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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, December 30, 2016

entry arrow10:57 AM | Sally is a Quirky Girl

In a kinder world, you give a grade of A for effort. But the world is often exacting, and as much as I enjoyed, to a degree, Avid Liongoren’s Saving Sally (2016) [trailer here], it fails as a compelling piece of cinema for me. I was suitably entertained, but it never moved me.

Yes, we’ve heard the story of its 10-year inception — a story of an artistic struggle that manages to tug our hearts. Yes, the animation is stupendous and imaginative. Yes, we should marvel at the filmmakers’ ability to create magic out of a shoestring budget. But the story also bears much of what has become awkward, narrative-wise, since 2006. It’s much too twee for example in an age where “putang ina” has become presidential speech. Its sensibility is perfectly a throwback, especially to a time when the phenomenon of the “manic pixie dream girl” was a beloved cinematic trope, since then much-maligned. But I do give credit to the filmmakers for giving the type a narrative arc deeper than the usual superficial display of interesting quirks.

The girl in question is the titular Sally (played with exceeding charm by Rhian Ramos). Her best friend is the introverted comic book artist Marty (Enzo Marcos), who pines quietly for her, but has no courage whatsoever to reveal his real feelings. Excuses abound, you see, centering mostly on the fact that Sally’s adoptive parents are monstrous people who regularly abuse her and keep her in check with their rigorous rules and overbearing Christian piety. For Marty, Sally needs, well, saving … and the proper loving only he could give.

That Sally comes off as a quirky fashionista girl with a hunger for the bizarre and the unusual, and a talent for literal inventions, is one plot point that remains psychologically suspect — but I suspend my disbelief, of course. Because I want to like the movie. And I do, with some effort, and as long as I remain blind to the holes in the narrative, and a third act that seems completely unnecessary.

However, the fundamental unease that I felt over my immediate critical consideration of the film upon exiting the cinema was this: why did this have to be a mix of live action and animation? The animation didn’t feel integral to the story at all. It remained for me a filmmaking conceit that, while executed quite impressively, didn’t feel organic to the narrative. It would have been a completely different story had it been produced without any live-action. But we do follow characters who mostly remain human throughout, existing in a world that is a fantasy of illustration art — but the two planes intersect without a convincing explanation why this has to be so. In the most famous example of this technique — Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? — we do get a clear effort at worldling, that humans do in fact live alongside cartoon characters who mostly come from an adjacent “neighbourhood” called Toontown. The clear premise sets us to accept without question that humans and cartoons do interact in the frame of the film. I don’t believe for once Saving Sally’s “explanation” that the animated parts we see are merely constructs of Marty’s inventive imagination, his unique perspective and rendering of the much-too-real world around him. Because the animation does overwhelm the live-action in the space of the film, and no sane person could be so overwhelmingly consistent and unceasing in that rendition of the real to the cartoonish. (Unless you’re crazy, and you have a lola like Imelda.)

And also this: despite overwhelming much of the frame, the animation remains ironically “background material.” It is more or less glorified wallpaper for the live actors to play on. One could also fault the film for its use of English as the main mode for dialogue, even if particular scenes felt like they called for the use of the native language — but I feel I have nitpicked too much a product that has been made, for so long by its creatives with the best of intentions: to create an animated feature film with art that’s very impressive, given the legendary limitations the film’s publicity machine has earnestly profiled.

A for effort then. Mostly definitely a C for story. But also most definitely an A+ for the film’s brazenness to put a giant penis on screen.

[The film is not being screened in Dumaguete]


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Thursday, December 29, 2016

entry arrow4:15 PM | The Beguilement of Evil

To understand better Erik Matti’s Seklusyon (2016) [trailer here], and to see what could have been, one has to go back to an earlier work, a short film he released in 2012 titled Vesuvius. [Watch it here.] In that fantastic film, we follow a put-upon man played with a nuanced and creepy stillness by Gio Alvarez. By day, he sells packed lunches to harried office workers, and by night, he prepares the next day’s set meals, takes care of an invalid mother, and when the darkness of the evening turns ripe, entertains vivid visions of the Virgin Mary coming to him in immense bright light — all to exhort him to commit a string of brutal murders. It’s a frightening serial killer movie with a gripping Catholic angle, beautifully shot by Matti and structured with the usual muscular dexterity of a Michiko Yamamoto screenplay. Vesuvius devilishly plays for us the notion that the Devil has immense powers, that it can in fact take the shape of holy icons to push us further into the embrace of evil. Be careful what you believe, Matti tells us, our fervent faiths are not guarantees to safeguard us from false prophets.

Seklusyon borrows many visual elements from Vesuvius, and takes further its theme and expands it to feature-length narrative — but I am not sure it exceeds the gripping effectiveness of the older, and shorter, film, which was not only truly terrifying, it also made us question the tenets of faith we hold sacrosanct. As written by Anton C. Santamaria, Seklusyon is beautiful to look at and works for the most part, but it is ultimately unsatisfying.

