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Festival Reports

How Cinemalya can cope with its own success

Aditya Sunday October 5, 2014

How Cinemalya Can Cope With Its Own Success  

The much expected Cinemalaya festival, held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Ayala malls from August 1 to 10, celebrated its tenth anniversary with panache. However, several questions arise, for the original Filipino Indie Film festival is now overwhelmed by its own success (a record-breaking 92,000 spectators this year), and faces an uncertain future, mainly for financial reasons. Its main private sponsor, Antonio "Tony Boy" Cojuangco, has not renewed his financial support, owing to losses incurred, but has promised to help Cinemalaya's "sustainable" future. FDCP, the main government film agency (equivalent to the French CNC) has stopped supporting Cinemalaya and other festivals for several years, as it regards it as a rival to its own film festivals, which sprout every year without any real audience participation. Besides – and in spite of - more theatres offered by the Ayala circuits, Cinemalaya's audience is growing too fast to be accommodated, especially at the CCP (most of the programmes were sold out even before the festival started). Inevitably, then, the internet and down-loading might be a solution in the near future, as Toni Cojuangco, and Nes Jardin, President of Cinemalaya, hinted. 

As for the films offered, it must unfortunately be said that the Tenth anniversary was not a vintage year unlike the two very good preceding years. That, at least, was the general feeling. Some films were mediocre, unsuccessful, or merely lacking in relevance to the original Cinemalaya Indie spirit (like the boring S6parados, a flatly directed TV soap of the worst kind). However, the New Breed section (ten films) offered some truly interesting films with a diversity of topics and styles. As always, youth and its related problems was the subject of films that were sometimes radically opposed. Roderick Cabrido's Children's Show deals with the hard life of poor teenagers used by a syndicate for illegal underground wrestling matches. It had striking visuals, but predictable, melodramatic twists. On the other hand, Gino Santos' #Y (Hashtag Y) shows the not-so-fascinating lives of today's golden middle-class teens dealing with "western" (American) problems like sex, alcohol, drugs and potential suicides. Visually compelling (thanks to Carlo Mendoza’s cinematography), the film successfully avoids the cliches attached to this kind of milieu. Another aspect of childhood is explored in Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers) where Janice and Denise O'Hara (nieces of the late director Mario O'Hara) show how a bunch of kids get accidentally involved in the resistance against Japanese soldiers during WW2. Unfortunately, the film's amateur direction and emotional clichés mar the otherwise interesting story (maybe that's why it won the Audience award…).

Other notable films were: Real Florido's 1st ko si 3rd (My first love is 3rd), is a charming and nostalgic comedy about a retired old lady meeting her first love after 40 years. It had popular TV couple Nova Villa and Freddie Webb, together with Dante Rivero in an excellent role as the husband; K'Na, the Dreamweaver, a mythical story set among the T'boli tribes in South Cotabato, with striking visuals and production design. This is the first film venture by Ida Anita del Mundo, the daughter of Clodualdo (Doy) del Mundo; Nick Olanka's Ronda (Patrol),an intriguing trip into Quiapo's night, as seen by a police woman (played by Ay Ay de las Alas, better known as a comic actress), but the script by Adolfo Alix Jr and Jerome Zamora is too loose, as usual. A pity.and Ayala malls from August 1 to 10, celebrated its tenth anniversary with panache. However, several questions arise, for the original Filipino Indie Film festival is now overwhelmed by its own success (a record-breaking 92,000 spectators this year), and faces an uncertain future, mainly for financial reasons. Its main private sponsor, Antonio "Tony Boy" Cojuangco, has not renewed his financial support, owing to losses incurred, but has promised to help Cinemalaya's "sustainable" future. FDCP, the main government film agency (equivalent to the French CNC) has stopped supporting Cinemalaya and other festivals for several years, as it regards it as a rival to its own film festivals, which sprout every year without any real audience participation. Besides – and in spite of - more theatres offered by the Ayala circuits, Cinemalaya's audience is growing too fast to be accommodated, especially at the CCP (most of the programmes were sold out even before the festival started). Inevitably, then, the internet and down-loading might be a solution in the near future, as Toni Cojuangco, and Nes Jardin, President of Cinemalaya, hinted.

As for the films offered, it must unfortunately be said that the Tenth anniversary was not a vintage year unlike the two very good preceding years. That, at least, was the general feeling. Some films were mediocre, unsuccessful, or merely lacking in relevance to the original Cinemalaya Indie spirit (like the boring S6parados, a flatly directed TV soap of the worst kind). However, the New Breed section (ten films) offered some truly interesting films with a diversity of topics and styles. As always, youth and its related problems was the subject of films that were sometimes radically opposed. Roderick Cabrido's Children's Show deals with the hard life of poor teenagers used by a syndicate for illegal underground wrestling matches. It had striking visuals, but predictable, melodramatic twists. On the other hand, Gino Santos' #Y (Hashtag Y) shows the not-so-fascinating lives of today's golden middle-class teens dealing with "western" (American) problems like sex, alcohol, drugs and potential suicides. Visually compelling (thanks to Carlo Mendoza’s cinematography), the film successfully avoids the cliches attached to this kind of milieu. Another aspect of childhood is explored in Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers) where Janice and Denise O'Hara (nieces of the late director Mario O'Hara) show how a bunch of kids get accidentally involved in the resistance against Japanese soldiers during WW2. Unfortunately, the film's amateur direction and emotional clichés mar the otherwise interesting story (maybe that's why it won the Audience award…).

