Filipino movies

‘Patay na si Hesus’ director Victor Villanueva on the Cebuano story and sincerity

Lorraine Ecarma
‘Patay na si Hesus’ director Victor Villanueva on the Cebuano story and sincerity

CEBUANO FILM. The cast and crew of 'Patay na si Hesus.'

Photo courtesy of Victor Villanueva

The film is now available for streaming on Netflix

Patay na si Hesus is a Cebuano film that centers around a dysfunctional family travelling across Cebu to bury their estranged father. Spoilers aside, the movie takes you into two journeys: one from Cebu City to Dumaguete and another towards a rollercoaster of family drama that ultimately leads to acceptance.

Since its release on Netflix during the holidays, audiences have been abuzz by its witty cynicism and distinctly Bisaya humor.

But what is the story behind one of the minds that mapped out this epic roadtrip?

Pagpalipay (To bring joy)

Victor Villanueva did not always know he wanted to direct movies. Nor did he necessarily know that film was his calling. All he wanted was to tell stories.

“I’ve always been very imaginative [as a child]. Makakita ko’g fantasy (whenever I’d see fantasy films), I’d like to tell my own spin to it,” he said.

Victor studied advertising in college where he was made to take video editing courses under his program. That, he said, ignited his fascination for film.

BEHIND THE SCENES. The crew film a scene from the film, which takes place over the course of a road trip between Cebu and Dumaguete.
Photo courtesy of Victor Villanueva

At first, it was just to comply with school requirements. But he would later chase after that fascination by taking short courses in a prominent film school in Cebu. There, he was the ‘resident Cebuano’ among peers who came from other parts of the country.

“Most of my classmates ngadto sa Big Foot kay mga taga-Manila, mga in-ana. So ako ilang resource. Ako ilang usual producer sa ilang projects,” he said.

(Most of my classmates at Big Foot were from Manila and other places. So I was their resource person. I was their go-to producer in their projects.)

It took him a while to realize that he was good at directing. He was more comfortable with producing short films during the early stages of his career. He began testing his instincts and slowly, Victor said, he found his voice in film.

During this exploration stage, he would also come to know what fulfillment awaited him upon seeing his audience laugh along with his fictional characters on the screen. Victor recalled a pivotal moment when someone came up to him after seeing his film and said it was the highlight of her otherwise gloomy day.

Hala, in ani ang effect sa akong film. Na napahappy siya og maayo. Basta nindot siya. Maoy nagpalipay nako nga, ‘shit, this is what I like to do.'”

(Oh, this is what my film does to people. It really made her happy. It really felt good. It’s what made me feel good and say to myself, “shit, this is what I like to do.”)

Kabuang (Mischief)

From there, Victor would go on to realize a passion to tell one story in particular – the Cebuano story. He explained that in every film he did, he always felt the desire to put in a Cebuano detail, whether it came in the form of a quote, a joke, or a song.

Before Patay na si Hesus became a favorite of both the Cebuano and non-Cebuano audience, Victor fell in love with the script because of its Cebuano identity.

Ako wala gyud ko gadahum kay I just really wanted to make that film. And, the moment nga akong nabasa ang script, nakaana ko na, “ay perfect gyud kaayo, Cebuano gyud kaayo nga salida.”

(I didn’t expect anything because I just really wanted to make a film. And, the moment I read the script, I said to myself, “this is really perfect, the film is definitely Cebuano.”)

Ang akoa ra gyud nga, ‘ah, ataya aning salidaha oy. Sige atong ning buhatan og kabuang.'”

(To me it was, “ah, this film is sick. Okay, let’s put some mischief in this”.)

Dagkong singot (Big beads of sweat)

Victor and the rest of the team behind “Patay na si Hesus” knew the challenges of producing a Cebuano film. And their expectations, for the most part, proved to be true when it came to looking for funding and distribution.

Prospective financiers would tell them to produce the film in Tagalog instead to reach a wider audience. And because this was a recurring theme in their pitches, Victor said he and the team actually considered taking the movie out of Cebu and setting it in a different location.

Photo courtesy of Victor Villanueva

“I remember sa akong early pitches, naa’y niingon, ‘I don’t think you can raise the money for this film.’ Giana gyud pag ingon. I had to find ways to defend myself na, ‘no there’s a big market for Cebuanos.’ I didn’t have the data, dagko na kaayo akong singot ato.”

(I remember during my early pitches, someone said, “I don’t think you can raise the money for this film”. And it was really said like that. I had to find ways to defend myself like, “no there’s a big market for Cebuanos”. I didn’t have the data, I was sweating buckets.)

