Unless you’ve been going to film festivals around the world for the past 15 years you may not have heard of Khavn dela Cruz. I had not myself until a poster caught my eye recently. It was a design for Orphea, a 2020 collaboration between the venerable 89-year-old German filmmaker Alexander Kluge and an artist called simply Khavn. The poster had a certain iconoclastic energy and a stylish title treatment and so I decided to dig deeper. And there was a lot to uncover. Born in Quezon City in the Philippines in 1973, Khavn has made over 50 features and 150 shorts over the past 20 years, but he is also a musician with 40 albums to his name, and a writer who has published eight books of poetry, a novel, and two collections of short stories and has twice won the most prestigious literary award in the Philippines. While his music veers from clattering jazz to head-bopping pop to dreamy piano arrangements (check out his compilation soundtrack album This is Not a Film by Khavn [Original Soundtrack] on Spotify) his films, if his posters are anything to go by, are punk AF (on his IMDb profile picture he’s wearing a Never Mind the Bollocks t-shirt).
His sprawling filmography includes musicals, political satires, verité dramas, zombie movies, crime thrillers, post-apocalyptic gangster films, heist movies and vampire flicks. He has said, “You can connect the dots, except no coherent image will come out!” Some are blessed with wonderful, logorrheic subtitles such as Mondomanila, or: How I Fixed My Hair After a Rather Long Journey or EDSA XXX: Nothing Ever Changes in the Ever-Changing Republic of Ek-Ek-Ek. He has collaborated with Kluge a couple of times, and his 2014 Ruined Heart was shot by Christopher Doyle.
A larger-than-life figure who wears steampunk sunglasses and a Native American war bonnet (over his mohawk), Khavn is fond of name-checking (and often misquoting) artists from Jan Švankmajer to Ezra Pound to E.E. Cummings. Interviewed in the Asian NME this year he said “I like obstructions in art. Like Stravinsky said, uhm – well, whatever the fuck he said about limits, man, it applies!”
As befitting a filmmaker who makes two or three films a year, none backed by major distributors as far as I can tell, his posters have a scrappy D.I.Y. aesthetic and come in a dizzying variety of styles. The one constant is the credit on almost all the posters saying, “This is Not a Film by Khavn,” a middle-finger obfuscation that predates Jafar Panahi’s rebellious 2011 prevarication This is Not a Film. In the wonderfully spiky poster for Bamboo Dogs, above, that humble-brag statement almost dwarfs the title itself.
Since he is such a multi-hyphenate, I wouldn’t be surprised if he designed some of the posters himself, but I’ve found only a couple of designs credits on these—including the amazing Soika Vomiter whose art graces the Bamboo Dogs poster above—and none are for him. Let this smattering of promotional pieces for the films of Khavn—presented below in reverse chronological order—hopefully lead many of us to discover the films themselves.