SxSW 2021 Interview – LEARNING TAGALOG WITH KAYLA director Kayla Abuda Galang

Learning Tagalog with Kayla is a daydream of a language learning lesson where the teacher’s allowed to get a little candid and personal with you for a few minutes. Having its World Premiere in Texas Shorts at SxSW Online, we speak with Kayla Abuda Galang about her short LEARNING TAGALOG WITH KAYLA. 

I hear you are back! Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and what you showed.

I made my festival debut at SXSW in 2016 with my short JOAN ON THE PHONE in the Texas Shorts Competition. It was my first festival ever, so I walked in scared and excited. I had a lot of fun and drank a lot of free drinks. I rode the Mr. Robot ferris wheel, like, two times. I also had a bit of an anxiety attack and dodged a lot of mixers as a result! It was really interesting. I have since learned and grown up a little bit, so I am just more excited than I am nervous this time around.

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?

Man, I first heard about SXSW in… 2007? Right when I moved from San Diego, California, to Houston, Texas in high school, a lot of my cousins really talked up Austin. The filmmaking scene, the film school at the University of Texas, the big festival called South by Southwest. Since moving to Austin in 2010, I have loved joining in on all the film and music festivities at the fest. I was heartbroken when it got canceled last year, but perked up when they began accepting submissions for a virtual 2021. I submitted my film right when they opened up.

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

I was inspired by personal sadness, the “model student” in me, and a fast-approaching deadline for a community art showcase. I originally had this idea of learning Tagalog onscreen in a public access-kind of aesthetic: headphones on, reciting phrases aloud. But I just sat with that idea for two months, and when I came upon nine days to the showcase deadline, I scrambled. I decided to meld the instructor and student into one character, and say a bunch of sad truths with a huge smile. It felt funny and right.

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

My creative inspirations as of late have been Lovers Rock by Steve McQueen, Supermarket Woman by Juzo Itami, the photography of Sam Youkilis, and the music of . I didn’t have any particular talent or movie in mind when making Learning Tagalog, actually! It was an amalgamation of stillness, music, and weirdness I have absorbed from the media over the years.

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?

Technically putting the film together felt like the easiest part. I shot and edited over the course of a week, allowing my Sony A7RII to live on a light stand to stand in, after losing my tripod, in order to be ready whenever. My partner is also a sound mixer, so he lent me a pivotal hand. I think the biggest creative challenge was recording dialogue in Tagalog. I had my mom translate the lines for me so I could parrot everything, but the Tagalog phrases were long and unwieldy. Every word sounded silly coming out of my mouth. I got so frustrated with performing perfectly that I pitched the idea of allowing a text-to-speech voice do my job. My partner said no because he knew that would be at the expense of my original idea.

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?

I just want to watch a ton of movies and connect with other filmmakers I admire! I am pretty stoked about how much easier it is to connect with folks online this year, so I hope they will continue that component even as they move to in-person events. As for LEARNING TAGALOG WITH KAYLA, it’s playing at Aspen Shortsfest and Atlanta Film Festival in April!

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

It would be cool to see festivals strike deals with major streaming services. For instance, Prime Video platformed a lot, if not all of the SXSW shorts last year, so I got to watch pretty much all of them! I also like how the Criterion Channel pairs up shorts and features in little collections. More stuff like this would be great.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

Find your people! Build your community. Your peers don’t have to be your competition — they could very well be your collaborators and supporters. Their wins are your wins and vice versa! Also: learn about, respect, and perhaps do a little bit of every crew role over the course of your filmmaking journey. There are no small roles on set when it takes a village to make a film.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

This feels next-to-impossible to answer, having watched so many great shorts over the past decade. I will say that I watched SUMMER HIT by Berthold Wahjudi and NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE by Caron Nguyen last year, and those have stuck with me in very special ways I can’t shake.

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to!

One Reply to “SxSW 2021 Interview – LEARNING TAGALOG WITH KAYLA director Kayla Abuda Galang”

Leave a Reply