The rise of independent films had been responsible in resuscitating the dying soul of Philippine cinema. A good friend shared that indies gained ground in the past decade as more filmmakers pushed their vision of conveying this country’s experiences sans huge box office profits. While I am not against big studio productions mounted to please audiences as they are good for the economy, it would be cool to have the right mix of films to occupy my evenings and lazy weekends. By right mix I mean a balance between formula productions that allow us to escape from daily realities vis-à-vis films that expand our understanding of society.
Sadly, independent films remain largely absent in theaters. Take for instance Brillante Mendoza’s latest, Ma’Rosa. After the film’s recognition abroad, Ma’ Rosa opened mid-week in major theaters. When weekend arrived though, only a handful of theaters screened Ma’Rosa in favor of the blockbusters. Truth be told, disappointments like this lead some of us towards oftentimes illegal avenues in order to watch the film we missed e.g. torrent downloading, purchasing the pirated copy.
Fortunately for us lovers of independent cinema who reside in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, a micro-theater dedicated to screen indie features opened in early 2016. This is Cinema ’76 Film Society located along Luna Mencias Street in San Juan City’s Shaw Boulevard vicinity. Inspired by 1976, the year responsible for producing some of Philippine cinema landmarks, the theater is run by the guys behind Heneral Luna. I discovered Cinema ’76 quite recently and this noble establishment has lately been my weekend sanctuary. As of this writing, I’ve hanged out at Cinema ’76 for already four consecutive weekends so far watching nine excellent independent films some of which are from prior years. Cinema ’76 is a platform to grow and develop ‘the audience that would be receptive and supportive of independent Filipino films.’ And I am a happy and proud citizen of that audience.
Cinema ’76 is intimate, seating a maximum of 60. Tickets are sold at the cinema entrance at PHP 100 per film and this gets cheaper if you get the 15-film membership sold for a thousand bucks and expiring within six months. Don’t ask me though how to get there as I am a stranger navigating the area via Uber. Cinema ’76 is open daily and film lineups change every Friday. By visiting the Facebook page, you are guided with the screening schedules and linked to the Google form for your reservations. If you are lucky, the filmmakers and actors are occasionally present for Q and A’s after the film screening.
During the past four weekends, Cinema ’76 screened Cinemalaya gems including Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati and Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala. Films honored by Gawad Urian this year were also shown such as Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father, Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub, and Lawrence Fajardo’s Imbisibol. Rounding out the nine admirable films I watched so far were Pink Halohalo and the love stories Sleepless, 1st Ko Si 3rd, and Kasal. All films tackled contemporary Filipino experiences and they brim with love and soul.
I can only pray for more Cinema ’76 to rise across the country especially in my beloved Cebu where I have friends who are hungry for this alternative. An enterprise like Cinema ’76 is a challenge to sustain since it needs a steady if not growing flow of audience who will show up for two to six hours not solely for the entertainment but for something deeper and more poignant. My gratitude to you, Cinema ’76, for the nobility and bravery.