On Our Radar

Meet the Two Filipino Artists Fighting for the Environment Through Film

Joanne Cesario and Alyssa Suico’s experimental film ‘Here, Here’ was the only short from the Philippines that competed in the 2020 Locarno Film Festival.
August 20, 2020, 11:33am
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Alyssa Suico and Joanne Cesario. Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

On Our Radar is a VICE Asia series that profiles young, upcoming creatives across the Asia-Pacific, giving an inside look into their interests, communities and inspirations.

Joanne Cesario and Alyssa Suico have many things in common. Both are young Filipino women passionate about environmental issues, human relationships, and education. They’re also filmmakers and together, they are behind Here, Here, the only short film from the Philippines that competed in the 2020 Locarno Film Festival, one of the longest-running festivals in the world known for its art house films. The film was screened through the festival’s website in early August, showcased alongside 43 other short films that bested over 2,000 entries.

Here, Here tells the story of Koi, who returns to his hometown with an infected ear, for the first time since leaving for college. The town had been disturbed by mining operations and Koi accompanies his mother Tonet as she waits for his father, who may have been involved in an extraction tunnel accident. As Koi reconnects with his hometown, he deals with the possibility of losing both his father and his hearing.

The film sheds light on the relationship between people and nature, focusing on the effects of mining operations on the environment, community, and families. It’s a particularly important issue in the Philippines today.

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A still from the film 'Here, Here.' Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

"Part-fiction, part-experiment, and purposefully blurring the lines between, Here, Here is a loose visual study on landscapes and terrains, both natural and beyond," the film’s synopsis states.

It’s a personal story for Cesario, who grew up in a town in Batangas province that also dealt with the effects of mining.

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A still from the film 'Here, Here.' Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

“For Here, Here, I was particularly inspired by my mother and all other mothers, my home province and all other homes, and all the strong and exemplary women all over the world who nurture not only their families but also themselves and the communities they belong to,” she told VICE.

“I’m interested in melding personal stories with collective issues and things that I feel strongly about.”

At 15 years old, Cesario moved to Manila to study film at the University of the Philippines (UP), where she joined youth organisations that taught her about national issues such as free education, land distribution, and fair pay.

“Most of my creative work is from the experiences and lessons I learned from those organisations, intertwined with personal stories in Batangas,” she said, adding that she had bits of ideas for Here, Here all over her college books, but didn’t really think much about it until later.

It was only after graduating in 2016 that the project started to take shape. In 2017, she shared ideas for the film to her professors, who appreciated the film’s creativity and ideas. However, Cesario knew that she needed help to produce the film. Enter Suico, who she met while studying film in UP.

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A still from the film 'Here, Here.' Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

“I was caught off guard when Joanne first asked me to be a producer, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it. Producers have an image of being selfish, demanding and manipulating others to get what they want,” Suico said. “But I decided to produce Here, Here because I knew there was a way of producing without having those traits, and was intrigued by the storyline.”

Suico majored in sound recording but eventually became a producer after joining a documentary production house. She is now a freelance film producer and filmmaker and works as the director for public advocacy and education at Active Vista, a non-governmental organisation that educates children and communities about human rights.

“I like to balance being an educator and film producer in my daily life,” she said.

After teaming up for Here, Here, the two applied to join the QCinema International Film Festival in 2019, a second try for Cesario, and received a production grant. They used this to produce the film, which competed as part of the festival’s Shorts Competition.

Both Suico and Cesario aim to integrate their love for filmmaking with issues they care deeply about, like the environment.

However, Suico said that the Philippines’ new Anti-Terrorism Law has made the concept of being creative a risky and challenging one. The law vaguely defines what a “terrorist” is, sparking fears among rights groups that it could be used against government critics.

“While more courageous people have tried to embrace unique practices of filmmaking, I feel that the Anti-Terror [Law]…has made it more difficult for creatives to be more free and expressive. That’s one thing which is stopping the film industry at the moment,” she said.

Still, the duo is ready for more people to see their film Here, Here. Apart from the Locarno Film Festival, it has also been selected to be part of the SeaShorts Film Festival, and will be screened online from Sept. 12-20. Showcasing their story on international platforms is an opportunity they value. Not for the prestige, but its ability to shed light on important stories.

“As much as we appreciate that we have been noticed, our priority is to ensure that our voice and story is asserted and that the humanity of Southeast Asians is properly represented,” Suico said.

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A still from the film 'Here, Here'. Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

We believe in… the strength of collaboration and collective work, in blurring distinctions and defying limits of traditional storytelling and reasoning, in magic, intuition, and immersion all grounded in one's contexts, in openness, sincerity, and vulnerability, in solidarity and mutual support, and in the necessity of constant criticality in anything that we do.

We’ve been working on

Cesario: my health

Suico: building fortitude

We are inspired by… family, friends, and organisations that take off the beaten paths.

Recently we’ve been really into… expanding our community's imagination in how we do things, whether at work, in our creative output, the way we live our lives, and how we relate with one another.

You can usually find us… in and around Quezon City (when there was no quarantine).

We live for… the day when equal rights and opportunities are accessible to everybody, the land is distributed, wages and working conditions are just, education is free for all, and healing and rest are integrated into our lives.

On bad days we… allow ourselves to go through a hundred different emotions.

In 5 years… we hope to be able to create more and witness more people create transformative works. Outside and beyond filmmaking, and admittedly in spite of recurring fears and doubts, we hope to be able to put our knowledge into action towards genuine societal change.