Alben meng manyaman, boy!

December 28, 2008

Kamaru Year-end Report

2008 has been a very challenging yet fruitful year for Kalalangan Kamaru, which has spawned several Kapampangan works in the field of mass media. Even though composed only of a small number of young individuals, it did not let its pitiful size be an excuse for accomplishing big things for the Kapampangan homeland.

Before the year 2009 enters, allow me to make a review of 2008 by remembering the events Kalalangan Kamaru has been involved in.


February marked the launching of RocKapampangan, the first ever Kapampangan rock album in the history of Philippine music. Co-produced with Holy Angel University, the album featured 16 Kapampangan tracks by 16 Kapampangan bands from Pampanga and Tarlac. The project has been featured in GMA-7's "Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho" with its segment titled "Promdi Rock" and in several other local shows in Pampanga.

Ing Bangkeru

To contribute to the small number of Kapampangan films, Kamaru in cooperation with Holy Angel University, produced a 10-minute screen adaptation of the anonymous Kapampangan ballad titled "Ing Bangkeru." Starring Jim Paolo Salvador and Alexandre Tiotuico, the short digital film is available for free viewing on YouTube.

Frequency K

To promote modern Kapampangan music through radio, Kamaru approached GVFM 99.1 to propose the station's first ever Kapampangan FM musical talk show, hosted in the Kapampangan language. The management gave a free weekly one-hour slot to Kamaru, the title of the program being Frequency K: Kool Maging Kapampangan. For months now, it has been playing new Kapampangan songs, broadcasting news about Kapampangan culture, and featuring live acoustic Kapampangan performances from various Kapampangan musicians. The show is heard every Saturdays, 7 PM.


Kamaru tied up with San Fernando-based cable station Infomax-8 to co-produce the first ever Kapampanganovela in Philippine broadcasting history. "Kalam" is a fantasy series in the Kapampangan language that explores Kapampangan folklore in an urban setting. Although the show is not yet running and wouldn't be running anytime soon, the project and the show altogether has astounded Kapampangans—from politicians to students, from cultural workers to linguists, and from non-Kapampangans to kabalens. The first public screening of the pilot episode was held at SM Pampanga in celebration of the first ever Aldo Ning Amanung Sisuan.

Kapampangan music videos

2008 has allowed Kamaru to spawn three official Kapampangan music videos: two from the Tarlac-based band Mernuts and one from Angeles City's 5 Against The Wall. "Oras" and "Alang Anggang Sugat" are the official theme songs of the Kapampanganovela "Kalam," while "Aliwa Kang Talaga" is Mernuts' contribution to the RocKapampangan album. Although the TV series soundtracks are regularly played via Infomax-8, "Oras" was also able to penetrate MTV Pilipinas in its morning OPM show "Tong Hits," making it the first ever Kapampangan music video to be aired regularly on the said channel.


EmoKapampangan was a minor yet fairly-patronized project of Kamaru on the Internet. It is the first digital one-panel comic strip in Kapampangan which featured a young emo couple composed of Yubs and Clacla. They are often accompanied by the stray animals Karag and Damulag. Around 50 issues were released.

Kalam Campus Tour

Kamaru has rounded key schools in Pampanga such as Holy Angel University, Angeles University Foundation, Angeles City National High School Special Science Class, Holy Family Academy, Chevalier School, and UP Pampanga to not only screen the pilot episode of "Kalam" but also to discuss about the current state of Kapampangan culture and language and other related topics such as cultural diversity, regional media, and the global celebration of linguistic diversity. "Kalam" has also been screened twice in UP Diliman, first, in line with ACLE (Alternative Classroom Learning Experience) care of UP Aguman, and second, as invited by several organizations including a Linguistics organization and Stand UP. Kamaru is proud to say that the pilot episode has never failed to amaze every set of audience it encounters in different schools, may they be Kapampangan or non-Kapampangan.

Archipelago Music

Kamaru's first ever project that is not exclusively for the Kapampangans. Archipelago Music is a blog project that seeks to promote OPM from the regions, may they be in Cebuano, Ilocano, Waray Waray, Cuyonon, Ilonggo, Kapampangan, Maranao, Ifugao, etc. The project aims to make ethnolinguistic communities in the Philippines aware of the music scenes in several regions aside from Manila. Watch out for "hybrid regional songs" co-produced by Kamaru, such as an upcoming Hiligaynon-Kapampangan song.