My personal favorites were Milo Sogueco's Mariquina (scripted by Jerrold Tarog, of Sana Dati), the story of Imelda (played by Mylene Dizon – she was as good as always) a woman who inherits a shoe manufacturing company in Marikina city, from her father (Ricky Davao) and must find the perfect pair when he dies. Intelligently narrated, well-paced and filmed, this moving drama also has a brief appearance by none other than… Imelda Marcos, world famous for her thousand pairs of shoes when she was in power. She personally attended the screening. At 85, she is still a big star, and a new musical about her is going to be staged in London!

Giancarlo Abrahan V's Dagitab (Sparks) is an introspective tale of a couple of teachers falling apart, but finding other reasons to survive. Carefully narrated, with sustained dialogues, and well-acted, mainly by Eula Valdez (who won the Best Actress award) Sparks was probably the most "European" film of this section.

Last but not least, one of the few really surprising New Breed films of this edition was Francis X Pasion's Bwaya (Crocodile), winner of the Best Film Award (for New Breed) and the Netpac Award (the jury comprised Ashley Ratnavibhushana, Jeffrey Jeturian, and myself). After Jay (Best Film in  2008), and Sampaguita (2010), Francis Passion comes back with a mixed fiction/documentary film, and tells of an incident that happened in the marshes of Agusan del Sur in Mindanao, where a little girl was attacked and killed by a crocodile, bringing despair to her mother and the neighborhood. The film, which deliberately reconstructs the story, setting it between a harsh reality and a legendary background, is enhanced by Neil Daza’s brilliant cinematography. It demands constant attention from the audience, and takes us back to the time of Flaherty in a renewed way. Bwaya was the real revelation of Cinemalaya Ten. 

The Director's Showcase (5 films) was not as rewarding, but showcased a clutch of quite different movies. Louie's Ignacio's Asintado (Between the Eyes), although interesting, was much too slow, too talkative, and overlong (like so many films in Cinemalaya), notwithstanding the performance by young Miggs Cuaderno (who also appears in Children's Show). Mike Tuviera's The Janitor is an ultra-efficient violent thriller about a heist and a massacre, and a search for justice, in a somewhat overdone Hollywood/Hong Kong action style. One wonders why it was selected in Cinemalaya, but the main jury composed of Bina Paul, Bird Running water from Sundance, Mario Hernando, Emily Altomonte-Abrera, and Jose Javier Reyes gave it no less than five awards! Carlos Siguion Reyna's Hari ng Tondo (King of Tondo/ Where I am king) is a pleasantly clever social comedy which reminds us of some Ettore Scola's films of the 1970s/80s.

Joselito Altajeros' Kasal (The Commitment) depicts a slice of life of a gay couple - how they live it, and how they stick to their promises. It doesn't always succeed in its portrayal, though, despite some daring scenes. But it was the main "Indie looking" film in its category, and unsurprisingly won the Best Film award.)

Finally, Joel Lamangan's Hustisya (Justice), written by Ricky Lee, appears to be his best film in years. It is a social comment on contemporary human trafficking in Manila, and owes a good deal to the strong performance by Nora Aunor (still part of a deep controversy on the National Artist issue), who won the Best Actress award. Justice was awarded Best Film by the Netpac jury, for the Director's Showcase.

As for New Breed's short films, it was not a great year either, except for a few (Tiya Bening, Lola, As an si Lolo Me). The only really original work was David R.Corpuz's The Ordinary Things We Do, a conceptual film on the appearances of a wedding ceremony, as opposed to lesbian and gay ties, all shown in a fascinating 12 minutes static tryptic. Corpuz is one new director who needs to be closely watched.

Among the special screenings (like Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo, or Lav Diaz' Norte), was a restored film classic by ABS-CBN, Virgin People, by the late Celso Ad Castillo. The film had premiered at the Manila film festival launched by Imelda Marcos in 1983. The restoration is good, but one wonders why this particular film was chosen among the works of Celso. This story of three sisters confronting man's evil in an isolated place is quite cinematic, but overlong and not one of the best films by its author. It had censorship problems at the time for some rape scenes, which are now, back in the restored version. Still, it does deserve to be seen. 

In spite of a last minute internet scandal (all films from 2012 and 13 were "mistakenly" (?)  uploaded on You Tube the night before the Awards, which triggered a furious storm on the Net), Cinemalaya Ten was still the cinematic event of the year, even though the general quality level was not quite up to the mark. And, as Francis Passion said during the closing ceremony: "Cinemalaya must respect the directors, but the directors must also respect Cinemalaya". 

For the "pioneers", and the new film buffs, the relatively short story of Cinemalaya can be read in the book published for the occasion: Making Waves, Ten Years of Cinemalaya, edited by Doy del Mundo, with a full list of films, directors, winners, foreign festivals, etc, and essays by Doreen Yu, Lito Zulueta, Bayani San Diego Jr, Jessica Zafra, and Philip Cheah.  (CCP / Anvil publishing, 2014). A must for all Cinemalayans, past and present! 

   So, let’s wait and see whether the 11th edition (August 6 to 16, 2015) continues with its traditions and keeps its promises. For all its flaws and controversies (mainly fulled by people who don't participate), Cinemalaya must go on! 

By Max  Tessier

Obituary

Sun Shaoyi (1961 - 13th Aug. 2019) Shaoyi Photo It is with great sadness that we inform you of the demise of our senior NETPAC member, Prof SUN Shaoyi (孙绍谊) on 13th Aug 2019. Born in 1961, Prof. SUN Shaoyi did a Masters and a Ph.D from the University of Southern California (USC). He was Professor of Film and Media Studies at Shanghai Theater Academy (STA), taught Chinese film and literature at USC, University of California at Irvine, National Chung Hsing University (Taiwan), Shanghai University and New York University in Shanghai. Read More...