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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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Sunday, February 21, 2016

entry arrow9:00 AM | Our Stories in Film

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 OsiasRelevé, 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 TorresPrimordial Witt, a beginner wants to know how to play a role-playing game—even if she doesn't completely understand it.

In Leslie BatallonesTugis, 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 TubasesOur 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.

Everything comes full circle.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

entry arrow12:18 PM | Julia Christine Vista Zamar's Sparrow and Other Birds

You are invited to a solo exhibition by visual artist Julia Christine Vista Zamar titled His Eyes Are on the Sparrow, which opens on 22 FEBRUARY 2016, Monday at 5:30 PM at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery.

His Eyes Are on the Sparrow is Ms. Zamar's first solo exhibit in Dumaguete, and her second after an exhibit together with her mother Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez in 2013.

Birds have always intrigued the artist. For Ms. Zamar, they are intelligent creatures that "soar through the sky," and symbolize beauty, bravery, determination, grace, and hope. While the exhibit tackles water-color depictions of various other birds, the central theme is the figure of the sparrow. "In the olden times," according to Ms. Zamar, "sparrows were sold for a very low price (Matt. 10:29). Those who were poor and could not afford to sacrifice a sheep or a goat might bring a sparrow to the temple (Lev. 14:1-7). In the market, if one bought four sparrows, the seller would throw in one more for free (Luke 12:4-7). It was this extra sparrow of which Jesus said, 'And not one of them is forgotten before God.' God cares for us so much that even the 'insignificant' sparrow is being observed by Him."

Julia Christine Vista Zamar is a registered medical technologist, but belongs to a family of artists. She lives in Dumaguete City.

The exhibit is open to the public for free, and runs until MARCH 12.

And to complement Justine's exhibit this Monday, here's a beautiful poem by Silliman writer Anthony L. Tan titled "The Sparrows Come Free":

The future was already in the past.
The leaves were there in the seeds --
Brittle brown, black serration,
Wrinkled, desiccated,
Waiting for the clemencies of time,
And green thumbs, weather, earth, water.
In the mind's eye were visions of things,
The possibilities of lushness,
Of tangerine ripeness and yellow pungency,
The anticipation of the sigh of summer
Among the wayward branches,
Of leaves snuggling in pouring rain,
The nocturne of frogs rising from the ponds.
When you dug a hole in the ground
To bury the unpromising saplings,
When in the months that followed
You uprooted the irrelevant weeds,
Prayed for rain and sunlight to some god
Of dubious munificence,
Was it ever on the periphery of the heart's dream
That some years into your middle age
The seeds would have such a crown of abundance
For the birds to have made their airy sanctuary?
Now the garden is ablaze with their raucous summons.
And sometimes interfused with their ceaseless aubade,
As the saffron dawn recedes relentlessly
Toward common brightness,
The blue echoes of a god-like voice:
The sparrows come free, 
Come free, 
Come free.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

entry arrow12:18 PM | The Return of the V Squad

Here we go again—but in all honesty, it’s a constant that has become satisfying for me and many others because every day I live through in every year, I am reminded that this annual thing we do—VDAY—is a necessity. You would think hurtling towards the future would make us more enlightened, more compassionate, and more progressive—but the undying darkness that lurks within humanity ever threatens to hurl us back to the dark ages. Think celebrities, even ordinary folks, misunderstanding the word “feminism.” Think that group of men—they call themselves the Return of Kings—advocating for “legal rape.” Think the continued misogyny that exists in every facet of popular culture. And so, around this time of the year, this column turns to one constant that has been there for so long, I once said that I might as well call this annual space the “vagina’s turn.”

Again, looking back to all my old columns, it strikes me that I have written about VDay every single year since 2001, after having been inspired by the example set by writer/activist Eve Ensler and her groundbreaking play, The Vagina Monologues, which was first staged at the Luce to much controversy in 2001. This also means that, together with Bing Valbuena, I have been part of the movement for fourteen years now, skipping that one year—2002—when things were just coming together, and which led to that big jump in 2003 when Bing started the campaign in Dumaguete. And because this has always been her baby, I will cede space to Bing.

