Phyllis Grae Grande is an award-winning producer who’s worked with the likes of Mikhail Red, John Torres, Jet Leyco and Che Espiritu. In 2017, she started directing her own projects. This Juree Philippines 2019 submission, the short film Kun’ Di Man (If Not), is about the romance of a pair of blind singers who find their way to each other.
It was made with a grant from the Quezon City International Film Festival (QCinema), and went on to win the QCinema IFF 2017 Audience Choice Award and Best Short Film from the nonprofit media arts organisation FACINE (Filipino Arts & Cinema) in 2018.
Kun’ Di Man (If Not) is her directorial debut; Phyllis has went on to make a documentary feature (Haunted: a Last Visit to the Red House) and is now working on her first narrative feature (Everybody Leaves).
We speak to her about seeing the city with new eyes, and what is was like to direct the blind singers Cindy and David Alcovenda, the stars in her story:
On set: Director of photography Ian Guevara, Phyllis, first assistant camera Bernell, and livesound recordist Henry Lu
Can You See The City With New Eyes?
Quezon City isn’t just another setting in this story. Its faces, texture, pulse and pace as a setting, the pulse and pace lends a vibrancy and romance to the story of two blind singers who found their way through each other, despite not having sight.
As a commuter, Phyllis became familiar with blind singers at train stations, singing old Filipino tunes.
She recollects: “I stopped and watched them. I realised they cared for and loved each other; I think I fell in love with their love, too. I think they just grew on me, and I realised I wanted to tell their stories.
The blind singers couldn’t see each other, but they cared for each other so much. That was the love I wanted. I couldn’t have it, so I just did a story about it.”
Kun’ Di Man stars real-life husband and wife team, Cindy and David Alcovenda
Finding A Way To Live & Love In A Harsh City
Commuting can be a pain and a hassle. Watching people, noticing people’s faces and imagining their lives, Phyllis realised that as we are all one way or another just mere commuters in this journey called Life.
We’re all passing by, and sometimes having that one special person along the journey makes it worthwhile.
On set: Henry Lu (Soundman) and Whammy Alcazaren (production designer)
“It’s not just a commuter’s hell, (the city) is also filled with different lives, people trying to get by. Maybe this is what inspired me the most. Life can be a real hassle. But once you find that one special person whom you can share your struggles with, even with the absence of sight, living is not such a hassle anymore.”
Discovering The Stars Of This Romance, Blind Singers Cindy and David
Phyllis returned to a group of trusted collaborators for this production, people whom she’s worked with over the years. After getting the QCinema grant, the first thing Phyllis and her team embarked on was casting — she wanted to steer clear from famous actors. Authenticity in the portrayal of the characters was important for her.
Doing their research on Youtube, they found videos of blind singers and contacted a group of them in Pasig — the MPK Singers.
The auditions for the lead couple was held in the village. They found the real-life husband and wife duo, Cindy and David Alcovenda. The Alcovendas a great chemistry; Phyllis and team decided without hesitation to cast them both.
A scene from Kun’ Di Man
The MPK singers were also very supportive and made an appearance in the film as a group, and even offered the use of their office for the film.
One of Phyllis’ challenges was to direct two blind people. She got the help of their families, the community, and through acting workshops.
The group also studied a new song, Kundiman by The Jerks – Phyllis is a big fan of the band!
Cindy and David Alcovenda (centre) with their guides in scene from If Not (Kun’ Di Man) with actor Dylan Ray Talon (left) and Roy Requejo (left) a production set man who also plays Ryan