PGS 2023 Q&A: Keith Sicat

Keith Sicat is an independent filmmaker and creator of the comic book “OFW: Outerspace Filipino  Workers”. His films have screened internationally, including venues such as the Museum of  Modern Art in New York City and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Notable works include award-winners “Rigodon”, “Woman of the Ruins”, and “Alimuom”. Also working in  animation, he was the script consultant for the first 3D CG animated feature in the Philippines “RPG: Metanoia” and helped develop the first Japanese-Filipino anime co-production “Barangay 143” with TV Asahi that is on NETFLIX. He is currently serving as the Head of Membership of the Directors’ Guild in the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI)

He talks about our featured story for February  “EWA AND THE SONG FROM A DISTANT STAR” , which is set in the same universe as his Sci-Fi film  ALIMUOM and the Sci-Fi Adventure comic book series OFW- Outerspace Filipino Workers, and which is also his first published short story.

Where did the story idea for EWA AND THE SONG FROM A DISTANT STAR come from? 

Life is the main source of ideas and how we need stories to metabolize experiences. One great concern is the scale of sacrifice many Filipinos, and migrant workers in general, are forced to make for their families. Examining the reasons for these sacrifices uncovers the oppressive systems that allow the abuse and exploitation of millions. EWA AND THE SONG FROM A DISTANT STAR is a way to process these frustrations. 

Looking at history, it is evident we have been going to the far reaches of our world for centuries.  Take Enrique de Malacca – Magellan’s slave who could communicate with the Cebuanos because he was from the region.  If anyone circumnavigated the world first, it was most likely Enrique. With that documented journey happening 500 years ago, it will be no surprise if we continue doing so 500 years hence.

But perhaps the biggest source of inspiration is my mother. I recalled there was some time that she had to be away for work when I was younger. Other children go through so much more in terms of time away from their mothers, and yet the emotional magnitude of that experience is in my bones.

What came easy to you when it came to writing this story? 

Perhaps “easy” isn’t the right word as this story has been gestating for many years. That time seems to have been necessary to distill the tale into its form here. The iterations are numerous and learning from those myriad attempts and approaches yields a constant state of discovery, but when I committed to this form of the story, it did flow.  

What was the most challenging thing you had to overcome to complete this story, and how did you deal with that? 

The challenges have been multifaceted. The first hurdle is taking a very clear migrant story that most Filipinos understand and transpose it into a genre that many may not be familiar with, namely science fiction. Choosing to situate it within this genre meant building a world that could have clear analogues to root it in a reality we can understand – this meant a lot of research in addition to channeling my own experiences and feelings.

Being accustomed to having images to help convey a story whether in cinema, illustration, or comics, another hurdle was limiting the palette to rely purely on the written word. Not having visuals to help articulate ideas meant firing a different set of neurons.  

What are the top three writing tips you would like to share with all aspiring storytellers out there? 

The idea must be realized in some concrete form in order for that idea to move forward. It needs to be noted, sketched, doodled. Until you manifest it in the physical world, it will never be. 

Art-making means placing yourself in a vulnerable position first, then demands a part of you to remain coldly objective so you can assess your work critically. It’s a struggle that you need to embrace.

Sometimes your own personal experience isn’t enough to help build the story. Arm your ideas with research – it’s a thrilling rabbit hole to go into and whatever you discover will make your story richer.

What’s the one thing not mentioned in your profile that you would like people to know about you? 

I tend to identify with female protagonists. Upon reflection, they are an homage to my mother; her empathy, concern, and idealism never faded despite the numerous challenges she faced in her lifetime. There’s something elemental in this bond between mother and child. It’s a universal human experience. We have our mothers and all our ancestral mothers to thank for our existence.

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