She writes: “Today marks the 14th year of VDAY in Dumaguete, and the fourth year of One Billion Rising campaign. As advocates for change and for humanity, it has been an outrageously dramatic and challenging roller coaster ride. Along with the rewards of knowing how many big our community of co-advocates have grown and how we have in many ways changed people’s better perspectives of the world, we have been hurtfully stumped by conservatives, traditionalists and radicals questioning the validity of our cause because to them our art-theater and dance, are only pseudo-strategies for change.

“Through the years, I have witnessed how theatre has gathered people together, gave them opportunities to tell their stories and empowered them. I have seen how dancing is a strong force in allowing individuals to learn that their bodies are beautiful venues of healing and power.

“As an educator, I have always believed that there is no other powerful tool for social change but education, and education as not only in the classroom but outside of it too. Despite criticisms we will continue to educate our youth holistically through the art because it has been found to significantly impact individuals and communities. Part of the core of what VDAY is about is to be here for everyone, inclusive of all. We continue to embrace all especially those who do not believe in what we do.

“For many years, we have donated to the international VDAY committee that gave birth to the City of Joy in Congo, a school for girls. In Dumaguete, VDAY has birthed Duyan, a theatre group that primarily does playback theater performances. VDAY Dumaguete has also supported various organizations thrusted toward the development of humanity especially the protection of women and children.

“This year, as we emphasize again our campaign for the end of violence against women and children, we also emphasize our call for climate justice. Our beneficiary for this year is Gugma Gaia. Gugma Gaia’s mission is to contribute to the deeper respect and love for planet Earth—for harmony and sustainability—by undertaking holistic approaches that encourage proactive environmental actions and sustainable practices. It is providing programs for children to inculcate a sense of responsibility to care for the planet; and also integrate intergenerational collaboration between generations.

“Its first activity was a workshop among adolescent survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Palo, Leyte where they were taught creative art as part of healing, and meditation practices to help them embrace and transform emotions that are helpful for survival and living, and develop inner strength. Gugma Gaia’s second activity was a series of lectures and workshop on art and body movement among students of Silliman University. It was to celebrate peace in the month of September at Liptong Woodland.

“We envision for more individuals and communities with core values of love and peace. We invite you to enjoin us to advocate for a better future.”

For director Maru Rodriguez, this year’s production brings together a cast of the most extraordinary people—students, teachers, artists, doctors, office workers, first timers and veteran performers. "All of whom," she says, "have their own personal funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking stories. All of whom are the strongest women I know." They embody the stories of real women -- and helping them do that is one of VDAY's staunchest male supporters, co-director Earnest Hope Tinambacan, who explains his involvement as something crucial to his sense of being: "I have been an advocate for gender equality and the promotion of sustainable masculinity even prior to directing The Vagina Monologues, and this is because I believe that violence against women and children is not just a woman’s issue but a human rights issue in general. Being part of Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts or YATTA and working with GWAVE has strengthened my belief that men and all people of all genders and sexual orientations must stand together and fight for gender justice and sexual expression. I feel completely honored to have been entrusted with this responsibility of co-directing this show. Although yes, it could be held to be true that no man in this planet could be perfect in this directing position basically because he doesn’t have a vagina, but as an artist among many I—we—can allow ourselves to probe into our own worlds and into our own brokenness. Out of this creative process of allowing myself to also feel vulnerable and to feel the brokenness of each of the characters, I know that in the end it has made me a real person who will continue to stand firmly beside all women and girls who are rising, demanding an end to violence. Directing TVM has given me the chance to be immersed in the many emotions and experiences of women: the sorrow of their struggles, their anger, and as well as their fears. I also experienced the celebration of their triumphs and have stood with them in their fight. To quote Rob Ukon, 'Certainly, Eve Ensler’s play is about women’s lives. But it’s also about men waking up to women’s reality.'”