What else can you say about a film you earnestly root for, but remains saddled with so much unignited potential? Can one forgive the lack of tension or the absence of burrowing terror, settling instead on the film’s obvious message about faith and deception to lift a soggy script? You can tell by the way some people have called the film a “Catholic thriller,” and others a “think piece.” They are too kind, but they are also, in a sense, right. I think they only mean to describe how less than visceral the film ultimately is, and it shouldn’t have been. It could indeed have been a devouring horror as well as a compelling thesis about certain social issues that ail us.

I want it to succeed beyond what it has ended up achieving for real, because it is a gorgeously wrought film. Its production design — for a film set in 1947 — is meticulous and rich. Its cinematography is a masterwork and captures so well the unholy atmosphere its story demands to wallow in.

And the material itself is golden: we already know that horror overloaded with Catholic imagery is a staple of the genre that can go so eerily right. One only has to consider the staying power of such classics as The Exorcist or The Omen or The Exorcism of Emily Rose to note the easy transfer between sacred images to icons of dread. Matti himself proved that so well in Vesuvius.

So what happened? Is it the acting? (Could be.)

Is it the story? But the premise of the plot is already quite tantalising. In the aftermath of World War II, four young deacons of the church (played by Ronnie Alonte, Dominic Roque, John Vic De Guzman, and J.R. Versales) find themselves in a hidden retreat deep in the Philippine countrysides, there to endure seven days of seclusion in a barricaded house, where they could try to withstand the worst of demonic temptations and visions before they could finally be ordained as priests. (Apparently this used to be a common practice for those being initiated into the priesthood, long since discontinued.)

In a parallel story, another priest (played by Neil Ryan Sese) investigates the healing powers of Anghela, a young girl (played with incredible panache by Rhed Bustamante) under the protection and guidance of Sister Cecilia (played by Phoebe Walker), a nun with a mysterious and troubled past. Sese’s Father Ricardo wants to know whether the girl indeed has genuine Divine gifts enough for the church to declare her a living saint.

The two threads collide by the start of the second act, where the sins of the young would-be priests manifest themselves as terrifying visions — perhaps being exacerbated by the presence of Sister Cecilia, and perhaps needing the miraculous intercession of Angelha.

In the maelstrom of hellish visions and subsequent betrayals, especially in the third act, the film gradually falls apart: it dismisses too easily important elements of the story we have been made to invest in, and refuses to expound on others that would have shed light to the needless complexities it finds itself spouting. It is a messy screenplay. (That it won Best Screenplay is the sole enigma of the MMFF Awards Night.)

But even then, Matti is in control of his images. He is a fantastic visual director, and we have seen what beautiful cinema he could do over the years, selling us the premise of voyeurism in Scorpio Nights 2, or lovelorn romance in Sa Huling Paghihintay, or angsty sex work in Prosti, or Tsinoy melodrama in Mano Po 2, or feisty ghetto superheroes in Gagamboy by virtue of beautiful images alone. His collaboration with Yamamoto, however, gave his beautiful images the grace of beautiful structure, resulting in such rich and resonant works as On the Job, Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, Honor Thy Father, and of course Vesuvius. I wish that collaboration continued on in Seklusyon. It would have probably elevated the film from something we merely admire, to something that we believe slays both our minds and hearts, terrorizing us and thrilling our sensibilities at the same time.

[The film is not being screened in Dumaguete]


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Monday, December 26, 2016

entry arrow5:16 PM | Beauty Queen of Our Hearts

Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful (2016) [trailer here], which had won the Audience Award as well as the Best Actor citation for its star Paolo Ballesteros at the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival before joining the magnificent slate of eight for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, is a fractured thing of beauty — sometimes tender and sometimes raucous.

It embraces two things that it demands of us: peals of laughter and buckets of tears, and both in equal measure as we become witness to the story of a life that seeks out the beautiful in a world that’s stark full of ugliness. But my God I make it sound so dreary. It’s not. It’s a glorious film filled with many wacky moments, but it has to be said that the humor becomes even more precious given the darkness it transcends.

This is a film after all that does not make light of such things as parental abuse, rape, child abandonment, infidelity, and death — themes that understandably merited the film its R-13 rating — but it is testament to the film’s courage that it plows through these things with a certainty that at the end of it all, Mr. Ballesteros’ Trisha Echevarria and her life becomes a cause for celebration.

It doesn’t come easy, this telling of a very unique life. Rody Vera’s sure-footed screenplay chooses to tell it in fractured form, reminding us a little bit of that eclectic style Alejandro González Iñárritu once used for Babel, and one can make the argument that the form rescues the film from the maudlin, which every dramedy is always in danger of falling into, tantalising us with scenes whose gravity comes in later revelations, each one building towards a whole that soon becomes a satisfactory finish.

As it is, our heroine — a transgendered woman with beauty queen aspirations — is dead from the start, a victim of an aneurysm that comes so soon after being crowned winner of a nationally televised beauty contest. Her best friends — a bevy of earnestly made-up queens led by Christian Bables as Barbs, in a star-turn that is nothing short of a miracle — proceed to provide her a wake that is of her wishing: seven nights in a funeral parlor, where every night she is made up to look like a different celebrity — Iza Calzado, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce… Somebody soon takes a selfie with Trisha’s beautiful corpse, and this becomes viral, and soon the wake becomes a sensation, the unwitting mecca for all gay and trans men everywhere.