Urban Kamaru

In the field of journalism, Kamaru has been granted a column on Central Luzon Daily under the Features section. Appearing every Monday and Wednesday, Urban Kamaru tackles Kapampangan, Filipino, and global issues regarding culture and language. The column is maintained by Jason Paul Laxamana, the head of Kamaru.

Kapampangan Environmental PSAs

To reconcile environmental and cultural awareness, Kamaru produced four Public Service Announcements for television, which tackled the importance of trees, planting as counter to global warming, water pollution, and air pollution. Astounded with the simple yet powerful PSAs, Councilor Jimmy Lazatin of the City of San Fernando acquired two of the PSAs for distribution in TV and cable stations within Central Luzon.

Sexmoan Adventures

Kamaru extends the use of the Kapampangan language to the field of documentary-making, as it produced "Sexmoan Adventures," a 22-minute light documentary exploring the attitude of Sasmuan residents toward the seemingly scandalous former spelling of their hometown: Sexmoan. The complete documentary is available on YouTube.


The year is wrapped up with another Kapampangan short film titled "Balangingi" (Nosebleed). Unlike the usual Kapampangan films that tackle the rural and poor life of the Kapampangans, "Balangingi" seeks to create a film featuring a fresh topic: the life of a Filipino intellectual immersed in a society of average-minded individuals. The film is currently in the phase of post-production.

These have been the major activities of Kamaru for the year 2008, aside from the participation of its members in other worthwhile events such as the mangrove-planting project of ADCL at Pampanga Bay, Kapampangan language and literature seminars in the Holy Angel University and UP Pampanga, and the filming of the Cannes Film Festival-finalist "Serbis" at the Family Theater of Angeles City.


The members of Kamaru are praying for a more fruitful year of cultural service for 2009. These are the plans/activities (both tentative and set) of Kamaru for the coming year:

:: To wrap up the production of the first season of "Kalam" and have it aired regularly
:: The extension of "Frequency K" into either a two-hour radio program or a twice-a-week radio program
:: A production tie up with the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) to produce a mini-series on the Aytas of Clark
:: Production of Ara Muna's music video for "O Jo, Ika Ing Buri Ku"
:: Participation in film festivals in Manila and abroad
:: Participation again in UP Diliman's ACLE this February
:: The release of a Hiligaynon-Kapampangan song (Bronze P and Raco Del Rosario)
:: The release of a Waray-Kapampangan song (Exoduce and Mernuts)
:: Kamaru's trip to Palawan to present a lecture on pop culture as tool for cultural and linguistic revitalization, to screen "Kalam" and other Kamaru productions, and to produce a music video in HD for one of the songs of Bulyaw Mariguen, a Cuyonon band.
:: Production of more Kapampangan documentaries, particularly the followup to Sexmoan Adventures: Manibaug Adventures and Darabulbul Adventures.
:: Production of a full-length independent Kapampangan horror digital film
:: Help in the organization of the first ever Kapampangan student short film festival as an additional offering for either Sinukwan Festival or Aldo Ning Amanung Sisuan
:: Help in the organization of an event in UP Diliman in celebration of the International Mother Language Day (February)
:: Dubbing of Filipino animated content into Kapampangan
:: Release of a second set of EmoKapampangan

And many more to come! Miluid ya sa ing Balen Kapampangan!

December 26, 2008

An Honest Review of ‘Dayo’

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

One of the offerings of the Christmas season, along with New Year, is the annual screening of entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival, a long-running showcase of what Filipinos can offer in the field of mainstream cinema.

With the trailers I have viewed through the Internet and the synopses I have read here and there, I have finally been enticed to watch two—only two—entries to the film fest, which I both watched last December 25th. They’re the historical war love story ‘Baler’ starring Jericho Rosales and Anne Curtis, and the animated fantasy film ‘Dayo: Sa Mundo Ng Elementalia,’ featuring the voice of Nash Aguas. The cinema featuring ‘Iskul Bukol’ had the most people lined up to watch though.

For this article, I would like to make a review of the Mark Quilao-directed ‘Dayo,’ which has received raves from various sources. In fact, the Cinema Evaluation Board, which was established “ to formulate and establish a set of standards and criteria and procedures for the Cinema Evaluation System, subject to the approval of the Council, primarily based on but not limited to the following: Direction, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Music Scoring, Sound, and Acting Performances...” has given it a Grade A rating, so I got really intrigued with this project that has made a battalion of nationalists prouder to be Pinoy.

Growth of Animation in RP

As people who have been used to watching imported cartoons both from the United States and Japan (with its plethora of animé), the thought of having animation with Pinoy content is truly revolutionary and another step toward what I would call “de-neo-colonization.”

