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A New Aspect of Philippine Indie Cinema

Aditya Thursday March 1, 2012

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As indie film festivals are sprouting across the country, Cinema Rehiyon 4 (cinemarehiyon.com) took place in Bacolod, capital of the Negros Island in Visayas from 8 to 11 February 2012, under the funny title of "Bacollywood". It was held in Davao last year. With the sponsorship by the NCCA (the National Commission for Culture and the Arts)1, admission to the screenings was free. Although its opening was a bit marred by a strong earthquake that shook Negros the day before, the festival ran normally at the Robinson's mall in Bacolod during the four days. Most of the directors and actors were also in attendance to meet the local audience.    Rehiyon is the tagalog version of the Spanish word, region. This is the only festival in the Philippines that gathers films (short and features, fiction and documentary) made all over the country except in Manila. Programmed by renowned film personalities such as Teddy Co (for the Luzon region), it aims to show the vitality of indie cinema made in the provinces. This edition showed 69 films altogether, and was under the auspices of two older famed directors, Peque Gallaga (of Oro, Plata, Mata), and Celso Ad Castillo, whose reputation goes back to the 1970s and 80s, when he directed many popular gender films, such as Snake sisters. They held a forum named “Masters of Cinema”, where they talked about the Golden Age of Filipino Cinema, and of the possibilities and limitations of expressing oneself on the digital format today.    Among the 69 films showed (alas not always in optimal technical conditions), we could spot a few shorts from Bohol (Mugma by Mark Anthony Gaso), or from Dumaguete (the animated Suga Light by Stephen Abanto), and Paper, an inventive animation by Hersley Ven D.Casero. Two films from Cebu deserved mention: Saranghae My Tutor, a clever comedy by Victor Villanueva about a Filipino teacher of English caught between a beautiful Korean student girl and her boyfriend, and Biyernes, Biyernes (Friday, Friday), a rather creative collective film by no less than 8 directors, who give a personal touch to each segment of the story. It is impossible to mention all the interesting shorts, as too many were screened, and only once...    However, the best features came from established directors. Mes de Guzman from Nueva Vizcaya screened his latest film, Sa kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (At the corner of Heaven and Earth), as part of a trilogy. Produced by Cinema One Originals, the film demonstrated again Guzman’s skill for pregnant realism and an easy direction of child actors. Also, Arnel Mardoquio has a stark realistic look at what is going wrong in much troubled and poor Southern Mindanao, in Crossfire, in a more refined way than his previous Sheika. And Gutierrez Mangansakan II (aka "Teng") came back with Cartas de la Soledad/ Letters of Solitude, a slow and literary but masterly directed film, quite different from his previous Limbunan (2010). Unfortunately, technical flaws, mainly for the sound and subtitles, marred the projection.  

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On the final day, we were able to see two documentaries, in radically opposite styles and conceptions. Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved), the very long (195 min!) documentary by Pangasinan director Christopher Gozum is about a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia looking for his missing wife through interviews with several other Filipino workers. By refusing to edit those very long interviews, the director makes his film willingly tedious and overlong, albeit honest. The other documentary, Pureza, by Jay Abello (of Namets) is more "classic", but also more passionate and engaging, in its portrayal of the heydays and decline of the sugarcane industry in his native Negros island, notably in Bacolod. Thanks to a great amount of research (including a very interesting footage from the colonial period), and varied interviews of several planters, this is a moving document on what was once the pride of the Philippines sugar industry.

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Cinema Rehiyon 4 was indeed a festive event, sponsored by the Bacolod City, and always an opportunity to discover new and diversified talents and sensibilities, outside Manila. I have two recommendations for future editions (the next one should be held in los Banos, Laguna, near Manila, in Feb 2013). First, the organizers should not only focus on "the event" itself. I wish adequate attention can be given to the technical aspects so that all the films are screened in the right aspect ratio and subtitles. Secondly, I suggest that, as much as possible, there can be a few breaks in the program. This year, screenings happened from 10 am to 10 pm, with only one break after each screening. Several events (video installations, Cine de Barrio and cocktail parties, amongst other things) were held simultaneously during the screenings. This was a shame especially for the film screenings that had filmmakers in attendance. If these can be addressed, I am sure it would provide better condition to appreciate the films. 

Meanwhile, Long Live Cinema Rehiyon 5!

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