Intertwined with this thread involving her wake is Trisha’s life story, a complex assemblage of everything from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the details of which I cannot bring myself to hint at, even with suitable spoiler warnings, because they add bit by bit to the gravity of her story, finally making her death (and the life she led before that) a singular triumph for one who dared all odds and magnificently struggled with all sorts of definitions — son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, mother, beauty queen — to truly and fully become herself in the end. It is also a perfectly rendered tale of friendship, of the families we make when our own has discarded us for being different.

But take note. You will cry. You will feel horrified. You will laugh till your sides ache. You will get uncanny insights to surviving the stupendous Q&As of “beau-cons,” you will know how to make fake boobs, you will gain expertise in making perfect eyebrows, and you will know the subtle differences in handling infidelity a la Maricel Soriano or Jaclyn Jose.

Mr. Ballesteros does a fine job off handling the full range of emotional marks his character demands, and the rest of the cast — particular Mr. Bables — is game enough to handle the intricacies of the story with a sensibility that’s to be commended (although Joel Torre’s father comes off too much of a monster).

I’m sure this was not an easy film to write or make, but Mr. Lana, Mr. Vera, and everyone else have indeed proved that something like this can be done in the name of Philippine cinema. For so many years, particularly in the MMFF, and most especially in the unfortunate films of Vice Ganda, the gay or trans persona has always been a figure to laugh at; these films’ caricatures of the ridiculous of course made money. But here is a film that is an anti-thesis to that, and I am glad to know this is the film that made it this time around.

The film is currently screening at Cinema 1 at Robinsons Movieworld Dumaguete.


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entry arrow3:03 PM | In the Spa, the Cinematic Hugot Reaches Three Levels

Marlon Rivera’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverIsNotEnough (2016) [trailer here] is one of those rare films that overturn the truism that the sequel must always pale in comparison to what came before. The new film takes the conceit and many of the comedic quirks of the first one — a metanarrative that examines, with the ferocious glee of a butcher, the conditions bedevilling artistic filmmaking in the Philippines — but pushes them in a completely different direction, which proves eventually satisfying.

What results is a film that stands on its own with commanding assurance, but also manages to be complementary to the original, which took the Cinemalaya Film Festival by a “shit-storm,” pardon the expression, in 2011. I like this new film very much. It made me laugh so hard. It made me take note of Rivera’s superb artistic choices. It deepened more my own considerations of the many issues that plague Philippine cinema today — one, in particular, that mirrors so well the current battle of sensibilities that the new Metro Manila Film Festival finds itself in: are you “indie” or are you “mainstream,” and can the two ever reconcile?

That question, and the many others that lurk below that divisive argument, lies at the heart of the new story. We begin like in the previous film: we still follow three intrepid independent filmmakers (Kean Cipriano returning as Direk Rainier, Cai Cortes returning as producer Jocelyn, and Khalil Ramos joining the cast in the place of JM de Guzman, and this time taking on Ms. Cortes’ silent role in the previous film — which is such a delicious change, since Ms. Cortes can dish it out so well in dialogue, proving once and for all that she is a comedienne for our times, and one who really needs better recognition for elevating many of the thankless roles she often gets to play in films). They are on a quest to sign the movie star Eugene Domingo for another film. Ms. Domingo, playing a hard-sell version of her film persona, had won plaudits and awards from all over the world for starring in Walang Wala, where she had “allowed” herself to be immersed in a septic tank; this time around, she might agree to take on the role of a melancholy wife ruminating on a troubled marriage, visiting Baguio with her estranged husband to see once more the sites they once enjoyed together during their honeymoon years ago. But the Baguio of their old romance is gone, replaced by traffic, trash, and too many tourists.

After reading the script, Ms. Domingo bites. She needs a comeback after some years of staying away from the spotlight — and she wants to do this film, titled The Itinerary, to be that vehicle. And so she has invited all three filmmakers to The Farm at San Benito, a fabulous resort spa for the rich and famous, where they could talk about the story over relaxation therapy, deep-tissue massage, and full-on colon cleansing.

The film follows that conversation, as our characters — along with Ms. Domingo’s faithful Spanish butler Facundo, who absolutely steals every scene he is in — go from one treatment to the next, wrestling ever so “gently” with each other over how the film should unfold. Direk Rainier is adamant about staying true to the starkness and grimness of his vision, the film being his rumination over his own crumbling marriage. But Eugene Domingo would have none of that, preferring instead the sensibilities of escapist fluff that is sure to make good box-office — but she is careful to always end her “suggestions” to the increasingly frustrated director with what becomes the film’s long-running, passive aggressive joke of a line: “They’re just suggestions, direk. Because what do I know, I’m just an actress.”