The first time that I was truly impressed with animation was with the band Mojofly’s all-CGI 3D music video for its song ‘Tumatakbo,’ which told the cute story of friendship (that can turn into romance) between a circus-going hunchback (who was all along a winged man hiding his wings on his back like Alwina of ‘Mulawin’) and “The Amazing Luisa na Tumutulay sa Miswa.” The music video is actually the first of its kind in the local music video scene, and its quality, although basic compared to those of Pixar and Dreamworks, is what I would say “Puedi ne.”

Then of course we have the now defunct Culture Crash Comics, which although just a comic book, reminds readers of animé, but with all-Pinoy original content—‘One Day, Isang Diwa,’ ‘Pasig,’ ‘Cat’s Trail,’ ‘Solstice Butterfly,’ and ‘Kubori Kikiam.’ The comic book was gaining a fan base, and I was actually dreaming of the stories being turned into real 2D animation, but alas, after more than 10 issues, the creators decided to stop.

Other small-time animations came and passed, including those of Tuldok Animation, until earlier this year, we had an animated movie about Pangasinan’s legendary princess. ‘Urduja’ was produced by APT Entertainment, Seventoon, and Imaginary Friends, featuring the voice of Regine Velasquez as the warrior princess.

And now, the latest, ‘Dayo,’ which featured impressive animation from Cutting Edge Productions and creative and entertaining renditions of Pinoy folklore characters such as the manananggal, tikbalang, kapre, nuno, sirena, and syokoy. We used to only see foreign culture in our TV and movie screens, but now, we get to see sorbeteros, sari-sari stores, capiz windows, bamboo foliages, billboards of local products, the Last Supper hung somewhere in the dining room, Catholic figures, mean trannies, and elementary school uniforms, Pinoy style.

However, I found something untrue—that the film will be enjoyed both by the young and the old. It turned out, when I watched the film, it was, for me, just bound to entertain the kids. For a story-conscious and film-critiquing person like me, I have found two areas of the film which I found, well, “not to be proud of”—story and direction.

The usual flaw

Before I proceed with my critique, I would like to make a disclaimer for fanatic nationalists who can’t distinguish critiquing from criticizing.

Don’t get me wrong: I am delighted with the gradual emergence of original Pinoy animation, but as a moviegoer, I have the right to comment about what I have seen. Before anyone brands me a perpetuator of crab mentality, know that I am allergic to crab and other seafood, causing my lips to swell upon gorging. By all means, I recommend Pinoys to watch ‘Dayo’ and be one with the rest of the country in rejoicing with the fact that we now have a growing animation industry, but then again, there’s still room for improvement, and allow me to be the first (?) media practitioner to be honest (with good intentions though).

‘Dayo’ suffers from one of the usual flaws of most mainstream Pinoy movies—poor story. Or could the story have been nice, but not the plot? Or could the plot have been pleasant, but not the script? Or is it in the direction?

I’ve read from one blog the comment of one person saying that ‘Dayo’ is at par with the Walt Disney cartoons that our generation grew up with. You know, ‘Pocahontas,’ ‘The Lion King,’ ‘Mulan,’ and ‘Aladdin,’ to name a few. The animation can keep up, yes, but story-wise, I would beg to disagree.

First of all, the main protagonist, Bubuy, is confused with his goal in the story (I’m using creative writing lingo here). Is it to fly? Is it to save his grandparents? In fact, the minds behind the film are not very decided on what message they would like to focus on—is it being brave for the people you love? Is it taking care of the environment? Is it being friendly even to those who are not like us, or as the title suggests, to ‘dayos’?
What I was also looking for as an adult moviegoer is the bigger picture of the story. Small picture is not evil, but the lack of a bigger picture and the missing problematic sketch of the society makes ‘Dayo’ fit for television, like High School Musical, but not for cinema.

Some might counter-argue that it’s for the kids; why should it be ‘deep’? Well, it needs not be deep. But it shouldn’t be shallow either, i.e., if non-kids are also being catered. Kids loved Walt Disney cartoons in spite of them having big topics like racism, war, political turmoil, and sexism, while not forgetting those that would make Christian Living teachers happy—friendship, the prevalence of good over evil, respect, bravery, and other virtues, which flicks like ‘Enteng Kabisote’ and ‘Exodus: Tales of the Enchanted Kingdom’ would also possess.

‘Pocahontas’ is set during the time when Englishmen set their foot in America. While the main focus of the story was the romance between a native American girl and a white-skinned soldier, it also tackled history, the perspective of native Americans versus those of whites (“you think you own whatever land you land on / the earth is just a dead thing you can claim / but I know every rock and tree and creature / has a life, has a spirit, has a name”), and the war between the two nations.

