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Cordillerans Star in a new Indie film, "Sungod"

Igorot actors Jeryck Sigmaton and Joyce Laoagan act alongside Easter Sunday's Lydia Gaston

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New York City - based Igorota actor, screenwriter, producer and director, Joyce Laoagan has just wrapped filming the Baguio and Benguet scenes of her new film, "Sungod" filming will proceed in New York City in the next few months.

Joyce Laoagan's new film, "Sungod" is about a woman whose life seems to go nowhere after her father passed. She then decides to travel to the Philippines to take a break from her life in the United States. She goes back to her father's ancestral lands in Benguet and Baguio City from New York City as a way to reconnect with her father. Sungod in ibaloi loosely means destiny. 

The film features beautiful spots in Bokod, Benguet where Joyce's mother is from and Mount Pulag - the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines where Joyce's ancestors and the surrounding communities still consider as sacred. She also showcased the culture of the Ibaloi tribe and the Bendiyan festival of Kabayan - where she spent most of her childhood.

Joyce, fresh from the wins of her film, Eva's Gabriel  has always been proud of her Indigenous and Igorot culture. She is a FBI (Full-Blooded igorot). Her mother is full Ibaloi of the Lamsis and Dipas families from Bokod, Benguet. Her father is half ibaloi of the Ayomes- Kibara family from Kabayan, Benguet and half Bag-o - a lesser known subtribe which include all igorots or mixed ilocano and igorots who moved to the ilocano regions. Her Bag-o side are her great paternal grand parents of the Bagitan and Lawagan/Laoagan families, originally from Tetep-an, Sagada and Samoki, Bontoc, Mountain Province respectively. Her paternal great grand parents moved to La Union and Ilocos Sur in the 40's to the 60's. This film depicts Joyce's character when she reconnects with her indigenous and igorot side in relation to her father. It is a semi - auto biography on how she has been dealing with her grief ever since her father passed in the late 2015. In 2016, a few months after her father's death, someone sent her family a photoessay blog by Gideon Lasco about 5 law students from Baguio Colleges Foundation (now known as University of the Cordilleras) who trekked Mount Pulag via the now closed Ellet-Abukot-Babadak route in 1973. Her father, former RTC Judge Agapito (Pete) Laoagan Jr. was mentioned repeatedly in the blog. This inspired Joyce to reference the film to the story and the images attached to the photo essay.

The "Sungod" cast and crew (from top to bottom, left to right) Richard Wallace (actor/tour guide), Drake Waclin Maranes (DP/Co-Director), Femy Galasgas Lamsis (AD/PC), Bryan Laoagan Cadaweng (PA), Galdong Lang Udan (PA/Cultural Consultant), Danielle Mendoza (MUA and Hair), Jeryck Sigmaton, Joyce (Lao) Laoagan, Sarah Dipas Barozzo (PA), Romnick Bayeng (drone op, photographer), Not in photo - Arnel Bangsi-il (PA/Driver), Ate Wamz and Mario (special appearance).

She wanted to have an all Igorot/Cordilleran crew (this include non-igorots who grew up in the Cordillera and adopted the ways of the igorots) and have her ibaloi language be spoken in the film. She is glad that more and more Cordillerans are making films about indigenous experiences and she hopes that their stories will continue to be told not only for entertainment  purposes but also for educational purposes since most Filipinos are still not aware of how igorots look like and how igorots live their lives especially nowadays where modernization and ancient practices and beliefs are being blended together.

Joyce sought out fellow igorot actor, Jeryck Sigmaton  known as "Carrotman" to play James - an important character in the story. Joyce commends Jeryck's skills and style in acting since his approach is more natural and it appeals to the international audience. Having just won Best actor from the Manhattan International Film Festival for his role in the film "Dayas" (another Cordilleran produced film by Sine Cordillera) proves it. According to Joyce, his acting in the film, "Dayas"  has shown that he takes his craft seriously.

Aside from home grown talents, Joyce also cast one of her fellow Filipino-American colleagues, Lydia Gaston who has been a staple on the Broadway stage and now an up and coming actor in Hollywood. She is most well-known from her latest project, "Easter Sunday" which was released in theaters worldwide where she played the fil-am comedian, Jokoy's mother.

"My heritage as an Asian artist, a Filipino, an Igorota as well as an American are all important to me and all these parts of me are shown in this film. Since Asian and Filipino voices are now being shown internationally, I also want to present indigenous voices in my work and hopefully indigenous creatives will also be inspired to create and tell their own stories and perhaps collaborate with me in the future. I love creating theatre and film that make people think. Although there were "Igorot" or indigenous-based work produced in the Philippines before, the actors and the crew and creative team were not igorots. To me, that is important because we are here and we can tell our own narratives. Until now, textbooks that are being taught in schools in the Philippines state wrong information about us. It has been years when our people called to correct this error but it seems like we are being ignored. " Joyce says. "We are positive that films like this will bring about awareness and understanding of who we are. Through this, we will bring about unity within the Filipino community." she adds. 

Photo Credit: Romnick Bayeng, April 2023


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