And so Joel Torre playing her husband becomes Jericho Rosales. And so the film suddenly gets a theme song — the “Forever is Not Enough” of the subtitle [music video here!]. And so we get further changes in the make-up of the story that involves sunset kisses, gay best friends, and romantic chases in the foggy woody areas of Camp John Hay. The film’s strength is in the comical rendering of these rapid changes in the narrative and filming style, just like in the original. In the 2011 film, we got Eugene Domingo amply demonstrating the three levels of acting. Here, we get three levels of “hugot,” and it is performed so fantastically to so much comedic effect — both in the telling and in the dramatic rendering of the film-within-the-film — that by the end of the sequence, everyone in the theater I was in hooted with so much laughter.

You would think that a movie set mostly in a spa would become too confining in terms of mise-en-scène, but no. I found the use of the spa as good metaphor for the unraveling of their conversation slash negotiation: the deeper and more invasive the treatments they have, the more sanitized the prospective script becomes. Even Ms. Domingo’s actress knows this too well: "I understand metaphors, direk,” she says at one point. She also perfectly understands the trauma she had gone through before, being buried in a sea of feces — the price of the “poverty porn” she had to make in the name of “award-winning independent filmmaking” — and so she is now adamant that this “comeback,” this next phase of her filmmaking life must be all about “cleansing” and being “antiseptic,” quite literally in fact. The spa is a perfect embodiment for all that. Besides, it is also a perfect throwback to film history: filmmakers in crises seem to head to spas in the movies — taking note of Federico Fellini’s tortured director in 8 1/2, as well as similar figures such as in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth and Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.

This is screenwriter Chris Martinez returning to form in his cinematic storytelling, and the film reminds us that he had entertained us so well in 100 and Here Comes the Bride. This is also director Marlon Rivera’s full blossoming: every inch of the film is tightly considered — take a look, for example, at the surprise musical interlude that comes in the middle of the film, which sneaks in very organically; all this is indicative of a filmmaker in control of all his elements.

In the end, a complex post-modern narrative becomes seamless entertainment that not only satisfies the comedy fix we are looking for, but also makes us ask questions about the nature of the films we are making in the Philippines today. But where’s the septic tank of the title, you ask? Be patient, in the end it shows itself and becomes just rewards.

The film is currently screening at Cinema 3 at Robinsons Movieworld Dumaguete.


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Sunday, December 25, 2016

entry arrow3:49 PM | Hugot Quotes Forever

Theodore Boborol's Vince & Kath & James (2016) [trailer here], StarCinema's entry to the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival, quotes a lot. And so it must. The film after all is an adaptation of the online romantic serial written by Jenny Ruth Almocera, which became a minor social media sensation with its love story unconventionally told through snapshots of SMS and chats between the characters.

The film does not stay faithful to its source material but stays true to much of its spirit, "quoting" it but limning a more recognizable story revolving around a troika between a scrappy tomboyish girl named Kath (Julia Barretto), a happy bunny with a secret blog named Vince (Joshua Garcia), and his varsity player/heartthrob cousin named James (Ronnie Alonte).

Of course, you have seen this film before. It virtually quotes Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac with its story of a handsome but inarticulate man wooing a beautiful woman, but doing it with the words of a helpful poetic outsider who secretly longs for the same girl. (There goes another round of quoting.) But Boborol's take has more in keeping with Fred Schepisi's contemporizing of the Cyrano de Bergerac story in Roxanne (1987), minus the gigantic nose but full of the same bright fluff and gentle unfolding.

Quotes play a huge part, too, in the burgeoning relationships between the three principals, Vince being the purveyor of "hugot" quotes he posts anonymously in a blog called "DaVinci Quotes," which Kath loves, and which James finally uses to his advantage to get to her heart.

And it quotes, too -- quite literally in fact -- Olivia Lamasan's Got 2 Believe (2002), a StarCinema romcom that starred Claudine Barretto and Rico Yan: in a pivotal scene, the new movie's stars watches the film and plays a game of matching quotes with it, and we are suddenly made to make associations between old and new. Here is your new Claudine in her niece Julia, the film tells us, and here is the new Rico Yan in Joshua Garcia. That is the ultimate level of quoting the movie aspires to -- but it is fortunately not without merit, and the pairing eventually induces the same familiar "kilig."

In Julia Barretto's feisty Kath, we see a display of the same inner fire as her real-life aunt; she is still very much an inchoate star -- but the camera clearly loves her. Though not as much as Ronnie Alonte, whom the camera gushes over -- and he knows it. (He fills Diether Ocampo's shoes quite well.)

And finally in Joshua Garcia's Vince, we get the ultimate throwback that at first unsettles, but one which we gradually come to like: here is finally a find in the romantic lead department -- a young John Lloyd Cruz lookalike armed with Rico Yan's smile. That is, if you think about it, a formidable combination, and so Garcia expectedly steals the film with his pixie-like charm, and also carries much of its dramatic burden with an aplomb that is absolutely star-making.

Vince & Kath & James does not break new filmmaking grounds, but it is charming, and it may be the film to remember as the title where these young stars first made their definite and indelible marks in very long careers ahead.

The film is currently screening at Cinema 2 at Robinsons Movieworld Dumaguete.


