Saturday, August 30, 2014
12:01 AM |
Early this August, I finally caught Hannah Espia’s Transit
, the Best Film winner of last year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival, which is annually held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and which has come to define the best of Philippine cinema—if only more people were aware these films existed. But for a few days or so in July or August, it does invite a few thousand cinephiles who throng to the CCP, which seem to invite the notion that there is an audience for local films of a remarkably differently pedigree than, say, the trashy popular offerings of Vice Ganda or Kris Aquino.
I was glad I finally caught Transit
. I met its director last summer here in Dumaguete while her production company was still scouting locations for its Cinemalaya entry this year, Dagitab
. Its final choice of location was the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines—but that was almost Dumaguete, with the hills of Valencia as the setting for its scenes involving a national writers’ workshop. Catching Transit
was better late than never. And finally I understood all the acclaim that film received—including its choice as the Philippine submission to the latest Oscar derby for Best Foreign Language Film. Transit
didn’t quite make the short list, but nonetheless, what a beautiful, patient, sensitive film this is. A tour de force narrative, really, about the hidden lives of OFWs in Israel, told in a fractured mode that stays true to the fractured lives of the people it sought to depict with gimlet-eyed honesty.
I saw Transit
in the middle of the week I was in Manila for Cinemalaya—and is it any indication that the first film I loved in Cinemalaya X so far by then was a film from last year’s festival? Transit
featured everything I had not seen so far in the entries I’d come to see this year: an organic screenplay with a sound structure, compelling acting from everyone involved, a sense of place, thoroughly absorbing direction. For example, Marc Justin Alvarez’s powerhouse acting as a young Filipino boy growing up in Israel seems like a direct slap against the horrid ensemble of Sundalong Kanin
, an official entry in the New Breed category of Cinemalaya X.
What a travesty this film was. Children caught in the claws of war often makes for a compelling film with an unsettling sort of pathos. It doesn’t take much to feel for stories about witnessing the death of innocence, or the corruption of the young in the grips of grim circumstances, set in an epic swirl of blood and betrayal, spilled guts and rampaging war machines. At its most effective—say René Clément’s Jeux interdits
, or Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants
, or Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies
—the usual gravity of this kind of narrative makes for a provocative thesis about the utter uselessness and brutality of war, and how it eventually spares no one, not even children. I like how this kind of film often strips away the hoary militaristic jingoism and macho bravado that often pervade the usual war narrative. Unfortunately, Janice O’Hara’s Sundalong Kanin
is not a film that does any of this. It is not even an imperfect film with a certain resonance. What it is is
a movie full of false notes, it appears generally to be a gross disservice to everyone concerned, including its audience. It is the story of four friends—boys in the cusp of adolescence—dealing with the slowly growing horror of what it means to have a town overrun by Japanese forces in World War II. What it finally becomes is an exercise of unfortunate and clumsy filmmaking. The actors are miscast and seem to operate in hysterical mode, the script has a porous consistency, and the production design—crucial for a period film—is virtually non-existent. (For example, it is difficult to feel terror for a boy as he confronts Japanese soldier and a rifle—when it is perfectly clear that the rifle is made of wood.) The Second World War can be depicted realistically, even given constraints. In 1982, Oro Plata Mata
did it. In 2008, Concerto
did it. It can be done.
This film utterly fails at it. There is a crucial scene near the end where the boys face the unbearable twist of having to turn on one of their own: there is a death, there is a grieving mother, and there are people on pursuit of the killers. The scene called for heartbreak—but what does the audience do? Laugh.
Because the way O’Hara stages the sequence is unintentional slapstick of the worst kind, robbing the scene’s potential for a powerful denouement. I have never wanted to get out of a screening so much.
