Posted February 23, 2015 by Yuri Mangahas in Movies/TV

THE DIALOGUE: KEITH SICAT and the wonders of imagination

Imagination. It is defined as the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. To put it simply, it is the ability to be resourceful, or to come up with something new and fresh.

An ability Keith Sicat’s good at.


A seasoned director and artist, Sicat’s portfolio consists of a diverse array of works, most of which have dared to go beyond the limits of imagination. He has also entered the world of animation with his popular Sophie and Michael shorts. These shorts garnered acclaim at Animahenasyon, bagging multiple awards and nominations.

Flipgeeks was lucky enough to chat with Keith Sicat regarding his beginnings, his background, as well as his thoughts on the industry.

FLIPGEEKS: How did your love for movies start?

KEITH SICAT: My love for movies began ever since I could remember – from watching the original Star Wars (“Empire Strikes Back” blew my mind as a very small child) to my kuya’s penchant for James Bond, watching old films with my father like “Casablanca”, “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, the Johnny Weismuller “Tarzans” and those wonderful Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly musicals, and of course all those Disney cartoons like “Sleeping Beauty”, “Bambi”, and “Fantasia” with my Mom. The great thing too with having older siblings is that as their tastes evolved, you got exposed to other films, too.

I remember I saw Kurosawa’s “Ran” when I was 10 because of my sister – and I couldn’t figure out why this 3 hour long costume drama in a language I didn’t understand and where there were no gatling guns and things blowing up every five minutes was so utterly gripping!

So the love and fascination was always there, and the interest and expansion of the types of things you could discover has kept growing ever since.

FG: When did it dawn to you that you wanted to be a guy seated on the directorial seat? Was it something you really dreamed about ever since?

KS: I think all children are directors – the minute you start imagining and dreaming up things or even playing with toys and putting them in scenarios, that’s the start. Then you explore those ideas further when you start drawing them out and as some kids are inclined, begin writing them out. That’s why I loved comics growing up because as the writer and illustrator, you’re basically directing the performance of the characters, the angles of your shots, and the pacing of the story.

As a career, I think I started dreaming about directing during high school, fired up by all those incredible music videos and films coming out at that time, but it wasn’t until university when I was enabled to actually make them.

It began early in my first year, two students were making an experimental film inspired by Derek Jarman’s work, and they got me to be the Art Director. So off we went, missing class, building a set in the refectory building, I got to try some crazy ideas, and we made this textural, dreamy piece on gorgeous black & white Super 8mm. When we finished, I thought, I can try that! So that’s when I made my first experimental short. That won 1st Prize at the Gawad CCP Alternative Film and Video Festival and that encouraged me to keep making more short films until in 2005, I finally finished the 2 marathon that was my first feature entitled “Rigodon” about Pinoys in New York City after the September 11 attacks.

That first feature was a crucible – to see if passion could fuel you for years – but with a lot of support from the community, friends, my wife, really gracious actors and other collaborators, as well as the mentors (I had the extremely good fortune of having Spike Lee and Hampton Fancher – yes, the guy who wrote and produced “Blade Runner” – as advisors on the film), all of them helped get you through it, bayanihan-style. Although I knew I loved filmmaking as early as that first experimental Super 8mm short, it was only after surviving the feature when I felt secure enough that directing could be a career.

Some of Keith Sicat's sample works (From Top to Bottom): A painting of Keith during his High School days at World Trade Center, Baltimore; A still from his experimental 8mm film "The Trickle Effect"; Alessandra De Rossi in "Woman of The Ruins"; A still from the still in production "Blade of The Maiden."

Some of Keith Sicat’s sample works (From Top to Bottom): A painting of Keith during his High School days at World Trade Center, Baltimore; A still from his experimental 8mm film “The Trickle Effect”; Alessandra De Rossi in “Woman of The Ruins”; A still from the still in production “Blade of The Maiden.”

FG: How will you describe your style as a director? Or rather, what are the things the viewer typically sees in a Keith Sicat project?

KS: Wow – this is always hard, dissecting your own work… Maybe regardless of style and genre, many of the films explore existentialist themes – alienation is a big one, including society’s role in that. Another key theme is perception and how this is extremely malleable.

But these themes don’t have to be heavy handed since I’m playing with subverting gender perceptions in something as light and fun as the animated short with Sophie and Michael called “Exchanged Gifts”. It’s where the two siblings get the Christmas present intended for the other one, but neither bats an eyelash that Sophie got the robot and Michael got the doll; they openly embraced each toy as theirs and modified them to suit their personal creativity… which brings me to creativity!