The 2016 performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues unfolds tonight, February 14, at 7:00 PM at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium in Silliman University. This year's cast includes Johanna Adanza, Shamah Bulangis, Nierru Cabilao, Sharon Dadang-Rafols, Elle Divine, Queenie Maria Guibao, Lo Leeta, John R. Lumapay, Alice Mae Mamhot-Arbon, Paula Miraflor, Jo Hannah Naranjo, Trazarra Joy Orden, Sheila Pabalate, Onna Rhea Quizo, Maru Rodriguez, Karla Karina Rosales, Zakiyah Sidri, Virginia Stack, Michele Joan Valbuena, Lee Verdoguillo, and Frances Hope Yap. Ms. Rodriguez directs, with Earnest Hope Tinambacan co-directing. Tickets are available at P175 at the Department of Psychology. You may call Brylle Tumarong at 09154145808. Happy Love Day to everyone!

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

entry arrow9:00 AM | Food Magazine Editor Ginny Mata Gives Talk on February 11

Food Magazine Associate Editor Ginny Mata will give a talk on food and food writing titled “Tasting Words” on February 11, Thursday at 5:30 PM at KRI Restaurant along Silliman Avenue. This is part of an ongoing lecture series sponsored by the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center of Silliman University.

Ms. Mata is also the founding baker of La Gordita, and has written extensively about food since graduating from Ateneo de Manila, and teaching at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where she once handled English and Creative Writing and had specialized in teaching food writing as a form of non-fiction. She has written for Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, and Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Mata has also worked on several books on food, namely A is for Adobo (Tahanan Publishing) and Bukidnon: The Filipino Frontier. She gives regular workshops on food writing for the Ayala Museum.

The event is co-sponsored by KRI Restaurant. Only twelve slots are open for participants in this talk. For more information or to reserve a slot, please contact Prof. Ian Rosales Casocot at 422-6002 loc. 350, or write creative.writing(at)su(dot)edu(dot)ph.

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

entry arrow7:45 PM | The Streets of Dumaguete: Calle Santa Catalina

In her article “The Streets of Dumaguete” (Silliman Journal, Vol. 54 Issue No. 2, July-December 2013), sociologist/writer Lorna Peña-Reyes Makil writes of Santa Catalina Street: “Calle Santa Catalina was named after Dumaguete’s patron saint, St. Catherine of Alexandria, known as the ‘Warrior Saint.’ We read that she was chosen to be the town’s patron saint due to the great need for protection against the southern slave raiders. Legends about her courage and physical prowess were narrated by the townsfolk who had observed that her image on certain mornings would carry amor seco — a grass weed — clinging to the hem of her dress, and making them believe that the saint had gone out at night to drive away the pirates.

"I used to walk down Sta. Catalina Street to go to Dumaguete City Hall for some school assignment, as observing the City Council in action. City Hall was an old building built in 1937 with capiz shell windows and wooden floors that survive to the present…

"The street also took me to Dumaguete’s ‘Old Casa Español District,’ which grew out of the original Plaza Complex. Its short side streets leading to Rizal Avenue — Burgos Street and Tan Pedro Street — bordered the place where homes of wealthy and important Spanish-Filipinos used to be. Although many of these homes were torn down or converted into businesses, a few of them still stand, old and sad reminders of Dumaguete’s early elite whose younger generation adapted to modernization.”

