Pailaya, Pailawod

In October, we presented 'Pailaya, Pailawod: Two Films by Aiess Alonso' curated by our first-ever guest programmer Patrick Campos (University of the Philippines Film Institute). The program features a double-bill screening of short films Katapusang Labok (Last Strike) and the previously unreleased Habitat and features an online Q&A with Cebu-raised, Mexico-based traveller-filmmaker Aiess Alonso.

In this excerpt, Patrick talks to Aiess about the significance of returning to her hometown after completing university in Manila, and making one of the first films to feature the Cebuano language.

Bonus: More about the films, Patrick, and Aiess below!

Session Notes

❤️ Elsewhere Cinema Club thanks Patrick Campos and Aiess Alonso for speaking with us.

📌 Audio excerpts coming soon!


Could you talk about your experience making Katapusang Labok? What did it do for you?


I’m very proud of that film. Especially since I wasn’t very much exposed to films in my mother tongue, which is Cebuano. And not a lot of people at that time, in university, went home to make films in their own languages. That’s how I felt in that period, around 2018.

At that time I was very sure I would make or direct films that are in my mother tongue. Because, I would say, I don’t know anything else.

With Katapusang Labok, I feel that it very much represents myself. Of course there is a bigger message there, but it is all of me in a film. It’s set on an island, it’s set in my hometown, it’s in my language, it’s set in a place I spent so much time in, growing up. And it’s very reflective of my politics, my understanding of the world. And when it comes to how that translated into my career, I think it’s imprinted who 'Aiess' is. From there, it just gave me this confidence that I knew what I was doing, and I knew what I wanted.


I’d like to contextualise the statement for our friends who are not from the Philippines or familiar with what’s happening. Since the rise of digital filmmaking, a lot of people have been making films outside of the capital, which is Metro Manila. And I guess during the time of the film Katapusang Labok in 2012, this phenomenon of people going back—she had lived there and studied in Manila, and then went back to film—is sort of new. It’s not exactly new [as in never been done before], but the larger phenomenon of people coming back home to film was quite important and notable.

Also, in relation to this notion of language—if you’re not a Filipino, you probably wouldn’t realise that most of us in this room don’t speak the language in the film. Maybe I’m presuming too much (laughs). At least I don’t speak the language in the film, Cebuano. And although more Filipinos now speak Cebuano, the language in the capital is Filipino, or really anchored in Tagalog. So to have a film in Cebuano like Aiess’ is pretty significant. Or to have a student who studied in Manila who came back to film from home.

I think this also connects Aiess to what was happening in Cebu. Before Aiess went back home to film, something was already happening in Cebu, which was the Binisaya movement. A lot of Cebuano filmmakers were making films in Cebu already. So Aiess, this sort of reconnects you to the film movement you weren’t originally a part of, but also a part of because you’re Cebuano. Can you talk about that?


Yeah, I think it’s through the film that I became a part of the Binisaya movement. I feel that a lot of movements are really rooted in communities. And because I have not lived in Cebu since 2006, I felt that I wasn’t qualified to be a part of it because I wasn’t living there. But at the same time I think, in a way, I’ve proven myself — not that I needed to — that I’m a Cebuana. This is what I know, these are the stories I can share.

Programmer's Note:

In certain languages in the Philippine archipelago, ilawod connotes water and ilaya, land. Thus, pailaya means to cross the sea’s edge toward the shore, move inland into the forest, or climb up the mountain, while pailawod means to follow the current down the river, submit to the whims of the waves, or set out into the oceans. One speaks of striving, the other of surrender. Though they refer to opposite inclinations, one defines the other in a dialectic of resistance and inevitability, the swing between negation and renewal.

Water and its relation to land, or vice versa, figure centrally in the two short films by Cebu-raised and now Mexico-based Filipina artist and sojourner Aiess Alonso. Katapusang Labok (Last Strike, 2012) and Habitat (completed in 2015 but previously unreleased) explore these two movements—pailaya and pailawod, outward and inward, push and pull, promise and warning—captured in the drama of wrestling with the willful self, the violence attendant on social transformation, and the catastrophe of human avarice in the face of nature. On the one hand, pailaya: the desire for unquestionable stability that paradoxically leads to a divided self and an inhospitable social order. On the other hand, pailawod: the need to escape, to discover one’s deepest reality unburdened, birthing dreams of drifting toward home instead of a disaster. One speaks of struggling, the other of flowing. Though they appear contradictory, both films meditate on their necessity and inseparability.

The Films: Katapusang Labok (Last Strike) & Habitat

Katapusang Labok (Last Strike, 2012, 20 mins)

In a rural seaside town located north of Cebu, fisher folks face the harsh reality of environmental conditions caused by human abuse. Randy, a fisherman, leaves the sea and turns to religion and cockfighting for a lifeline. Then, a fellow fisherman invites him to join the fight against coral harvesting. Randy is caught between his personal devotion and the struggle of the fisherfolk.

The film was screened in over ten local, national, and international film festivals, including the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

Habitat (2015, 15 mins)

Residents of Isla Esperanza are forced to evacuate to the mainland as a storm looms over their cluster of islands. Alone and out of his element, an evacuee finds himself in the momentary care of a stranger. However, eager to return to his island home, he braves the expanse on his own and heads out to sea, unaware that his future is vanished by the rising tides.

The film is presented to an international audience for the first time through Elsewhere Cinema Club.

The Filmmaker: Aiess Alonso

An alumna of the University of the Philippines Film Institute, a directing fellow of the Asian Film Academy at the Busan International Film Festival, a member of EAVE (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs), and a participant at the Cannes Producers Network, Aiess Alonso is a director, producer, and colorist and a digital artist.

Her travels have led her to forge friendships and contribute to emergent film industries. Moving from the Philippines to Nepal and then to Myanmar, her projects have been presented in various film festivals, project markets, and ateliers such as La Fabrique - Les cinémas du monde at the Cannes Film Festival, Produire au sud in Festival des 3 Continents, Open Doors in Locarno Film Festival, and Southeast Asian Film Lab at the Singapore International Film Festival. From 2014 to 2016, Alonso co-pioneered and curated the Asian Shorts section of the Binisaya Film Festival in the Philippines.

After living in Myanmar for half a decade, producing and coloring audiovisual projects for cinema as well as creative agencies, development agencies, and humanitarian organizations, you can now find her in the web3 ecosystem and cooking from her kitchen in Mexico.

The Programmer: Patrick F. Campos

Patrick F. Campos is a Filipino film scholar, programmer, and associate professor at the University of the Philippines Film Institute and a member of NETPAC. He has programmed, juried, or served as a selection committee member for Guanajuato International Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, QCinema International Film Festival, Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival, Image Forum, Asian Film Archive, Minikino, SeaShorts, Association for Southeast Asian Cinema, Cinema One Originals, Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, Cinema Rehiyon, and Gawad Urian. Currently, he edits Pelikula: A Journal of Philippine Cinema and curates the annual TINGIN Southeast Asian Film Festival in Manila.