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Friday, December 23, 2016

entry arrow11:36 AM | The Drama King’s New Journey

He wore the green shirt in Four Play, a quartet distinguished by the sharp primary colors of their collared shirts—yellow, blue, red, and green—for every gig they were invited to perform in those early years of the 2000s. I remember this very well. Four Play, when it made its debut in 2004, was Dumaguete’s answer to the boy band phenomenon that briefly captured the interest and attention of so many. When they sang—a selection of heart-fluttering covers of All4One’s “So in Love,” 3 PM’s “Sukiyaki,” and Boys II Men’s “Four Seasons of Loneliness”—they sang to much screaming and adulation in auditoriums and makeshift performance spaces everywhere. I remember that.

Hope doesn’t want me to remember that. “This is so embarrassing,” he tells me now, twelve years later. Today, in his longish hair and blue tank top and plaid porontong, lounging with his cup of mint tea and open laptop at our table here in El Amigo, he is playfully aghast at my recollections. But one does not readily shake off the first memories of someone who ultimately becomes one of your closest friends. Longtime friends have been invented, I believe, to torment you with memories of youthful shenanigans—but also, I think, as a ready chronicler for the voyages our lives become.

In 2001, transplanted in Dumaguete from Oroquieta for his college education in Silliman University, Hope readily stood out for his height and his very lanky frame. Later, he stood out for the uncanny bass his singing voice promised as a member of the Men’s Glee Club. Much later, he stood out again for being a boy-bander, a clean-cut crooner. In the years since those precocious 2000s, Earnest Hope Tinambacan would stand out again for a variety of reasons—inventive music man, theatre boy, cultural worker with a social bite. Hope would also become more known as Hopia, like the delicacy, and with that, a persona has been sculpted from the bohemian type with a Bisaya sensibility. His life, young as it is, is an illustration of constant evolution, but always one with a heart beating for the arts. One never forgets this.

There is another journey ahead for Hopia, another turning point in his evolution—and it is a pursuit for higher academic studies, in particular a Professional Diploma in Intercultural Theatre (with a concentration on acting) at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) in Singapore. It is all part and parcel of his life’s evolution: “If you have followed my work and advocacies,” he wrote me once, “whether through theatre or music, you would have noticed that it has always been my vision to help raise the status of the culture and arts in the community. This has always been my driving force, and it is from this same urgency that I am going to ITI.”

It is a fitting new journey for him. He has always fully embodied for me an intuitive and creative spirit in the various worlds he circles in—be it in cultural activism, in creative writing (he writes poetry, or balak, in Cebuano); in theatre (he directs, he acts, and he writes plays, and is notably a senior member and mentor in Youth Advocates Through Theate Arts of YATTA, Dumaguete’s premiere community theatre group); and in music (he composes, he is the lead singer of HOPIA, a popular multi-genre band that he founded, and he directs The Belltower Project, an organization of local independent musicians, through which they have successful launched four anthology albums in four years, essentially mapping the development of local music, of the so-called “Dumaguete sound).

He has worn all these hats with the fire of a committed creative, and he has constantly astonished me with how he does all these things with an energy and creativity anybody would rightfully envy. In other words, he delivers.

It is in theatre, however, that we have become colleagues, and thus this field is my ready arsenal for an assessment of Hope’s legacy thus far. We have worked together on various occasions—we have acted together (he played my brother Franco in Elsa Martinez Coscolluela’s In My Father’s House, directed by the great Amiel Leonardia), and he has directed me (for The V Manologues)—all of these a way for me to witness how committed he is to the development of local theatre, and how he has shown a willingness to learn almost every facet of the craft just to be able to be truly professional in it.

As an actor, he has essayed with finesse roles in The King and I (2003), Man of La Mancha (2005), New Yorker in Tondo (2011), Ang Tiririt ng Ibong Adarna (2011), In My Father’s House (2013), among others, including various YATTA’s productions of Kikay Kalaykay, Salmo ni Kikay, Leon Kilat, Hoy Mata Na!, Taytayan ni Fabian, Kaluwasan sa Damgo ni Greta, Popoy Boknoy, Lawig, Adventures of Kuya Bogs, and Aah Bakus. He took part in ARMmut in Stuttgart, Germany, an international production that gathered performers from all over the world in 2010.

As a director, he has shown great ability in commanding compelling performances in various iterations of The Vagina Monologues (2013, 2014, and 2016) and Alkanseng Alkansya (2014 and 2015), as well as other productions such as Pepe and Me (2011) and Scharon Mani (2016). As a playwright, he has shown great authorial voice in various one-act plays including Adventures of Kuya Bog, We Accept Boarders, Sa Pulang Tulay, and Alkanseng Alkansya.

He has been an active member of YATTA from 2008 until the present, and has functioned in various capacities for that community theatre group—as actor, director, playwright, and mentor. He has participated in an assortment of theatre workshops in the Philippines and elsewhere. And he has facilitated just as many, especially in terms of using theatre arts as a tool for community development—using drama as an aid for stemming criminality among youths, for advocating for better health care, for stirring awareness for environmental issues, and for disseminating proper reproductive health information.

On weekends, he is a rock star.

