthering my career as a filmmaker but Agustin is still in his community suffering, or not being able to eat three meals a day, and he's still there while I'm here in the US, you know, furthering my career. But I think one of the motivations for me to study… and one of my research topics really is the different factors involving indigenous peoples. And so I think my end goal in mind always is to be able to give back to the Philippines. After here I’ll go back and then hopefully I'll be able to be in an NGO that could directly help the marginalized sectors.

SL: I appreciate your candor about your struggle about these very difficult dilemmas about the role of art in a very messed up world. Everyone is sort of grappling with those issues, I'm sure, because on the one hand, one could always say that shedding light is enough because not a lot of people know these issues, but then on the other hand if the powers that be are still blind, the policymakers who don't usually watch these kinds of films, if they're not required or strongly encouraged to do so, dadaan lang sa consciousness. 

You mentioned something about your advocacy for indigenous welfare. One of the things that I really liked about the film is its politics is not very forceful, it's not very didactic but you still feel it. I could feel the filmmaker’s exasperation with the system by following Agustin in a seemingly absurd situation: a middle-aged man in a classroom of seven-year-olds. Also the exploitation that went on with his employer. The one thing i took away from the film is the discrepancy between the knowledge that the indigenous have that is not appreciated in the dominant mainstream capitalist society, kasi merong pinapahalagahang educational system. I remember the teacher saying “Paano pag hindi ka pumasok, anong matutunan mo?” And then Agustin said “Wala”. But then if you really think about it, there is a lot of knowledge that our indigenous brothers and sisters know that is not being prioritized or given importance in our current system. They're not considered useful in this capitalistic world. Things like being part of nature, knowing these stuff about the cycle of nature, is very much inherent to them but to us it's alien. As a teacher, parang may dilemma rin ako e, na parang I’m imparting knowledge to students that can be used as fuel for their future positions in the capitalistic world. So, yeah, that's one thing I really like about the film: very lyrical, very quiet but it packs a wallop in its subtle message.

SL: You mentioned that you didn't wanna show Agustin graduating. Did he ever graduate?

GS: Yes, he did! He graduated six years after 2011. I placed Agustin's graduation in the film and then placed Noy’s (his stepson) graduation in the film and when I watched it, it was just too much graduation in one film. And so I and my editor were discussing it and we weighed whose graduation is much more important to push the story forward.

SL: Some of us in  YCC felt that it was a bit rushed towards the end. The focus shifted a bit to Noy but we didn’t have a lot of insight about his life beforehand. Did you have some difficulties in editing the latter part of the film?

GS: I actually had difficulties with shooting Noy in the film because Agustin never had a biological offspring and Noy is the son of his current wife. So he would always not be around whenever I would be there. He was camera-shy also so whenever he knew that I was in the community he would go back to his art or something. Those were the the scenes that he allowed me to shoot. That's why when I was editing with my editor, that was actually one of the things that we were discussing, like “Don't you feel it's weird that he just shows up towards the end?” I’m like “What can we do with that?” Because he's always not around or he doesn't want to be shown in the camera.

SL: Many good recent documentary films shy away from talking heads. If you’re familiar with the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, I really love their films. They're like ethnographies: slice-of-life kind of documentaries. Did you feel like you were constrained by that stylistic decision of not employing talking heads?

GS: I always had the choice of including the talking heads but I wanted the film to be coming from Agustin's perspective and I guess including interviews with a teacher, with the chieftain, with other members of Agustin's community would dilute that objective in mind of having everything come from his perspective. So I decided last minute to just use his own voice as a voiceover narrative to piece together. These are interviews that I've conducted over the years, so it's not just one sit-down interview. I would always interview him 2011, 2012. If you'd notice the sound design people had such a hard problem trying to make the sound very consistent because in 2011 I was using this kind of mic or I didn't know how to record audio, so there would be a lot of hissing sound. These interviews that I've used as a voiceover narrative for the film would be something that I would ask them once something has happened. For example, if he discovered that he was being cheated on by the boss then I would ask him after it has happened like “How do you feel?” And then I would ask him again a few days later or a few months after just to see how he reflects on these moments of his life. And then I would choose which one I think is the most reflective of that. And then I would include it as a voiceover narrative to piece the scenes together. 

