The Gold Winner at the 2nd Viddsee Juree Awards Philippines 2018, ‘Divine XY’ by Ruelo Zendo continues to gain recognition for its compelling gender-bending storytelling with the use of red tape tedium. Now, it has nabbed the October 2019 Viddsee Shortee for the most-watched short film of the month.
The story follows Divine (portrayed by Divine Aucina) about to leave the Philippines to start her dream job when she realizes the necessary paperwork for her to leave the country misidentifies her gender. We delve deeper with Ruelo Zendo and his filmmaking journey, from his storytelling style to his cinematography and editing choices and how that has contributed to his growth as an award-winning filmmaker today.
‘Divine XY’ explores the nuances in comedy with complicated topics
Universe (the screenwriter) and Ruelo Zendo wrote the script for ‘Divine XY‘ around Divine Aucina and her quirky personality.
“We wanted to show the nuances in a comedy genre and Divine has those qualities as an actor. It was fun working with Divine! There were times we burst out laughing after each take, but she’s intuitive and focused. I respect her for that.”
“We made this film to reach a broader audience and spark a conversation on issues affecting our daily lives. It’s interesting how people share their views and sentiments concerning authenticity, legitimacy and gender identity.”
Budget constraints meant being creative on the go
They couldn’t afford to have extra days to reshoot scenes as the project was funded by family and friends. What they did instead was rewrite the story during film edits – it appeared that even the most subtle alterations would create a significant impact!
“You must know the language of the short film. You’ll get lost if you’re shooting a short film with a full-length film vocabulary. Don’t get too excited with ideas, and think twice if it gets overwhelming. Be intuitive with quick adjustments!”
Never stop learning and constantly confront your limitations
A budding filmmaker always has to start somewhere, but wherever you are in your journey, the lesson is never over. “I believe in continuous learning and exploration which would deepen and provide a richness to my work. It’s common for first-time filmmakers to reference movies they love and are overwhelmed by their heroes.”
“My first film was self-reflective and a tribute to my early influences shot in a 16mm format. Confronting my limitations and shortcomings really keep me grounded. I’m also rigorous with my process, and learning to be flexible and intuitive to any obstacles that come my way. There is a lot more for me to discover and practice.”
Recognition is not the point
“The American writer Henry Miller said: ‘What sustains the artist is the look of love in the eyes of the beholder. Not money, not the right connections, not exhibitions, not flattering reviews.’ I make films to say something I need to say. After the work is done, let the film speak for itself.”
A scene from ‘Divine XY’.
He wears more than just the filmmaking hat
Most budding filmmakers get into the habit of wearing hats beyond filmmaking. While Ruelo is also a freelance director for TV documentary programmes and digital advertising content, and other video services for events, he is also Ruelo is also a guest lecturer, teacher, and various film festivals’ jury member.
“I also started out as a cinematographer and editor before eventually making my own films.”
His inspiration is rooted in Filipino culture and identity
Largely influenced by home-grown heroes, he first watched Raymond Red’s ‘Bayani’ (The Hero) and studied Broadcast Communication in college. Eventually, he studied filmmaking at the Mowelfund Film Institute where his heroes Raymond Red, Yam Laranas and Lav Diaz started their own film journeys.
“Kidlat Tahimik, National Artist for Film, motivated me to listen to my sariling duwende (inner calling). His films are indigenous, and in a lot of ways defy Hollywood. His sense of self-identity continually inspires me. Rox Lee, the godfather of the Philippine experimental cinema, moved me to make my own films and always have fun in the process. He is unselfish and willingly shares his experiences and talent with younger generations. As the maverick filmmaker Lav Diaz often emphasizes, Filipinos have their own aesthetics that should be showcased. He always reminds me that art is free. He taught me to develop my own style in filmmaking.”