Apo Whang-Od is considered the world's last Mambabatok (hand-tap tattoo artist) from her generation. At the estimated age of 99, she is now passing the tattooing tradition to a new generation in her tribe including her grand-niece Grace.
The tradition of this style of tattoo started as a symbol of pride for warriors and a marking of beauty for females in the Butbut tribe and has now taken a unique turn in their village, Kalinga, situated remotely in the mountains of the Luzon province in The Philippines.
7 questions with The Last Mambabatok director, Brent Foster at the half-way mark.
Friday, June 2nd, 2017
1Hi Brent! Thanks for being a part of our festival. First, what was the initial seed that inspired you to make this film? We received a nomination to tell Whang-Od's story through the website of our ongoing passion project, While I'm Here, The Legacy Project, from a producer in the Philippines. Initially, we had planned to keep our passion project within North America, but when we read about Whang-Od and saw her images and the fact she was passing the tradition on to a new generation, we knew we had to travel and tell her story.
2This film is a part of the While I'm Here, the legacy project. Can you tell us a bit about what that project is about? While I'm Here, The Legacy Project is a passion project where we’re profiling a series of six people who are everyday humans with extraordinary stories. We want to document these living legacies, while they’re still here.
I decided to start this project after missing out on the chance to tell the story of a man from my hometown who dedicated his life to helping others. His name was Frank Dymock.
For years, Frank opened his garage up to the public and sharpened skates free of charge. He wouldn’t accept a dime. He was a staple of the place I grew up, and I always wanted to tell his story while he was still here. Regretfully, I let time pass, and Frank passed away before I had the chance. This project is dedicated to Frank and the many others who live selflessly and truly impact those around them.
3The landscape and cinematography in this film is incredible. How difficult was it to shoot in this region and how difficult was it to transport all your gear there? We were really fortunate to have an amazing local producer/fixer named Guill Ramos who made sure everything we needed was in place in regards to permissions before we arrived. We also chose to have her take the 14 or so hour trip from Manilla in advance of us arriving to meet with Whang-Od, establish a relationship with her and the community, and to make sure she was well aware of the time commitment telling her story would take, and the reason we were coming to tell it in the first place.
Getting the gear up to the village where she lives was a little more challenging. We all carried about 50-60 pounds of gear on our backs for the hike up to the village, and we also hired several locals to help us carry the additional gear. I can assure you we were much more tired than they were when we arrived to the top:)
4Leaving a legacy, whether it be through our children, our art, our traditions is something I think deep down, all people want to leave behind. What was it about this theme that made you interested in exploring it? I think everyone wishes to leave something good behind—be it a powerful message, a tradition, or something they created, and I think it's incredibly special to have the chance to preserve just a few of these stories on film. The thing I love most about this project is that the type of people whose stories we're telling are the people who aren't looking for the spotlight. They're the "everyday heroes" who are doing this whether the cameras are there or not.
I think my goal with these films is to capture and document these living legacies, while they're still here, but to also encourage others who view the films to think about their own family members, and what they'll one day leave behind. Perhaps viewers will even consider telling their own families stories, even if it's on a smartphone, to have for themselves.
5The drone footage in this film is incredible. How difficult was it to get those shots? I've been flying drones for about four years now, and the tech has just become better and better. In this case, we used the Phantom 4 to capture the drone shots. I wanted to bring the character into the drone shots this time around, and it took us about 6 takes to get it, but it was well worth it in the end and worked out for our opening sequence. You can see a behind the scenes of the making of the film here: https://vimeo.com/189234216
6Did you, or anyone on your crew get a tattoo from Apo? All four of us received tattoos when we were there! For two of our team members, it was their first tattoo. It was truly special, and something to hold onto for life.
7What's next? We just launched our next project in the series about a retired midwife in rural Uganda who has turned half of her home into a clinic to deliver babies for the women of her community. It's an incredibly powerful story which you can view here: https://vimeo.com/211248773
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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