‘The Lion King’ on the other hand is about a lion prince named Simba deceived to abandon the pride after his uncle Scar, with the help of the hyenas, conspired against King Mufasa. After learning about the truth, Simba sought to dethrone his uncle and lead Pride Rock properly again like his father. The movie also offers classic African philosophies as embedded in the songs ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata,’ an actual Swahili song originating from Kenya.

No, I’m not a perpetuator of colonial mentality, but I know a good story when I see one. Not even nationalism can impair my judgment of a good story. ‘Dayo’ on the other hand suffered from a shallow story which chose to focus on a small picture when in fact, the big picture is already there, just unexplored—the humans’ destruction of Kalikasan. We only learned about this after past half of the movie, and the sole sequence that established this motivation of the giant antagonist, was when Bubuy performed a harmless ‘kaingin’ in the forest by bully force.

A lot of scenes don’t have momentum, too, like that ‘Lipad’ Lea Salonga song which just emerged out of the blue, when Bubuy was worrying about his missing grandparents.

Regional Content

As an advocate of additional regional presence in things perceived to be “national” or “Pinoy,” I am happy that the makers of ‘Dayo’ had a wee bit of regional consciousness, as manifested through that Tinguian song Salidummay (which turned Sexbomb Dancers-esque after Ana sneezes), provincial Tagalog accents, and the Binisaya-speaking kapre.
I was reminded of last year’s racial fiasco in the ‘Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo’ movie where Rafa was criticized for learning Binisaya from his yaya, which time and again, was made to be Bisaya. At least, in ‘Dayo,’ I saw no ethnic slur; just an abuse of unfunny Taglish lines by the manananggirl, in my opinion.

‘Dayo’ though could have used less invented folklore characters and adapted into screen folklore characters from other ethnolinguistic communities.


When it comes to story matters, it is not an excuse that we are a developing country, because coming up with a good story (and directing it properly) does not require huge loads of money, unlike technology.

With that said, I congratulate Cutting Edge Productions for contributing to the growing set of Pinoy animated content. My article may or may not reach them, but for those who will be able to read this, I’m not a big-time expert, but I beg you to avail of any teensy weensy wisdom that my writing may offer. Kudos to the animation, but not yet on the story. I believe it takes both to come up with a classic movie.

And, yes, the Filipino, indeed, can!

Please write me at

December 24, 2008

Something to learn from the Koreans

It was in fourth year high school that Koreans began making its appearance in my consciousness. Today, I’m a fan of the Korean people and I dream of the day when the Philippines can mimic the framework of South Korea in its path toward global progress.

After the successful Taiwanese TV drama ‘Meteor Garden’ of ABS-CBN and the not-so-successful ‘My MVP Valentine’ of GMA-7, the latter network put the first Koreanovela (how Korean TV dramas are called in the Philippines) on primetime: ‘Lavender.’ From then on, Koreanovelas have penetrated Pinoy culture well—from ‘Jewel in the Palace’ to ‘Lovers in Paris,’ ‘from ‘Winter Sonata’ to ‘My Name is Kim Sam Soon.’

I was able to try Korean food when we went to the US in Summer 2005. We went there through Asiana Airlines, the stewardess of which served either Korean food or Western food for their meals. My mother and big brother would choose “itang balu da na,” while I, the hard-headed and adventurous Laxamana boy, insisted on trying what Koreans had to offer when it comes to dining. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to try Korean food. If it tastes awful, then charge it to experience. But fortunately, I loved it! Kimchi didn’t taste good at first but I have learned to love it, in spite of my mother wanting to puke at the smell of it.

Our stopover was in Incheon, South Korea, and we were to stay there for 10 hours. I liked the place. It was cold. It was clean. I couldn’t get over the idea that South Korea used to be poorer than the Philippines. It was hard conversing using English with the natives working at the airport, but they were friendly enough.

The airline company offered two choices for us to spend our 10 hours: take a short Korean tour, or take a rest at a Korean hotel. I wanted a tour, but my company wanted to rest. What a waste of opportunity! It’s not everyday that we get to stay for 10 hours in South Korea.

In college, I was introduced to Korean films in my Film 100 class, where the professor recounted how the film industry of South Korea developed, to the point of making a global wave in a decade’s span. I then grabbed hold of Korean war films like ‘Taegukci’ and romance films like ‘Il Mare,’ and I must say kudos. The unpretentious support of the government contributed highly to the development of Korean entertainment, so said my professor.