Cinemalaya X had such disappointments. What is the point of Francis Xavier Pasion’s Bwaya
, for example? Is it trying for cinematic expressionism, complete with the picture-postcard meanderings a la
Terrence Malick? Is it trying to be anthropological, mapping for cinema the geography and the culture of Agusan's marshland? Is it trying to provide a voice for the oral narratives of Northern Mindanao? Is it trying to continue the metafictionality that earned the director so much plaudits with 2008’s Jay
? Is it an excuse to quietly gosh over the lush cinematography of Neil Daza? Is it to waste the majestic acting prowess of Angeli Bayani, reduced here to unfortunate histrionics? I am not exactly sure, but the film seems to provide an answer near its long-awaited end: to concretize in film the memory of a girl eaten by a crocodile in the marsh’s shallow waters. But the attempt honestly feels so derivative and so superficial, one is rather tempted to forget.
Eventually, little by little, I did get to see films I came to love or admire. I enjoyed Carlito Siguion-Reyna’s Hari ng Tondo
very much, however: it is a welcome return to a director who has not helmed a film for about a decade. A subtle comedy that also thinks of itself as a family melodrama, it is about a ruined captain of industry who returns to his impoverished Tondo roots to give his grandchildren the only worthy inheritance he could give them: take them out of their comfort zones and make them grow balls among the sigas of Manila’s hardened no-man’s land. The usual comedic shenanigans and dramatic epiphanies unfurl like clockwork, which is not bad at all—but there is a sense of forcedness in the execution that leaves this film feel a tad empty. That, plus the signature staginess of Siguion-Reyna’s direction, cripples what would have otherwise been perfect Cinemalaya comic fodder with a social message, in the vein of Last Supper No. 3
. But it’s funny enough, so there you go.
I enjoyed Giancarlo Abrahan V’s Dagitab
, which almost feels like a French drama unfolding in tropical ennui, ponderous though it was. Real Florido’s 1st Ko si Third
was an enjoyable romp through geriatric romance, and a perfect showcase for the talent of the deserving character actress Nova Villa—but it was slight, like an enjoyable one-note joke that took two hours to tell. I loved the most two films: Ida Anita del Mundo’s K’Na the Dreamweaver
, a supersaturated Yimou-ish take on the T’Boli, and Gino Santos’ #Y
, a hyperkinetic look into the living nightmares of the social media generation. Both imperfect films—what film isn’t—but both made with a filmmaking signature that’s deft and deliberate, they made you feel how mature our young filmmakers have come in their handling of film language. Which is more than I can say for some of the older filmmakers in the festival’s roster.
Many things about Joselito Altarejos’ Kasal
, the eventual Best Film winner in the Directors Showcase category of Cinemalaya X—feel like a valedictory. (A point of disclosure: Mr. Altarejos is a good friend of this writer.) For those among us who have seen Mr. Altarejos try to redefine queer cinema in the Philippines from the early double-punch of Ang Lalake sa Parola
(2007) and Ang Lihim ni Antonio
(2008) to the more experimental—and complex—forays of the LGBT landscape in Ang Laro sa Buhay ni Juan
(2009) and Unfriend
(2014), there are particular choices in the mise-en-scene of the new film that seem to compose both a dare and an invitation from the filmmaker for an earnest reconsideration of his body of work, at least in the genre of film he has found himself niched in. “I hope you enjoy this film,” Mr. Altarejos said in Filipino in his introduction during the film’s gala screening Tuesday night. “I think I have explored enough of LGBT issues in my film. I am ready for other themes.” And so he gives us a film that taunts us with our own expectations and gifts us with the sheer chutzpah of gimlet-eyed wish-fulfillment—to provoke us, to titillate us, but ultimately also to condemn us—and then quickly moves on from that to situate us in the gritty reality of the lives of ordinary gay men, in a storytelling technique that is certainly not designed to cater to the taste of ordinary moviegoers. This is a film that does not hesitate to wallow and meander in the minutiae or ordinary joys, ordinary hurts, and ordinary devastations. You could call that a director going about without a sense of design (nope, it isn’t)—but I choose to call it honesty instead. It is a triumph. It is not a perfect film, but it is brave. Sometimes, in film, that becomes even more important than formal flourish.
