Immy Belle Rempis, the director of Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave entry ‘Kalaw’, continues to push boundaries to bring the glory of her thesis film into greater heights.

At Asia Pacific Film Insitutute, 'Kalaw' gained her Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best in Production design. Now, 'Kalaw' is in front of a bigger crowd that will tell whether or not she did a good job.

Rempis took up Philippine Studies major in Filipino in Mass Media at De La Salle University before pursuing Motion Picture Production at Asia Pacific Film Institute.

As a movie maker, she is inclined to taboo topics.  She got a Gold Medal in Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis at DLSU for ‘Sekswal Na Pantasya Sa Likod Ng Abaya: Reklamasyon ng Katawan ng Babae sa Islam’.

She has written a play in college in 2009 entitled, ‘Aninag’, a story regarding the plight of the Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East. A year after, she directed, ‘Goatman’, a play on relationship and abortion.

What is your personal connection to the story? How come you came up with this kind of story for the plot?

Director Immy Rempis: I’ve always been a child advocate since my college years. I’ve been teaching theater to children and young adults, and even handled sensitive cases such as physically, verbally, and sexually abused children.

I used to live in a community where child-to-child sexual exploration is rampant. I made a point to fully understand what is happening and used it as the foundation of the film.

I’m also a mother so I know how it feels protecting the welfare of a child. I do not want my son to go through this, as he gets old.

Childhood should be fun. Childhood memories last a lifetime. Children should be properly guided so as to protect these very memories they have.

Dapat gabayan ang mga bata dahil ang childhood memories Diyos ko po, napakahalaga niyan sa tao. Dala-dala niya 'yan sa paglaki. Anumang nararanasan ng mga bata ngayon, hinuhulma niyan ang pagkatao nila.

Pero hindi ibig sabihin ay dyan na nakasalalay ang kanilang kapalaran. Sadyang may mga ala-alalang napilit mo mang kalimutan ay 'di mabura-bura sa isip, matulog ka man sa gabi, hanggang sa panaginip ‘di na dalaw ka nito, mulat ka man sa umaga, di ka nito lulubayan hangga’t ‘di mo 'to hahayaang maging bahagi ng sistema mo't unawain. 'Pagkat ang mga ala-ala'y dapat niyayakap, masaya man ito o miserable.

Bago pa man ako magkaro'n ng anak at maging nanay, mahilig na 'ko sa mga bata't sabi nila, isa ‘kong babaeng may matibay na opinion sa mgabagay-bagay.

Hindi ako peminista 'pagkat 'di ko na rin alam kung ano ba'ng kahulugan nito pero para sa'kin simple lang, ang babae, malayang pumili nang landas na tatahakin niya, kung gusto niyang magpakaalipin sa taong mahal niya'y di nangangahulugang mababaang respeto niya sasarili. 'Yon ang gusto niya, at kailangan itong galangin.

Basta't alam mong buo ka, sa loob at labas, babaeka. Kaya bagaman nagkaanak ako nangmaaga ay 'di ibig sabihin ay hanggang ditto na lang ako. Malayo pa rin ang pwede kong marating sa larangang napili ko.

Single mom ako pero hindi ako segunda-mano. Nakaranas akong 'di maka-inosenteng kabataan pero tanggap ko kung sino ako at ang mg akakayahan ko. 

Kalaw’s original script is roughly 49 pages. I had to trim it down to 13 pages to create a short film. Pinabasa ko sa iba ‘yung gawa ko. At marami sa kanila, nagkuwentong mga karanasan nila noongb ata pa sila, na nagawa nila ‘yon sa kapatid nila, sa kalaro nila, sa kaedaran nila.

Ako, sila, at marami pang iba ang nag daan saganito, ito sanaang gusto kong iparating din sa makakanood at makakahanap ng koneksyon sa  pelikulangito ----na hindi sila nag-iisa, na marami pang bagay sa mundo ang kaya nilang maranasan, emosyon na kayang maramdaman…at isa naro’ nang pag-ibig.

Everyone deserves to love and be loved. Pero bago ang lahat, matuto munang mahalin ang sarili, saka mo ‘to mararanasan nang buung-buo at walang katapusan.

Even if it depicted an underage character in a simulated sexual scene, it’s simply a response to a taboo topic, acknowledging the issue than pretend it didn’t exist.

It is a necessary disturbance, so people would start talking about it; engage in conversations rearing towards the issue.

