THE GOSPEL of the Beast is a coming-of-age drama about a 15 year-old boy, Mateo, who accidentally kills his classmate and runs away with an older man, bringing him into the criminal underworld. This story, though akin to many gritty Filipino indie films, is set apart by its focus on the perspective of a teenager who slowly loses his innocence, according to the film’s director, Sheron Dayoc.
The film, which is Mr. Dayoc’s first feature in seven years, his last being the Gawad Urian-winning Women of the Weeping River in 2016, is set to premiere in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival this October.
“Some are not aware that this is happening, that kids gradually becoming drug dealers and being exploited as part of underground syndicates, is a rampant thing,” Mr. Dayoc told BusinessWorld in a Zoom interview.
He explained that it may be a fictional film, but it mirrors the Philippine reality of violence, where children falling to the wayside and taking the fall for greater evils is tolerated and normalized.
“Our culture has become passive about it,” he said.
COMEBACK FILMThe Gospel of the Beast was first conceptualized in 2017, shortly after Mr. Dayoc’s team’s previous feature swept most of the awards at the Gawad Urian and QCinema. Circumstances put it on hold indefinitely — until 2021.
That was when it received support from the International Co-Production Fund of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and was selected for the 2021 Full Circle Lab Philippines.
Southern Lantern Studios, the local production house behind Mr. Dayoc’s previous films, once again came on to produce, with help from E&W films from Singapore and Tinkerbulb Productions, also from the Philippines.
“In the past seven years, I focused more on making TV commercials, so I really wanted to go back to my creative roots,” said Mr. Dayoc.
“As a filmmaker, I thought about film not just as an opportunity to tell crucial stories, but also as a sustainable business practice to keep doing the important work. It’s something I, and many people in the industry, are still figuring out,” he explained.
For his part, the goal is to continue telling stories that mirror Philippine reality while making sure it isn’t too niche to be shown to a wider audience.
While The Gospel of the Beast awaits its reception by the global festival audience in Tokyo, the studio is working on deals to bring it to the Philippines, namely to Western Visayas where the story takes place.
In the meantime, Thailand-based sales agent Diversion has picked up international sales rights.
DISTINCTLY FILIPINOMr. Dayoc said that 100% of the film’s cast are from Western Visayas, a practice he insisted upon coming from a documentary filmmaking background and a similar approach to his previous film that had a full Mindanaoan cast.
This goes for the leads as well, with Antique native Jansen Magpusao (known for the film John Denver Trending) playing Mateo and the acclaimed Bacolod-born veteran actor Ronnie Lazaro taking on the role of his newfound father figure.
“What I set out to do is make meaningful stories that can have a meaningful impact in the community,” he said. “That’s why I hope to screen this in Iloilo.”
As for the visuals, Mr. Dayoc wanted to make it more filmic, with rich-colored textures rather than the dark atmosphere people associate with gritty dramas.
His film recommendations and inspirations for The Gospel of the Beast include the 2000 Spanish drama El Bola by Achero Mañas and the 1999 Scottish drama Ratcatcher by Lynne Ramsay — both centered on children navigating a bleak world.
“Compared to films I admire, and my own previous films, this one has the same approach, the same core,” he said.
“I’ve met with so many such people who’ve lived through violence and despair in my documentary days, so I want to tell stories about those without a voice.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana