We are insatiable for stories. This much is true about our lives—even if it is not always apparent. When we converse with anyone, and the talk becomes deep, what we often find is that we have found ourselves invested in is the unfolding narrative. “This happened to me,” a friend begins, or perhaps more commonly: “This is what happened to so-and-so…”—and then we are there, transported by the witness or by the gossip. Stories enthrall. The best TV commercials involve stories told in 30-seconds that move us. And this is why films, television serials, and literature continue to enthrall, some more than others.
Film has been around for more than a hundred years now. When Thomas Alva Edison and the Lumiere brothers tinkered with the technology, the first fascination was for the technical wonder of flickering and moving images projected on a wall or a screen featuring documentary scenes culled from every day life—but movies would have remained a fad scheduled for obsolescence if narrative did not save it from being just mere curiosity. Enter Georges Méliès, who injected into cinema a sense of magic and fiction, and then Edwin S. Porter and Sergei Eisenstein, who gave it structure, and D.W. Griffith, who gave it narrative spectacle. Cinema is the way it is today because of these men who knew that life hums by the power of the story.
And so it has gone since then: us watching stories through film. And while many of these narratives seemed universal—people falling in love, people fighting for a cause, people surviving the direst circumstances—for must of us recognizing the power of representation, films have always been stories about other people. We love Hollywood films, but by virtue of geography and race, they have always been about other people. In the Philippines, we do have our own homegrown cinema—but it is cinema that is ultimately centered around Manila, and when they do venture out to the regions, they have mostly been about Manilenos contending with the quirks—and sometimes the horror—of the probinsya. We get the kicks of seeing Dumaguete, for example, unfurl on the commercial screen via StarCinema’s Close to You in 2006—but in the long run, it is Dumaguete as wallpaper for a Manileno romance between John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo.
In 2008, I found myself representing “Dumaguete filmmaking” in a film summit for Cinemalaya at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and while I did my best to phrase in the efforts of the fledgling filmmaking that had occurred here then (I mentioned Eddie Romero, Jonah Lim, and Ramon del Prado), I ultimately had to give this answer: “There is no such thing as Dumaguete filmmaking.” Later, Teddy Co—one of Philippine cinema’s film stalwarts and champion behind CinemaRehiyon, and current Vice Chairman for the Committee on Cinema for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts—came up to me and challenged me with this: “Just do it. Start your own grassroots filmmaking.” I came back to Dumaguete with a mission: start a festival of short films as soon as possible.
It just so happened that I was teaching a film course at the College of Mass Communication at Silliman University—and I galvanized my students then to work towards short films—whether fiction or documentary—as their final exam and final project. Those were admirable, if not exactly flawless, efforts—but it led to a few more years where we saw the classroom project evolve to what we had then called the 61 Short Film Festival, named after the number of the course I was teaching. Last year, the 61 Short Film Festival, which was open only to Mass Communication students, transferred from the small original venue at the Audio-Visual Theatre 1 to the behemoth of the Luce Auditorium, and officially became the Silliman Film Open, with the competition now open to anyone enrolled in Silliman University. What can I say, that’s how things evolve. Big things always come from small things. There have been many winners in the smaller iteration of the festival—Anthony Odtohan won for his documentary Papa Mike and the Rainbow Village, Adrian Miraflor won for his comedy Voldemort Must Die, and Johanne Simone Vale won for her drama Ugma na Lang—but the first winner of the Silliman Film Open last year was Lorie Jayne Soriano, who won for her romantic comedy Substitute.
What has not been surprising is the overwhelming local response—and most of it centered is around the fact that these films are stories about Dumaguete and its people. Some may be fantastical, or even murderous, but the taste of the local is what has made these films more or less successes in their own right. Of course, they aren’t smoothly made, and their shoe-string budget is all up there to see, and the freshman efforts are evident here and there—but they remain a pleasant surprise to behold.
This year, we have more stories to enthrall.
In Malka Shaver’s Fifi and the Fairy, three friends go on an unexpected adventure to get good—while high and drunk.
In Ara Mina Amor’s Finals, a student takes his final exam for his last shot at passing a subject—but life has other plans.
In Mac Florendo’s Dakop, a homeless Badjao girl contracts a sexually-transmitted disease, and horror follows.
In Michelle Diana Lois Osias’ Relevé, Elena, a young ballet teacher, is stuck in an abusive relationship. And then a little girl named Gabby gives her hope.
In Lurlyn Carmona’s A State of Existence, a girl named Precious lives an almost enviable life—yet something is missing for her. As she contends with the emptiness, she goes for drastic measures to fill the void.
In John Rey Villareal’s Kamera, Jake and Kate are photographers in search of a model for a photo shoot. Then something else gets developed aside from the pictures.
In Adrian Von Christian Colina’s The House, The Dead, The Ugly, two murderers are stranded in an abandoned house with two detectives. The four fight for survival and satisfaction.
In Renz Christian Torres’ Primordial Witt, a beginner wants to know how to play a role-playing game—even if she doesn't completely understand it.
In Leslie Batallones’ Tugis, a young man searches for his missing and sick mother, to convince her to come home.
In Mariana Varela’s Locked, a mother, a child, and a ruthless father face each other’s fates in a forbidding a house.
In Kristine Maria Ariken’s Sally, a girl named Claire decides to clean her room—which meant throwing away old toys, including a talking doll. And then strange things begin to happen.
In Prince Albert Villa’s Pier, Carl, a college freshman in Dumaguete, is excited to go home for Christmas break—but finds himself stranded in the pier for unexpected reasons.
In Cheri Lian Ansale’s White Rose, a man has only a few minutes to save his girlfriend's life from his avenging stepfather.
And in Cindy Bonachita’s Tadtad, a man unintentionally gets caught up with a series of crime that has been happening in town.
They join five music videos—Krizzel Canlas and Richmond Canete’s You Are to Blame, Doreen Lumayag’s Kami Lagi, Rhobie A. Ruaya’s Never Say Goodbye, Joanna Joyce Tubases’ Our Time, and Divina Mari Tubat’s It Gets Better—in contention for the top prizes in two categories.
The Second Silliman Film Open is slated on 27 February 2016, with the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee, College of Mass Communication, Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center, SU Student Government, Kapunungan sa mga Mass Communicators, and The Reel Hub as partners. The NCCA and individuals like GMA’s Oliver Amoroso are also partnering in making sure the event is a success.
The opening films and music videos, plus a selection of winning films from previous editions of the festival, will be screened starting 1 PM at the Audio-Visual Theatre 1 at the Multimedia Center in Silliman University, and are free and open to the public.
The closing films will be screened at the Luce Auditorium on the same date, starting at 6 PM. Tickets for the Luce screening are available at the CAC Office at COPVA Building II at P100, or you may call (035) 422-4365 or 0917-323-5953. (If you are a currently enrolled Silliman student, you may charge it to your tuition at the Business and Finance, but the deadline for charging is on February 22.)
The jury for the Second Silliman Film Open includes Warlito Caturay Jr., Moses Joshua Atega, W Don Flores, Cebu filmmaker and writer Maria Victoria Beltran, and—guess who—Teddy Co himself.