He is excited about Singapore and three-year stay it entails to complete his studies at ITI. But Hope very much takes all of that in bigger perspective: “The knowledge and skills I will learn from ITI will certainly ripple through the communities that YATTA is serving, and will continue to serve,” he tells me. “YATTA has taught me that theatre is not only an art form but also a way of life. We are dedicated to helping young people discover and utilize their full potentials as community leaders through the different art forms, and my further studies with ITI will help in that regard. The dramatic arts program of ITI, as well as its prestige, will certainly equip me with the necessary training and experience that will be very helpful in my pursuit of professional theatre, which I have seen in the works of ITI’s Filipino graduates.”

Still, this new road in his journey is not without its challenges. Upon the completion of his audition, ITI readily offered him a slot in the very competitive international program—but there is still the matter of tuition, and board, and lodging. “I am a freelance artist, and I know for certain that studying abroad will be very difficult—and my personal savings will not be enough to sustain myself through the entire three-year duration of the program,” Hope says. “I have committed myself to community theatre and cultural and development work for almost ten years now. I also do not come from a well-off family. My parents are both church workers and community organizers who have dedicated their lives to serving the poor people, and it is from them where I got the passion for community service.”

Still, Hopia is ready to embrace the opportunity, come what may. Somebody bought him his plane ticket to Singapore, and many others came to his gig last December 19 at the Harold’s Mansion Rooftop for the release of his EP Mao Na Ni, a fundraiser for his new journey.

It is all investment, I think, for the promise of his eventual return—and how much more he can give our community through theatre and music that help society in the long run of things. Culture is a powerful tool for social engagement, and Hopia is an agent, a drama king for our times.

We bid Hopia all the best in this journey.

If you want to help Hopia Tinambacan in funding his studies, please email him at e.hopetinambacan(at)gmail(dot)com. His bank details are as follows: Earnest Hope Tinambacan, Account No. 1089-3215-96, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Dumaguete City Perdices Branch. You can also buy copies of Mao Na Ni at El Amigo. He will be keeping everyone—friends, family, and supporters—updated on the progress of his studies through a blog that he means to use as documentation and chronicle for this grand new adventure.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

entry arrow4:48 PM | Maraming Magagandang Filipino Films

I have a pet peeve. It has something to do with cinema—a topic I am very passionate about, given a life I have spent in studying this artistic form, educating people in proper film appreciation, pushing friends towards lives spent in a little pursuit of filmmaking. And it has something to do with the dismissive way with which some people regard Philippine cinema, always occurring in either of two rejoinders:

“All Filipino films are bad,” is one.

“There are no good Filipino films out there to watch,” is another.

The first is a curious overarching dismissal that is quite unfair, totally ignorant of heritage and history. And the second I almost always respond to with utter disdain: “When they were actually showing good Filipino films in commercial theaters -- Heneral Luna, Norte, Thy Womb -- where were you?”

The Metro Manila Film Festival -- or the MMFF -- is a microcosm of everything that ails and is currently hopeful about Philippine movies today. Once upon a time, it was truly a celebration of the best of Filipino cinema. In the 1976 edition of the festival, for example, Eddie Romero’s now classic Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon was in fierce competition with Lino Brocka’s Insiang and Lupita Concio’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo. To consider that is to be in awe of how the MMFF originated.

But like most things, the MMFF got corrupted and it soon lost its way. It became a festival of the mediocre in Filipino film -- quickly becoming the throwaway vehicle for forgettable trash mostly starring Vice Ganda, Kris Aquino, and Vic Sotto, and also endless rehashes of rotting franchises like Shake, Rattle, and Roll, Mano Po, Ang Panday, or Enteng Kabisote -- somehow founded on the notion that the mediocre made money, and the belief that what common Filipinos want for Christmas film fare is mindless drivel in the name of escapist entertainment.

And so we gave up on the MMFF a long time ago.

But now here we are at this strange juncture. The MMFF through some miracle has finally upped its ante, following a controversial run last year that saw a great film like Honor Thy Father unfairly shut out from awards consideration. And because of this, I think the MMFF deserves all our patronage this Christmas season. The slate this year seems almost miraculous. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, a biting satire. Die Beautiful, a dramedy. Kabisera, a family melodrama. Oro, a politically charged drama. Saving Sally, an animated fare. Seklusyon, a horror film. Sunday Beauty Queen, a documentary. Vince & Kath & James, a romantic comedy. Just look at all the goodies and their posters and their trailers. We should be demanding for all eight films to be seen not just in Metro Manila, but everywhere else in the country.

I know that everyone’s been saying the same thing, but it has really been a while -- years and years in fact -- since I’ve wanted to see an MMFF entry. Going over the trailers of these films just whetted for me a returning appetite for Filipino films under the festival branding. They seem for me the perfect retort to anyone of those who kept telling me before that “Filipino films are horrible,” often based on a single viewing of a Vice Ganda movie.

I tell everyone now: this is our chance to reevaluate things! This is the change we wanted! This is the slate of sterling quality we were demanding for the longest time!

