Posted on March 26, 2019

Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival of the Philippines through the years

by Boy Villasanta

Yes, it’s historic.

I was at the 1st Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2005 held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as a regular spectator of what was happening around even if only for a number of days in its one-week run.

I was then the entertainment editor of the tabloids Saksi Ngayon and Bomba Balita. One of my columnists whose name has skipped my mind showed me a brochure and a program schedule of the maiden edition of the soon-to-be celebrated local film event in the country. The columnist I was talking about was the part of the usual suspects of gaka (gatecrasher) reporter block. These mostly discriminated “pseudo”-press people were and still are daring enough to intrude in any show biz event of any persuasion and Cinemalaya was one and still is an open field, especially on socializing in the vicinity of the CCP like the lobbies or the ramps but not necessarily on buying tickets to go in and watch a film. These available public areas can be sources of networking and news breaking if not rumour spreading. 

The catalogue gave me an idea there was such an event so I gave it some time to go to CCP and witness the festive mood of the place and its first time indie film fest although it wasn’t peopled yet as many audiences as now.

On its first year, the films shown were “Baryoke” directed by Ron Bryant; “Big Time” by Mario Cornejo; “ICU Bed #7” by Rica Arevalo; “Isnats” by Michael Angelo Dagnalan; “Lasponggols (Last Take, Last Shot” by Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez; “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” by Aureaus Solito; “Pepot Artista” by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.; “Roomboy” by Alfred Aloysius Adlawan and “Sarong Banggi” by Emmanuel de la Cruz.

I remember I couldn’t watch any of them because I was busy editing tabloids although I recall that I had the chance to watch “Big Time” in a special screening.

Besides, my salary as an editor wouldn’t afford regular prices or tickets.

I only managed to peep into the trailers of most of these entries.

I saw “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” when it was already on DVD. 

There were also short films which were directed by already established filmmakers today like “Alimuom” by Rommel Tolentino; “Babae” by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo; “Blood Bank” by Pam Miras; “Kultado” by Lawrence Fajardo; “Mansyon” by Joel Ruiz and “Panagimpan” by Anna Isabelle Matutina.

It was also the late entertainment writer Dennis Adobas who reintroduced me to the original Cinemalaya and the prospects of watching and covering it on all fourteen editions. On the second time, Dennis brought me to the Publicity Department of CCP headed by Irene Obligacion Rada.

Through Dennis, I was able to get a festival pass from Irene that would entitle me to watch all the films but since I had to edit tabloids I could only watch a handful. And they were all refreshing to watch.

In 2010, there was an additional segment to Cinemalaya which was the Directors Showcase which featured films of established directors. It was another excitement to look forward to the event.

After the first Cinemalaya, it gave me the goosebumps when each of the entries was presented not only in the presscons but more so, during the final showing of their projects. No, it’s not a scary experience except for real horror or fantastic visual treats.

The very idea of a free expression of a film is something to relish.

In the entertainment desert where the formula and glossed up moviemaking fares are the order of the day, independent filmmaking is an oasis.

It is a testament that the objectives of Cinemalaya were met and still are met like its oath which reads: “…Cinemalaya is a film competition and festival that 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. It also aims to invigorate the Philippine filmmaking by developing a new breed of Filipino filmmakers.”

Here’s the promise of film artists who would bravely present new ideas that would give options to film watching. That would enlighten the public, particularly the Filipino moviegoers, that a film can still be treated in a non-formulaic manner and innovatively and still sit well with the movie-going crowd.

Subject matters which are not always tackled and considered taboo by the big studios and the public are allowed in Cinemalaya to play up and to flourish like same sex romance, incest, gender equality, political decadence, underground movement etc. without being charged as prurient, obscene, subversive and undermining society’s common sense as long as these are treated with intelligence, logic and artistry.

Even if the films were and are not really beyond the high standard expectation of filmmaking, they were and still are, more or less, done with candour and passion.

Of course, National Artists for Film Gerry de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Fernando Poe, Jr., Eddie Romero, Manuel Conde might set high standards during their time, these contemporary filmmakers had/have their own vision and film language assimilated or borne out of their own experiences and vision.

This year, ten (10) full-length features are out to show their exceptional qualities. They certainly have passed the standards of Cinemalaya and hopefully, the finished products are the same quality the host has expected them to have.

Which of these entries, the descriptions provided by CCP’s Publicity Department, are worth the salt of the public and Cinemalaya:

Theodore Boborol’s “Iska” which tells of a grandmother who wants to take her 10-year old autistic grandson into a special needs orphanage, is deemed an unfit guardian by the media and the government. Despite dealing with life’s blows one after the other, she never loses her tenacity to survive.

Arden Rod Condez’s “John Denver Trending” which is about John Denver Cabungcal, a Grade 8 student. All he really wants is to do well in school and bring good grades to his mother. But one day, a classmate accuses him of stealing a forty-five thousand peso worth of an IPAD. After the classmate’s persistent allegation, John Denver snaps and assaults his classmate. Unluckily for him, someone records the incident and posts the video on social media. In just five days, this ordinary farmboy’s life is suddenly upended.

Kim Zuñiga and Sandro del Rosario’s “Ani” which forays in the Year 2050 Federal State of Bicol. A newly orphaned boy moves to a farm to live with his estranged grandfather. When Mauricio falls ill and as the crops in their farm seem to fall ill with him, Mithi embarks on a quest with his malfunctioning robot to search for magical grains that he believes will save the old man’s life.

Jojo V. Alonso’s “Belle Doulleur (A Beautiful Pain)” which is about Elizabeth, a self-made woman in her late 40s, is bent on living on her own for the rest of her days. After her mother passes from years of suffering from a lingering illness, she meets Jon, a man 20 years her junior, who convinces her that love knows no age and that there are no limits to life’s starts. They embark on a May-December affair that is very promising until Liz realizes that Jon has dreams that she cannot be part of.

Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez’s “Malamaya” which is about Nora Simeon who at 50 is beginning to feel…passé. She only has unsatisfactory sex, wrinkles, and opposing views on art and creativity with the younger lot. As she recaptures her prime, she finds spark with Migs, an aspiring photographer who reignited forgotten passions and elicited bursts of inspiration. Besotted with her younger lover, Nora will fail to notice how he invades her space and senses, and eventually, her art and body.

Maricel Cariaga’s “Annak To Karayan (Children of the River)” which is about a coming-of-age story about Elias and his three friends who suddenly need to grow up and take on the responsibility their fathers left as they went away in a battle they can’t surely win. As Elias tries his best to lead the group, circumstances arise that challenges his resolve. Will Elias be able to protect his friends for what’s about to come if he himself questions his true nature?

Thop Nazareno’s “Ward” which discusses life happens wherever it may find and this is the case for Jojo who has been forced to live under the hospital bed of an ailing father but has somehow managed to live with some semblance of normalcy including all the mischief that a teenager is expected to create and the inevitable heartbreak of a first love; but at what point does this normalcy become an escape instead of just a refuge for what he must face if he is to become a man?

Sheryl Rose M. Andes’ “Pandanggo sa Hukay” which says that amidst poverty and violence surrounding her, Elena, a young midwife and a single mother keeps a positive outlook in life. As she seeks to work abroad to better her family, we will follow her as she prepares for her upcoming job interview.

Xian Lim’s “Tabon” which is about a man’s belief in reality which is tested when suspects are accused of a crime they believe to not have committed.

Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s “FUCC Bois” which says that fame is a constant effort.