The global impact of traditional tattooing and the need to end its stigma is explored in upcoming feature-documentary “Treasure of the Rice Terraces,” directed by Filipino-Canadian Kent Donguines.

The film sees Donguines embark on a journey of self-discovery and record the oral history recounted by 106-year-old Indigenous tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od, who was recently an unlikely cover star of Vogue Philippines.

The film explores how the old practises in the Kalinga region, once banned and despised in Philippine society, have now evolved into a chic and in-demand type of body art that has become a source of pride and belonging for many Filipinos. It also delves into the issues of stolen mummified bodies, cultural appropriation, stigmatization, and discrimination faced by tattooed individuals.

Now shooting in Manila and the mountainous Kalinga region, the film is directed by Donguines (“Paco,” “Kalinga”) and written by Donguines and Zlatina Pacheva (“Run the Burbs,” “Kim’s Convenience”).

“Treasure” is produced by Jacob Crawford and Bailey Wood, co-produced by Patti Lapus (“Triangle of Sadness”), Bianca Balbuena (“Singing in Graveyards”) and Grace Palicas. It is executive produced by Lars Krutak, (“Tattoo Hunter,” “Ta Stekia: Istories Agoraiou Politismou”). Cinematography is by John Fleming (“Kalinga,” “Brown Enough”) with Oswaldo Lopez Dantes (“Crescendo,” “Wallpaper,” “Petty Crimes”) as editor.

Credited production companies are Aimer Films and Crawford Filmworks. In its early stages, Treasure of the Rice Terraces was developed through HotDocs Doc Accelerator program and received development support from Rogers Group of Funds, Creative BC and Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office. Later, Knowledge Network and Canada Media Fund came on board.

A teaser trailer can be seen on YouTube:

“As a first-generation Filipino-Canadian, I understand the importance of identity and belonging, and the desire to reconnect with one’s roots. Growing up, tattoos were discouraged in my family, but as I became independent, I found a love for the art form and discovered deeper personal meaning behind each tattoo. I now feel secure in my identity as a Filipino because I get to carry my culture with me wherever I go,” said Donguines.

“I’ve always been fascinated by tattoos. The concept seems so simple, yet they are some of the most complex forms of artistry, with meaning and culture that goes back centuries,” said Crawford.

“The current Philippine administration is poised to let China take over the country. Never has the time been riper to interrogate our national identity,” said Lapus. “At this juncture in our history, [the rediscovery of cultural identity and national pride] has become more than a mere personal exploration, but an overt and proactive political act.”

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