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Directors Keith Sicat, Sari Dalena: PH cinema on the road to recovery

This is a team of husband and wife who shares the same passion towards filmmaking. Highly respected in their chosen field, they have worked together in their films not as directors or managers, but as co-workers. Directors Keith Sicat and Sari Dalena are too precious for the movie industry. They improved and enriched with vigor the once sleeping Philippine cinema with their own ways and vision. Below is my interview with the husband and wife. 

Husband and wife Keith Sicat and Sari Dalena

QUESTION NO. 1: Para sa akin po, sobra kayong hinahangaan bilang magagaling na direktor, Ma’am Sari at Direk Keith, kakaiba ang texture ng mga pelikula ninyo, very Avant Garde. How would you describe yourselves as film makers and paano din kayo naka-adjust sa isa't-isa bilang mag-asawa sa totoong buhay?


KEITH SICAT: That’s very flattering of you to say. I never thought of us being Avant Garde.  Siguro galing yun sa exposure naming. Pareho kaming nagsimula sa experimental film at may deep interest sa fine arts.  Si Sari, yung interest (niya) malamang galing sa kanyang mga magulang. (imagine seeing creative people at work every day).  Ako naman, I really thought I was going to become a painter or illustrator all throughout school, ever since I was a boy.  Naligaw lang ako!  Because of these natural inclinations, it was inevitable we would gravitate towards each other, and I was totally smitten when I saw her experimental dance film with animation shot in the desolate lahar landscape, “White Funeral”!


SARI DALENA: I come from a family of visual artists. My father is a painter, my mother’s a sculptor, my sisters work on mixed media. Our parents exposed us to the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, the German expressionist works, and Kurosawa’s films. Theater, literature and classical music also played a big part of my growing up. My roots are in experimental and documentary filmmaking, which I started exploring when I was still a film student at the UP Film Department and as film scholar at the 16mm experimental workshops at the Mowelfund Film Institute. Keith and I collaborate in writing, producing and directing. We take turns supporting each other’s film projects, so filmmaking is very much a part of our daily life.   


QUESTION NO. 2: Direk Keith and Ma’zm Sari, how do you support each other as husband and wife, and also as two artistic individuals sharing the same passion in life?


 KEITH SICAT: I think it helps that we’re in this field together. We share each other’s struggles and triumphs.  We’re always working together closely on every film and each time we make a film it’s very intense and you really feel alive.

Director Keith Sicat shares to actress Alessandra de Rossi his eye for the camera

SARI DALENA:  It’s very important that you share the same taste in many things: music, books, food, political (and) religious views, and movies, of course! Well, we don’t always agree on what we like, but we hate the same things and that’s quite important. It’s a give and take relationship. We encourage each other to explore stories and genres that haven’t been explored much and developed in local cinema. It’s a hard route to take, but in the case of Keith’s sci-fi film, “Alimuom” and my 3 hour experimental documentary film, “Dahling Nick”, those were breakthroughs for us.


QUESTION NO. 3: How do your kids cope-up with having famous people as parents? Hindi ba sila nagsa-suffer in comparison sa inyo? Paano ninyo sila gina-guide para hindi mawalan ng inferiority complex?


KEITH SICAT: The two boys are in their own persons, and I don’t think they see us in any special light.  We are just their parents who happen to love being creative.  We do our best to have them present during shoots – to observe or even cameo – just so what we do isn’t some foreign, abstract idea to them.  And because they have their own interests, I hope they don’t feel any pressure to do the same thing we do.


SARI DALENA: We’re not perfect parents, but we make sure we spend as much quality time as we can with our boys. We bring them to our film set, especially on out-of-town location shoots, where they can explore the locations and see interesting things. The boys have unique personalities and we want them to grow in a loving, nurturing and creative environment. They also see the downside of doing production, it’s stressful, demands a lot of hard work, and can take so much time away from family. 


QUESTION NO. 4: Ma’am Sari, kailan ka uli gagawa ng isa pang “Dahling Nick” na tema ng pelikula? Can you tell us more about your future plans as a director and upcoming activities?


SARI DALENA: “Dahling Nick” came into fruition after several years of pitching this project to various grant-giving bodies. The project finally got green-lit just in time for the birth centenary of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin. I am grateful for Cinema One Originals for giving me the freedom to explore the documentary genre and did not flinch at the final running time of the film. I would like to continue working on more Nick Joaquin stories for my next projects - focusing on his children’s stories and historical essays.


QUESTION NO.5: Direk Keith, ang mga pellikula mo ay futuristic and enigmatic ang mga dating. Hindi pang-masa at hindi komersiyal dahil malalalim ang dating. Kailan ka naman gagawa ng pelikulang medyo pang-masa o bakya ang dating? Hehehe. 


KEITH SICAT: You may find this shocking, but I spent almost a decade working on reality shows and documentaries sa U.S.. Pang masa yung mga iyon.  One was “Dog: The Bounty Hunter”, yung mukhang WWE wrestler na totoong bounty hunter!  Nag MTV din ako, doing funny specials like “Revenge of the Rejects”.  Dito naman, nag script consult ako sa CG animated film na nag-MMFF yung “RPG: Metanoia”, can’t get more commercial than MMFF!  Ginawa ko rin yung dokyu “Komikero Chronicles” tungkol sa Pinoy komiks, masang masa yung subject.   Not to mention, I directed a Masculados video produced by the late, great Direk Maryo J. Most recently, kasama ako sa development team ng first Pinoy-Japanese animé series “Barangay 143” na nag-air sa GMA at nasa Netflix ngayon.  I’m so thankful, the writers and animators were nice enough to jokingly ‘name’ one of the characters after me, yung matabang pandak na bano sa basketball!


QUESTION NO. 6: Direk Keith and Ma’am Sari, sa palagay n’yo ba makaka-recover pa  ang movie industry, especially the indie scene pagkatapos ng Covid-19 pandemic?

Director Sari Dalena with their two boys and an Aunt who passed on recently

KEITH SICAT: Makakabangon talaga ang mga tao.  The Spanish Flu never stopped film, or art making in general. In fact, some of the world’s most famous artworks were made during that pandemic – Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is one.  Our neighboring countries have already overcome Covid-19 and are getting back to a semblance of normality. Productions are re-starting and people feel relatively safe going to cinemas. I only wish we could have better, smarter policies to get us back on track sooner than later, because the last months have been brutal for everyone in the film industry. I don’t think it will ever go back to what it was before. Viewing habits were already shifting to more remote models, the pandemic just expedited the change.


SARI DALENA: The film industry, all over the world, has ground to a halt, but some productions have slowly resumed shooting again, this time on a much smaller scale. It may take several years for us to fully get back on our feet, but filmmakers continue to find ways to tell their stories, and adapt to the challenges of our time.


QUESTION NO. 7: Wala ba kayong plano na mag-co-direct sa isang higanteng pelikula someday?


KEITH SICAT: Of course!  Why not?  There’s a few we’ve already developed. We’re just waiting for the right partners.


SARI DALENA:  We’re always cooking something new, so let’s just wait and see!


LAST QUESTION: Sa inyong dalawa po na parehong matataas ang standards sa pagpili ng mga aktor at aktres na lalabas sa mga pelikula nila, sinu-sino ang mga artistang pinapangarap ninyong maidirek someday sa pelikula?


KEITH SICAT: Ang daming magagaling!  I don’t even think of it as a chance to direct them as much as a chance to collaborate and learn from them. There’s just too many to name!


SARI DALENA:  There’s so many! But I’d love to work with Nora Aunor and Jaclyn Jose.

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