Every story counts, and every community has the right to tell its own. North Luzon Cinema Guild is a platform where local youth can learn the necessary skills to develop new visual storytelling about their community and culture and reclaim North Luzon’s narrative, freeing and safeguarding their ancestor’s history from the misrepresentation perpetrated by mainstream media.
Jerome Dulin is a film curator and human rights activist who founded North Luzon Cinema Guild in 2015, wishing to empower a newer generation of filmmakers from Northern Luzon using cinema to preserve his community’s history and shape its future.
Camilla Colicchio You are both a film curator and a cultural and human rights advocate. What did come first, the passion for cinema or the attention to human rights?
Jerome Dulin Actually, when I was studying in college, I was first an activist. So human rights came first. And there, eventually, we’ve been doing some creative activities that would raise awareness on human rights, particularly on inequalities here in the Philippines. In the Philippines, it’s quite difficult to raise issues or concerns. So, we do it creatively. At first, I tried to use photography and then do films since I think photos are limiting and more difficult to understand.
Camilla Colicchio What’s the story behind North Luzon Cinema Guild? Was there a precise moment that pushed you to start it?
Jerome Dulin Here in the Philippines, there is a thing called Cinema Rehiyon, an exhibition of the best of the best films in the country, particularly highlighting films not from the central region, Metro Manila. When I graduated, one of the curators of the event held by the government asked me if there were films from my hometown, and there weren’t. When they reported to me that there were no films that would highlight our culture, I decided to go back to my hometown and start creating this movement of creating films, pitching young filmmakers or storytellers to create stories about their hometowns. And then, eventually, we created a platform called North Luzon Film Festival. It’s a free film festival that wants to help filmmakers to express themselves, showcase their culture, and at the same time amplify the voices of those who advocate for human rights in our area. From there on, we encourage communities to create their own film festivals, help them launch their own, and give free filmmaking classes and workshops. At first, we were supported by the government through grants, but when we started to tackle human rights, it became more difficult to access grants in the Philippines.
“When they reported to me that there were no films that would highlight our culture, I decided to go back to my hometown and start creating this movement of creating films, pitching young filmmakers or storytellers to create stories about their hometowns.”
Camilla Colicchio More recently, the cinema industry has finally started to develop deeper attention and awareness towards the theme of representation. A huge problem is the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of North Luzon. So, how do the mainstream media misrepresent North Luzon?
Jerome Dulin Most of the time, we are represented as uneducated and our place as underdeveloped. North Luzon people are also often represented wearing traditional costumes. But there’s also the issue of cultural appropriation, people getting a batok from the legendary tattooer Apo Whang-od or designers using funeral indigenous tapestry in a fashion show. Cultural misrepresentation particularly regards objects sacred to some communities or groups here in northern Luzon. Moreover, one of the most worrying phenomena is misreporting of the histories of ancient ethnic groups perpetrated by the mainstream media. Therefore, their identity is quite lost because of the misreporting of historical accounts of indigenous people since indigenous people don’t have actual documents, and these histories get orally passed down from one generation to another. For this reason, misreporting is really easy, and it threatens to change the history of indigenous people. So, through cinema, we are helping them record and archive their own history and tell their own stories, not only to correct those misrepresentations but also to inform other people from outside this community. We also hope to help these communities to develop an awareness of these subjects.
Camilla Colicchio So, taking ownership of your narrative also helps preserve its cultural heritage from misrepresentation. And how does this work impact North Luzon people?
Jerome Dulin Our primary reason is to support communities to best preserve their culture and showcase their identity through cinema. With our programs, we want to give them the confidence to tell their own stories, give them platforms or share our networks to really sustain them in this so that they have the pride of telling their own stories through cinema without a third person who is interpreting from its perspective what tangible objects would really mean to them or the community. We also want to raise awareness among the local government to encourage the use of cinema to tell stories in their own communities. Films, particularly in the form of documentaries, help raise awareness about the most pressing issues and concerns in the local communities, for example, for marginalized communities such as labor workers, women, Muslim communities, LGBT communities, and even activists. Another reason that spurred us to organize our film education programs is the lack of real film schools in the region. We try to at least incorporate through short-term teaching the technical aspect of filmmaking and teach soft skills such as management, how to properly document their own culture, and other issues or topics. If the topic is very sensitive, we teach how to create and represent these topics more creatively so that the government won’t be hostile to them.
“Films, particularly in the form of documentaries, help raise awareness about the most pressing issues and concerns in the local communities, for example, for marginalized communities such as labor workers, women, Muslim communities, LGBT communities, and even activists.”
Camilla Colicchio Can you tell me more about the complicated relationship with the government you mentioned?
Jerome Dulin In the Philippines, when your artistic work talks about relationships and familiar cultures, filmmakers are free to express themselves, and artists don’t have to worry about their safety. But if they raise concerns or tell the stories of the community that experiences inequalities – for example, a displacement of indigenous people or the government killing due to the drug war -filmmakers become targets of harassment. Filmmakers become targets of being a red dog – the term red dog in the Philippines means you are labeled a terrorist. Therefore, the artist could be killed for expressing something, even if it’s through the arts.
