Yesterday I noted the upcoming screenings of Brillante Mendoza’s Thy Womb, rare opportunities (in Chicago, anyway) to catch up with one of the most controversial Filipino directors working today. Incidentally this weekend also brings a revival of a film by one of the most controversial Filipino directors of the 1970s and ’80s, Kidlat Tahimik. I Am Furious Yellow (1994) will screen from 16-millimeter at the Drake Hotel on Friday at 6 PM and Sunday at 4 PM as part of the Prak-sis New Media Art Festival, a three-day conference about artistic responses to the legacy of Cold War-era social upheaval in southeast Asia. Shot over 13 years, Yellow is a three-hour diary film about Tahimik’s experience of the 1980s and early ’90s, a period that saw the fall of the Marcos dictatorship as well as a cataclysmic earthquake that threw Manila into chaos. (It also features appearances from Dennis Hopper and Andrei Tarkovsky.)
I haven’t seen any of Tahimik’s work, but based on his life story I imagine that an autobiographical film by him would be pretty interesting. According to Bryan L. Yeatter’s book Cinema of the Philippines, the director grew up in the mountain town of Baguio, which William Howard Taft, during his stint as the first American governor of the Philippines, had turned into a resort for wealthy Americans who lived on the islands. (Not surprisingly much of Tahimik’s work addresses the westernization of his native land.) In the 1970s, Yeatter continues,
Tahimik traveled to Europe where he was going to try to make a living selling trinkets, but somehow along the way he managed to make contact with Werner Herzog, and using borrowed equipment, outdated film stock, and stock footage, he put together his first film [in 1977], Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare) for a mere $10,000—a remarkably low cost even in its time. The film mirrored his own experience as Tahimik played the lead, a young man who dreams of escaping the stifling existence of his isolated rural community and seeing the modern world. Through an American acquaintance, he travels to Paris to run a gumball concession, and later ventures to Germany, ultimately concluding that the modern world may have much to offer, but has also sacrificed much of importance in the process of its development.
Perfumed Nightmare won a critics’ prize at Berlin and earned the admiration of Francis Ford Coppola, who distributed the film in the U.S. in 1979. Since then, Tahimik hasn’t made much impact on American movie culture—or that of the Philippines, for that matter, where he remains a marginal figure. Yet I Am Furious Yellow has accumulated a passionate (albeit small) fan base in the past 20 years. Christopher Pavsek, author of the recent critical study The Utopia of Film, writes, “In an age of rising seas and collapsing economies, I Am Furious Yellow shows us how to be furious at all the injustice in the world, but also how to face that injustice with utmost joy. There are, indeed, few films like this.”
Also screening at the conference are two films by veteran experimental filmmaker James Benning that consider the legacy of the Cold War from a Western perspective. American Dreams (Lost and Found), screening Friday at 1 PM, is an hour-long work from 1984 that reflects on postwar U.S. pop culture as well as sordid political episodes from that same period. Ruhr, screening Friday at 3 PM and Saturday at noon, is a two-hour work from 2009 (Benning’s first to be shot on digital video), which consists of six mobile long-takes shot in the Ruhr Valley, one of the industrial centers of Germany. (For further information on the latter film, check out this review Mark Peranson wrote for Cinema-Scope.) The festival will feature an art installation and two panel discussions (on Saturday at 4 PM and Sunday at 3 PM) as well. Suggested donation is $5 for each event.