Filipinos have watched plenty of films regarding sexual abuse that it seemed so common to them. They still don’t fully understand the long-lasting effects of the experience on the abused.

As a filmmaker, I believe that the best way for people to be disturbed is to see films with children exposed to this; mothers putting their child in the shoes of the abused character, imagining them going through a painful cycle alone. 

Using child actors is necessary for it to become possible, for it to be truthful. And in reality, most of the sexually abused are children.

I like this film to serve as a healing process, a relief to people who share the same experience as the protagonist in the story.

I know I’m just an amateur director and this film may not please everyone. It has countless flaws and errors, but I am willing to give it a shot. 

In making the scene wherein the older girl touches the younger one, how did you get the child actors do it? Was this scene smoothly-done?

Director Immy Rempis: The film is purely fictional. The scenes were shot at a different context, different times, and under different conditions.

The welfare of the children was well protected in the entire filming process. The subject matter was handled with real sensitivity. Careful ethical considerations were observed during the shoot. Their parents were involved during the filming.

Katabi lang namin, nasusubaybayan nila ang mga anak nila. And we’re very proud of them, of how they motivate their children to give their best shot. Very hands on. This is the kind of parenting which I look up to.

The innocence of the young was not tarnished in any way just for the creation of the film. The performances were all just very convincing. Their acting seemed so natural as they managed to elicit naturalistic performances effective at their own right.

I gave them specific moment-to-moment direction – “Tingin ka sa camera nang matagal, tumitig ka lang.”

Bukod dito, objective based ang ginawa kong directing. You give a different direction which will arrive at the same result, same emotion with the original context.

Halimbawa, I need a look of curiosity. Of course, I won’t tell the child to think of the sexual act itself, but to think of questions like “ano kayang pakiramdam ng nasa ibang planeta? Ano kayang ulam mamaya? Masarap kaya merienda pagkatapos nitong shoot?”

They don’t know their character’s backstory, maliban sa pinakamatanda sa kanilang tatlo, yung pamangkin ko, dahil ipinaliwanag ko sa kanya lahat prior to the shoot. She may look young, but she thinks older than her age. The children’s performances are something to be admired.

I’ve consulted with media practitioners, filmmakers, and children’s organizations regarding the matter. And they believed that as long as the process was handled sensitively, there is nothing wrong with having child actors in my film and that goes for other films with sensitive themes. 

This is how films are made. And film indeed, has a magic of creating an illusion through seamless editing, and all of its other elements.

Aside from creating a “necessary disturbance” to address the issue, what other activities are you planning to heighten the advocacy?

Director Immy Rempis: This film may have the possibility of hurting a sector of the society, or some conservative people say, the children. But if properly guided, children will fully understand its strong purpose thus, educating them regarding the matter, and strengthening their self-awareness.

We’re planning to hold private screenings after the festival. Some children’s organizations expressed their interest in holding these screenings and share it to their networks.

Sa ngayon, Bahay-Tuluyan at Stairway Foundation (organization for sexually abused children) pa lang ang kausap namin, hindi pa buo ang plano pero sana matuloy.

Gusto ko sanang i-tap ang mga eskwelahan at komunidad, mga barangay, ganyan. Walang konkretong solusyon ang pelikulang ‘to, but it surely promotes awareness.  

With thorough explanation after watching the film, naniniwala akong malaking impluwensya ang maidudulot nito. I believe in the material a lot.

Which specific audience do you wish to present your movie to? Mothers? Children? Families? Schools? Government?

Director Immy Rempis: I want to treat the Filipino audience as educated adults who can handle the weight of the film and its impact to them as they leave the cinema.

The film has the potential to inform, heal, and possibly transform.  After years of trauma, the aftermath of a tragic experience can still be positive.

The message comes across powerfully. It is a confronting film to be seen by those who need to see it most: Abusers will be faced by the damage they do. Parents will protect the welfare of their children more.

The best way to protect a child is to educate them, arm them with proper guidance backed up by an explanation.

It’s not enough to stop children from doing things without further explanation, as their curiosity will never die; they will still do it in their own way.

Victims will accept that they are not alone and that it is possible to heal their wounds.

Afflict the comfortable so they would do something about it, magigising sila sa katotohanang may impyerno sa inaakala nilang langit, na nangyayari ‘to, at posibleng mangyari sa mga anak nila no matter how much money they provide, gaano man karangya ang buhay nila.