Calle Sta. Catalina, however, has also been known as Dumaguete’s “second street,” meaning perpetually second to Calle Marina (now Rizal Boulevard) in terms of being the street of choice for the city’s wealthier citizens to call home. According to gossip, it was the street where aspiration thrived, and soon it was dotted with the smaller mansions of families who could not find a plot to settle in along the seafront, along the so-called "sugar houses" of the Boulevard's "millionaires row." Only a few of these beautiful houses remain…

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

entry arrow11:00 AM | Looking for Happy

Mandatory "I'm-finally-here" selfie from my hotel bed. I just ran away from home for the weekend in Cebu. No plans whatsoever, except some haphazard commitment that came on the fly to be interviewed by the University of San Carlos' Cebuano Studies Center for a project they're currently doing. I used to tell myself: "It would be nice to just hop on a random bus or boat, and go somewhere without really thinking about it." I kept telling myself that for years. Never did it. Until now. I should really run away from home more often.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

entry arrow9:02 PM | The Meaning of Kisaw

In the beginning—this was sometime in 2009—we just wanted to know if we could defy the odds and put up a National Arts Month celebration in Dumaguete. It hadn’t been done before, and the logistics of putting together a month’s worth of events dedicated to all of the arts was formidable. Plus we were working from a budget of zero pesos. But when Dessa Quesada-Palm—Dumaguete’s transplanted resident theater maven and tireless cultural worker—gathered a group of local artists and culture advocates that year, she—and Glynda Descuatan pushed what was possible, essentially urging us to go for the equivalent of that great grade school staple of “Let’s put on a show!”

The plan was to gather, as much as possible, all cultural groups mushrooming in their secret corners all over the province, and put them together during one week of intense celebration of the arts—from dance to music, from literature to the visual arts. Thus was Kisaw 2009 born—a “pasundayag sa bulan sa sining.”

We settled on a tagline: “Mag-mugna ta!” Mugna, after all, seemed the right word to describe the endeavor. It is the Cebuano word, after all, for “create,” but the word has also taken this street lingo connotation of friends gathering together to create something, anything in the spirit of fun, and in the light of communal effort. “Mag-mugna ta!” sounded like a spirited battle-cry, with the benefit of a smile and a wink.

People asked us: why exactly put on a show? Because February was National Arts Month—and it was becoming too strange to note that, no matter how much we hype Dumaguete City as the “Cultural Center of the South,” the city—and in a larger context, the province of Negros Oriental—had yet to undertake something as culturally all-encompassing as this particular celebration.

The rest of the country—particularly in stronger cultural centers such as Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Baguio—has been celebrating it for almost every year of the past decade, courtesy of the provisions of Proclamation No. 683, which has declared February of every year as National Arts Month. It is an official recognition of the role of the arts in reflecting, affirming, critiquing, and shaping our society—and, Dessa tells us, “it is a time when artists can take claim on public spaces, to engage with each other and with its communities, to create.”

Because art is truly a human right—something that only the most pedestrian cannot understand. And art truly has a function to fulfill as a beacon for the development in any community, something I have already explored in previous columns.

Alas, after 2010, we took a rest, for some reason or other. It took a while to revive the spirit, but in 2016, we’re back, and we’re still doing an exploration of art in public spaces, using the parks, the tempurahan, the boulevard, the kampanaryo, and the streets as venues for the arts to engage with the people.

It’s a more streamlined set of events, covering two days—February 26 and 27—although satellite events, such as the various Tayadas sa Plaza helmed by various schools around town, dot the rest of the month. For Balak, Balitaw, ug Uban Pa sa Tempurahan, slated on February 26, we pay tribute to Dumaguete as a literary capital of the Philippines with an earnest performance of the best of balak and balitaw, the traditional poetic forms of the region. For Huni ug Himig sa Kampanaryo, slated on February 27, local music takes a boost in a spectacular concert of some of the best musical groups and singers of the city. And for Puting Tabil sa Kampanaryo, also on the 27th, cinema—long considered as the favorite entertainment mode of Filipinos—is taken to the more public realm in a rare showcase of the best of local short films.

It promises to be a veritable celebration of our artistic wealth—a good enough return to Kisaw for what is hopefully a truly annual celebration locally. Good enough, even with its marvelous kinks, given that this has always been a thing conceived on the fly, and with almost no budget or institutional sponsorships—only magnificent scruples and a great love for culture by all those who come to participate.

Your Quick Guide to Arts Month 2016 in Dumaguete

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