Philippine cinema rebornBy Jose Javier Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
For naysayers who insist that Philippine cinema is dead, we have news for you: You’re looking in the wrong direction.
Even as Harry Potter ruled in metro cineplexes last week, crowds also flocked to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where the 7th Cinemalaya Film Festival went on a week-long run. Enthusiasts spent entire days on marathon screenings of Filipino independent films.
This made the apparent even more obvious: Filipinos will still opt for local movies, as long as they are offered something new, not something borrowed or something that has turned blue. Enough of this constant underestimation of the intelligence of the Pinoy masa.
Commercial producers think Aling Tacing and Mang Kadyo can appreciate only the formulaic, the predictable … and worse, the mediocre, the safe, the inane and even … the idiotic. Please.
Bongga is out
And let’s face it: Filipinos are exhibiting symptoms of cultural diabetes—another dose of contrived sweetness in a romantic comedy can prove fatal.
This can be considered dangerous because of the diminishing profit returns posted by mainstream movies that have stuck to tried-and-tested templates. Yes, maybe it is time for creative supervisors, managers and committees to rethink strategies and question the infallibility of research and focus groups. Who was it that said the jackpot comes not from him who merely follows fashion but rather him who starts the trend?
If you build it, they will come. Local audiences are starved for better, more innovative, but not necessarily more expensive and impressive, productions. Bongga is out; bago is in.
Consider, for instance, that a Cinemalaya entry has a ceiling budget of P3 million, which is just about the amount that a film studio pays a single actor, who is an alleged box-office draw, to headline a mainstream movie. Also consider that a film like “Ligo Na U, Lapit Na Me” was made for about P1.8 million, less than what is spent on a single taping day of a high-end prime time telenovela.
Indeed there is a difference between a group of people merely doing their jobs from those who take on a project out of passion and conviction. Of course, you can make do with this incredibly low budget when everybody is paid amounts not even deserving to be called honoraria, because they are doing it out of love and for the redemption of their souls. Thus, that now legendary comment about Skyflakes and cat food from the catering service … well, indie films depend on the nobility of actors and not the publicity generated by media whores.
There are those who may dismiss Cinemalaya not as an index to the future but as a fluke. Waving statistics and demographics, defenders of commercial cinema will insist that indie festival audiences belong to a niche crowd. They will say that only students required by their teachers, cineastes and/or culture vultures watch indie films—and even then only to flaunt cultural superiority over the masa and demean those who are out there slugging it out in the industry.
Fact: Every year, the number of Cinemalaya enthusiasts grows. This year, 90 percent-attendance in most screenings was recorded by favorites like “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” and “Ligo na U, Lapit na Me”—neck-and-neck top-grossing contenders.
Weekend crowds usually found lined up in cineplexes crowded the CCP box office on weekdays. Even the festival’s Greenbelt screenings yield better results than some commercial films in exhibition at the same time.
Little wonder—because this year’s crop of Cinemalaya entries provided an endless array of surprises.
Who would have thought that Paolo Avelino and Rocco Nacino could deliver such fine and sensitive portrayals in Alvin Yapan and Alemberg Ang’s slow dance of human relationships in “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa”? This film only proved that young talents like Avelino and Nacino are under-utilized in television, and are not given a chance to show their mettle and develop their talent.
Better yet, consider a young actor like Edgar Allan Guzman and a veteran character actress like Raquel Villavicencio. The names are recognizable but do not warrant star billing in mainstream movies or even television dramas. But their portrayals of a distressed mother and a dysfunctional son in Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Bisperas” are such complete contrasts to Villavicenio’s rendition of a worldly-wise yet guilt-ridden woman in Loy Arcena’s “Niño” or Guzman’s bungling college boy lover in Eric Salud’s “Ligo na U, Lapit na Me.”
Witness to magnificence
Cinemalaya gave truly competent and talented artists like them a chance to shine and show the audience the difference between authentic actors and those who acquire popularity merely by being celebrities.
Then there is Eugene Domingo, whose stellar quality and talent serve as the very core and axis of “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank.” Or the return to cinema of Fides Cuyugan-Asencio—via “Niño”—whose very presence haunts in the final scene, where “The Humming Chorus” of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” is sung, a reprise of the theme of “Oro, Plata, Mata” where the soprano/actress starred almost 30 years ago.
Plus, there are all these first-rate actors from the theater or certified multi-awarded actors who have had to accept the sad fact that they will play only insignificant, unchallenging, if not downright ignorable supporting roles in commercial films and television shows. Once a year now, we get to witness their magnificence in independent film projects. The fact that we are given a glimpse of what they are worth is enough to make us ecstatic.
Where else can you spend one week watching a film like Auraeus Solito’s “Busong” side by side with Lawrence Fajardo’s “Amok” or Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Isda”? How can you not celebrate a gathering of veteran filmmakers like Joel Lamangan and Jeffrey Jeturian, whose works are screened side by side with first-time filmmakers like Salud, Arcenas, Yapan, Ang, Marlon Rivera (“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”) and Lawrence Fajardo (“Amok”)?
How dare anyone say Filipino cinema is dead!
Just like the recurring image of butterflies in “Busong” and “Niño,” Philippine cinema is slowly emerging from its chrysalis after the requisite period of gestation. Cinemalaya 7 is indeed reason to celebrate for it has proven that Filipino cinema is now in the process of being reborn.
Cinemalaya will be screened on July 26-29 and Aug. 1-5 at the UP Film Center.
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