I want the audience to go what the protagonist went through and feel her suffering.

I tapped a universal picture of childhood where people can easily relate to – the young characters playing after school hours before going home as well as the adult characters reliving their childhood memories.

This creates a sense of nostalgia to people watching the film. This makes them re-evaluate their childhood memories. I want to give people plenty to think about.

What is the element in your film that makes it deserving for the win?

Director Immy Rempis: This film is appealing to the purest intention, to promote awareness regarding sexual abuse, and not to entertain an audience or to traumatize the children.

It’s to get a glimpse of truth that is not good. Tipong kapag napanood mo, sasabihin mo, “sana hindi to totoo” ---pero totoong nangyayari and all you can do is wish it didn’t happen.

This film depicts that there is hope. Someone out there can accept and love you for who you are and what you’ve been through. Recovery now becomes a possibility.

Also, it’s a very personal film. Corny pakinggan pero galing sa puso ‘yung materyal. Maraming pelikula ang tungkol sa ganitong isyu, at marami na ring solusyong inihain.

Sa tingin ko, mas kailangang alugin ang utak ng nanonood para kumilos. Di na umuubra sa Pinoyang simplengkwento, inimmune na tayo ng panahon. I think Kalaw has the potential to inform, heal, and possibly transform.

If you are offered to produce a full feature film out of the 16-minute thesis product, what aspects of the film are you willing to modify? Or is there anything you want to add to the film just in case you re-create?

Director Immy Rempis: Actually, 49 pages ang Kalaw noon. It’s almost a full length. Kaya gusto ko sana isulat nang pang full length pero lagi akong nauunahan ngtakot na baka di ko pa kaya. Pero naisip ko, kailan ako magsisimula?

I need to start somewhere.

Kung may mag-o-offer man, aayusin ko ‘yung original draft. Sa mga nakabasa, mas drawn sila do’n. Mas gusto nilang subaybayan. Mas ramdam nila, dahil ‘yon ang mas malapit sa sarili kong karanasan.

Ang sakit mag-revise ng script sa totoo lang. I had to modify it to create a 16 min. film.

‘Yung mapapanood niyo sa festival, hindi siya ang director’s cut. MTRCB gave it a rated X. So I filed another version for approval, and to cut the long story short, it was then given a PG rating.

Kaunti lang ang pinutol, but those are the very crucial scenes in the film. Nabawasan ‘yung impact, but the logic remains. At ayos naman ako ‘don, ang mahalagalang, mapanood ng mga tao lalo nang kabataan, para sa kanila ‘to.

Ang magandang pelikula na may mahalagangm ensahe, dapat napapanood, hindi naka-stock sa hard drive at bulukin ng panahon.

I want to retain the dual timeline, but definitely, I’ll add more scenes where the characters interact with people around them.

I want them to show how emotionally mature they are, I want people to see their growth.

I can always adjust as long as the essence of the film remains intact. Versatility is necessary in this industry.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry, and your desired “signature” as a filmmaker?

Director Immy Rempis: For now, hindi pa malinaw sa ’kin. Hindi ko akalaing mapupuntako sa industriyang ‘to dahil noon, kinuha ko ang kursong Philippine Studies sa DLSU dahil gusto kong mag-etnograpiyasa bundok, mapakinggan ang storyang mga tribo, nawawalang kulturang lahing Pilipino. Hanggang sa napadpad ako sa mundo ng pelikula matapos mamulat sa mundo ng teatro noong kolehiyo.

Siguro, sa ngayon, gusto ko lang maging isang kwentista. Hindi man makilala ang mga gawa ko, pero sana, maski sakaapu-apuhan ng anak ko, maaalala nila ang mga kwento ko. Mga kwento, na may unibersal na tema. Stories that will touch the lives of many.

Ayokong magpaka-propeta’t subukang isalba ang mundo sa masalimuot na katotohanan ng buhay, pero gusto kong imulat ang mga tao sa katotohanang ito.

This may look depressing, pero gusto kong signature e yung malungkot, emosyonal na pelikula, yung may kaluluwa.

Para kasi sa’kin, ‘di kumpleto ang buhay kung walang conflict, kung walang lungkot. Ang lungkot ang nagdadagdag ng kulay sa buhay ng isang tao e.

Madaling maging masaya, because life itself is something to be celebrated, pero angkalungkutan, mas tumatanim sa isip, sa puso, mas pinapatibay tayo bilang indibidwal. 

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