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Halaw: Ways of the Sea, is a film I know qualifies for this challenge because the bloke behind me in the queue to get in made a sarcastic comment about queue jumpers to a another bloke who apologetically explained he was the director…

It’s hard to describe a film about human trafficking as ‘enjoyable’, but it was well made, intriguing and had compelling characters. The performance of Arnalyn Ismael as young Daying is particularly notable, balancing the useful skill of being easily able to steal any scene she is in while being able to fade into the background when the scene requires it. The film is very stylistically shot without seeming to be. By that I mean that the film neither shies away from the harsh realities of the poverty its characters live in nor glamorises it. Rather it finds the beauty in mess, in a way that can arguably only be achieved by viewing somewhere through the eyes of someone who loves a place despite being painfully aware of its problems. This is a film that reminds us that one cannot live on the view, no matter how beautiful that view might be.

Two interesting elements were raised in the Q & A that followed the screening. The first that only two of the characters were played by professional/trained actors (the lead smuggler/boatman by necessity, because he’s quite a complex character – they went the route of not making him irredeemably monstrous, so nuance was required). Rather local people who had some personal experience/similarities to the characters they portray on screen take on the majority of the roles. There’s rawness to the film, both in terms of performance and the way in which the film is shot and recorded. Secondly there is a certain amount of documentary elements involved and indeed the film was originally going to be a documentary and was researched as such. It ended up being a narrative piece due to ‘logistical’ reasons, which the director explained when poked further was a high likelihood of dying and not wanting to die. Apparently they also had to have armed guards to protect them from kidnappers during the filming. Not a common option on the risk assessment form I suspect. Though it does explain why I haven’t seen any Filipino films previously and from the discussion afterwards I would like to see more the films that came out of Cinemalayà.