In one of my Broadcast Communication class, Music in Media, we had one Korean classmate. I already forgot his name, but I still remember our encounters with him. He was always bringing with him an electronic Korean-English dictionary which he would consult often when he couldn’t remember the appropriate English words to express his remarks. It was amusing, really. I had the chance to have him as a group mate, and his linguistic and cultural struggles didn’t make him less participative. He was indispensable in class. In fact, when deciding for the photo theme of our CD project inlay, he came up with this very artistic idea of fusing classical music flavor with stinking toilets, which to me was very fresh, but to my conservative professor was, well, stinking.

In my college life, more and more students were trying to enlist in Korean language subjects, learning how to write Hanggul and learning basic Korean sentences, phrases, and expressions. Angeles City nowadays also celebrate Choo-Seok festival for the people in that Korean avenue called Friendship, the Korean signboards of which, I think, outnumber the Kapampangan signboards present in the city. In Cebu, they have this Cebuanovela titled ‘Saranghe’ (‘Kaluguran Da Ka’ in Korean), which features a love triangle—two boys and a girl. One of the boys is Korean.

Evidently, Koreans, as well as other Asians, own this decade, and the future is teeming with grander Asian possibilities. I just wonder when the Philippines and other Austronesians will take part.

Korean Singers in the US

Three big Korean entertainers are attempting to conquer US after conquering much of Asia. They are none other than Rain, famous in the Philippines for the Koreanovela ‘Full House’ and that shampoo commercial with a popular line ‘My name is Rain’; Se7en, another Justin Timberlake-like South Korean RnB crooner who is not yet known in the Philippines but is celebrated throughout Asia; and BoA, a multitalented girl who can sing, dance, sing in many languages, and who has a beautiful face and body to flaunt.

BoA has already debuted in the US, but I haven’t heard whether she’s successful. Her debut US debut music video looked like the typical Britney Spears or Beyonce music videos, only with the English lyrics being sung with Asian accent.

Rain’s debut and a lot of concerts have been postponed due to trademark conflicts, while Se7en’s debut is, in my opinion, the most watched out for, as the production team of his US debut album consists of big people who contributed to the success of big US names like Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Madonna, Fergie, etc. His first single would be ‘Girls’ featuring Lil’ Kim. The song was produced by Darkchild.

In a newspaper article, of the Black Eyed Peas opined that he sees no reason as to why Korean entertainers couldn’t make it big in the US. If American singers can make it big in other places, why not the other way around?

December 16, 2008

Kapampangans and Mindanao Cinema

December 14 marked the beginning of the 4th Mindanao Film Festival, the organization of which contributes to the sign that, as one blogger put it, “the Art and Culture movements in the regions are gaining momentum and covering more ground.”

The Mindanao Film Festival began five years ago. Originally, it featured short films made by Dabawenyo artists (from the Guerrilla Filmmaking Workshops). In its fourth year, not only shall it feature short films in competition, it will also exhibit full-length Mindanaon films such as ‘Concerto: Davao War Diary,’ which was screened on the opening day.

‘Concerto: Davao War Diary’ is a period digital film set during the time after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when Davao was attacked by the Imperial Army of Japan. Due to the circumstances, one wealthy family leaves behind their properties and takes refuge in the forest where they befriend some Japanese while holding support for the guerrilla movement. Before the end of the war, they hold a special piano concert.

Charliebebs Gohetia, a colleague of mine in the UP College of Mass Communication and one of Brillante Mendoza’s trusted editors for his films, has his own contribution to Mindanao Cinema, too. His full-length debut, ‘The Thank You Girls,’ which failed to be a finalist twice in the Cinemalaya full-length category, but was independently produced nonetheless, is also part of the festival.

‘The Thank You Girls’ is a film in Bisaya with a gay lingo twist. The official synopsis reads: “Tired of losing in all the beauty competitions in Davao City, five dysfunctional gay beauty pageant veterans decide to travel north to Cagayan de Oro City, in the island of Mindanao. Their mission: to conquer the grandest competition of beauty, personality and brains in the whole province. They believe that being city dwellers, gays in the province will never stand a chance against them.”

Included in the festival as well is Cinema One Originals Best Picture ‘Ang Huling Balyan Ng Buhi’ (English title is ‘The Woven Stories of the Other,’ but the title literally translates to “the last priestess of life”) by Sherad Anthony Sanchez. Set in the forest village of Napalico in the Arakan Valley of North Cotabato, it mainly features a seemingly insane local priestess (balyan or tagbawian) named Manay who communes with the river, who one night performs her last miracle—a stigmata. NPA communist rebels, government soldiers, and children also take roles in the story.