Labels: art and culture, film, life
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Friday, August 29, 2014
9:02 PM |
Reminders for Life
Haruki Murakami once said something that rings true for me, and perhaps for anyone else who has battled the blues constantly in their lives. I call it the "blues," a common term, to give what I feel a softer conception: and yet to be honest, what I am talking about is a colourless, tremolous darkness with fangs. My comrades-in-arms who know this darkness intimately know that the only way to persevere -- if one can persevere at all -- is to let the frightful darkness run its course, like a fever, like a storm, like the awesome anger of catastrophes. It is not something you can tell yourself to snap out of, as if the mind is a puppet on strings and willpower is the cure. Willpower is a puny figure in the face of this darkness. And so, here is that Murakami quote: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
August has been such a storm. It has been such a storm without reason, but it took me by surprise, and coddled me like a rabid dog. My dear friend Elle called it my "birthday blues," and perhaps it was so -- but it was just darkness for me.
And only now do I feel that darkness' tentacles release my mind little by little. Today most especially. Everything is clearer again, and I can see colour. And I behold all these with a tinge of sadness, which is the only way I can behold joy.
Today had started like just any ordinary day gripped in paralysis, the quiet kind that mistakes desperation for breathing. I can't even recall much what I did today. Did I wake up early? I did, but the bed refused to let me go until the middle of the day. Did I have lunch? I must have. But it was a late lunch, I am sure of this, and I had hurried along to KRI to sate pangs of hunger so intense I was practically sweating. The details of the day became sharper by then. I had some chicken dish, I am sure of that. And coffee. And by 4:30 PM, I found my feet leading me to the Udarbe Memorial Chapel in campus, to be with Margie and the Udarbe family as they commemorated the first anniversary of Dr. Proceso Udarbe's passing on. And while I sat in the very last seat of the back row of that chapel, I found Dr. Noriel Capulong's powerful message for the memorial service so touching, I found myself almost crying. It was as if I could feel Tito Proc's kind hands reaching out to me, penetrating the walls of the bowels of my own darkness, and telling me it was all right. Dr. Capulong talked about Tito Proc as somebody who persevered through so many trials and triumphs in life without much need for credit. Tito Proc found the uncelebrated, unacknowledged unfolding of him trying to become a leader at the most crucial times to be a blessing. I have been thinking about this for a year now, this necessity to lie low but to continue working for the dreams that you have -- and Dr. Capulong's recollection of Tito Proc's quiet courage only gave my rumination some solid foundation. And for that I am thankful.
And then I went to see Philip Noyce's adaptation of Lois Lowry's The Giver
at Robinson's. It was not an important movie, but I found that its heart, like the beloved book, was in the right place. And it made me think about the importance of looking, and looking deep and seeing what's beyond. I think I have forgotten to do this in recent days -- no, months. It was important to be reminded of this again.
And so I tell myself: Always be grateful, Ian. And always be kind. And always be quiet when you can. And look. Look with the intensity of a beholder of some beloved. And be grateful. Be grateful above all for being loved.
Labels: family, film, friends, life, quotes
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Monday, August 25, 2014
7:13 PM |
Labels: graphics, history, people
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Friday, August 22, 2014
2:21 PM |
I have no idea what got into my head last summer when, before the start of the current cultural season of Silliman University—we’re now enjoying our 52nd year—I told our Cultural Officer, Prof. Diomar Abrio
, about my dream for this year’s Silliman Performs, which is our annual revue featuring the best performing talents in campus.
“I want Broadway,” I think I must have said. “I want the lights, I want the sass, I want the tunes that wash over like no other kind of popular music can—it gets your body moving with drama. And I want to direct the segment on Rent
“I like that,” fellow Cultural Affairs Committee member Leo Mamicpic
chimed in. “And why don’t we feature songs from musicals that don’t readily get performed in showcases like this?”
Like how it usually happens when we do our “mugna” about things cultural, the dream of a Broadway revue eventually started rolling out into slow fruition, and it fell on Mark Ian Caballes
to become the overall director of the show, putting together what pieces to perform, and painstakingly finding, arranging, and transcribing with a group of musicians from the College of Performing and Visual Arts the Broadway tunes we wanted to finally perform. Angelo Sayson
choreographs the dance numbers of the show.
And so finally, on August 22 and then 26, we will pay tribute to the music of the stage and film, in time for the 113th Founders Day celebration of Silliman University.
And why Broadway for this show? Our show’s writer, Warlito Caturay Jr.,
mused over that question as well, and he wrote: “Since the 19th century, Broadway musicals have been an integral part of the American cultural life. Trips to New York would not be complete if one did not see the bright lights of Broadway, or watch and experience stories come alive on stage, or suspend disbelief just to accept for a brief moment that life could happen in between musical numbers. The whole world has embraced Broadway, but a question must be asked: why do we, Filipinos, living in a country geographically removed from Broadway, have also fallen head over heels in love with musicals, be it on stage or films? Silliman Performs Broadway
attempts to answer this question.”
The show will feature excerpts from such beloved musicals as The Sound of Music, Porgy and Bess, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, La Cage Aux Folles, Chicago, The King and I, Showboat, Wicked, Dreamgirls, Rent, The Fantasticks, Les Miserables
, and Carousel
Its performers include both veterans of the Luce stage, as well as newly-discovered talents set to soon make names for themselves, hopefully, in local theatre.
There's Caleb Santos
ostensibly counselling (and yet really flirting with) Jessa Cabading
about the intricacies of love at a tender age in the courtship song from The Sound of Music
. From the same musical, there's Cheryl Lyn Sitoy-Antonio
as Maria, essaying its iconic musical education song. There's Katrina Tiongson Saga
, now with the Philippine Madrigal Singers, who returns to Dumaguete to sing the gorgeous ballad from Porgy and Bess
. There's Dessa Quesada-Palm
as West Side Story
's Anita, grappling with Melody Enero
's about the tumultuous demands of first love that defy social expectation. There's Manolito Saldivar
and Maria Elcon Cabasag
ruminating about love in the excerpt from The Fantasticks
. There's Warlito Caturay Jr.
coming to terms with a fabulous identity in La Cage aux Folles
. There're the Alphabet City bohemians from 1989 New York -- composed of Earnest Hope Tinambacan, Louise Remata-Villanueva, Onna Rhea Quizo, Jia de la Cruz, Manuel Jarabe Jr., Ian Lester Gue, Yeshhua Quizo, James Milan, Shamah Bulangis, James Alkene Lamuna, Anna Katrina Espino
, and yours truly
-- singing about the measures of a life in Rent
. There's Japheth Babanto
and Renna Dedal
's duet about highs and lows of friendship in Wicked
. There's Glenn Magdura
's anguished Jesus contemplating the gathering darkness from Jesus Christ Superstar
. There's Elana Joy Bartlett
getting to know her charge in The King and I
with the Silliman University Dance Trope
. There's Nierru Cabilao
leading the carnal and jazzy charge in dance with selected students from the Speech and Theatre Department in Chicago
. There's Lemoine Poligrates
bemoaning love and its consequences in Show Boat
. There's Fritz Figueras
belting out a song about transformation in Dreamgirls
. And then there're Rigel Suarez, Frankie Cardona, Cristiani Rebada, Novie Lyne Flores, Calvin Klein Galbinez, James Alkene Lamuna, Japheth Babanto
, and Renna Dedal in their electrifying chorus with the Silliman University Campus Choristers
singing of a hopeful tomorrow from Les Miserables
I love show tunes. They’re a different breed of musical expression that seems to transcend culture. I love the spectacle of light and sound, and the idea that there is a way for ordinary people to just break into song and dance. Silliman University has had a rich tradition of staging musical plays in campus, and this revue promises to be a distillation of that long line of theatrical productions. And hopefully, maybe one of these segments will translate into a full-blown musical after 2011’s Godspell
and 2012’s Into the Woods
. Who knows, maybe we can do Jesus Christ Superstar
soon? Or perhaps Rent
? Such promises, such possibilities…
Silliman Performs Broadway
is a special Founders Day presentation of the Cultural Affairs Committee, and no season passes will be honored. Tickets are available at P200, P300, and P500. All tickets and season passes for Luce Auditorium shows are available for sale at the CAC Office at the College of Performing and Visual Arts Building II, and at the theater lobby before the show begins. For ticket reservations and other inquiries, call (035) 422-4365 or 0917-513-3312.
