Young, wild, and indie

By Gabby Libarios
Manila Standard Today,
July 14, 2005

There’s no one to blame for the condition of the movie industry than the proliferation of soap operas on television.

That’s what three young independent filmmakers—Sunshine Matutina, Pamela Miras, Lawrence Fajardo—said in reply to the issue of the state of the ailing Filipino movie industry.

These young filmmakers are three of the six finalists for the short film category of the 1st Cinemalaya Festival, which is ongoing at the CCP Little Theater until Sunday, July 17.

“Shows on TV are the same. They follow the same formula,” emphasized Sunshine, 26, who had done editing work for a major television network in the past. “The fact is we are not producing that much films.”

According to Epi Quizon, the lead actor of Peque Gallaga’s Pinoy/Blonde, the Philippines was producing over 200 films a year during the early ‘90s. Last year, we just produced around 50 films, half of which did not even make money.

Given the way they are produced following a conventional story that requires less thinking, soap operas don’t help the statistics go up, either.

“Yes. Same writers, same artists. So there’s no need to watch movies anymore because the film experience is already felt on TV. Oftentimes, the stories are recycled,” agreed Lawrence, 28. “Perhaps, they do this because they fear that a slight diversion from the tried-and-true would cause ticket receipts to collapse,” chimed in Pam, 26.

Such brazen attitude is fueled by their burning desire to express, to help the industry crawl out of its slump, and ultimately, show what Filipino films are really made of.

‘Divine guidance’

If Quentin Tarantino, the genius behind Kill Bill, listens to his old record collection for inspiration, these three newbies in feature filmmaking draw their “divine guidance” from personal experiences.

In making her Cinemalaya entry Panaginipan, for instance, Sunshine had to recall past memories, especially the painful ones, to establish the very foundation of her film.

Panaginipan, a movie about two deeply disturbed women finding a means to commit suicide, was based on the actual experiences of Sunshine, who at one point in her life wanted to end her life.

“It was the time when I was really depressed. I was so disillusioned then. My parents even discovered that I was not Catholic anymore,” she recalled. “I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to kill myself. I just wished I would stop breathing.”

Such plight is where her story revolves. “It’s a very angst-ridden film, very personal. That’s why I never thought that the judges would pick it,” she said.

Like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir Prozac Nation, Panaginipan plunges the audience into a situation, wherein they would get entangled with the struggle and angst of the characters, without too much of an explanation. Wurtzel wanted her readers to feel what it was like to deal with manic-depressive patients.

“I wanted the audience to feel the pain without really knowing or understanding why they are in so much pain,” Sunshine related. “The fact that you don’t understand what’s happening, the more the story becomes painful.”

If Sunshine transformed her pain to a film, Pam, on the other hand, used her unusual fascination for blood to weave a beautiful story.

“I’ve always been fascinated by blood, especially the transfusion of blood. That’s why I’ve always been fascinated with vampires,” Pam said.

Originally written as a short story, Blood Bank follows the suffering of Des, a woman afflicted with leukemia. Because of this condition, Des receives blood transfusions every week at a blood bank. Fate takes a turn for the worse when Des gets mugged by Cleto. Strangely enough, Cleto gets drawn to Des’ life when he discovers her diary. Their lives soon cross path when Cleto visits the blood bank where Des gets her weekly transfusion.

“Actually, my film has undergone a lot of revisions and transformations that only a few traces of the short story can be found in the film,” she continued. “The only elements that were retained were the characters and the presence of the blood bank.”

Pam’s film credits include Reyna ng Kadilim, a short feature that won the first prize at the 23rd Gawad Urian and 13th Gawad CCP Awards.

While the two ladies readily revealed what makes them tick, Lawrence admitted that whatever concept prevalent in Kultado—a film set in a chaotic marketplace in the province—was purely unconscious.

“I’m sure there are personal touches in my work,” he said. “I’ve always believed that like acting, one cannot fully detach his experiences, memories, even ideologies from the character his playing. There will always be a personal touch that will continuously seep through the cracks, which eventually, affects his performance.”

The same goes in conceptualizing the plot of his story. “Everything is just spur of the moment. It all starts with a germ,” Lawrence said, using his fingers to emphasize his point. “This germ slowly develops into something bigger, something that you can develop into lines, into dialogues, into scenes.”

Among the many films that influenced him as a filmmaker, Gallaga’s Shake, Rattle, and Roll was the strongest. So unforgettable was it that, as a child, Lawrence would always draw a bahay kubo being persistently haunted by a manananggal during his pastime.

“That’s how I am. Before I retire to bed, I would imagine being in the middle of, say, a snow storm, or a campfire in the forest,” he enthused. “In my head, I would imagine scenes for possible sequences.”

Low on resources

Almost all independent filmmakers would regard resources as the preternatural Gordian knot. It is the first problem they have to wrestle with from the outset until the end. Yet despite budgetary constraints, these filmmakers were able to carry out their vision.

“Of course, at some point we all had to compromise. We’re still happy with the way it turned out,” explained Sunshine.

Similarly, Pam did not let the lack of budget hinder her in getting her message across.

“When you lack funds, you learn to find alternatives to tell your story. It forces you take out the less important elements, so what remains is the most essential,” Pam stressed.

But with the sudden interest on digital films expressed by big production outfits such as Viva, that landscape will soon change.

“Viva is already venturing into producing movies in digital format and giving its directors more creative freedom, because digital films save a lot of money,” said Sunshine. “And I think the lower cost, the more room for experimentation,” concluded Pam.

The 1st Cinemalaya Festival also premieres Alimuom (Rommel Tolentino), Babae (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo), Mansyon (Joel Ruiz). Competing in the full-length category are: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (Michiko Yamamoto), Baryoke (Bryon Bryant), Big Time (Mario Cornejo and Coreen Jimenez), Isnats (Michael Dagñalan), ICU Bed #7 (Rica Arevalo), Lasponggols (Sigfreid Barros Sanchez), Pepot Artista (Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.), Room Boy (Alfred Aloysius Adlawan), Sarong Banggi (Emmanuel dela Cruz). The event culminates with the awarding ceremonies of the winners on the last day. For screening schedule, call 832-1125 local 1704/05.

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