Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Indie movies. More fun in the Philippines.

Marian\ghostly apparitions. Elderly people waiting for death. Peace and security in Southern Philippines.

Those are some of the dominant themes at film festivals in 2012. Elsewhere, the main theme tackled by mainstream films is infidelity and adultery. Okay, the last bit may not be right as I based it on articles about blockbuster local films. I’m no expert on mainstream films because I seldom see one. Why? There are lots of indie films out there that seem better and deserving of my support.

Last month, December 2012, was pure cinema heaven as film festivals showered audiences with numerous choices. Even if Cinemanila changed its sked it still clashed with the Cinema One Originals and Italian Film Festival events. The downside of having simultaneous screenings is I’d missed out on some films.

Here is a sampling of notable local feature films in 2012:

Anac Ti Pating (Martin Masadao) -
tells the story of an ambitious Baguio-raised kid hoping to make it big in the jungle city of Manila. Armed with a few hundreds of pesos, the fearless Sixto takes the bus in order to seek out a publisher interested in his amazing tale of a highly adaptive animal.

Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro (Sigfreid Barros Sanchez)
An acting showcase for a wild bunch of mostly unheralded character actors. They portray crazy, cash-strapped guys who are so passionate about a film project that they abduct the most-sought after actor in the local indie scene

Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (Arnel Mardoquio)
This film, more than Captive, shows us how kidnappers\abductors in Southern Philippines managed to evade platoons of soldiers. It’s just a matter of blending in with the surroundings and staying in their territory

The Bladed Hand (Jay Ignacio)
Amidst a bevy of amazing documentaries, this is the one I like to watch again and again. A solid boost for our national sport, arnis (aka eskrima or kali).

Bwakaw (Jun Lana)
Octogenarian Eddie Garcia at his best playing an elderly gay waiting for death

Diablo (Mes de Guzman)
Another octogenarian, Ama Quiambao, deservedly won an acting award for her portrayal of a mother visited by demons

I Do Bidoo Bidoo (Chris Martinez)
Apo songs orchestrated by Chris Martinez? We want some more.

Mamay Umeng (Dwein Baltazar)
The third film in this list to deal with senior citizens. Contemplative and touching movie reminds me of Yasuhiro Ozu’s masterpieces 

Or, in short, Imburnal Part Two. From the first scene up to the end, this great film is as much a work of Sherad Sanchez as it is a work of fellow Mindanao-based filmmaker Teng Mangansakan. Best thing to come out of Southern Philippines since the signing of the framework agreement on Bangsamoro. This film will tell you why there was a need for the framework agreement.

Here are two notable short films:

Manenaya (Richard Legaspi)
One of the best films about desaparecidos. The Pampanga landscape is perfect backdrop for a story about a burial. Thank you to our lawmakers for coming up with a Republic Act defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance.

Para Kay Ama (Relyn Tan)
A welcome addition to Chinoy filmography. Che Ramos portrays a woman coming to bear with tradition and her father’s secret. Can’t get enough? Then attend the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Pasinaya Open House 2013, which will highlight Filipino Chinese arts and culture.

That’s it folks. Yes, I’ve seen the new films of Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, and Raya Martin. Those are not their masterpieces so I didn’t include them. I’ve seen Colossal and a pair of Gym Lumbera films. They are not my cup of tea.

I missed though the films Alagwa, Huling Biyahe, Rigodon… Paging the Film Development Council of the Philippines, please add more videotheques that can serve as complimentary screening venues for deserving films.

Year 2013 promises to be a joyful one for local film faithfuls. Newbie film festival CineFilipino released its line-up of finalists, including Sari & Kiri Dalena and Mes de Guzman. Not bad. 

We'll just have to wait for the film events to happen. There's still time to save money for festival passes and cinemarathons. Have fun watching local movies.

The piece below is my 2011 list

Not only are indie movies more fun than mainstream ones, they are by far better and more colorful. My list of notable films of 2011 is made up mostly of independent film productions. And, they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of indie movies worth spending time and money on.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my most memorable film experiences:

   “A ballsy magnificent cotillion scene in Sayaw shows the two boys having an argument. Karen steps in to defuse the heated exchange. It sounds simple enough, but the amazing thing is the characters are ‘conversing’ using only their eyes! Bravo!

Isda (Adolfo Alix Jr)
Like: The best birthing scene in local cinema in 2011. Upstaging the shockingly effortless childbirth moments of Bahay Bata and Tundong Magiliw, the brilliant scene at the stairs sets the tone for viewers to believe in the story of a mother who’ve had a fish for a child. Auraeus Solito and Jeffrey Jeturian may have had better Director’s Showcase entries but can they come up with that masterful shot of a fish jumping into the murky waters?
Dislike: I can’t find a major fault with this film except to say that maybe people see Busong and Bisperas as better films because both deal with socially relevant issues.

