By Erin Chew
Inspired by Philippine mythology, Mahal opening at the Tribeca Film Festival focuses on Apolaki, Mayari, Tala, and Hanan, the four immortal children of the recently passed creator god, Bathala. Each of these sibling deities confronts their emotions when they lose Bathala, and their all-powerful actions create ripples throughout the universe.
The conundrum the deities must face is whether they can unite and defeat their own pain by coming to terms with their grief and accepting their loss before the world their creator god/father entrusted to them is destroyed.
“I voice Hanan, who is a deity who grieves in silence and has a lot of thoughts. Even though Hanan doesn’t have many lines, but when she does speak it is with absolute purpose. This is what I found most intriguing about her, that she centers and grounds everybody as she knows everyone grieves differently, Anne Yatco mentioned.
A deeply layered story based on an almost forgotten pre-colonial Philippine story, Mahal is a poignant tale about the price of love and the major costs when one is unable to confront grief. Audiences will be immersed in virtual reality allowing them to experience Filipino culture perhaps unlike anything they’ve experienced before.
Directed by Michaela Ternasky-Holland, the cast is an ALL Filipino/Filipino American cast, which includes Daphne Nitsuga, Loreto Delgado III, Lee Sy, Eileen Descallar, Travis Atreo and Yatco.
“It is interesting because as a Filipino in the Philippines, I know this pre-colonial mythology is hardly known. And where this project is inspired by our mythology, it is an interest and education point for all Filipinos everywhere I would say. Colonialism of the Philippines has made a lot of these iconic mythologies disappear, and now we have the opportunity to showcase and make people aware. Voicing Tala is important to me because it represents culture, history and defines our identity as Filipinos”, Sy discussed.
Michaela Ternasky- Holland’s goal in creating Mahal is all about immersive interactive storytelling. Her focus on family and the loving bond among siblings derives from her own life experience. Growing up as the oldest of six siblings in a mixed-race household, Ternasky-Holland has always felt the responsibility to ensure everyone was taken care of. Finding this trait in pre-colonial Philippine mythology, inspired her to create Mahal using all her skills in producing and animation.
“I wanted to showcase this theme but also remind everyone about the importance of Filipino Indigenous cultural belief systems. Instead of exploring a piece where the siblings are fighting, I thought the most powerful way to present this story was about how they dealt with grief”, Ternasky-Holland said.
In a recent interview with AsAmNews, the voice-over actors spoke about the character they voiced and how important it was to be part of a project inspired by Filipino mythological characters and legends.
“Mayari îs the older sister figure in the story. She feels a responsibility to family and when she experiences grief she keeps it all bottled up. Being involved in this project is very important to me as I grew up in a predominantly white area of America and asides from doing Filipino cultural dances, I didn’t really know much about my identity. As I grew up I started to appreciate being Filipino American and now I have learned so much about our history and our mythologies – it makes me feel proud”, Daphne Nitsuga who voiced Miyari expressed.
“I was actually involved with Mahal very early on to help Michaela out. I was able to voice different characters and didn’t think too much about it. After I gave Apolaki a go, I fell in love with the character and the project and wanted to be part of it. I can relate with him because I lost my father to cancer during college, so I know how it feel to deal with grief. I am just happy and proud to be able to share my culture with everyone and show what Filipinos are made of”, Loreto Delgado III who voices Apolaki said.
Virtual reality (VR) was the medium used to bring Mahal to life. Ternasky- Holland mentioned that VR has many amazing tools, which will allow audiences to have a 360-degree immersive film-watching experience. This is a great way to educate and spread awareness about Filipino culture and history, because audiences interact with the environment being VR.
“Using virtual reality for this project allows audiences to not just see and watch the characters but experience the environment, the colors, the sounds of the time around the audience. Each character is hand animated using the VR illustration and animation painting tool Quill. I see this project as reimagining Philippine mythology, culture, history and indigenous culture. After the research I did, I hope that we can put Filipino culture, mythology and history on the maps of Hollywood, entertainment and animation”.
Reimagined Volume II: Mahal will have its World Premiere at the Tribeca Festival under the New Voices Competition from June 9 – 17, 2023. Tickets can be purchased via the Tribeca Film Festival website.
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