After two years of physical interruption due to the dreaded Covid pandemic (the 2020 and 2021 editions were online, with short films conception only), the 18th edition of Cinemalaya happily rebounded at the original CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines), with thousands of spectators and guests coming back with renewed interest. About 25,000 spectators attended the screenings, against 50,000 in 2019, but the (not so) “Little theatre” was closed for renovation, before the whole CCP will be closed for total renovation for at least two years. Most people saw the film in the big Main Theatre, and two smaller venues.
Cinemalaya 18, titled “ Breaking through the noise”, actually offered 11 feature films, and twelve short films, all eagerly awaited by the mainly young audience. Apart from the CCP, all the films are also shown for a week in regular Manila malls ( Ayala and SM only) and will be shown in selected cities in the province, including Dapitan (Zamboanga) for the first time. Also online until October 31.
In spite of the usual “weather curse” (the opening on August 5 was damped with torrential rains and flooding), Cinemalaya 18 did very well in all venues. As is the “tradition”, the selection of short films was more even and rewarding than the feature films section. Most of the shorts were filled with original topics and treatments, showing the energy of young filmmakers. Among others, let’s mention Kwits (Quits) by Raz de la Torre, Si Oddie, about the hard time of of a delivery boy, to find his client, by Maria Kiddy Lee Torato, The dreams that are written on the sand, by Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay and Richard Jeroui Salvadico, or Dikit (Attached), an experimental study of a split female personality, by Gabriela Serrano. However, one short emerged out of the bunch: Zig Dulay’s Black Rainbow, a brilliant depiction of an Aeta (indigenous) boy who wants to go to school with his new computer to be able to read the documents given to his estranged community. This outstanding short (previously shown at Sine Halaga festival) bagged the Best short film award by the Netpac Jury (composed of Ida del Mundo, chairman Patrick Campos, and myself) and the main jury’s award, chaired by French director Frederic Auburtin.
This edition was not an outstanding year for feature films, compared with the 2019 edition, but offered quite an interesting variety of films, with quite diverse topics, mainly with a social perspective of the contemporary Philippines, dealing with a lot of current problems.
While Sheenly Gener’s Bula sa langit (Trigger) follows a young soldier freshly out of war (in Mindanao, the boiling point of the court), and Rainerio C.Yanson’s Angkas (The back-rider) takes us on a strange and sometimes confusing trip between the living and the dead, Christian Paolo Lat’s Ginhawa (Solace) is a strong portrayal of a young boxer who is programmed to lose, reminding us of some of the best boxing films noir made in Hollywood before, like Robert Wise’s The Set up (1949). And TM Malones’ Kargo (Cargo, Audience award) is also a kind of homage to American B movies of the past, starring actress Max Eigenmann (the niece of actress Cherie Gil, who recently passed away at only 59) as a tough female truck driver. Pity the film is somehow marred by a predictable rescue end… Max Eigenmann is also the main character of 12 Weeks, by Anna Isabelle Matutina, a strong and disturbing portrait of a mature woman hesitating between giving birth to her baby at the worst time of the couple’s relation, and abortion (still not very common in the highly Catholic Philippines). The film bagged the Netpac best feature award, and the Best actress award from the main jury.
Milo Alto Paz and Cynthia Cruz Paz’s Retirada (The retiree) is a quiet but gripping look at a retired government employee (Peewee Ohara) who becomes an addict to the Bingo game, to the lament of her husband and daughter. And female director Ma-an Asuncion Dagnalan’s Blue Room shows a bunch of rich musician teenagers arrested and persecuted by greedy policemen headed by the excellent actor Soliman Cruz ( who appeared in three Cinemalaya films this year! ) until some kind of high social relation saves them from the hidden “blue room”. An interesting look at corruption in Filipino society (nothing new, alas).
The Main jury best film award went to Carlo Obispo for The baseball player , featuring young actor Tommy Alejandrino as a Moro child solder dreaming of becoming baseball player amidst the war, again in Mindanao. A strong portrayal that convinced everyone, including the Netpac Jury.
As usual, most films will be shown in other cities/ provinces, and in some selected foreign film festivals, as original productions of the first Indie festival in the Philippines, that survived most of the other ones. Let’s celebrate again. Mabuhay!
-- by Max Tessier