‘Sa Paglupad ka Banog’: Winning myth

A scene from The Flight of Banog

THERE is a film that is gaining not only awards but admiration from all over the world (it has participated and won accolades in film festivals in Portugal, Los Angeles, New Zealand, Hanoi, Vietnam, Colombia… the list goes on). It is a short film of a myth coming from the Panay-Bukidnon, a geographical area that is demarcated by the mountains of the Capiz-Lambunao as well as those located around Antique and Iloilo. Their isolation has brought about for these indigenous communities also a kind of proto-enclosure, which to folklorists and cultural workers best explains why they have been able to “preserve” their rituals and literatures against the modernizing elements around them.

The film is about a hero with a golden body but the title points to the Banog, the Hawk, a bird/being that plays an imminent role to the immortality of the hero, Humadapnon. Poetry is the primum movens of this tale: the sadness of the little boy pushing the father to tell him the adventures of an epic hero.

It is from the orality of  tradition where everything begins, including hope.

From the moment Humadapnon is presented onscreen, we know we are in for a magical ride. In a pose that appears to come from anime, Hellenistic traditions of statuary, and Vedic imaginary, this Humadapnon is a handsome warrior, human in form but one that transcends valleys and dales and deaths. In quick succession, all the other characters are paraded before us. Brisk movements run a contrapuntal rhythm to the Panay-anon chant, the latter with the languor indicative of ceremonials. 

How many times have the people heard the tale? How many more times shall the village chanter sing about this story of love?

All this and more are addressed by this short film—all of nine minutes that seem to feel like a lifetime. This makes mythical time gripping.

Our hero falls ill. Nothing can cure him, except the water from a river guarded over by a huge crocodile. Only the Hawk (Banog) has the task (and responsibility) to draw the potent water from that source, battling it out for love and supremacy with Pabayhu, the crocodile.

The Hawk wins and brings the water to the dead body of Humadapnon and pours it all over him. The other ally of our hero comes to help revive him. He is Sunmasakay, who is described as “a well-built warrior with lustrous skin.” He exudes the scent of a woman, which can be explained by the fact that Sunmasakay and Mali, Humadapnon’s beloved, are one and the same.

In one of the scenes where the hero is about to be revived, Sunmasakay is shown caressing the face of Humadapnon, an act of gender trespass unless we rethink that space and put Mali there. But why are we overthinking this sensual transgression?

Humadapnon is alive! Again. Immortal now.

Onscreen, the Binukot, the Kept Maiden, appears in the person of Mali.

The story is over? No. The old man gently gets the hands of Rohan and raises it to teach the boy the movement of the myth, the dance that imitates the actions of the hawk during those heroic moments.

From the fires in front of father and son, we fly across the greenest of meadows and look down (Hawk’s view) at the Panay-anon dancing the dance of the Hawk. The gestures are simple but not simplistic, pared down to the minimum where language survives by being lucid. As the dance is performed, the camera moves up to a hill where a mise-en-scene of all the characters are with the narrator/chanter in the middle. Ingenious, this tableau is a most original commentary of how and who we are when we dance the myth, the unbroken line of succession. We are the boy whose sadness one night urges the chanter to tell once more the old stories.

While these many events are transpiring, our mind is filled with the memories of these characters in their dress, the fusion of haute folk and the indigenous.

A tremendous visual feast, Sa Paglupad ka Banog (The Flight of a Hawk), pays tribute to myths as the site of our own gilded histories.

Behind this short masterpiece is Elvert Bañares, a filmmaker noted for edgy and experimental works who in The Flight…experiments with the most material of filmic elements—design, colors, costumes—and comes out of it with such compelling majesty. Bañares is the cinematographer, soaring over a sweep of landscape in verdant hues, the copper earth mystical lines as seen from above, and the gurgling river the trope for the passing of time. Screenplay is by Dr. Jesus Insilada, an accomplished academic and himself a member of the Panay Bukidnon community. Central to this film is the chanter of the Sugidanon, Romulo C. Caballero, a Cultural Master. At the beginning of his chant, a subtitle states, “And so  we start where we last ended.” This is the nature of myth, its cyclical persistence. The film credits those who have done pioneering studies of the Panay Bukidnon: F. Landa Jocano, the pre-eminent anthropologist who wrote about the Hinilawod, and Dr. Alice Magos, whose intensive fieldwork has produced books about the Sugidanon, among many others. 

Sa Paglupad Ka Banog is produced by E Unlimited, the Iloilo Festival Foundation, the City of Iloilo, Negros Cultural Foundation, and the Department of Tourism, Region 6, in cooperation with the municipalities of Calinog and Lambunao in Iloilo.

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