by Petersen Vargas
Open Doors Hub | Selected project 2019
by Petersen Vargas
Present-day Philippines. Teenage runaway Zion trails a group of street hustlers who thinks he is one of them. After one of the boys dies in a violent encounter, Zion joins the rest in fulfilling the kid’s final wish: to go home. The trip takes them from city to countryside, to relatives in the slums, to a former girlfriend, to buses and roads. When they arrive at the boy’s hometown, no family can be found to take him. Amidst a barrage of street festivities, the youths claim the body as their own by igniting it into a huge bonfire. At the end of the night, does Zion truly become one of them? Is the dream of belonging an illusion? Is there really no place in the world for these kids?
The decision to move out of my provincial household and independently live in the chaotic capital Manila was all about being freed from the burden of familial guilt. Like the youths portrayed in this lm, I walk and walk hoping I arrive at a version of family and home I envision. The act of walking—without direction but with conviction—into the uncertain night and unknowable dark is a means to confront the city and observe its other faces: its filth, undersides, myths.
My second film aims at being a portrait of a nation (and of a city, homeland, people) as seen through its outskirts and shadows. To walk Manila by night is a revelatory peek into Filipino youth on the fringes of society. Employing characteristics of the road movie, this lm is an exploration and meditation on socio-political spaces, covering the gated neighborhoods of city elites, to the thickening peripheral expanse of overcrowded slums, and the neighboring underdeveloped provincial towns. It is an attempt to expose how these local landscapes have evolved into dangerous arenas for the youth given my country’s ongoing war with itself. The unabashed depiction of clandestine lives maps a uniquely Filipino route towards the human condition of a country receding in its dark ages.
Why are there houses with no people when there are people with no homes? The story of rural-to-urban migrants is not unique to me, or the Filipino, but something that extends to a global tragedy reflecting to what our humanity has become.
The visual approach is a spiritual portrait of a city, its people. Unfolding in a metamorphic night, camera will behave with Zion, the film’s emotive center and fulcrum, to externalize visually (body, landscape) and sonically (city’s buzz, countryside’s hum) what’s interiorized. Attached to Zion’s every move, the audience experiences his own mystery, confusion and eventual enlightenment. Deep-focus photography will bring to life the verve of Manila and provincial nightscapes, capturing the grit and grimness of the youths’ clandestine spaces and secret lives. I want to capture life-as-it-is for my invisible characters to be truly made visible.
I was a high school literature teacher before I stumbled into my love of film producing, so it has always been important for me to make films that can speak to young people about the world we live in. Our film tackles in a poetic way the plight of my country’s underprivileged youths under a president who sees them as dispensable. The Philippines is at war against the poor, and though it’s barely mentioned, the film allegorizes the spirit of these sad times.
Petersen Vargas is a vital voice of his generation. And yet, there is a personal dimension to his lms that I find deeply relatable. In our second collaboration after 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, the protagonists are lonely boys who lose and gain pieces of themselves during profound crossroads.
Estimated running time
Writing and Development
Metro Manila and Pampanga, Philippines
Mar - May 2021
Jade Francis Castro, Origin8 Media, Philippines;
T-Rex Entertainment, Philippines