A total of 12 entries are in the running for the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Competition for First Appearance 2019 in the Netherlands, including “Aswang” by Alyx Ayn Arumpac. “Aswang,” a co-production among the Philippines, France, Norway, Qatar, and Germany, will be up against productions and co-productions from Spain, Russia, Qatar, Denmark, Brazil, Poland, China, the UK, Serbia, Croatia, Colombia, and Georgia.
The IDFA, now on its 32nd year, is widely regarded as the Cannes of documentary filmmaking. It has screened over 300 films annually, making it among the leading documentary film fests in the world. The IDFA Competition for First Appearance 2019 will be deliberated on by five Jury members, with no less than Delegate General of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Paolo Moretti leading the pack. Joining him are editor and filmmaker Maya Hawke, and filmmakers Tatiana Huezo, Anand Patwardhan, and Emma Davie.
The inclusion of “Aswang” in the IDFA Competition for First Appearance made it possible for the 85-minute documentary on the war on drugs in the Philippines to have a world premiere in Amsterdam on November 21. “We’re very proud and grateful to premiere at IDFA, and happy that we were selected for the competition lineup. IDFA is one of the film’s biggest supporters, through its Bertha Fund, IDFAcademy Summer School, and the IDFA Forum. Despite this, all films still have to undergo a selection process to be able to screen or compete in the festival,” said director Arumpac, who eagerly announced that her film’s first two screenings in Amsterdam are sold out.
In 2018, “Aswang” received 40,000 euros for Europe: International Co-production from the IDFA Bertha Fund, which supports developing countries by co-funding their documentary projects. It was also part of the 2018 IDFAcademy Summer School Script which offered trainings for promising documentary talents. It also received support from Aide aux cinémas du monde – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée/Institut Français, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, Berlinale World Cinema Fund, Purin Pictures, White Light Post, Doha Film Institute, Tan Ean Kiam Foundation-SGIFF Southeast Asian Documentary Grant, PACA Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Un Monde par tous foundation, Société des Producteurs et de l’ANGOA, DMZ Docs Fund, and Talents Tokyo Next Masters Support Grant.
The team behind “Aswang” received additional support from La Société Civile des Auteurs Multimédias (La SCAM) Brouillon d’un rêve, Sarah Jacobson Film Grant – Free History Project, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). “The FDCP and NCCA helped us through their filmmaker travel assistance program which paid for our flights for some of the development workshops and pitches. This was very important for us and we are very grateful for this,” added Arumpac, who also served as the film’s producer together with Armi Rae S. Cacanindin for ACC Cinematografica Films.
Cacanindin elaborated on FDCP’s International Film Studies Assistance Program (IFSAP). “We started developing this project in 2016 and FDCP has supported us since early 2017. Their IFSAP partly covered the expenses we incurred to be able to attend the IDFA Forum where we pitched the project and had one-on-one meetings with potential funders and co-producers. We also received the same travel assistance program last year when we were chosen to be part of IDFAcademy Summer School. Our project was presented to mentors who gave us valuable feedback and helped us strengthen the narrative structure,” she said. “The support that we received gave the filmmaker the space and freedom to pursue the direction she wanted, with no creative and editorial compromises. We are so honored that these institutions trusted us.”
However, Cacanindin and Arumpac clarified that securing grants for “Aswang” was certainly not a walk in the park. “Compared to fiction films, there is not a lot of support structures for documentaries (especially of a political nature) in the Philippines. And it is also not at all easy to get support anywhere if you are a first-time filmmaker from the Philippines. It was purely self-funded during the first year, and it took over a year before we received any support. Asian initiatives such as the DMZ Docs Fund in South Korea, Talents Tokyo Next Masters Grant in Japan, and Docs By The Sea in Indonesia helped the project move forward in the early development stage and connected us to our future partners. As the film took shape, then we could try for other grants appropriate to our stage of production. It was a great amount of work, and we are so thankful and proud to be supported by these institutions,” Arumpac related.
Despite the difficulties they faced, Arumpac and Cacanindin proved their mettle, with a world premiere to boot. Cacanindin then offered pieces of advice for budding documentary filmmakers: “Timing played a big part in our grant application process. It is best to do research on the grants and their past supported projects to understand them better. Another advice is to turn in a well-written and thorough application. Do not cram, take time in crafting the essays and treatment because these are very competitive. Hundreds of projects are all applying for the same thing.”
The screenings for “Aswang” are on November 21, 23, 27, and 29, with an additional event on November 23 for the Press & Industry Screening. The international companies that co-produced with Cinematografica are Les Films de l’œil sauvage, Stray Dog Productions AS, and Razor Film Produktion GmbH. Quentin Laurent was the creative producer while Kristine Ann Skaret, Roman Paul, and Henrik Underbjerg were co-producers.
Cinematography was care of Arumpac and Tanya Haurylchyk, editing was done by Anne Fabini and Fatima Bianchi, and the trailer was courtesy of Carlo Manatad. Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr was at the helm of sound mix, John Michael Perez and Mikko Quizon were in charge of sound design, music was taken care of by Teresa Barrozo, and narration was done by Fabini and Giancarlo Abrahan.
“Aswang” may be the only documentary with Philippine production credits in IDFA 2019, but there are two other documentaries scheduled for Dutch premieres that tackle Filipino topics. “Overseas” (Belgium and France) by Sung-A Yoon features the trainings and ordeals of future Filipino overseas housekeepers, while “The Kingmaker” (United States and Denmark) by Lauren Greenfield is about the family of the late former President Ferdinand Marcos, with focus on former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Since 1988, only one Philippine production has won an IDFA: “Kano: An American and His Harem” (2010) by Monster Jimenez which bagged the IDFA Award for Best First Appearance in 2010. The IDFA runs from November 20 to December 1.