But the latest twist is this. The businessmen/distributors have responded by cutting the runs of these films short, and essentially calling for the return of the likes of films starring Vice Ganda. Zaki Sidri, a former student of mine, griped to me about this: “Basically, they’re not even allowing us to decide for ourselves. I mean, look at Enteng Kabisote, it barely lasted a week here in Dumaguete. What the people want is often totally different from what they think we want. Most of the time, we're just not given a choice.”

And so, here in Dumaguete, we are calling for people to barrage Robinsons Movieworld with urgent requests for all eight MMFF films. Because we’ve been complaining about the sorry state of mainstream Philippine cinema for so long, and this is our chance to actually do something about it.

Babyruth Villarama-Gutierrez, director of Sunday Beauty Queen, reminds of what’s at stake here: “Dear SM Cinema, Robinsons Malls, Ayala Malls Cinemas, Gaisano Malls, and all standing movie theaters around the Philippines... You have the power to make every year profitable. The audience are ready. You yourself developed them when you screened Brillante Mendoza's films in your nationwide tour; when you opened your cinemas to Cinema Rehiyon, QCinema, Cinemalaya, Cine Europa, and Cinema One Film Festivals, which turned out great with minimal marketing. You have the power to outdo your financial targets if you will heed the call of change. Don't be like Kodak [which] died standing up believing [only in] their old formula, or Nokia [which] didn't challenge its own self to evolve. You don't want to end like them. This #MMFF2016 Reelvolution will guarantee your supremacy in the decades to come, I kid you not. This formula [has been] proven by history. This formula [has been] taught in the best film business school in the world, which I happen to come from.”


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entry arrow1:26 PM | Slow Sunday

Woke up late and spent the rest of Sunday morning in bed breathing in the possibilities of suddenly freer days ahead. I should be cleaning the apartment today, but I don't; I make the cough that has been irritating me since yesterday as an excuse. So I laze around some more, observing closely as my body begins to beg for lunch. Soon, I know, I'll be ravenous enough to get up and look for food. Everything will probably be closed; it smells like that kind of Sunday. But I'll have my fill somehow somewhere. In the meantime, the bed is lover to me, and the hunger I'm petting is purring.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

entry arrow9:10 AM | Lost

I've been leaving things behind today. It must be the haze of early morning -- a slow Thursday, the morning rush of traffic already deadly. First, my wallet I left back home, on my way to a meeting in the cafeteria, the nook of my bag where it usually was suddenly gaping empty. Next, my book bag I left back at the cafeteria after the meeting, and I was on my way to this cafe. It occurs to me I might be sleepwalking, my spirit still asleep, dreaming nightmares, back in my unmade bed. The smell of coffee does nothing to nudge me to waking.


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Sunday, December 04, 2016

entry arrow8:53 PM | The Third Silliman Film Open

1. The Silliman Short Film Open (SFO) is open to all graduate, tertiary, and secondary school students (grades 8 to 12) currently enrolled in Silliman University.

2. The Director and/or Scriptwriter of an entry must be a student officially enrolled in the university during the time of the production.

3. The SFO will have four categories for 2017:

    a. Live-Action Fiction Short Film
    b. Documentary Short Subject
    c. Animated Short Film
    d. Original Music Video

4. The categories are described as follows:

    a. Entries in the Live-Action Fiction Short Film category must be works of film fiction of any subject or theme. Adaptations of other works are accepted as long as permission from the proper copyright holder has been extended to the filmmaker. They should be no more than 10 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

    b. Entries in the Documentary Short Subject category must be works of film nonfiction, and may be of any subject. They should be no more than 15 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

    c. Entries in the Animated Short Film category must be works of film fiction or nonfiction that is rendered in any animated style. They should be no more than 10 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

    d. Entries in the Original Music Video category must be works depicting any original song by a local artist or band (not necessarily the original composition of the director), and with proper permission from the copyright holder. They should be no more than 3 minutes in length, including both opening and closing credits.

5. The filmmakers are relatively free to choose any subject for their films. Restraint with regards depictions of overt sexuality or violence is encouraged however. Storylines that denigrate religion, race, body type, physical handicap, or sexual orientations are frowned upon. No film is allowed to advocate murder and torture, racism, pedophilia, misogyny, or homophobia—unless done in an ironic mode, or done to render these issues in serious and provocative light meant to provide a better understanding of such issues but without the intention of glorifying them.

6. Each film must be shot in an aspect ratio of 16:9 (unless there is an aesthetic reason to shot in another aspect ratio). The signal format must at least be in 720p (HD).

7. The entries may use English, Cebuano, Filipino, or any of the other regional languages of the Philippines. All entries are required to be subtitled in English, and in .srt format. (No hard coding.) They should be grammatical, and must be rendered in bright yellow with dark borderline to ensure readability.

8. All films must be set/shot in Silliman University, and/or Dumaguete City, and/or its environs.

9. A participant can join one or more categories and can submit only one entry for each category.

10. An entry can only be submitted to one category.

11. Cash prizes and certificates of merit will be given, and only one winner is declared per category. The jury may or may not select a runner-up (Special Jury Prize) for the Live-Action Fiction category, which is also given a cash prize and a certificate with a special citation.

