Jul 28, 2007

New breed of indie film directors shines in Cinemalaya 2007

If you had spent the last weekend hugging a copy of Harry Potter or glued to your TV sets, you simply missed extraordinary scenes at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ ongoing Cinemalaya 2007 running until tomorrow, July 29.
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The cavernous CCP halls, especially the grandiose main lobby, resembled the New York Grand Central Station’s vestibule during rush hour:

A mosaic of people from wage earners, students, office workers, scholars, to executives. The solemn halls also trembled with frenzy akin to central Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station jammed with an estimated 1.5 million train passengers daily.

The festive CCP scenes were of crowds of ordinary citizens and cineastes initially assuming the potent energy of an atomic bomb before films were shown and eventually detonating their force via reverberating bravos and loud applause at the end of each film screening. About 120 films are currently being shown in 209 screenings in six venues of the CCP’s Cinemalaya: 2007 Philippine Independent Film Festival. Members of the audience were armed with cellular phone cameras and video cameras to have their images taken with a director or a performer that bewitched them.

Last Sunday, among those spotted at the CCP main lobby before and after the showing of director Jade Francis Castro’s competing full-length film Endo were Butch Jimenez, PLDT’s senior vice president for retail business group, and authors Gilda Cordero Fernando and Sylvia Mayuga. Jimenez, producer of the multi-awarded films Jose Rizal (1999) and Muro-ami (2000), is a co-producer of another competing full-length film Gulong, a story of a child’s search for an old bicycle. Gulong was directed by Socorro Fernandez and written by Jeanne Lim.

In its July 22 screening at the CCP Main Theater, ufo pictures’ Endo electrified its viewers with its razor-sharp attack on the psychological impact of what has now become a mainstay in manpower staffing: contractual employment lasting five to six months. Endo, or short for “end of contract” of a contractual worker, has this unintended yet ruthless effect of terminating his sense of hope and life and continuity. For an ordinary employee/worker, his work animates his life, inspires his search for the genuine meaning of his everyday experiences, and endows him a sense of purpose. An unstable work increases a person’s anxiety level, induces despair, and makes him dysfunctional. In short, an unpredictable contractual job robs a worker of opportunities for meaningful growth and development. A series of low-end contractual jobs profoundly ruins him emotionally and psychologically, among others. This is the heart and soul of Endo.

In broad strokes, Endo is a film about a contractual worker who is unable to nurture a sense of who he is and what he can possibly become, eventually has problems solving his core conflicts: He cannot trust himself; he loses hope easily when challenges arise, and he is unable to forge enduring close intimate relationship with the opposite sex. Worse, he despairs that he cannot advance his status in life because he cannot chart a clear professional or work plan.

From a critical viewpoint, the greatest strength of this painful love story, yet socially and psychologically nuanced film, lies in its suppression of esoteric lines about existence, the brutal simplicity of its narrative, and the even-keeled focus on building the characters. It must be added, however, that the first 45 minutes of the film could benefit from a measured dose of editing to hasten the pace of the film. Despite its editing weakness, Endo is unquestionably a must-see work of art in this year’s Cinemalaya. Written also by Castro, it stars Jason Abalos, Ina Feleo, CJ Javarata, Ricky Davao and Alchris Galura.

Of ufo pictures which produced Endo, PLDT’s Jimenez has this to say: “ufo pictures will be a driving force in Philippine cinema.”

In an interview with the The Star, CCP president Nestor Jardin said, “I cannot believe that we have grown so much exponentially in terms of the number of films. There are simply so many talented Filipino indie film directors out there who are willing to make indie films despite the financial and emotional problems.” Jardin, the Cinemalaya 2007 festival director, has the film festival as one of his brainchildren.

During its first run in 2005, there were only six short competing films and nine full-length competing films with a total of 72 screenings. This year, Cinemalaya hosts 10 world premieres of indie Filipino films, including the much-talked about film version of the original Orlando Nadres’ Hanggang Dito Na Lamang at Maraming Salamat Po directed by Lino Tañada. Tañada’s film won a resounding acclamation for his redemptive version of a life of a closet queen, while the elegantly restrained acting of Nonie Buencamino and the glitzy performance of Jon Santos were applauded several times during the premiere. Buencamino and Santos should be cited for their remarkable acting prowess unseen lately in various local films.

Jardin said, “Cinemalaya is looking into setting up a structure that we hope can help them (indie film producers and directors) recover their investments. We are studying the possibility of establishing a distribution structure that can bring the indie films in key centers in various provinces.”

