Karsel (Prison) is a 20-minute film that delves into a young adult female’s submission to the conventions of a traditional home and her struggle towards liberation.
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View the film stills and behind-the-scene photos
The overprotected Angela has been kept inside a grand and yet constricting mansion since childhood. Her obsessive-compulsive mother takes care of her long hair yielding to the family tradition that a woman should always grow her hair long; but the irony lies on the fact that she pulls her daughter’s hair real hard everytime she gets mad at her.
With Angela’s mother being extremely, unreasonably strict to her only daughter, Angela has been kept inside their “grand and yet small house” for all the years of her life. The only way for her to socialize is through school. In one instance that she comes home by sunset after going out with her classmates for a rushed school work, her mother punishes her. She goes to her room, cries, and rationalizes her situation. And as Angela’s 18th birthday draws nearer, her hair becoming bars of cage on her face exemplifies her imprisonment.
This film was influenced by the filmmaker’s personal experiences and convictions. Though not exactly in literal terms, the film is figuratively a part of the filmmaker’s life.
The house sequences promoted the feeling of constriction as the mansion-type house became Angela’s grand and yet constricting cage. As the film progressed, the visuals gradually became more and more dynamic as Angela’s liberation drew nearer. The enriching of the film’s mood and temperament was utilized with magic realism. And in compliance with Angela’s family legacy, her hair symbolized her mother’s complete authority over her. The strands of her hair becoming bars of cage on her face exemplified her imprisonment.
The film won the Kodak Film Award 2003 in the Philippines. It also received nomination for Best Short Film at the renowned award-giving body in the Philippines: The Gawad Urian Awards.
Camera and lighting requirements were provided by the Philippine movie studio Seiko Films. The filmmaker, along with co-cinematographer Eli Balce, took charge of the camera work. The production used Arri 2-C for Day 1 and Arri BL-4 for Day 2 and Day 3. With this being the filmmaker’s first 35mm film, she knew that the primary concerns in shooting in 35mm without video assist for the first-time is to be extra careful on the framing, composition, and possibilities of unwanted shadows, cables, and equipment. And with all these responsibilities and limitations, it was a challenge trying to balance the technical concerns with polishing the acting especially the crucial scenes demanding intense and uncompromising performances.
The production used the following 35mm Kodak Film negatives: 80% was shot with Vision 500T and 2% was shot with Vision 320T. With most of the magic realism scenes and the debut sequence, there is the need to really saturate the colors. The production also shot some scenes that were intended to be pushed during the film processing at LVN Pictures.
The filmmaker was also the editor of the film and she edited it with the Moviola. It was her first time to use this conventional editing machine. Prior to this film, she edited some 16mm film projects at PIA (Philippine Information Agency) with the Steenbeck Flatbed Editing Machine; but this is her first time to edit a 35mm film. With waived fees, the telecine transfer and color grading of the video finish work was courtesy of Optima Digital.
The filmmaker said that it was tough and yet rewarding to both direct and edit the film in the old school way. As a first-time filmmaker, it is important to be cautious of the possibilities of getting too attached with the work. It may come to the point of getting too exposed on the footage that the best judgments become compromised, especially when under time pressure. Tthe film was made under a strict schedule as it was a graduate film for presentation to the thesis defense panel of the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI).
About the Production
As a struggling student filmmaker, the filmmaker really aimed to shoot her production thesis in 16mm film. Since her freshman year in film school with the course Bachelor of Arts in Film and Audio-Visual Communication (her first choice course at the UPFI), she knew it would really be a tough financial struggle for her.
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During her 4th year as a film student, she had six units left together with her thesis. However, she wasn’t able to graduate because she didn’t have enough money to shoot her thesis film. She strived and walked various city halls, government offices, and production outfits, at most times literally under the heat of the sun and the heavy rains just to personally give out solicitation and sponsorship letters and set meetings for her presentations. For one year, she kept doing these things, including regularly making follow-ups calls, continuously developing her vision and script, preparing everything for the principal photography and post-production, and working freelance for different productions/projects on the side in order to acquire enough money for the production.
She was fortunate to get the support from some people and institutions who understood independent and student productions. Seiko Films offered the movie outfit’s film camera and lighting equipment for the production. And after five years of aiming to shoot her film in 16mm, she was given the opportunity to shoot in 35mm film instead. Kodak Philippines gave student discount for the film stocks. The advertising production houses FILMEX and Production Village gave their 35mm short ends so she can use them as additional film stocks for the film. LVN Pictures Inc. granted her free processing, printing, and editing of the film. The positive film stocks also came from the generous LVN. The telecine transfer was sponsored by Optima Digital.
Another major thing that the filmmaker wouldn’t forget during the making of this film was doing her script and written thesis for the film (one semester prior to the actual shoot) all over again after her computer crashed and she was not able to recover a single data of her written thesis work (which was, back then, in its fine editing stage already). From then on, she learned a life lesson: Backing up important documents, and as much as she could, even in low-budget independent productions, it’s always good to do safety shots and have back up plans for any kind of production.