Kamayan uplifts authentic Filipino stories to wider audiences

14 January 2022 / by Daniel Centeno
Mussel shells, a lemon wedge and a full glass on a table top.

Director Minerva Navasca’s newest film, Kamayan, strives for authenticity by recapturing elements of Filipino culture amidst a North American backdrop and its perceived norms.

“I try to really capture my voice in the particular project,” Navasca said. “This ties into the shame I felt growing up in the Philippines, feeling as I immigrated, into my transition in Canadian culture, [and] just overcompensating because I never really fit in.”

The film explores the traditional Filipino way of eating with hands during a meal called kamayan, a Tagalog dialect word that translates to “hand” in English.

Navasca said the idea for the project was inspired by a real-life family moment when her cousin forgot utensils for her lunch, but felt ashamed to use her hands to eat in front of her peers.

Black and white film reel showing someone handing a dinner plate with food on it to someone else's hand
Scenes from an old film reel serve as a contrast to the Filipino cultural tradition of kamayan, meaning to eat with one’s hands during meals. Photo courtesy of Mubi.

The restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Navasca to create the film with little equipment, and rely on her family members and home.

In the film, scenes of a man, played by Navasca’s father, sits down at his dining table with a meal of various meats, spring rolls, rice and mussels placed on banana leaves set for him.  A common term for this type of feast is called a “boodle fight.”

The feast is overlapped with an outdated film reel of western etiquette on how to eat during meals.

As the man continues his meal, the lessons of the old reel accelerate, contrasting how the man eats with portion sizes and what to do with particular utensils.

When the scenes ramp up together, the tension is broken by the sound of the man biting into a spring roll, which is commonly known as lumpia by Filipinos.

“I know just by how crisp and sharp that bite sounded, it was the perfect way to end of all that feedback.”

Navasca wanted the scene to finally end the loops of the etiquette sequences, and silence the “overwhelming insecurity” over western comformity. Finally, the man is left to enjoy the meal as he pleases.

“I think that is what felt most natural to me, and thank God it served the film,” she added.

The film is part of the Faces of Resistance series for the Regent Park film festival, and is the latest in Navasca’s filmography.

While the festival was mostly online due to the pandemic, Kamayan was screened outdoors at Daniel’s Spectrum last month.

Navasca’s next work is Guardians, a film about a woman’s walk home and how it becomes something distorted because of her sex, according to the film website.

Kamayan is available to watch on Vimeo here.

Listen to Minvera Navasca’s full interview: