The 12th Cinemalaya, which opened during the August 4-6 weekend was officially my first independent film festival. I binged on foreign language film events at Ayala Center Cebu since I was a college kid but I guess those festivals didn’t count since not everything were independently produced. So, for the love of independent cinema, my wonderful friend and fellow cinephile Doidoi a.ka. The Travelling Feet and I secured day passes for all full length and short competition films screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the festival’s epicenter. We purchased tickets as soon as the box office opened online, cleared our weekend, plotted our commute from our Batangas base to the capital, and planned our food menu anticipating that we will only have more or less 45-minute windows in between films. Our goal was to watch everything within a space of two days therefore we had to be properly nourished. Binge na kung binge.
Founded in 2005, the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival ‘aims to encourage the creation of new cinematic works by Filipino filmmakers – works that boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity (Cinemalaya website).’ Fresh talents are given seed grants each year to bring their vision to the screen.
For newbies who are just discovering independent cinema, a film is classified as independent or an indie if it is mostly or wholly financed and distributed outside the major film studio system. Ergo, indie filmmakers exercise full control on their material. They are not dictated by the profit formula of the big studios. Because indies have limited budget for promotion while Pinoys remain inclined to escapist films released by the big studios, initiatives like Cinemalaya and my sanctuary these days, Cinema ’76, are pivotal in educating the moviegoers and expanding the indie fan base.
Cinemalaya ran from August 5 to 14 in various locations. CCP showcased digitally restored classics of Mike de Leon and Lino Brocka, Asian features, retrospective works of actress Jaclyn Jose and the late director Francis Xavier Pasion, and long and short films of Lav Diaz, all of which I terribly missed because I had work. Sigh. Aside from CCP, the competition films were also screened at Greenbelt, Glorietta, UP Town Center, Trinoma, Fairview Terraces, Solenad in Nuvali, and for the first time, Ayala Center Cebu. Here are my insights from my first Cinemalaya:
- Thanks to the indies, the Philippines’ film landscape is vibrant these days. I was born in 1980 therefore my first 20 years of Philippine cinema experience offered these staples: comedies wherein the cast erupt into a song and dance production in the middle of the film, action films with invincible protagonists paired with bombshells, and dramas usually involving infidelity and ill-gotten wealth with actors very skilled at contorting their facial muscles to convey a range of emotions. I believe those days are gone. If I would gauge all full-length and shorts of Cinemalaya using a Tomatometer (from Rotten Tomatoes), I would certify that everything was no doubt Fresh. This year’s filmmakers offered new perspectives on subjects citizens of this country may already be familiar with. Take for instance my festival favorite, the poverty porn Pamilya Ordinaryo. Hasmine Killip’s Jane and Ronwaldo Martin’s Aries are for me the slum’s teenage Bonnie and Clyde. We won’t root for these characters in real life because they are the scums whom we ask our government to rehabilitate and ultimately eradicate. But on screen we cheer for them when they have successfully eluded the cops. It is not that we see them as heroes because they are not and there is no alternative world that would regard them as such. However, because we see where they are coming from, perhaps we will find within ourselves a glimmer of understanding of their plight. In addition, Pamilya Ordinaryo injects CCTV footages creating further realism in the film. I could just rave on and on about the breathtaking attributes of this year’s entries.
- You need an equally dedicated companion to survive. Regardless of your access pass, you still had to line with fellow cinema vampires as the doors are closed once the theater has reached full capacity. Of course, the closer you are to the cinema entrance, the greater are your chances of securing a good seat. Now, how do you secure your meal? During my two-day stint at CCP, all my meals were consumed while lining up. This means someone must guard the line while another hunts for food. Food and drinks are not allowed inside CCP theatres therefore you must eat within the 30 to 45-minute window in between films. I also usually wait for the credits to complete before I step out of the theatre. It was not the case though during Cinemalaya. As soon as the films ended, we had to rush out and line for the next film. Admittedly, this disrespects the people who labored for the film you had just applauded. But one must have priorities and mine was to get a good seat for the next film.
- Warm up before and cool down after the festival. I live in Sto. Tomas, Batangas and I just hop on a bus whenever I have business in Manila. As I have full-time work on weekdays, this meant that I never had enough sleep the night prior to Cinemalaya and I felt like a dehydrated survivor of a zombie apocalypse the Monday after the full-packed weekend. I spent the rest of week being sick because I over-entertained myself to exhaustion plus I may had eaten something rotten. My point is this: if you really desire to consume everything Cinemalaya, you must either have a pre and post-festival rest or you apportion the films as the festival lasts for over a week anyway. Take a whole week off from your day job.
- Survive by familiarizing yourself with the floor plan and schedules. There is no better place to watch all Cinemalaya films than CCP. I watched Tuos in Ayala Center Cebu and the atmosphere was just not the same. At CCP, you become a particle in a sea of people who are there for the love of independent cinema. When a film ends, you join them as they ecstatically applaud the two-hour magic that they were part of. You are a member of a throng that thirsts for indies as much as you do. But the reason why I watched Tuos in Ayala instead of CCP was because I entered the wrong CCP theatre and realized this too late. Of course CCP is not so huge but one may still get lost nonetheless.
- If I could, I would like to be a Cinemalaya juror but maybe I won’t because that would mean whacking the innermost chambers of my brain and my heart for an objective decision come awards night. I was torn between Pamilya Ordinaryo and Tuos, which are for me the two best entries in the whole festival. Both films were eventually the most awarded with Pamilya Ordinaryo winning the highest honors. My short film bet, Pektus, also won the top honor in its category thus increasing my confidence on how I judge a film’s quality or lack thereof. LOL. I also rooted for Tommy Abuel’s affecting performance in Dagsin and he won though my superstar bet Nora Aunor for Tuos lost to Hasmine Killip in Pamilya Ordinaryo. But Hasmine’s was a well-deserved recognition. Hers and onscreen partner Ronwaldo Martin’s performance were so authentic it seemed that they were not acting but grew up in the streets just like the characters whom they gave inexhaustible life. All nine full-length Cinemalaya films were excellent but if I were to rank them, it would go like this: Pamilya Ordinary, 2. Tuos, 3. Dagsin, 4. Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching, 5. Mercury is Mine, 6. Hiblang Abo, 6. Lando at Bugoy, 8. I America, and 9. Kusina.
Cinemalaya was my third personal milestone in cinema this year. The first one was enduring the 8-hour poetry that was Lav Diaz’s Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis, which opened last summer. The second was my discovery of Cinema ’76, my weekend sanctuary since July. I am so looking forward to my next Cinemalaya should I still remain in this region of the universe by August next year. Kudos to all Pinoys giving their full support to the indies!