12. Special prizes will also be given to the following categories:

    a. For Live-Action Fiction Short Films: Eligible for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Musical Scoring, Best Original Song, Best Trailer, and Best Poster.

    b. For Documentary Short Subjects: Best Director, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Musical Scoring, Best Original Song, Best Trailer, and Best Poster.

    c. For Animated Short Film: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Musical Scoring, Best Original Song, Best Trailer, and Best Poster.

    d. For Original Music Videos: Eligible for Best Poster.

The winners of the special category prizes will be given certificates of merit. Except for Best Director and Best Screenplay, special prizes may be given to winners who are not current students of Silliman University.

13. The competition opens on 3 November 2016. There are two deadlines, one for Registration and one for Final Submission of Film Entries.

14. The deadline for Registration is 27 January 2017, Friday at 5:00 PM at the Culture and Arts Council Office. (Please look for Nadine Padao.) The film entries may or may not be submitted on this date, but the following are required for submission:

    a. Accomplished application form, with a complete list of participants/creative collaborators.
    b. A .jpeg file of the poster in 28 x 42 inches at a resolution of 72 pixels/inch [submitted through email].
    c. A 20- to 30-second trailer in .avi or .mp4 [submitted through email]. Original Music Video entries are not required to submit trailers.
    d. An application fee of P150.00.

The Registration Forms may be obtained from the following address:

    Silliman University Culture and Arts Council
    College of Performing and Visual Arts Building II
    Silliman University
    6200 Dumaguete City

Forms may also be downloaded at the CAC website and Facebook page. Trailers and posters must be emailed to silliman.cac@gmail.com.

All of the Registration requirements should be placed inside a short brown envelope, properly labeled with the name of the director and the title of the entry.

One registration form should be accomplished per entry. The application fee of P150 should be paid for every entry.

15. The form for the list of participants/creative collaborators must contain the following:

    a. Complete title of film
    b. Running time
    c. Synopsis in two sentences
    d. Name, contact number, and email of director
    e. Name of screenplay writer(s)
    f. Complete cast list (name of actor and name of character)
    g. Name of cinematographer
    h. Name of editor
    i. Name of production designer
    j. Name of costume designer
    k. Name of make-up artist
    l. Name of sound mixer/editor
    m. Name of music scorer
    n. Title(s) of original song(s) used and name(s) of artist
    o. Name of poster designer
    p. Name of trailer makers

16. The deadline for the Final Submission of Entries is on 17 February 2017, Friday at 12:00 NN at the Culture and Arts Council Office. (Please look for the Festival Director.)

17. The final copy of the film entry must be submitted in a virus-free flash disk/USB stick, properly labeled with the title of the entry, in either of the two formats: AVI and MP4. The file size should not be more than 1 GB. The flash disk/USB stick will be returned.

18. Entrants must indicate in their Registration Form if they have incurred help from professional production houses outside the university in the making of their video. Only help in the technical aspects of filmmaking—cinematography, editing, sound editing, and musical scoring—are permitted. Actors may also not be students of Silliman University. Student effort in all areas of filmmaking is encouraged.

19. All music—including the songs and score—must be original. Applicants may secure collaboration with other students in the university, particularly from the College of Performing and Visual Arts. The use of prerecorded and copyrighted materials is prohibited.

20. The student filmmaker must shoulder the finances of the entire production of the film. All film rights belong to the filmmaker, although he/she is required to acknowledge the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council and the College of Mass Communication as main presenters of the finished film. The CAC and the College of Mass Communication also retain the right to screen the film at any time to market future editions of the SFO.

21. Entries submitted by the second deadline [February 17] cannot be withdrawn from the competition.

22. The director is the representative of each film entry. All official communications shall be addressed to him/her through SMS and email. Non-response to official communication, and inability to participate in any pre-festival activities and requirements may be grounds for disqualification.

23. A jury of five to seven members is appointed to screen the entries and to make deliberations on the winners on February 26, Sunday at 1—7 PM. They are tasked (a) to select three nominees per special awards category, (b) to choose the winners of the special awards, (c) to choose the winning best films per category, and (d) and to select the 8 or 10 top narrative short films in running for Best Short Film. For the jury screening, the films will be screened alphabetically according to the surnames of the student filmmakers, per category.

24. Depending on the number of entries, the festival is slated for the week of February 20-26 at the Guy Hall, and on February 27 at the Luce Auditorium for the finalists. This is subject to change.

25. The Awarding Ceremony will be held on February 27 at the Luce Auditorium at the end of the program screening choice finalists. The actors and production crew of all films are required to attend.

26. The decision of the jury is final. The board reserves the right not to give any awards in a category should no entry merit it.

27. The SFO organizing committee will not be liable for any controversy regarding the sharing of awards among the members of the group.

28. An entry’s controversial win may only be investigated by the SFO organizers upon receipt of a written complaint. Should there be grounds for rescinding the award, the entry with the next highest number of votes will be given the award.

29. Any entry not following the rules, regulations and mechanics may be disqualified.

You can download the APPLICATION FORM here.

You can download the RULES AND REGULATIONS here.

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