Camilla Colicchio I feel that the underlying problem behind your effort to develop a visual storytelling of North Luzon is a lack of accessibility not only to the cinema in general but also to film education. So how are you tackling these issues with your projects?
Jerome Dulin When we go to communities, we work hand in hand with local governments to let them understand that some of the topics or narratives we showcase in film are a reflection of the community. We want to let the local governments know that they shouldn’t be hostile to what we do because these films might help in reflecting on what’s happening to the communities. When a documentary showcases child labor in tourism in the northern Philippines, instead of attacking the filmmaker, its work should become an instrument for understanding why child labor in tourism happens. Therefore, you can create more policies that would protect children.
On our side, film education programs in our guild aim to not only spark creativity in these young filmmakers but also to give confidence and, at the same time, empower the stories of indigenous people. Because one of our beneficiaries is indigenous people, who have no access to the Internet – because there are parts of the Philippines that don’t have access to the Internet, it is a luxury in some areas here. So, what we try to do is give them skills training, trying to help them understand the art or the craft. For example, we worked with a community that lives in the mountains. When they have cell phones, they have the ability to create films with mobile phones, use the computers of the barangay or local governments, and then create films and send it to us. And we are trying, as much as possible, to create platforms where other communities can watch these films and understand the cultures of other places in North Luzon. We are also trying to build a network on a national level, Asian level, and, hopefully, international level so that these voices will be heard.
Camilla Colicchio I’ve just learned from you that North Luzon is an ethnically diverse region, but what’s the region’s uniqueness? What’s the voice of North Luzon?
Jerome Dulin Since we had the funding last December, we have been traveling through North Luzon, and I realized that the unique voice of North Luzon people is that, as much as possible, they don’t want to displace their own culture and identity. Despite countries trying to homogenize everything and influence them through the information that can be gathered from social media or the Internet, people try to identify themselves and embrace the diversity that the culture in North Luzon has. People try to survive and work with what they have. They try not to damage the environment since we are connected to nature. Last week, we were in Cordillera, they have this rice terraces made by their ancestors, and I realized that just a small action, like planting rice without any footwear, connects them to their ancestors and their land. Touching their feet on the ground establishes a connection between the past and the future. In shorter terms, despite the advancement of progress occurring in the world, they don’t want to lose their identity and culture.
“I realized that the unique voice of North Luzon people is that, as much as possible, they don’t want to displace their own culture and identity. Despite countries trying to homogenize everything and influence them through the information that can be gathered from social media or the Internet, people try to identify themselves and embrace the diversity that the culture in North Luzon has.”
Camilla Colicchio Does this problem also result in poor media literacy on the audience side?
Jerome Dulin Since the creators of the content or the films are first-hand users of the culture insiders of a community, the information is correct. Other realities are presented through cinema. It’s either true through fiction or documentary. Therefore, the audience has a clear understanding of why these things happen, why they should protect the environment, or why it is fundamental to create an archive of a culture that is being lost. One of the most prominent signs of cultural degradation is the loss of languages. This year we learned that, for example, in one barangay, one language is not used because people are being educated in a very Western way. Even the older generation doesn’t encourage youth to speak their language. We’ve learned that in the community, there are less than 300 people speaking that language.
Camilla Colicchio So, part of your work also tries to keep this cultural diversity alive?
Jerome Dulin Yes, the project we will launch, thanks to the Creativity Pioneers Fund, will translate the stories of the community to the different languages of North Luzon. We believe that every story counts, every story builds up for imagining the future, and the story of the future comes from the younger generations. So, if we want to understand what our future will look like, we must listen to the stories of the past and these younger generations. Two weeks ago, three communities joined in one activity, but we did not let them feel that one story was more important than the other. Through their collaboration and our facilitation, their visions became one, telling one story. This is really important because if the stories are not told properly by someone who is part of the community, it usually becomes a means of propaganda for an individual or an organization.
Camilla Colicchio What are the organization’s next steps?
Jerome Dulin Since we have already tried to teach the skill set I mentioned before, we want to make these projects sustainable. We want them to create their own little groups and work with their communities to keep doing films and, at the same time, work hand in hand with their local government so that there is an understanding between these artists, who are trying to mirror what’s happening in their communities and showcase their own identity, and the local authorities. Even if we’re not there physically, if they need something, we’re always there to empower them or provide them with more training that would help them become more independent. We share our networks with them because we want them to grow. And, eventually, we hope that, in the future, our work will no longer be needed because they are fully autonomous and empowered.
Camilla Colicchio What’s your biggest dream regarding North Luzon Cinema Guild?
Jerome Dulin As I said before, I hope we will no longer exist because people have already flourished. I hope future stories will be about the celebration of life, the celebration of community, and the celebration of freedom because films won’t need anymore to speak about war, discrimination, and inequality. I hope these issues will be solved in the future.
In 2022, North Luzon Cinema Guild was one of the recipients of the Creativity Pioneers Fund, placing creativity at the center of more inclusive, equal, just and thriving communities.Read more stories like this →