Labels: art and culture, life, music, people, silliman, theater
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
1:16 PM |
A Life of Service, Perseverance -- and Art
Dr. Romeo P. Ariniego, the 2010 Outstanding Sillimanian Awardee for Medicine, started collecting art in 1979 while doing medical training in Sydney, Australia. The painting—an abstract work that seems to be that of a fowl with a paintbrush—was by an Australian artist, and what drew Dr. Ariniego in to the artwork was its essential “difference.” It spoke to him then, and that painting has since become the cornerstone of an outstanding collection of fine art, which includes paintings, sculptures, masks, and religious icons, which he has intuitively collected over thirty years.
That taste for the fine arts was nurtured, Dr. Ariniego admitted, while reading art books at the Silliman Library while still a working student in the university, and from the pages of these books, he came to admire the works of Monet and Degas.
Ultimately, that burgeoning love for art led him to his collection of local works, which began in 1984 when he bought a series of paintings by Jose T. Joya for just P7,000. Since then, he has collected almost a hundred works by Jose T. Joya, Hernando R. Ocampo, Ernie Verroya, Solomon Saprid, Emmanuel Garibay, and other painters.
And now he has bequeathed his current collection to Silliman University.
Dr. Ariniego graduated from Silliman University with a degree of Bachelor of Science in 1967. He has served the De La Salle-Health Sciences Campus (DLS-HSC) University Medical Center in various capacities, including Chief of the Cardiovascular Division. A well-known practitioner in his field, he has authored and co-authored several scholarly publications, and has received several awards from 1972 to 2009, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Philippine Heart Association, the National Lorenzo M. Tañada CHIMES Award from De La Salle Philippines, and the International Health Professional Distinction, which he received in Cambridge, England.
But he started from humble origins. An incident in childhood proved vital in his later success. In a monograph published to celebrate Dr. Ariniego’s life and taste for the arts, we learn that he was in fifth grade in his hometown of Vigan, Ilocos Sur when he saw how his family, frantic over the conditions of a sick uncle, decided to call for the family doctor. “It proved to be a life-changing experience,” the book says. “The boy was awed at how the doctor was able to calm down and reassure the family that he decided then and there that he would become a doctor when he grew up. It seemed to be an impossible dream. Sending a child to medical school was impossible for Romy’s parents who had to raise eight other children from their meager earnings as laundrywoman and market helper.
“With two siblings still in high school, Romy had to stop schooling after graduating from grade school. Fate intervened through a classmate, the son of an American missionary assigned in Vigan. The American family invited Romy to work as part of the household staff, and helped him finish high school.”
But he could not finance himself to go through a preparatory medical education. And so he decided to forego the dream for a while, and enrolled in a business course at the University of the East. He worked during the day at a cigarette factory, and delved into zealous study at night. But his dream of becoming a medical doctor did not abate him.
“One day,” the book continues, “Romy chanced upon an advertisement by Silliman University offering a free work-and-study program. He immediately resigned from the factory, and to his surprise, his boss and fellow workers all pitched-in to raise the money he needed for his transportation to Dumaguete City, and for a semester’s tuition at Silliman. At Silliman, he worked at various jobs—messenger, gardener, dormitory assistant—and soon finished his pre-med course in three years.
“On his last year in college, Romy was able to get a grant for his medical education through the help of a American missionary faculty at Silliman. Having enough money for tuition, Romy was able to concentrate on his studies at the College of Medicine of the University of the Philippines. He continued his residency training and fellowship at the Philippine General Hospital. His appointment as Chief Resident was a recognition of his hard work and excellence as a physician. He underwent further training in cardiology in Sweden, and in geriatric cardiology in Australia.
