Doesn’t learning a new language, whilst having a lot of fun, sound like the perfect way to spend your next four minutes? Writer/director/editor Kayla Abuda Galang offers viewers just this, with her darkly funny short film Learning Tagalog with Kayla. As an avid Duolingo partaker, I can say with certainty that while the casual conversational sentences Kayla teaches us can be just as unconventional as on the app, this four-minute short will offer you the opportunity to speak a darker truth in Tagalog.
When we asked Abuda Galang what prompted her to come up with such a fun and unexpected concept, she candidly shared “I don’t really know what possessed me to go with the idea . . . but I do know that I was also feeling sad and bored at the time”. Explaining that she initially wanted to take online Tagalog classes, but lacked the excitement or attention span to commit, she instead put her energy into making Learning Tagalog With Kayla.
Created for an art showcase project called Austin Sunset Public Programming and originally only meant to be seen by her friends and her community, this freedom allowed her to experiment with the format, without ever doubting herself. Pushing the premise to its limits by playing with comedy and old media, the director admits that, like many films, it was a cathartic process, revealing that she wanted to “vent in a really stupid way”.
This is clear in the tone of the film, which is vital in making Learning Tagalog With Kayla such a fun watch. Occupying most of the creative roles in production herself, Abuda Galang infuses her own particular brand of dark humor in the screenplay, the performances and the way the film was edited. The absurdity of the concept, paired with the footage she illustrates the sentences with means the film is simultaneously hilarious and relatable.
Brought to life on-screen by the director and her IRL roommates, this “scrappy collaboration” impresses with a refreshingly simple premise, which feels full of originality and energy. And while one could easily imagine that Abuda Galang could have stretched out her short by shooting more sentences, keeping the runtime at around four minutes means the film has the perfect length, its flawless pacing and consistent entertainment levels making it a truly memorable watch.
It’s certainly stuck with us since we first saw it at its premiere at the 2021 edition of SXSW, where it won the Audience Award of the Texas program. After playing Austin, it then went on to be selected at multiple festivals including Aspen Shortsfest and the Palm Springs ShortFest. Abuda Galang is currently in pre-production of her next short film When You Left Me On That Boulevard, with a crowdfunding campaign launching on October 15th. She is also in the early stages of developing a half-hour dramedy pilot focusing on two former childhood best friends, now in their late 20s, who reunite to navigating life after death and divorce.