War and peace situations in Mindanao is tackled in the advocacy film ‘Hunghong Sa Yuta’ (‘Earth’s Whisper’), directed by Arnel Mardoquio. The film is about deaf mute children in a community in the mountains. The children are a mixture of Christians, Muslims, and Lumads, and are introduced to the alphabets and numerals by a teacher from the city. “War between rebels and the military has devastated the community of Hinyok, its most telling casualty being children born without the ability to speak and hear whose fathers are now intent on training them to become fighters to defend their land. Vigo Cruz, artist and toy-maker, answers a posted notice about Hinyok’s need for a teacher, and his work with the children brings joy and hope to the young war victims and their mothers.”

An upcoming Chabacano-Bisaya film was also announced during the festival. It will be shot in Davao and Zamboanga next year.

Kapampangan Cinema

The emergence of Mindanao Cinema, as well as film scenes in other regions, especially the Visayan and Cordilleran region, is inspiring, and I keep on dreaming of the day when this idea called “Kapampangan Cinema” would take corporeal form in Central Luzon and in the long run, prove to be a powerful branch of Philippine cinema.

The production of several award-winning Kapampangan films such as 2008’s Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Mass Media Brillante Mendoza’s ‘Masahista,’ ‘Kaleldo,’ ‘Manoro,’ and ‘Serbis’ and Francis Xavier Pasion’s ‘Jay’ is a good sign, as their presence may cause a domino effect to other aspiring Kapampangan filmmakers.

The Mindanao Film Festival is a joint effort among the Mindanao Film and Television Development Foundation, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, the City Government and City Tourism Office of Davao, the Museo Dabawenyo, plus some admirable support from the private sector.

If not only for the chaos in the Pampanga Capitol, I believe the Tourism Office of Pampanga would have spearheaded the first ever Kapampangan interschool short film competition this Aldo Ning Kapampangan. Sadly, it did not push through.

Will 2009 mark the conception of Kapampangan Cinema and the introduction of its concept to universities in the Kapampangan region?

Student Filmmakers

Students (especially college ones) are often seen as the hope of emerging film scenes. A problem—a curable, minor one at that—with the students in the Kapampangan region is that they are still more or less ignorant of independent cinema.

Ask them to do a short film and you’d see that they’re trying to poorly mimic Hollywood and the stuff they see on free TV. Worse, the Kapampangan reality/experience is seldom or never featured in the stories.

Kapampangan student filmmakers studying in Manila, however, have made Kapampangan-themed works, and it makes me wonder—why do they arise in Manila? Perhaps it’s because when one studies in Manila, he/she is dipped in a ocean of diverse races. To project a unique identity in his/her film, who else to consult but the dear homeland? After all, only you know the stories of the Kapampangan region. Why waste time competing using Manila-themed films?

Thus, I take this opportunity to inform the Kapampangans about Kapampangan short films done in Manila.

First is Mark Dela Cruz’ ‘Misteryo Ng Hapis’ (‘The Sorrowful Mystery’) which bagged the Best Thesis title during its time at the UP Film Institute. It’s about a young gay who confronts his painful memories with his homophobic father during the wake of the latter. The film is like a rosary prayer narration.

Watch the whole film by searching ‘Misteryo Ng Hapis’ at Google Video.

Another is Jacqueline Nakpil’s ‘Lual Kulambu’ (‘Outside the Mosquito Net’), also from the UP Film Institute. It’s about a young boy from Bacolor who lives with his grandmother in the barrio. However, when his grandmother dies, he is forced to live in his uncle’s house in Manila. In there, he struggles to adapt to his new home.

Lastly is ‘Pupul’ (‘Harvest’) by Nicolette Henson, a Mutya Ning Kapampangan and a Kapampanganovela actor who currently takes up Mass Communication at St. Scholastica’s Academy Manila. In her AVP class, ‘Pupul’ was branded the best narrative. It tells the story of a single mother who tries to keep her son from seeing his real father in the farm due to personal reasons.

It will be uploaded soon through the Internet.

Shameless Plug

Allow me to plug our own contribution to this Kapampangan Cinema dream. Our group Kalalangan Kamaru, in cooperation with the Holy Angel University Center for Kapampangan Studies, presents ‘Ing Bangkeru’ (‘The Boatman’), a 10-minute screen adaptation of the anonymous Kapampangan ballad of the same title. Shot in the Pampanga River, it tells an anecdote about an arrogant student from Manila intellectually challenging a young, lowly boatman about the philosophies the student had learned in his Spanish school.