Saying that the past two Cinemalaya festivals have given confidence to the organizers to push on, Jardin said in his remarks during the opening rites of Cinemalaya 2007 that “the local indie films have breathed life into the Philippine cinema industry.” He emphasized that there are many outstanding and talented Filipino indie film directors and that “there is a vast yet untapped local market for indie films.”

Laurice Guillen, Cinemalaya 2007 chairperson of the competition committee, said it is her wish that the new and young indie film directors “can develop a body of work using digital camera.” She said the digital camera “has made filmmaking accessible although it is still a developing medium with its limitations and strengths.”

“The arrival of digital camera has democratized and liberalized filmmaking. Now you can do away with the unnecessary and very expensive processes in filming,” said she in an interview on the sidelights of the film festival.

Guillen noted that the current crop of new and young indie filmmakers craft works unconstrained by the norms and traditions which greatly influenced and burdened directors of her generation. “They do things with a fresh eye… a novel approach thus further honing their skills and enhancing their creativity,” she said.

To his fellow indie directors and producers, Mike Sandejas has this advice: “Every aspect of your film must come from you. You have to know what you want and how to do it with limited funds in your pocket.”

Sandejas won the Cinemalaya 2006 Best Film Award for his Tulad ng Dati starring Jett Pangan, JB Leonor, Francis Reyes, Buddy Zabala, Carlos Balcelis, Ping Medina, Agot Isidro, Mylene Dizon, Zoe Sandejas, Raffy Francisco, Nina Sandejas, Karl Roy, Buko Raymundo and Flip Corpuz.

“If you want to become lucky, you have to be prepared. And how do you prepare to be lucky? Work as an apprentice to understand the whole process of filmmaking and to establish connections with the right people. Work and learn all aspects of filmmaking. Do not be a specialist only in one aspect of filmmaking,” Sandejas said in an interview.

He said, “extremely talented filmmakers are able to transcend limitations imposed by meager resources and come up with artistically recognized works. And their works make a good return-on-investment.” He said filmmaking is not only an art form, “it is akin to an extreme sport because of the logistical and financial aspects involved in it. Among the arts, film is the most expensive. It is a combination of all the other art forms: Visual, aural, acting and literature.”

Aside from Davao who also appeared together with Maria Isabel Lopez in Ed Lejano’s Sinungaling na Buwan, other actors appearing in various Cinemalaya 2007 films are Ama Quiambao and Bernardo Bernardo in Aureus Solito’s Pisay and Irma Adlawan, Shamaine Buencamino, Sid Lucero, Nonie Buencamino and Ronnie Lazaro in Dennis Marasigan’s Tukso, where Davao is also included. Peque Gallaga did the casting for Emilio Abello IV’s Ligaw Liham.

Mark Gil starred in Lawrence Fajardo’s Liwanag sa Dilim, Jake Macapagal and Ryan Eigenmann in Nisha Alicer’s Doble Vista, Efren “Bata” Reyes has a special participation in Enrico Aragon’s Nineball, Sid Lucero and Shamaine Buencamino in Ma. Sol Garcia’s Tagapagligtas, Baron Geisler and Ricky Davao in Tara Illenberger’s Durog, and Jeffrey Quizon and Pinky Amador in Hubert Tibi’s Maikling Kuwento.

Prolific stage and film music composer-director-scorer Vincent de Jesus scored Tukso and collaborated with Jobin Ballesteros, Irwin Cafugauan for Pisay’s music.

Elsewhere seen at CCP to watch films by the new and young indie film directors were multi-awarded directors Joel Lamangan and Gil Portes and film producer Robbie Tan. On July 20, national artists Eddie Romero and Bienvenido Lumbera watched Foster Child directed by Brillante Mendoza and produced by Tan. Foster Child, Cinemalaya 2007’s opening film, starred Cherry Pie Picache, Eugene Domingo, Jiro Manio, Alwyn Uytingco, Dan Alvarro, and Kier Segundo. In this year’s Cannes International Film Festival, Foster Child was presented at the Director’s Fortnight of the said French film festival.

This year’s selection committee for short film features is composed of Emily Abrera, Johnny Delgado and Kidlat Tahimik. Members of the full-length films selection committee are Manet Dayrit, Jeffrey Jeturian, Robbie Tan, Nestor Torre and Juaniyo Arcellana.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Cecile Gabonete are Cinemalaya 2007’s production and monitoring committee members.
Ibarra C. Mateo
Philippine Star

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