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Inside the psyche of itinerant vloggers

Vloggers or bloggers, famous or infamous, are the new celebrities of the country’s media landscape.

Jul 8, 2024

Pablo A. Tariman


6-minute read

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Vloggers or bloggers, famous or infamous, are the new celebrities of the country’s media landscape.

They make news, sometimes they concoct news, just to be talked about. Many have no journalistic backgrounds, which at the rate they multiply, put the legitimate media persons in the background.

They earn better and if you notice, even seasoned media persons are turning to vlogging for wider following and yes, for better income.

Assorted vloggers (three of them) are the main characters in an independent film, Malditas in Maldives, written and directed by Njel de Mesa for his NDM Studios.

Scene from Malditas in Maldives by Njel de Mesa.

De Mesa was the co-writer in the celebrated 2017 Cine Malaya film, Respeto which ran away with awards and citations for its director, Treb Monteras II.

His film life after Respeto continued even as he observed: “Film life really requires the proverbial ‘the cavalry is not coming’ grit. Albeit the film was the toast of the town for a while for cinephiles, it wasn’t a box-office success like we wanted it to be. It had some major challenges in its inception but I just let things be. Well, I just kept going. This year I am releasing ten films simultaneously, something that no other director-producer, I’m told, has ever done before.”

One of those comeback films is Malditas in Maldives which had its initial screening at the Jinseo Arigato International Film Festival in Nagoya, Japan which happens every May of the year.

Malditas has the looks of a tourism film with its gorgeous Maldives setting – the long stretch of white sand and blue skies reminiscent of Boracay and Amanpulo.

We come across three vloggers — Arci Muñoz, Kiray Celis and Janelle Tee. They project three different temperaments: one sophisticated (Munoz), cool and relaxed (Tee) and a comedian (Celis).

Njel de Mesa with his best director trophy at the Jinseo Arigato International Film Festival in Nagoya, Japan.

As they go about their day-to-day routine, they have issues about their respective spaces in the resort. They spy on their respective subjects and style of vlogging. Until they notice a seemingly endless repetition of their day to day routine.

Were they in another life?

For one, they notice they are the only ones in the resort.

The film ends with the characters coming to terms with their earthly existence and how the rat race made them virtual uncharitable human beings.

We agree the film is a subtle commentary about toxic vloggers as it is pretty much a celebration of life.

Malditas ran off with the major awards at the festival finale held at Fukiage Hall in Nagoya, Japan including Best Actress for Arci Munoz, Best Comedian for Kiray Celis and Best Director for Njel de Mesa.

De Mesa said they shot the film for an entire week. “To finish the film on time, we had to close off the entire resort. Arci (Munoz) and I have always dreamt of doing a film in Maldives before it sinks due to the adverse effects of climate change.”

Arci Munoz with her Best Actress trophy at the Nagoya film fest in Central Japan.

The challenges of being screenwriter, director and producer. “The combination of being writer, director and producer was born out of my wanting to be less stressed on set. Which means I can make decisions fast and change direction whenever I want to. On top of that, I have an ultimate say on casting and hiring people. This set-up is definitely more convenient than the usual studio production way of doing things. It works for me especially on the financial side. It’s my money. On the other hand, I can be creative and not think about the finances. But on the other hand, I do have to think about it because nobody is coming to save me. I have to also be aware that I would have to sell this product and I should be able to get my money back at the very least. I need a good chance to make this production a business model that my employees can rely on.”

He is candid about having a film with just three characters.

For one, they are all his friends. “I know it’s ludicrous to choose friends as the qualifier but an early project of mine changed my work style. If I choose attitude over aptitude, I end up being very happy, spontaneous, and cheerful on set. I don’t get stressed easily. Also, their performances tend to become really good since they’re relaxed with me and I’m relaxed with them. I actually prioritize casting friends that are really good actors in the lead roles. I usually craft the script with them in mind.”

Their production time table worked even with missing luggage of the stars and director. “I lost my equipment luggage and Arci (Munoz) lost her personal luggage. That’s what happens when flights get delayed and there are connecting flights from where you left and where you’re going. So, we were not able to use them for the shoot and had to make do with whatever we had. All my underwater photography equipment was in that lost luggage. There was a moment that we almost gave up because Arci (Munoz) was sick for three days and exhausted from a previous work. But she pulled through.”

With good background in theater, music and set design, De Mesa said they were all helpful in finding his niche as a filmmaker. “Much of the things I learned from other fields were seared into my subconscious and are now part of my instinct as filmmaker. I can shoot films really fast and really well with limited budget and time.”

After Respeto, all he is concerned with is to keep on expanding his film portfolio. “I am trying out things I have never done before. That’s why we started an animation studio in Japan and we’re planning our theme park called NSJ this 2030.”

He learned a lot joining assorted festivals.

“It’s fun being with like-minded people. The lesson here is that if we stand together, we have a bigger chance of changing the status quo.”

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