Creativity and its active process is a concept I find really engaging. This creative urge usually manifests in one or more of the main characters in some way, regardless if the film is a controversial Martial Law-era drama like “The Guerrilla is a Poet”, a gothic art film like “Woman of the Ruins”, or a cute animated short like “Tyke Tornado”. Thinking about it now, all the subjects in the documentaries I’ve done are creative types, even if they became political revolutionaries; after all, it takes a lot of creativity to imagine another world or system and then try to realize it!


Alessandra De Rossi in “Woman of The Ruins.”

FG: Who/what are your influences in terms of your directorial style?

KS: I get influenced by everything – I think as a human you can’t help it! But aside from the usual things available in the cinema or TV (my latest fanboy discovery being an anime called Captain Earth), I’m big on visiting art exhibits and watching alternative films and documentaries, and of course current events effect you whether you like it or not. Perhaps the most magical moment is the first time you hear a piece of music that blows your mind… so all those stimuli churn in your brain.

In the beginning, I learned a lot from comics – not just the art of illustration but the storytelling. Comics can be quite avant garde in their narrative techniques because they’re not bound to linearity of any kind (even the mainstream ones). In the span of four frames a good writer and artist can give you moments from four different time periods and the reader would never get lost and their juxtaposition creates new meanings. This is quite close to Soviet montage theory, so comics are more sophisticated than they usually get credit for.

But if you’re talking about filmmakers who are a deep well of inspiration, the list is long – but most of the people I love have either strong visual sense or strong conceptual sense (usually they have both). So from the top of my head you have Andrei Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Lav Diaz, Nagisa Oshima, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Terence Malick, George Lucas, Maya Deren, Shirin Neshat, Chris Marker; of the younger guys I like Alfonso Cuaron… I mentioned Lav Diaz above, but other local filmmakers I adore are Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, Marilou Diaz Abaya, and Peque Gallaga.

Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet bridge the gaps effortlessly between liveaction and animation. Animators I love include The Quay Brothers, Jan Svankmeyer, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng’s Warner Bros. cartoons, Peter Chung (his “Aeon Flux” still inspires me for mixing Egon Schiele and Sci-Fi), and John Kricfalusi’s great whether it’s doing “Ren and Stimpy” or Bjork’s music video. Local animators that always fire up the neurons are the legendary Rox Lee, the Alcazarens, and Ellen Ramos who can effortlessly convey serious ideas in the span of a few short minutes.

FG: Perhaps one of your biggest projects came in the form of RPG: Metanoia. It certainly had set the bar for full-CG films in RP. How did you guys conceive the idea for the film?

KS: All the credit for RPG: Metanoia really goes to Louie Suarez and his team because that was his baby from start to finish. My involvement was really to jam with Louie on how to best tell the story that he wanted to tell and then sculpt those moments and push the characters to better hit those themes and ideas he thought were most important. I have a big soft-spot for RPG because it is so pure, so Pinoy in the issues it’s addressing, and so fun and inventive – I’m so thankful that Louie and his team, like Eloi Gutierrez and Jo Barja and Ms. Ann Gatmaytan who invited me to be a part of it.

FG: As a seasoned animator, what can you say about the meteoric rise of budding animators in RP? What do you think should these individuals do to reach the break they desire?

KS: I am immensely flattered, but I’m not sure “seasoned” is the right word since I’m still learning and getting my feet wet with this medium; so I hope I’m still amongst the “budding” batch! It’s crazy because the Philippines has such an abundance of talent in any creative medium including animation (here’s looking at you, all you Pinoys right now at Pixar, The Simpsons, Lucasfilm – and all those peeps here who worked on the first “X-Men” animated series and “Biker Mice from Mars” in the 90’s)…

Pinoys have never lacked talent, what we lack are opportunities; this is where local companies like Synergy 88 are trying to be a part of the solution not just in generating work but creating original IP’s to help drive this creative engine. The good news is that now with the internet, opportunity has never been so close to your fingertips! That said, the hard reality, is that natural talent will only get you part of the way – grit and perseverance will be a deciding factor. Those guys you see who “came from nowhere” have been plugging quietly away in their studio for years, plowing through mountains of rejection, but by just keeping their head down and moving forward, they get noticed and get a break. It just so happens it takes longer for the rest of the world to pick up on cool new ideas and take notice! In short, don’t lose heart – keep doing what you’re doing, get over your introverted shyness (‘cause let’s face it, this is a big hurdle for creative types), share your work, push yourself to get better, and don’t worry so much about people’s knee jerk reactions – it’s not your fault you’re ahead of the curve!