“In spite of the tempting job offers in Sweden and Australia, Romy chose to return to the Philippines. Since his residency, Romy wisely used a part of his salary to buy stocks in private hospitals where he planned to set-up his practice. This tipped off the legendary Dr. Paulo Campos who had a keen sense for people with great potential. As soon as Romy returned from Australia, Dr. Campos promptly invited him to be the cardiologist in his new hospital in Dasmariñas. Thinking that it was in a plush village in Makati, Romy quickly accepted his invitation. To this day, Romy does not know whether the astute businessman intentionally forgot to mention that he was referring to a town in Cavite. Being the gentleman that he is, Romy kept his word and practiced in what was then a very rural Cavite.
“It did not take long for Dr. Ariniego’s practice to flourish. The Caviteños, especially the elderly, quickly developed a deep trust for the new doctor. The long line of patients who continue to wait patiently outside Romy’s clinic attest to the kind of doctor that this once struggling student had become.”
He has translated much of this success to helping many students achieve their dreams of becoming medical professionals with generous scholarships—so generous that for many of these students, Dr. Ariniego is not only just a benefactor, he has also become family.
He has already donated his house in Dasmariñas to De La Salle University, for it to become the future house of medical scholars of that school. That, plus a medical library he has built for the school, is part of his medical legacy.
For Silliman, the legacy he wants to leave behind is this other side of him: the art lover. And through this, he hopes some other student—reminiscent of his own student days poring over art books in the library—would gain a similar glimpse of joy in art, and follow the path he found himself treading. And for that, Silliman University is grateful.
Part of Dr. Ariniego’s art collection will be exhibited at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery in a show titled
Gasa sa Kakugi from August 19 to September 29.
Labels: art and culture, painting, people, silliman
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Thursday, August 21, 2014
12:25 PM |
A Pedro Almodovar Completist's Checklist
I have always loved the colourful idiosyncrasy of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, with his labyrinthine plots, comic hijinks, campy female characters, and curiously subversive themes that seem to gel together with a dash of lipstick, carnal energy, and a boundless embrace of film's Technicolor heritage. And yet I have to really see all of Pedro's movies.
His brand of filmmaking is not to everyone's taste, and he does make some unfortunate misses, like his latest airline comedy that seemed to be headed nowhere. But when his films work, they work with gusto. What have I missed?
☑ I'm So Excited! (2011)
☐ The Skin I Live In (2009)
☐ Broken Embraces (2009)
☑ Volver (2004)
☑ Bad Education (2002)
☑ Talk to Her (1999)
☑ All About My Mother (1997)
☑ Live Flesh (1995)
☑ The Flower of My Secret (1993)
☑ Kika (1991)
☐ High Heels (1989)
☑ Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1988)
☑ Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1987)
☑ Law of Desire (1986)
☐ Matador (1985)
☐ What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1983)
☐ Dark Habits (1982)
☐ Labyrinth of Passion (1980)
☐ Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom (1978)
Labels: film, life
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Sunday, August 17, 2014
12:12 PM |
Birthday Boy Selfie
Here's a selfie for the purposes of personal study. I've been documenting my face this week for a peculiar reason. Because I've been through a lot the past few days: sickness, depression, stress -- all things beyond the radar of bright and merry. But I think I have always been a creature of silver linings. I believe always in the light at the end of the tunnel, the diamond that comes from the rough. So here's taking a deep breath to begin again. Hello, 39.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
7:24 AM |
Robin Williams, 63
I guess it is true that sometimes we take the brightest of masks to hide the starkest of darkness. He made us laugh like he was an unstoppable fun machine -- but I could always limn a hint of desperation behind the antics. Nevertheless, all those movies. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Good Will Hunting. The World According to Garp. Aladdin. The Fisher King. Awakenings. Popeye. The Birdcage
. What a run, what a life. Thank you, Mr. Williams, and may you find the peace you've been so desperately seeking.
Labels: film, obituary, people
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Friday, August 01, 2014
10:35 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
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.
Labels: art and culture, dumaguete, film, friends, negros, people, silliman
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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