Cinemalaya: State of the nationBy Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As mainstream stars now top-bill competition entries and fans’ shrieks echo in the hallowed theaters of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival reaches a crossroads – or so it seems.
Besieged by controversies and resignations, Cinemalaya, now on its eighth year, continues to screen films that are both engaging and exasperating, challenging and surprisingly commercial.
Just like past editions, the 2012 fest has the potential to show the real state of the nation—more expansive and entertaining than the one presented in Batasan.
Indie films have been criticized for their obsession with poverty—that is, for focusing on the plight of the marginalized.
However, middle-class concerns are creeping in, finding their way into entries in both the New Breed and Directors’ Showcase sections.
After back-to-back screenings of Gino M. Santos’ “The Animals” and Marie Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala,” a regular festival viewer may yearn for the gritty social realism and populist politics depicted in earlier Cinemalaya fests.
These two films are energetic, youth-propelled film debuts (New Breed) that are as divergent as they are similar. While “The Animals” is dark and dangerous, “Ang Nawawala” is a brightly-hued happy pill with a streak of sadness.
Also in the Directors’ Showcase, seasoned filmmakers Jose Javier Reyes (“Mga Mumunting Lihim”) and Jun Lana (“Bwakaw”) were allowed to tackle very personal stories (on the tenuous bonds of friendship and loneliness among seniors, respectively), in a crowd-pleasing package that can cross over to mall cineplexes.
Can the personal also be political?
Aloy Adlawan’s “Ang Nawawala” weaves homelessness and history. Loy Arcenas’ “REquieme!,” a drama disguised as a comedy, dissects homophobia in the family and, on a larger scale, in society.
Filling in the “poverty” gap, Paul Sta. Ana’s “Oros” (New Breed) and Lawrence Fajardo’s “Posas” (Directors’ Showcase) provide a harsh reality check—critiquing illegal gambling, police brutality and a flawed judiciary.
Two faces of destitution can be seen in two entries (that coincidentally feature stunning shots of the sea) in the New Breed section. Prostitution is juxtaposed with environmental degradation in Lem Lorca’s “Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino,” which has a fishing community in Cavite as backdrop. The Filipino diaspora and the quest for a green card in Guam are chronicled in Julius Sotomayor Cena’s “Dayo” (Resident Aliens).
Rolling waves are likewise featured in the Directors’ Showcase—specifically in Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Kalayaan,” a meditation on alienation, as experienced by a soldier stationed in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Mes de Guzman’s “Diablo,” Emmanuel Quindo Palo’s “Santa Niña,” Vincent Sandoval’s “Aparisyon” (in the New Breed) and Raymond Red’s “Kamera Obskura” (Directors’ Showcase) traverse the mystical and the temporal.
(Red’s “silent film” vociferously discusses diverse issues—including the corruption of the Establishment and the sorry state of film preservation.)
Beyond the feature films, Cinemalaya seems to have found renewed vitality in the shorts and documentary sections.
Although often ignored by audiences, some of the shorts and docus were screened to packed houses at the CCP.
Case in point: Joy and sorrow mark the short films Emmanuela Escalona Jr.’s “Balintuna (Irony)” and Mario “Max” Celada’s “Pasahero”—proving that films can reflect social realities without being gloomy and oppressive.
This year, docus stand above the throng.
Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco’s “Give Up Tomorrow” courts controversy while indicting media sensationalism and the country’s political and justice systems. This docu disturbs, no matter what one’s opinion is on the celebrated rape-murder case of the Chiong sisters. (It has a screening on Sunday.)
Fritz Kohle and Arleen Cuevas’ “God, Church, Pills and Condoms” analyzes the RH bill debate, while “Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar” recalls the decline of the country’s sugar farms.
It’s not all serious stuff.
Two docus recount distinctly Filipino stories: the rediscovery of traditional serenaders in Benito Bautista’s “Harana” and the colorful journey of model-turned-Carnival Queen Bessie Badilla in Lyca Benitez-Brown’s “Dance of My Life.”
Variety and reality intersect in this year’s Cinemalaya.
Recent Stories:Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.