Lastly, always say “yes” to a challenge.

FG: You were also known for your documentaries such as KOMIKERO CHRONICLES. How did you guys come up with an idea for the said feature? Is it love for komiks?

KS: As a huge comics fan growing, I actually thought about pursuing it as a career as a teenager. But one special component of my love for comics was that it brought an unexpected sense of national pride. It was my Mom who pointed out that many of the artists I was poring over and idolizing were Pinoy. I mean, I thought Ernie Chan was Chinese! So discovering the likes of Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, and Whilce Portacio were Filipino was a huge eye-opener for me in trying to shed some of that Colonial Mentality – these are multiple proofs that our Pinoy artists are equals to other artists around the world!

The fact that our own National Hero-slash-Renaissance Man Jose Rizal is the first documented Pinoy to create comics is a testament to this nascent national talent and penchance for the medium. These are beautiful things to know and take pride in as a Filipino! After pitching this docu around, the Cine Totoo Film Festival under GMA was kind enough to green-light KOMIKERO CHRONICLES and that gave me a reason to totally geek out, meet my heroes, discover new ones, make some new friends, and gave me a chance to sing praises to these unsung artists like Francisco Coching who after years, finally became a National Artist during the making of the film. What’s even better is that more filmmakers are making documentaries about Pinoys in the world of comics, so hopefully those keep the conversation going!

FG: As of writing, you are working for another project entitled Blade of The Maiden. Can you tell us a gist about the story?

KS: The short film Blade of the Maiden was such a privilege to make. Usually when a person asks for an art commission, it is a painting or a sculpture, so for someone to ask you to make a film was very much a surprise and I think makes it the first local cinematic art commission in the Philippines! What made it even cooler was that the subject was into creating a myth-making visual spectacle with a strong message of female empowerment – all aspects that I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into – and it being an art commission, I asked one of our top young visual artists, Leeroy New, to collaborate.

It was our third time to jam after a feature film and a music video for Alessandra de Rossi. Using our history (with our Amazon warriors, Babaylan culture, and maternalistic social pillars) as a springboard for my imagination to run wild, I fashioned a world where women are groomed to be the rulers for their kingdom. So then I started to play with the types of rituals they would have when the most historically patriarchal rituals that’s all about property and the subjugation of women popped into my head: Marriage!

Then my brain goes, why don’t you flip that idea around? In this culture of empowered women skilled in the martial arts, what if they hold the power in the courtship ritual? And so that was the seed for the short film, where the best warriors from across the lands duel to the death for the maiden’s hand. The caveat: the last man standing will face her in combat and if he loses, he could die by her blade – it’s her choice. The wonderfully unexpected part about Blade of the Maiden was that it was curated to be part of a program in the 10th Cinema One Originals Film Festival. So it was a trip to be screened alongside films starring Nora Aunor (yes, I’m a fan, hence my docu on “Himala”). Even more unexpected is that it’s gone on to have a following with its website where artists contribute artwork for the idea and people engage on Facebook whenever I post a new piece of art

Blade of the Maiden is dear to me in that something you created could ignite the imaginations of many other people, it’s truly a blessing. So it won’t be too far-fetched for me to visit that world again in some fashion!

FG: What lies next for Keith Sicat?

KS: Exploring more ideas and hopefully getting some of them made! The great thing about the arts is that you don’t have to cordon yourself off into one medium because they’re all colors of the same creative rainbow. For instance, late last year I got asked to write a narrative for a locally produced horror game called KUNA for the totally immersive Oculus Rift. That game is now in SM Megamall’s World of Fun! Never in my life did I think I would get the chance to explore game-play as a narrative sandbox, so these different delivery systems for expressing ideas and stories is exciting. So those ideas running around my head include new films, new animation, a continuation of that game… and who knows, maybe I can finally realise a dream long deferred and do some comics!

FG: If you are to meet your five-year old self, what advice would you tell him?

KS: Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them and soft drinks are bad for you.

You can check Keith Sicat’s other works by clicking these links: SYNERGY 88 STUDIOS | KINO ARTS

Yuri Mangahas

Yuri is magnanimously juggling between two managerial jobs: A technical manager position for an advertising/copy-writing company, and an associate editorial position for a fashion and lifestyle magazine. Nevertheless, he still finds time taking photos and seeking for geek nirvana.