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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

entry arrow10:35 PM | Film Blues and B-Movies

In the Philippine Daily Inquirer today, the actress Eugene Domingo—known to most people as a comedienne of the first rank—spilled some heartbreaking news in an interview about her latest film, Barber’s Tales, hemmed by Jun Lana: she was taking a break from the movies.

The impetus comes, it seems, from her feeling much too-tired about having to sell, often without much success, the films she makes that are decidedly unformulaic but beautifully made. She has made many commercial films—but the films she makes for love of her craft? Crickets, and it was breaking her heart.

Eugene tells the newspaper that she is “more terrified” about having to consider the fates of internationally-acclaimed films in local theaters, with all that quality barely enough to even garner the most lukewarm response from local audiences. “Sabi ko nga kay direk Jun, ‘Why am I more terrified in my own country than in anywhere in the world?’ Maybe because alam niyong ‘Komedyante iyan, ano bang tema niyan?’ Nakaka-insecure. Pero hindi naman basura ang ipinapakita mo di ba? Pero kinakabahan ka,” she said. “I am terrified to the bones. Please give us a chance. Kahit lima lang ang nasa sinehan pero lalabas na kumpleto, masaya na ako.”

I remember meeting Eugene for the first time in Dumaguete in 2008. She had just made a splash as a supporting actor of delightful gravity in Chris Martinez’s debut film, 100. That year, we thought of bringing the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival to Dumaguete, to bask in the reflected glory of a festival that was fast earning a reputation in film circles all over the world. And so we brought in 100, plus its director and star, to screen at the Luce Auditorium in Silliman University, along with other films we programmed to last a week, in an event we called Cinemalaya Goes to Silliman. We had a great time—and it was heartwarming to see Eugene’s star grow after that year, from Kimmy Dora to Zombadings.

And so, truth to tell then, this is what I used to do all the time: I used to organize film festivals in Dumaguete just so I could see the independent films everybody’s talking about, but I know will never get to see the light of day in local cineplexes. Truth to tell, I engineered the whole Cinemalaya Goes to Silliman back in 2008 just so I could watch 100 and other films. In 2012, I also remember organizing the ActiveVista Film Festival here in Dumaguete just because I really wanted to see Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa and John Sayles’ Amigo. That’s like moving mountains to satisfy a cinematic itch—and you can only do so much and for so long.

I wish there was better distribution for Filipino films, to be honest. Chances are, most of these films will only get a Manila or a festival run—and that’s it. There must be an audience hungry for films like this in the so-called “provinces,” but nobody’s willing to try and we don’t really matter. Up to now, I have not seen films like Bwakaw or Ang Nawawala and so many others—and as a cineaste, it pains me to admit that I’ve given up on ever seeing these films and championing them.

And yet the question also remains, even with better distribution, will people still flock to see these films? My friend Hendri Go said: "I don't think audiences in the provinces will flock to a screening the way they do Cinemalaya at the CCP. I saw Bwakaw here in Cebu and there was just one of me in a 600-seat theater. You have to build the excitement or you do a pay per view screening perhaps." And from Davao, Nino de Veyra muses: "If ABS-CBN/Philippine Star/Star Cinema and GMA/Inquirer/Viva actively market (guest interviews, reviews, even "scandals") these movies on TV and print media, would they be box-office hits like She's Dating a Gangster?"

The possible answers terrify me. And so, we are left with devising ways to see the films we need to see.

This Monday, August 4, for example, we are bringing in the Australian film director Andrew Leavold to screen his documentary The Search for Weng Weng as part of the Eddie Romero Film Series at 10 AM at the Audio-Visual Theater. Later that day, he is going to do a lecture on “The Art of B-Movies” for the Albert Faurot Lecture Series at 2 PM, also at the same venue. All this for free, courtesy of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee.

Mr. Leavold has incredible B-movie credentials. He owned and managed Trash Video, the largest cult video rental store in Australia, from 1995 to 2010, and aside from being a filmmaker, he is also published author, researcher, film festival curator (Brisbane International Film Festival, Melbourne Underground Film Festival), musician, TV presenter, and—above all—unrepentant and voracious fan of the pulpier aspects of genre cinema. He directed the long form short Bluebirds of Peace and Destruction (2006), a hyper real reconstruction of a famous Brisbane vampire slaying.

Mr. Leavold’s latest film project, the feature length documentary The Search for Weng Weng (2013), chronicles his quest to find the truth behind the midget Filipino James Bond. His ten years of research on genre filmmaking in the Philippines formed the basis of Mark Hartley's documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! (released internationally in 2010), on which Mr. Leavold is also Associate Producer, and he has since been recognized both in the Philippines and abroad as the foremost authority in his area of expertise, teaching Philippine film history at university level in Australia, the United States, and throughout the Philippines. A Ph.D. graduate from Brisbane's Griffith University, Leavold's thesis is soon to be published as a book entitled Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys: A History of Pulp Filmmaking in the Philippines.

I can’t help but ask: if other people from other countries could love our cinema—even our B-movie offerings—why can’t we? If you truly love Filipino cinema, see you on Monday for the screening and the lecture.

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