The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.—Auguste Rodin
THERE is a short film I had the opportunity to view and it has that ever-consuming element—fire. It is there in its Hiligaynon title, Ang Kalayo sa Gintung-an (officially translated A Flame in Our Midst); it is there as well in what the film by way of its narrative speaks—the flame in us that will kill the king who enslaves us. In this wondrously dense film of Elvert Bañares, there is a king and there’s us, “mere blank spaces,” a water placid despite the presence of a floating figure, and a flame that recurs over and over again—on mountains, on the calm stream, in the heart of a man who devours our heart. There is also the screen that turns dark and brilliant, a universe that is either exploding or imploding. Who knows what happens next in this fantasy world conjured by Bañares, whose fantasy functions because it is about the social facts. No assurance is given at all except that nothing is certain.
The filmmaker has sent in a synopsis: “Elhanan, a sighted and discerning slave, gets enraged by the evil occurrences in the shadowy kingdom of Dumalángto. He awaits the right moment when he can get hold of the tattooed winged horse to attack the one-eyed king and fuel the flames of the masses to rebel against the dominion.”
As one begins to get assaulted by the images and sensation they bring with them, it becomes apparent what this short film is all about—a meta incursion into the origins of oppression, religion, and the freedom one derives from not having institutionalized faith.
All of these notions do not remain ponderous, for the filmmaker has produced not ideas but forms and phantasms. The quotidian is subverted as lamina after lamina of shadows and light refract beings and processes: from the belly of a man shoots up a flame, but that fire seems to flare from the water. The king brings to his mouth his bloody hand; giant horses appear on the horizon. A man whose stolid face opens this film becomes the figure on whose back grows wings; he gallops as he finds the horse that will let him fly. And flight means seeing, for blindness is to believe in this cruel god.
The visualization of the filmmaker references old books and old religions. The apocalypse is represented with the horseman giving the death blow to the king. The burning bush becomes the disguise of this king in as much as the dictator imbues himself with the sacrality of a throne given to him by destiny. At the end of the film, we listen to a familiar prayer: “In the name of…” In the name of our ancestors. In the name of wise men and women who were beheaded—a harking back to the many Ages of Man, when intelligence was demonized and the development of science paralleled witchcraft. The prayer goes on: In the name of the newborn who were buried before they saw the light of day—the snuffing of the Innocents. In the name of the oppressed—the prayer has become a protest.
If there is a relationship between those lines in the subtitle and the sound that emanates from the one who reads them, then it is the null and the void, from which springs a tension between creation and destruction. What we sense all throughout in this piece are the enunciations of the narrator and the photographic technologies employed such as long exposures, distortions and multiple exposure, multiple reflection in one frame, superimpositions, etc. Already the film has won awards in film festivals abroad. It won Best Experimental Short Film in the 10th FICLAPAZ—La Paz International Film Festival (Plurinational State of Bolivia). It also was recognized for Best Editing in the 2nd Brazil New Visions Film Festival (Brazil). The film so far has garnered two nominations, for Best Score, 2nd Brazil New Visions Film Festival (Brazil) and as Best International Fantastic Short Film in the 7th BCN Fantastic Film Festival (Spain).
It is good to note that this short film was completed during the global lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 epidemic. According to the directorial notes on the film, A Flame in Our Midst was “created during the pandemic lockdowns and released in 2023. “ He described the film as “this dark fantasy film collage” that “was shot in four different locations; patiently edited; and, directed via Zoom meetings which became the meeting point of all the collaborating artists.” Bañares explains how “the textures and layers in all these images collect all the pain, trauma and sacrifices of victims of oppression under fascist regimes while highlighting their subversions, uprisings and all forms of rebellion. While pandemics are used by tyrannical regimes to amass wealth and be cruel to their peoples, filmmakers should unite and create stories to call out the injustices and wrongdoings in unique ways amidst the oppressive nature of the times.”
Outside the mindboggling cinematography (by Bañares) of the film, its sound design is an achievement, with percussive sounds inducing anxious anticipation. The musical score and the theme song is by Kabuwanan (JJ Muniz’s moniker when he composes and performs), recalling Led Zeppelin’s plaintive pieces and the popularized Gregorian chant.
A Flame in Our Midst has been invited to some 12 festivals dedicated to the fantastic and the horror genre. This includes 7th Panama Horror Film Festival (Panama); 21st Asheville Fringe Arts Festival (USA); 14th Montevideo Fantástico (Uruguay); 15th International Documentary & Short Film Festival Kerala (India); the 9th Festival Internacional de Cine en las Montañas (Colombia); the 19th Festival Transterritorial De Cine Underground, Argentina, and many others.