We also have our very first Kapampangan documentary called ‘Sexmoan Adventures.’ Its synopsis: “A town in the Philippine province of Pampanga has for long been known as Sexmoan. One day, the municipal government decided to dump its scandalous spelling and replaced it with how residents traditionally call their homeland: Sasmuan.” The documentary lightly interviews residents of Sasmuan about their attitude toward Sexmoan and their current lifestyle.

Lastly, we are making a new digital short film titled ‘Balangingi’ (‘Nosebleed’ in English; ‘Balinguyngoy’ in Tagalog). It’s a Kapampangan romantic comedy about two discriminating intellectuals forced to attend a blind date. This short film gives a peek to that minority in Philippine society who are unlikely to survive socially by being themselves-- the Filipino intellectuals. Or as laymen would call them: Nerds! As parents call them: Pilosopo.

December 10, 2008

Kabalen Ash Castro: Fashion Photographer

Kabalen Ash Castro: Self-Taught Professional Fashion Photographer

Even though I am not a photographer, I have always been fond of photography. If not only for my busy schedule and unfinished commitments, I would save money for a high-end camera and try to develop whatever skill I have in photography, like what my now-US-based brother did post graduation. This sleeping interest is the reason that from time to time I surf the net and take a look at the works of local photographers, model or scenery.

With the thousands of photographers circulating their works in cyberspace, can one photographer’s work stand out from the rest? For me, one sure did, with his excellent style and signature identity. The best thing for me is that he is a Kapampangan like you and me, and, consciously or not, the stereotyped perfectionist and elegantly lavish attitude of our people manifests in his works. Gaining name in a short span of time, he has been featured several times in photography magazines and a lot of nice model pictures are scattered all over the Internet (to the point of some people grabbing his works and putting their names on them!) bearing his name as the mind behind.

Ash Castro is a 26 year old photographer from Arayat, Pampanga, but is doing his work in Manila, where models, agencies, and fashion-related events come in plethora. He graduated last 2005 at Holy Angel University with a degree in AB Communication Arts. To get to know this young, pleasant master of the camera more, I did a casual interview with him.


Q: When did your interest in photography arise? Was it self-decided, or were you influenced/inspired by certain people?

ASH: My interest in photography started when I was just in college. I have been taking pictures of my friends using my point and shoot cam or camera phone and when bored at home, I was doing some digital manipulation. It was self-decided and I was inspired by friends I met along the way who are also photographers.

Q: Tell me about the initial stage of your learning photography. What pictures did you take? What frustrated you? Whom did you look up to, that person which you secretly said in your mind: “I have to be like him or surpass him.”

ASH: My early engagement in photography was very exciting. At first, when I wasn’t yet doing fashion photography, I’ve been shooting sceneries to expand my portfolio and learn the basics. I look up to Gaelle Morand and Chris Zwirner because their works are stunning and surreal.

Q: Did you take any special courses on photography? Were there any items you learned that caused you to think: “Aha! So that’s the secret!” or “Aha! So that’s how it’s done!” because formerly you didn’t know how to do that?

ASH: I did not take any photography classes. It was all self-taught. I learned some techniques in post processing photos through online tutorials. I also learned the value of good lighting to produce a quality output.

Q: When did you decide to pursue photography as a professional career? Who is the subject of your first professional shoot?

ASH: I have decided to pursue photography as my professional career just last July right after I celebrated my first year in photography. My first subjects during my professional shoot were Long Mejia and Brod Pete. I did the poster and publicity shots for their concert at Music Museum.

Q: Tell me about the evolution of your equipment. During the wee stages of your interest in photography, what camera did you use? As time went by, how did you come to acquire your own photography camera? Where did you buy it and why did you choose that? Do you have your own studio, lights, and editing PC?

ASH: I started shooting using a Sony point and shoot camera which was only 4 megapixels. The photos it produced already made me happy. Before I dabbled into photography, I used to work in a call center for more than three years. With my salary, I saved enough money for a DSLR, which I purchased in Singapore. Before I bought my camera, I read reviews through forums over the Internet so as to make sure that it was worth buying. Comments from other users were positive; thus, I decided to get it.

I don’t have my own studio but I already have my own strobe lights. I’m still enjoying outdoor shoots because I don’t want to be stuck in a studio. I also have my own PC which I use for editing. It is very important for photographers to have a good calibrated monitor in post processing to make sure that colors are correct when printed.

