“Hinulid (The Sorrows of Sita),” one of the entries at the 2016 QCinema International Film Festival (QCinema) Circle Competition, shows a grieving mother who tries to hold on to her religious devotions while struggling to accept the tragic death of her son.
Poet and filmmaker Kristian Cordero, who hails from the Bicol region, teamed up with superstar Nora Aunor, another Bikolano, to flesh out the story of Sita Dimaiwat, a steadfast Roman Catholic who lost her son in an incident in Manila.
Sita, an overseas Filipino worker, travels back to Bicol carrying her son’s ashes. In mourning, Sita proves that memory is stronger than justice and that even the most broken life can be restored and healed.
Cordero shares that the movie took off from Carlos Ojeda Aureus’ story, “The Night Train Does Not Stop Here Anymore.”
“Aureus’ stories have moved me in many, many ways and I would always return to his works of fiction, which I consider a living spring of inspiration. I got so moved by his characters because I felt a certain and acute sense of closeness to them because his stories are all set in Naga,” he explains.
Cordero adds: “His stories revolve around people who are very familiar to me. I see and encounter them. These are priests, old bachelors, battered wives, and colegialas who, at a certain point in their lives, undergo a crisis of faith.”
He shares that some of the elements used in the movie were drawn from the Aureus fiction, including the Bicol-bound train where Sita rides; the Catholic upbringing; the mother-son parallelism akin to the Mary-Jesus relationship; the lessons in astronomy; and the discussions about evil versus good and why evil happens to good people.
But Cordero still made the movie his by introducing his own story that shows fragments of indigenous mysticism and folk religion.
“My point of intervention in the story can be found in the narratives of the ‘Tolong Hinulid,’ the ‘Tandayag,’ and ‘La Muerte.’ In a way, ‘Hinulid (The Sorrows of Sita)’ is a tribute to Aureus and at the same time, I would like to experiment how our Bikol stories in poetry and in fiction can reach certain points of convergences, arrivals, and departures. Like Aureus, I am also an ex-seminarian,” he says.
“Tolong Hinulid” refers to the three statues of the dead Jesus Christ that are housed in Gainza, Camarines Sur. According to some reports, these religious icons were discovered individually in a river in Bicol.
In the Bikolano folklore, the “Tandayag” is a monstrous wild boar that was vanquished by the hero, Baltog.
“La Muerte” is a folk saint that personifies death. The powers of this saint are often associated with protection, healing, and the peaceful passage to the afterlife of devotees.
Cordero says that Sita’s role was inspired by the story of Naty Angeles, one of the main characters in the Aureus fiction.
“Like Naty, Sita lost her only son in a very tragic incident. Like Naty, Sita will undergo a crisis, a moment where she has to reckon with her faith and fears,” Cordero says.
In Cordero’s story, Sita has to come to terms that tragedies spare no one and that even the most pious is not exempted from feeling the pain of living in a broken world.
He says, “Sita must come to realize that the death of her son does not exclude her but will unite her with all other forms of tragedy and atrocities. In a way, this is very Marian, as she ponders everything in her heart.”
Thriving Bikolano Film Community
Cordero shares that Bicol has undergone a cultural renaissance in recent years which spurred the growth of the current Bikolano literary circuit.
He hopes that “Hinulid (The Sorrows of Sita)” would help propel the Bikolano movie and arts scene to greater heights.
Film financing is important in movie production. Although Cordero received a seed grant of P1 million pesos from the Quezon City Film Development Commission (QCFDC), he admits that he still faces financial struggles.
He acknowledges the support given by Aunor’s followers, the local government units of Buhi, Gainza, Naga, and Pasacao, and the Ateneo de Naga University.
Other individuals who helped in the production are Attorney Grex Lagman, Bob Factora, Dr. Gino Agra, Andrew Morano, and Jojo Moll. He also cites the local staff and crew members who helped him complete the film.
Cordero shares that “Hinulid (The Sorrows of Sita)” is the second in a trilogy of movies.
The first film was “Angustia (Out of the Depths),” which was one of the finalists at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival.
“Angustia (Out of the Depths)” was recognized as one of the three best first feature films in 2013 by the Young Critics Circle of the Philippines.
He says that the third movie will be entitled, “Colgante,” which will tackle the 1972 Colgante Bridge Tragedy in Naga City. The hanging bridge collapsed during the Peñafrancia fluvial procession, killing hundreds of people.
Cordero, a faculty member of the Ateneo de Naga University, is a recipient of many literary awards including the Palanca Memorial Prize (five times in three categories), the Gintong Aklat Award, and the National Book Award, among others.
QCinema 2016 will run from October 13 to 22 at four mall venues namely, Ayala TriNoma, Gateway Cinemas, Robinsons Galleria, and UP Town Center. Its film seminars will be conducted at the QCX, the new museum complex at the Quezon Memorial Circle.
Read more: GUIDE: QCinema 2016