Sundance Film Festival 2022
Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan
The Headhunter’s Daughter
INTERNATIONAL LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS
Leaving her family behind, Lynn traverses the harrowing roads of the Cordilleran highlands to try her luck in the city as a country singer.
Hi Don thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
I am doing quite well! I have recently immigrated to Chicago, and working on production and story developments from here. However, it is tough being far away from home, especially when the pandemic situation is still quite dire back home. Recently, Typhoon Odette had just hit the Visayan and Mindanao region of the Philippines. I have relatives there, and I keep them in my mind during these times as well.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Well, our film The Headhunter’s Daughter was borne out of the pandemic times! As strange it is to say, it wasn’t just time that allowed us to get inspired for this film, however it was more so the circumstances of what we were allowed to do in a city that is still in lockdown. The film has been in development for a few years now but the pandemic really pushed me to re-sculpt characters and story in order to make it fit the world we are allowed to navigate during these times. The lack of resources and filming possibilities also pushed us to make tougher choices, challenge our stylistic approach, as well as sacrifice a lot of our strength. We only had a few weeks before the first wave of festival submissions so we were on a crunch that pushed us to work at a certain pace.
Your short film Hilum went on to win the Student Prize and gained a Special Mention from the International Jury at 2021 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, what has this type of recognition for your film meant to you?
The experience at Clermont-Ferrand allowed me and my team to have a learning opportunity of how a film festival of this calibre operates, the opportunities it provided to meet other filmmakers and to be able to watch amazing films meant so much to us that we went into our next production with so much inspiration. To be recognised for the awards also gave us a chance to realise what we did right and wrong as young filmmakers and how to learn from it and further push it in our later works. It was an inspiring and encouraging event in our paths.
Congratulations on having The Headhunter's Daughter selected in the Short Film Programme at Sundance 2022, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of films?
We feel honoured to be a part of such an esteemed roster of films and to play alongside other talented filmmakers is humbling and deeply inspiring. This film was made with very little resources and crew, and was filmed with close friends and neighbours in my hometown of La Trinidad - I never thought it’d premiere in a festival such as Sundance, yet here we are - still in disbelief!
"We were paraded in multiple World Fair exhibitions, enclosed in Coney Island human zoos, and disfigured in political cartoons during wartime."
Can you tell me a little bit about how The Headhunter's Daughter came about, what inspired your screenplay?
I am a musician, and all of the music in the film is composed by myself alongside the main actor, Ammin. I always dreamt of being a musical performer myself, as well as experienced having to leave my homeland in pursuit of doing something in-line with the arts. The uncertainty and gravity of such an exodus was a stimulus for me to write this film. However, after living in the United States for a while, I have learned and unpacked this feeling and the repercussions of this move, so I channelled it into the screenplay. At the end of the day, the film became a film about home.
When working on a short film like The Headhunter's Daughter what are some of the biggest challenges you face realising your vision?
Perhaps the limitations of having a very small budget and the lack of personnel on set were the biggest challenges, however, while filming, these aspects became the strengths that made the film what it is. At this point, I am convinced to keep filming in these conditions as I have found a deep connection with this process and am able to fully be present with everyone in our crew, the community I filmed with, and work at a pace that works for our stylistic approach.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
If the stories they want to tell call for such push, then I believe it is important to do that. It sometimes depends on what type of films they’re creating, and at the end of the day, it comes down to the identity of the filmmaker. People have different ways of expressing themselves, and for some people, pushing the boundaries is what helps them express it, meanwhile, some feel like remaining in the realm of such boundaries built on simplicity and honesty is the best way to tell their story.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
It was always a passion to draw and write a manga! However, it turned into a dream to perform as a musician and evolved into filmmaking eventually. In high school, I read books that pushed me to think cinematically which made me gravitate to filmmaking.
Has your approach to your films changed much since your debut?
Yes. In form and style. I still want to tell the same stories, but the way I tell them always morphs the more I navigate my relationship with the world as I grow older.
Is there any advice you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?
There’s so much to learn inside and outside of filmmaking. I continually learn from it and that will always be the case. So just be open. Be open to new forms of filmmaking, to styles you’re not used to, and be open to challenges because there will be so much of it, and in reality, they will never end. So be open and adaptable.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Headhunter's Daughter?
Historically, Igorots were first known in the United States as a travelling circus, made to perform inhumane acts of self-humiliation and caricature of their own culture. We were paraded in multiple World Fair exhibitions, enclosed in Coney Island human zoos, and disfigured in political cartoons during wartime. The historical global portrayal of the Indigenous Filipino is important to me and we aim to reshape that through the lens of cinema. It’s profound to me that we premiere in the United States for this exact reason.