Ka Oryang (Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena)
   “Right off the bat, Ka Oryang grabs the viewer’s attention with its lean, jugular black-and-white depiction of the Diliman Commune at the University of the Philippines (UP). The crisp powerful images (including that of a female Oblation) and chilling soundscape (e.g. piercing banshee wails of the students) send shivers to my bones. I’m moved and teary-eyed as I recall the heroism of students and the sacrifices of young martyrs during the seventies.

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (?)
Like: Ever wondered why Asiong Salonga managed to escaped a couple of times from the national penitentiary? Or, why he reigned supreme for years in his turf in Tondo, Manila? The fleshed-out screenplay by Roy Iglesias and Rey Ventura finally answered those lingering questions of mine. The culprit, as always, is politics.
Dislike: The only mainstream movie in this list has a couple of headscratchers (e.g. Mad World song at the climax and the laughably bad ‘may gatas pa sa labi’ dialogue).
Otherwise, the film is surprisingly good and refreshing. As you might have guessed, I’ve not seen Ong Bak or those Hong Kong-styled actioners.

Niño (Loy Arcenas)
  “I consider scriptwriter Vera’s contribution to be equal, if not greater, to that of Arcenas’. His script and dialogues are truly vivid and memorable. He has the ability to make the audience feel and smell the characters.

Pahinga (Khavn de la Cruz)
   “Pahinga is one of Khavn’s best films so far. It is deeply personal yet paradoxically accessible due to scenes of familial love.

Rakenrol (Quark Henares)
   “There’s a giddy fan in every one of us. Quark Henares and co-writer Diego Castillo imbue the film with the mentality of rabid, passionate, doe-eyed fans. Movies and songs that made a mark on their young minds decades ago get their fair share of screen time.

Siglo ng Pagluluwal (Lav Diaz)
Like: The best birthing of a local film in 2011. Days before the opening of the .MOV film festival in September, I was drooling over the event’s slate of films. The teaser listed two films by Diaz, Siglo ng Pagluluwal and Babae sa Hangin. Unfortunately, both films didn’t make it to the fest. A weak, hastily-assembled Diaz film was shown instead. 
Cinemanila came and all my disappointments vanished. Siglo ng Pagluluwal was finally screened. Wow! If a masterpiece such as this has to go through difficult birth pains, then we the viewers will patiently wait for months or years in order to savor sumptuous film offerings. Lav, take your time with the editing of the second book of Heremias.
I love the scene in Siglo ng Pagluluwal wherein Angel Aquino advises a filmmaker to let go of her project Babae sa Hangin, which had been causing editing problems for the director. Aquino must have been really wishing for Diaz to let go of Babae sa Hangin footages because she has some apprehension over delicate scenes from the project. What Aquino did in the project is in contrast to her angelic image.
Dislike: Crowd control during the shooting of a preaching scene at the sidewalks. Low budget and guerrilla filmmaking can’t overcome the uzisero and paparazzi behavior of Filipinos.
   “Jadaone’s film is a stunning meta-movie mind-fuck. It blurs the line between fiction and reality. All throughout the movie, one is left wondering what the truth is.

Worth mentioning:

Lawas Kan Pinabli (Christopher Gozum)
Like: I’ve seen only a third of the film and I loved every moment of it. I will definitely view it again soon (probably in UP Diliman). If it lives up to my expectations then it will be my tenth notable film of 2011. Otherwise, a Cinemanila competitor Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa will be it.
Dislike: I have to leave early because of work. Why can’t Cinemanila screen local films at an early evening slot or better yet, a slot during Friday or Saturday?


Thank you to…

Cinema One Originals,
Film Development Council of the Philippines’ Briccio Santos,
.MOV's Khavn de la Cruz,
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 
Society of Filipino Archivists for Film, and the
University of the Philippines Film Institute

for their indefatigable support of local independent movies and classic Filipino films.


  1. the stunt director of manila kingpin is the same stunt director of ong bak

  2. Hustler, you are right. Seng Kawee is also the stunt coordinator of Rambo, The Beach, and Bangkok Dangerous. His action set pieces for Manila Kingpin are somewhat fresh for a filmgoer like me who have not seen most of the films he worked on.

    I’m not sure though how action film fans responded to the movie. On the other hand, local film critics seem to be holding back their reactions on the movie. They are still clinging to the possibility of seeing the director’s cut.

  3. I can feel your passion. Keep on posting!