SL: I noticed that in the Philippines most documentary filmmakers are women, and my theory is that it's because women are more patient and are more trusted. Is that your sense also or do you have another theory?

GS: Ang galing, may ginagawa kaming academic paper about that. It's called feminization of truth-telling in industries or careers, saying that the current trend is that journalists and documentary filmmakers are all women. Those who are currently in those fields are women, starting from the Marcos dictatorship until present, there's been a feminization of truth telling. I think being a woman has its pros and cons. I was just actually talking about this with Marissa Arroyo and I asked her if being a woman actually affected the way she would make films, and she said it's just a different ballgame. Some people would have their guards down and you would be able to actually navigate through the personal lives of whoever you're talking to much better, because it's also reflective of how society views women. I'm not sure if that's a good way of putting it, but definitely being a woman in this kind of industry has its pros and cons. One of the cons would be you're always fearing for your safety trying to navigate. Like for example yung film ni Alyx, yung Aswang, being a woman and trying to talk to all these men is also very dangerous for her. 

SL: What do you feel is the difference between a documentary created for TV versus for cinema? Do you feel there's a difference in today's context in the Philippines?

GS: Siguro pag sa TV mas romanticized yung buhay. And there's always something big that's constantly happening to hold the viewer's attention. And since it's TV… How many minutes are normally dedicated for…

SL: 40 minutes, I think. For a full one-hour slot, maybe 40 minutes of edit.

GS: So given that time frame, they would always choose scenes and conversations that are, you know, it's either may shock value or something that would have so much drama, to hold viewers attention. I was talking with one of the Japanese distributors and he said that to create a cut of the film that is able to hold people's attention -- because people wouldn't be sitting down and paying so much attention to what they're seeing. They could be like cooking or washing dishes -- you have to have scenes whose dialogues are retaining their their attention and creating all these drama, so that while they're washing dishes they could be you stimulated in that kind of way. So I think that's the main difference. 

Also, in documentary films i think you're given more freedom to decide how to use silence and how to use scenes na walang drama. You  just expect you're given much more freedom to experiment with your creative decisions.

SL: My next question is something to do with regional cinema right now in the Philippines. A Is for Agustin was shot in Zambales, where Agustin is. Did you ever feel like working on the film made you a part of the regional filmmaking movement or were you always considering yourself as a Manila filmmaker?

GS: That's a good question. I guess because yung training ko is very Manila-centric, I would consider myself a Manila filmmaker, like yung sensitivities ko as a filmmaker and the background, where I was taught, is from Manila. But probably half and half, because I think that the time I spent in Agustin's community molded the type of filmmaker that I am. Just being there and experiencing what they're experiencing, but not being able to fully grasp their struggles. So, I don't know, maybe half and half because it's very Manila-centric. My background is from UP Diliman and all the filmmakers who taught me in the university are all from Manila or based in Manila or their practice is in Manila. So that's what shaped them and that's what shaped me but at the same time, because the years of experience and the years of interactions I've had with Agustin in this community built that sensitivity and honed my skill as a filmmaker, I wouldn't say I'm a purely Manila filmmaker.

SL: What are your thoughts about the future of cinema in the Philippines?

GS: In general I think the future is very bright. All the documentaries that we have and also all the films that are coming out recently are all very different, and it's fascinating to see the films over the years and the topics that are discussed. I would always try to compare them with Filipino-American filmmakers that are based here now whose topics are mostly about identity, being a Fiipino-American. Yun yung laging napapansin ko dito, na parang stuck pa sila sa ganung kind of topics, but in the Philippines sobrang rich e. You can talk about culture, about LGBTQ topics. And hindi lang simpleng pag-engage with those types of topics. They try to experiment with the form and with so many things. Tapos ngayon pa na, siguro dahil sa pandemic, nag-improve yung work situation in the Philippines from 32 hours of shooting, now it's down to...I don't know how many hours. I think constantly engaging with those issues in the filmmaking industry also improves how people create films and how people work in films. So I would say that the future of filmmaking in the Philippines is bright.

SL: Thank you very much and good luck with your studies!

GS: Thank you, too!