And despite the challenges of producing a movie in Bisaya, a language inaccessible to a bulk of the population, Victor knew he would best do justice to Cebu.

“For a while, we really thought about it nga, ‘sige, maybe, okay,… naa mi hesitation because the heart isn’t there. Moingon ko’s akong producers, kung Cebu ni– ultra-instinct, I know what to do.”

(For a while, we really thought about it like, “sure, maybe okay,”… but we would hesitate because the heart isn’t there. I would tell my producers, if this was Cebu– ultra-instinct, I know what to do.)

This struggle to find financial backing for Patay na si Hesus is a microcosm of the pains of artists from areas outside Metro Manila undergo.

For the Cebuano film industry, Victor says, the meager compensation for creatives hinder them from devoting their time to producing content. More often, filmmaking merely is a hobby because aspirants are forced to juggle it between their nine-to-five jobs.

“I’m really hoping na mas more sustainable siya na industry. There must be a way to have it na sustainable and I think daghan siya’g trabahuon in terms of stakeholders. The government can really help.”

(I’m really hoping that it [Cebu film industry] becomes more sustainable. There must be a way to make it sustainable and I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of the stakeholders. The government can really help.)

Magpauso sa Cebu (Make Cebu mainstream)

Beyond the obstacles, what Victor and the crew didn’t foresee, however, was how easy Patay na si Hesus reached the hearts of its audience. In this case, language was not a barrier in communicating the film’s main message – finding solace in family in spite of imperfections.

Patay na si Hesus was a Bisdak film shot in Cebu Island, however, it echoed themes all-too familiar to viewers an imperfect family held together by love, the LGBTQIA+ struggle, taking care of people with special needs, and even owning up to your mistakes to the people you love.

And these themes are carried in the characters of Iyay and her children. But what seemed like the perfect formula to engage the non-Bisaya speaking crowd, Victor said, was not intentionally curated for views.

“I just wanted to tell the story. I wasn’t really thinking na, dapat in-ani ’cause I have to please a market. Ganahan lang ko na tarong sila nga tawo sa film. I wanted it to be sincere,” Victor said.

(I just wanted to tell the story. I wasn’t really thinking , it has to be like this because I have to please a market. I just wanted them to have real people in the film. I wanted it to be sincere.)

“I didn’t really think about the agenda,” he added.

Photo courtesy of Victor Villanueva

Like every proud Cebuano, Victor also said a major goal was to prove that the “Cebuano experience” had the makings of being a landmark in Philippine mainstream culture.

“When I was making it, ganahan ra ko na, I hope makatawa ra sila. I hope they get to see the Cebuano experience. I want to magpauso gane og something sa Cebu– nga we have that kind of nuance. Something specific sa atoa nga I can bring up sa pop culture,” he said.

(When I was making it, I just wanted to make them [the audience] laugh. I hope they get to see the Cebuano experience. I want to make something from Cebu trendy– to show that we have that kind of nuance. Something specific that I can bring up in pop culture.)

“What’s so special about Cebu to Dumaguete? Basta special! Kung wala mo didto, I’ll show it to you,” he joked.

(What’s so special about Cebu to Dumaguete. It just is special. If you aren’t there, I’ll show it to you.)

Bahala mo, wa ko’y pake (It’s up to you, I don’t care)

What’s next for Victor? Some time to recuperate by focusing on his other passions like game and tech, and to focus on helping out aspiring filmmakers in Cebu.

“I wish some of the younger generation would gamble. To do Bisaya nga feature-length or series. But, forefront gyud ang story (the story should be at the forefront) more than the technicalities,” he said.

“I don’t want it to be a phase [Cebu movies reaching a national audience]. I want it to be something that goes on,” he added.

His message to creatives in the island who wish to make a Cebuano film? “Bahala mo!” (Go for it, it’s up to you.) He says he doesn’t care about what part of the “Cebuano experience” filmmakers zoom into next, or which parts of the island to highlight.

Siguro noh, bahala mo? Wa ko’y pake! Basta buhaton ninyo in Bisaya, in Cebuano as honest and sincere as you can,” he joked.

(Maybe all I can say is, it’s up to you? I don’t care! Just as long as you do this in Bisaya, in Cebuano and as sincere as you can.)

Wala koy koy biases if you want to shoot it sa beach, or sa urban. Bahala mo diha, basta you show the Cebuano experience.”

(I don’t have any biases if you want to shoot it at the beach, at an urban setting. It’s up to you, as long as you show the Cebuano experience.) – Rappler.com

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