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Sinag Maynila tackles diverse social issues

/ 12:24 AM March 10, 2018

Jean Judith Javier (left) and Mon Confiado in “El Peste”

As it turns four, the Sinag Maynila film festival, on its senior year, seems poised to graduate and tackle more diverse and divisive, exhilarating and explosive, social issues—as exemplified by the five entries in the full-length feature category.

For starters, Richard Somes’ “El Peste” is an “erotic drama on sexual exploration, self-discovery and freedom.”

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Somes explains: “It deals with human behavior… what motivates people and how people pursue such motivations.”

Yam Laranas’ “Abomination,” on the other hand, zooms in on a seldom-discussed topic in local cinema: mental disorder and psychosis.

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Tippy Dos Santos in “Abomination”

“I like telling different stories every time,” Laranas relates. “Mental illness affects many people, and it haunts every family.”

Laranas describes his film as “a ride inside the mind of a person with mental disorder—an exploration into the many interpretations of ‘truth’ and ‘reality.’”

This year, a Filipino-Australian is fielding an entry that expounds on the expatriate experience.

Matthew Victor Pastor describes his film “Melodrama/Random/Melbourne!” as an “ensemble drama that focuses on the issues of racism, sexism, Asian stereotypes and how social media impacts our lives.”

Celina Yuen in “Melodrama/ Random/Melbourne!”

Pastor, who cowrote the film with lead actress Celina Yuen, recalls that the script was borne “out of frustration and necessity.”

According to Pastor, Yuen once told him that she had never seen Australian films on the Asian journey. “Our film boasts a team of people of Asian heritage. I feel … it encapsulates a lot of the current insecurities, anxieties and questions that are cropping up in the digital age.”

For his part, Ralston Jover aims to shed light on the travails of an often ignored member of the Filipino family in “Bomba,” which centers on a deaf man who is convicted of a crime.

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“In a way, Pipo [the film’s main character] embodies the daily struggles of lowly Filipino workers,” Jover clarifies. “The laborer’s silence in the face of tyranny is like a ticking bomb that is ready to explode any moment.”

Completing the spectrum, Joselito Altarejos’ “Tale of the Lost Boys” highlights the struggles of the LGBTQ community.

Oliver Aquino (left) and Ta Su in “Tale of the Lost Boys”

Altarejos volunteers that he stumbled on his film’s concept at a time when he was feeling “lost,” as well. By chance, he met coproducer Jay Lin in Taiwan at that time—leading to a collaboration that yielded a cross-cultural road trip.

“We wanted to explore the similarities between the Philippines and Taiwan,” Altarejos looks back.

During his research, the Filipino filmmaker learned about Taiwan’s indigenous tribes (Formosan people) that migrated to the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. “I also discovered that some gay Taiwanese aborigines have a hard time coming out to their parents. It seems that aside from similar cultures, we also have the same dilemmas when it comes to dealing with traditional families.”

All the filmmakers hope to reach out to as wide an audience as possible.

Somes regards his countrymen as the “most important” viewers in the world. “Our stories should always be a mirror of our culture, society, our way of life, our state of mind.”

Jover points out that his movie echoes the story of the Filipino audience—“the working class’ daily struggle … with horrific traffic, with our highly politicized and dysfunctional social system.”

Altarejos’ wish is for viewers “to discover themselves” in the film. “I would like for the audience to realize that the issue of identity does not only affect the LGBTQ, but everyone.”

Pastor is eager to attend this year’s event. “I’m keen to watch some great films and meet equally great directors. My hope is to get inspired. Every time I attend a film festival, I return home with some magic power to make more films.”

After attending last year’s Sinag Maynila, Pastor completed three feature films!

Laranas hopes Sinag Maynila will “continue supporting Filipino filmmakers and discovering new talents.” He enjoins the private sector to “partner with the fest in the future.” “I am already looking forward to its 25th anniversary!”

Screenings are ongoing in select SM cinemas until March 15. The awards ceremony will be held tomorrow.

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