Memories of Overdevelopment1

Memories of Overdevelopment
Philippines 1984 33 min, DVD, OV (English)

“The never-ending film-in-progress by Filipino artist Kidlat Tahimik” reads the terse entry in the Internet Movie Data Base. And, as a matter of fact, this feature has not been completed in the standard sense. Tahimik shot this short film-sketch in the early 80s, in order to locate a financial backer for a feature-length movie about the Portuguese seafarer and discover Ferdinand Magellan’s slaves. As no financier materialized, the movie remained uncompleted for more than thirty years. Finally in 2015, Tahimik combined this fragment with freshly shot footage under the title Balikbayan # 1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III. The title sounds like a nod to Tomas Gutierrez Aleas’ 1968 Cuban classic "Memorias del subdesarrollo [Memories of Underdevelopment]" – yet Tahimik’s counter-narrative has little in common with this Manifesto of Third Cinema.

Even in its unfinished state, "Memories of Over Development" was occasionally shown at Tahimik retrospectives, and can certainly stand on its own. Though lacking many of the originally planned sequences, the footage is held together by the director’s voice-over, interlinking individual scenes and explaining their significance in the overall movie. Still, the solid half-hour fragment renders the premise of the original project amply clear: In Tahimik’s view, Magellan’s slave was a Filipino and the first who succeeded in doing what Magellan ultimately failed to achieve by a few hundred sea-miles, namely, to circumnavigate the globe.

Tahimik bases his tale upon contemporary records according to which Magellan is said to have bought a slave as an interpreter during his initial landing on the “Spice Islands” in the Malay Archipelago in Malacca and christened him “Enrique de Malacca”. With the slave aboard, he sailed homewards via the Horn of Africa – at that time the only known sea route from Asia to Europe. With the support of the Spanish crown in 1519, he took to the high seas anew in search of a westward sea passage to the Orient. Enrique accompanied him as an interpreter on this expedition. Magellan was killed in 1521 by the tribal chief Lapu-Lapu. In his Will, Magellan granted Enrique freedom; there are no further reports about his subsequent life thereafter.

In an account of Magellan’s voyage, the Italian historian Antonio Pigafetta states that “Henrique” was a native of Sumatra. In other descriptions of the expedition, it is reported that Enrique could communicate in Cebuano with the locals. Tahimik, however, concludes that Enrique must have been originally from Cebu and that he had come to Malacca, where Magellan bought him, either as an immigrant or as a slave. Other historians also share this assumption, but it is also conceivable that Enrique and the native Cebuanos made themselves understood in Malay. Hence, the theory that Enrique had returned to his place of his birth and as such was the first to ever have circumnavigated the globe is neither proved nor disproved.

Tahimik avails of these historical assumptions from which to develop a fable in which the subordinate slave succeeds in doing what his master, the colonizer Magellan, failed to achieve. He thereby reverses the colonialist and Euro-centric narratives about the superiority of the West, enabling as such a revision of the history of the “discovery” of the Philippines by European adventurers cum heroes like Magellan, who, however, is never denounced or demonized in the movie. Enrique de Malacca accepts his fate not as a cruel historical injustice, but instead pragmatically as a stage in life, which would ultimately lead towards a positive conclusion for him: He finally arrives back to his homeland and vanished thereafter from the annals of Western history.

The original 16mm copy of "Memories of Over Development" was destroyed in a fire. Today, only a DVD version exists. It bears witness to the skill with which Tahimik evokes the historical era in which the film is set, and with virtually no budget. As in Perfumed Nightmare and Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? Tahimik uses original locations and homemade or cleverly selected props to narrate a story, which he really couldn't afford to produce. This strategy of appropriation makes Tahimik a cinematic handy-man, a crafter of images who reallocates found material to suit his own ends and re-interpret them.

Director: Kidlat Tahimik