cinemalaya: philippine independent film festival – the shorts.

8 months in the hotness and I’m sad to say I haven’t been out to see ONE indie film.  Considering The Philippines’ rich film-making history and the 20 grand I’m still paying off for film school, having only seen Twilight, Wolverine, and Transformers 2 in this country is pretty bad.  What the fuck was I doing then?  Probably what 90% of this country was doing:  NOT going out to see Filipino independent films.  Who wants to go see some rich college kid’s interpretation of the hard-life in The Philippines?  It’s pangit/ugly.  Dude, we gotta see Edward Cullen!

Actually, that’s not always the case.  Most indie films never make it into any of the theatres at the mall because they are not commercially viable.  Which is the case in many countries, but add that many indie films have boobs, less than flattering Catholic references, and sometimes ugly people in them, then you can start to understand how it works here.  A Filipino name Brillante Mendoza took the Best Director award at Cannes this year for a flick he made called Kinatay.  That was a couple of months ago and I still haven’t met anyone in the country that has seen it.  It must be amazing.  Read old Ebert’s review here:

Luckily, I’m down with some down people that know their shit and can point me in the right direction should I want to see some college kids interpretation of poverty in the Philippines.  Or poverty-porn (the critics love it).  Which I thought would be in store for me when I got invited out to Cinemalaya earlier tonight.  I’m glad to say I was part-wrong.

The pick of the evening was the Short Features (Program A), which ran 5 not bad at all shorts.  Let’s rate them out of 5.

The first was Musa by Dexter B. Cayanes.  About a poet slash faith-healer in a railroad-track community.  An art-flick complete with vocal -choral type music, lady in white dress, and random nakedness.  But it didn’t go full-monty art-flick where I totally get lost and feel dumb.  Which was a bit of a let down.  Then the DVD or film glitched midway and the subtitles stopped showing up.  It was written in the most beautiful deep Tagalog, but I only got the first bit.  Even my native Manileños had a hardtime with it.  I started out wanting to like it, but later felt like it just wasn’t my thing.  Too bad about the subtitles.  Let’s give it a 3 for making me feel KINDA dumb.

Behind Closed Doors by Mark Philipp Espina is about the secrets lovers keep from each other behind closed doors.  Definitely no poverty here.  Hardly any Tagalog even.  It started off a little on the womp-womp side for me, with less than stellar acting (maybe it was the less than stellar english).  But it started getting interesting with the entrance of a big silver vibrator.  A little GOGA and some moments that made me say “ohhh, what a BITCH!”  Mostly, ohhhs and no ahhhhs.  3 . . .

Next was Tatang by Jean Paul “Nico” Hernandez and we were back in the poverty again.  Pen Medina stars as Tatang (grandpa), a pickpocket/snatcher living on the street with his grandaughter (Nikki Bagaporo) who becomes his protege.  My friend says Pen Medina is the “Harvey Keitel of The Philippines”.  An old pro, he does a good job playing a defeated old man and Nikki Bagaporo is great as a cocky but naive tweenager.  The bickering scenes between the two are hilarious, especially if you’re familiar with commonly used Tagalog taunts and insults.  I liked the characters so much I wished the film wasn’t a short.  4.5 for the performances and for blending the light-hearted with the tragic.

The girl that made Hulagpos, Maita Lirra Lupac, had a cute little body and wasn’t ugly from where I was sitting.  The people sitting around me thought so too.  She also makes a decent flick.  Hulagpos will hit any Filipino who grew up under the pressures of parents expecting complete loyalty from you, where any shame brought to the family by you will result in you being disowned (a mostly upper class predicament).  Some very familiar lines were spoken that provoked a few one note laughs “hm” from the audience.  There was also all the scary catholic imagery that worked well because the film was beautifully shot.  Very engaging right up until the end- where I didn’t quite get it.  But maybe that was the point.  4 for the line about guardian angels being powerful because they have wings.  Thanks gramma, now I feel safe.

The best of the night came last with Wat Floor Ma’am by Mike Sandejas and Robert Sena.  A film where everybody’s favorite former first lady (Imelda Marcos) gets stuck in an elevator with a local “bad boy” film star.  Of course, they must talk.  Anything Imelda is good comedy, even when parodied, because it never strays too far from the truth about her.  Is she a liar, stunningly stupid, or fuckin brilliant?  It gets brilliant when the film star asks Imelda what everyone who knows her history has been dying to ask her “did you steal The Philippines’ riches from the Filipino people?”  And Imelda proceeds to reveal ‘the truth’.  Funny and informative.  And well shot on a budget.  Comedy and controversy beats “art” and “intelligent” every time for me.  This one is the winner for showing that a flick can be creative and smart with out being serious and tragic.

It was  a satisfying night.  A fine introduction to Filipino Cinema (thanks, Ria for the heads up).  I had it all wrong.  And I’m grateful.  I only thought “well, this is stupid” once.  And where I’m from, we think everything is stupid.  Well, poverty is not stupid.  Even though sometimes, we might be like “ohh, another movie with poor people.”  Especially when it’s made by a third-year University of Philippines student who’s dad still gives him lunch money (and a car).  But the truth is, poverty in The Philippines is unavoidable.  So of course there’s gonna be films about it.  Let’s not get too cool for poverty-porn, but let’s not use poverty to validate the quality of the content (and to get into the big festivals).  Use your talent.  Fortunately, talent won tonight.

And by all means, be too cool for art-flicks (or in my case, not cool enough).

Cinemalaya is going on until the 26th at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP) and tickets are p100 or p50 for students.

Support your kababayan.



~ by mlv on 20 July, 2009.

One Response to “cinemalaya: philippine independent film festival – the shorts.”

  1. Hi, I really would like to see some of these films but it’s really difficult to get hold of them especially if you’re not in the country. Do you know if they sell these films on DVDs at all (I’d like the original copies of course)? I’d really like to support them but no means to do it. I hope you could help me.

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