For it's 11th edition, the truly original "Indie Film festival" in the Philippines, Cinemalaya, had to go through a surgical operation. For the first time since its creation in 2005, there was no feature film competition, due to the withdrawal of the main financial sponsor, Antonio "Tony Boy" Cojuangco, and the lack of full budget for the production of 10 feature films, or more. As a result, only the short film competition took place this year.
However, the festival took this positively and restructured the production timeline of next year's fulllength films (when the features return) from months to over a year. This will help filmmakers to make the deadlines more reasonably.
In addition, a wide window was open on the rest of Asia, as NETPAC had an opportunity to be showcased by Cinemalaya and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, to celebrate its historical 25th anniversary (before the Honolulu celebration in November this year). The president and founder of Netpac, Mrs Aruna Vasudev, came to Manila on this special occasion, to celebrate the event, along with Philip Cheah, Wong Tuck Cheong, several Filipino members (not all...) and myself. A panel was held on August 12, to explain what Netpac is all about to the local young audience in Manila, who don't know much about Asian cinema other than Filipino films. The Cinemalaya short film competition (10 films) was quite uneven, in my opinion, but a few films emerged , notably Pusong gato (Stone heart), by female director Martika Ramirez Escobar, a sensitive evocation of a former movie star of the 1970s, awakened from her past dreams by an earthquake (Best Film winner). Apasol (Chasing sun) , by Ryanne Murcia is a thin but nice poem of a young gay couple waiting for their separation in an idyllic landscape,... But the real revelation was perhaps Wawa (River) by another female director, Angelie Mae Macalanda, a stunningly filmed journey (by cinematographer Arnel Barbarona) of a funeral procession on a river, where a young boy watches the last trip of his dead father on the river. No dialogue, just a flowing rendering of the impermanence of life . It deservedly won the Netpac prize, and the Special Jury prize (the jury was composed of pinoy directors Carlos Siguion Reyna and Mes de Guzman, and Indonesian producer Meiske Taurisia, a Netpac member).
Rather predictably, the audience award went to a deliberately bloody and gorish tale of an abortionnist who begets a devilish child...
Apart from a retrospective of Cinemalaya award winners from the past, and a special screening of the restored print (by ABSCBN TV) of Marilou Diaz Abaya's remarkable Karnal (1983), in the presence of actors Philip Salvador and Cecile Castillo, the main menu was composed of eight Asian films, recently awarded by Netpac juries around the world, curated by Ashley Ratnavibhushana and myself, plus three more Asian films with a strong reputation: Zhang Yimou's Coming Home (with Gong Li), The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), a stunningly inventive, animation film by Studio Ghibli's Isao Takahata, and The Last Reel, the moving story of cinephile nostalgia and Khmer Rouge's destructive policies in the 1970s, by Cambodia's newcomer, Mrs Sotho Kulikar.
Three aspects of Asian culture and styles, at their cinematic best level.
The Netpac program boasted of feature films from all over Asia, each possessing distinctive topics and styles, from Turkey to China, from Kazakhstan to Myanmar and Japan, from India to Kyrgyzstan. The best received films were perhaps the powerful Night of Silence by Turkish director Reis Celik, the parasurrealistic black comedy The Owners, by Adilkhan Yerzhanov (Kazakhstan), the nostalgic and poetic tale Summer, Kyoto, by Hiroshi Toda from Japan, and the gripping story of The Monk by young Burmese director The Maw Naing, trained by the FAMU school in Prague (Myanmar, Czech Republic). India's Six Feet high, by Sanal Kular Sasidaran, is a compelling and strange initiation voyage into rare locales of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, sad to say, there is generally a discouraging lack of curiosity among the Filipino audience for anything which is not "Pinoy" or related to the Philippines, and, apart from the weekends, the general audience was quite limited.
Even the film teachers and film historians, who usually complain about the absence of foreign or Asian films in Manila, rarely showed up (or not at all...), and didn't bother to bring their own students! This is quite appalling. An audience has to be shaped up, and I am afraid this will take years, if real efforts are made.
However, on the whole, this edition was quite positive, and with strong signs indicating that it will go back to normal fare for the next editions, with the production of features already announced by CCP and Cinemalaya directors Chris Millado, Laurice Guillen and Mel Chionglo (in August 2016 and 2017).
So, once again, Long Live Cinemalaya, when most other festivals in Manila just copied its original formula, with various results.
-by Max Tessier