Q: How is the process of your art from conceptualization to the finished product? Before you go to the shoot, do you already have an idea in mind or do you figure out things on the spot? How do you motivate your models for you to get that emotion/expression you want? How intervening is photo enhancement via computer to you?

ASH: Before I go to the shoot, I make sure that I already have conceptualized. I talk to my makeup artist, designers, and models whom I will be working with ahead of time to make sure that the shoot on the date itself will be fast and smooth. It’s hard to shoot without any concept in mind as it is very time consuming. Computer enhancement could be of help in color and light adjustments, but facial expressions of models do not come out as good when just edited.

Q: A lot of your pictures are sexy—both from the male and female gender. How do you motivate a model for her to have a facial/bodily expression of sexiness?

ASH: Are they sexy? LOL. I make sure that I build rapport with the models I will work with. Sometimes, when I am assigned to shoot a model, I research a bit on his/her background so that on the day of the shoot, I’ll know how to ignite a conversation.

Being sexy on photos doesn’t require being nude. I coach my models what to do and how to stare in the camera. You see, I am such a perfectionist. I believe that even if the model’s pose is simple, it can be very sexy in the eye of the audience as long as the model made love with camera during the shoot.

Q: Some photographers merely take and take pictures, and if you look at their portfolios, they don’t have a binding signature factor that will tell people “these pictures were definitely taken by Mr. X.” Honestly, your pictures have an identity which when I encounter I at once know they were your photos. Are you aware of this? If yes, what is it in your pictures that you always make sure to be there? What is your “subtle pattern” in your pictures? What is your signature style?

ASH: Thank you. I am very happy when people somehow appreciate my humble works and when I hear them say, “Oh, that’s Ash Castro’s work” even if my name is not present. Colors have always been my signature. I also make sure that my work is clean and that the model looks good on photo, not sacrificing the make up and clothes in editing.

Q: At the beginning of your career, what did you have to do to be known by models/agencies? Currently, are you the one being sought for by models, or do you still “sell” yourself to them?

ASH: My photo from the recently held Rayban Rockstar was one of the five grand winners among the thousands of entries submitted. From then on, I gained more friends and networks from other modeling agencies. I have also met various people in fashion events I attended and built connection with them. Currently, I am the one being sought for by models. Aside from contributing to magazines and newspaper I also do model’s portfolios.

Q: Who/What is your dream subject? What is your dream project (e.g. 100 Naked Pictures of Celebrities; the Religions of the Philippines ; coffee table book on present heroes; etc.)?

ASH: I don’t have a dream subject but my I do have a dream project. I want to do a fashion shoot showcasing interesting places in the Philippines and have the pictures exhibited.

Q: If you were to do a project for Pampanga/Kapampangan as your contribution to its culture/history/identity, what would it be about?

ASH: Since I am fashion photographer, I will still add a touch of fashion on my work if ever I will contribute to Kapampangan. Maybe I would do an editorial shoot showcasing historical places and the talented people of Pampanga. I will collaborate with different Kapampangan artists for the whole production.

Q: Is it possible to have photography as one’s sole career? Are you able to sustain your living or even earn extra with your income in photography?

ASH: Yes, it’s possible. I never imagined myself having photography as my professional career. It isn’t easy though because when you’re in the office, money is much easier to earn. When doing photography as full-time work, you have to manage well your shooting schedules and make sure the clients you have are satisfied with your work to make them patronize you and refer you to their friends. Thank God I still manage to send money back home and pay my bills through my earnings while earning extra for my personal needs and wants.

Q: Your word with photography enthusiasts?

ASH: First, have a motivation factor. My priorities are my parents and my younger brother. We are nine in the family and all my siblings are married except for me and my younger brother who is still in high school. I work hard not just because I love my job but also because I need to earn, hahaha.

Second, do not burn bridges. It is very important to maintain good relationships with people. We meet them because of a certain purpose. They could be our future colleagues or future co-workers. Respect is always important.

And lastly, always believe in your potential. I admire and support young talents because I was also once a newbie in this industry. I have also experienced a lot of humiliation and have encountered criticisms when I was just starting. Believe in your style, but make sure to find time to improve it. Learning should not end. Also bear in mind that criticisms are made for us to do better next time.

Q: What is your personal definition of photography?

ASH: For me, photography is about beauty. It is about capturing beautiful moments, places, and faces. It’s also a worthy alternative for people engaging drugs, because it is just as addictive. (Right! —Laxamana). END

You may visit Ash Castro’s Multiply account and view his vast number of pictures (in color) by going to