By Transit Contributor
Text by Joselito Acosta
Research by Laura Nerissa Parungao
Just as eulogies for the death of Philippine Cinema are being recited, a thriving subculture called “indie” emerged in 2005. By 2007, the term has become a popular byword. Indeed, the year had seen a lot of bustling energy in the Philippine independent film scene as it garnered a long list of awards.
The world premiere of Brillante Mendoza’s Foster Child at the Directors’ Fortnight section of the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival was one of the highlights of the year. Mendoza is the fourth Filipino director to be featured in the section, following film icons Mario O’ Hara (Babae sa Breakwater, 2004), Mike de Leon (Batch ’81 and Kisapmata, 1982), and Lino Brocka (Insiang, 1978 and Bona, 1989). Foster Child also won citations, including a Best Actress Award for Cherry Pie Picache at the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in India.
Auraeus Solito followed his success with Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros via another award-winning hit, the 2005 Cinemanila Digital Lokal Best Picture Tuli. The film earned another invite for Solito at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah and the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award from the Berlin International Film Festival.
Last but most definitely not least is Lav Diaz’ presence at the Venice International Film Festival. There, he was awarded the Special Mention Prize for his nine-
hour film Kagadana sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos), which was part of the Orizzonti documentary section.
“Long live Philippine Cinema!” Diaz proudly heralded while accepting the award. In the indie scene perhaps nobody is as uncompromising as Diaz whose time-defying films remain largely unknown and unscreened in his own country. Notwithstanding, he does believe that there are different concepts of viewing now.
“Maybe it will take 50 more years for them [the Filipino audience] to see that all the crazy things we are doing are not really madness, but it is for them, for the culture,” he told film critic and UP Film Institute professor Tilman Baumgärtel. “We are not rushing. It will happen. Culture is growing. So if you make good cinema, you help culture to grow. If you make bad cinema, you demolish culture. It is very true. If you create good things, you reap good things. But in the meanwhile, you don’t have money.”
THE YOUNG AND BRAS
In his second feature film, 23-year-old Raya Martin recreates the story that had lead to the execution of brother Andres and Procopio Bonifacio. Martin, the first Filipino to be granted a scholarship at the Cinéfondation Program in Cannes, won the Best Director Award for Digital Lokal at the 2007 Cinemanila International Film Festival. The film also won the Special Mention Prize at the Marseille Film Festival, where Sherad Anthony Sanchez—another director in his early 20s—earned the First Film Award for Ang Huling Balyan ng Buhi, a project produced from the 2006 Cinema One Originals grant.
Fresh from bagging prizes such as the Best Picture Award at the 2007 Cinemalaya Film Festival and Best Ensemble Acting at this year’s Cinemanila International Film Festival, Jim Libiran’s Tribu was well received at the Pusan International Film Festival where it competed in the New Currents category, a division of the festival specifically for young filmmakers. It also got a favorable review from Variety. Critic Richard Kuipers hailed it as “utterly and tragically convincing” and “has the raw power to make its own distinct mark.”
Meanwhile, the short film circuit continues to flourish. More filmmakers are now enamored with the medium and the audience now progressively has a grasp of what the medium is. In the last quarter of 2007, the short film Rights made headlines when the Movie and Television Ratings and Classification Board (MTRCB) initially gave it an “X” rating. Rights is a collection of 30-second to two-minute advertisements showing and condemning extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of human rights violations in the country. Participating in the project were independent filmmakers Paolo Villaluna, Kiri Dalena, King Catoy, Anna Isabelle Matutina, Pam Miras, JL Burgos, Nino Tagaro, Sigrid Bernardo, Mike Dagnalan, John Torres, Jon Red, RJ Mabilin And Sigried Barros-Sanchez. The filmmakers held a press conference condemning the rating and decided to continue with the reproduction and distribution of the movie. Finally, MTRCB amended its initial review and gave the film an “R-13” rating after the Board met with the filmmakers.
JOINING THE BANDWAGON
The year opened with the Bagong Agos Film Festival featuring the best and most talked about independent films from the previous year. The Festival, founded by the newly-formed Independent Filmmakers Cooperative, also formally opened IndieSine, an alternative cinema in Robinson’s Galleria that would be home to independent films on a regular basis. So far, it has provided a venue for internationally-acclaimed features such as Jeffrey Jeturian’s Kubrador, Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Ang Huling Balyan ng Buhi, Brillante Mendoza’s Kaleldo and Manoro, Connie Macatuno’s Rome and Juliet and John Torres’s Todo Todo Teros.
In addition, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) has began to play a more active role in helping independent filmmakers. One of its major projects for the year was joining the Asian International Film Market held in Pusan International Film Festival where they find a buyer for the distribution rights of films. Foster Child has been picked by Picadillo Pictures from the UK and by Ad Vitam from France. Tirador, another Mendoza film, is set for an international release in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxemburg via Swift Distribution.
Most notably, 2007 saw the participation of some of the big names in mainstream cinema in independent productions. Topping the list is Seiko Films producer Robbie Tan’s shift from being—in the words of Juaniyo Arcellana—the “padrino of “ST” films in the 90s to an advocate of independent cinema.” Tan bankrolled Mendoza’s Foster Child and is now part of the selection and organizing committee of Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Likewise, showbiz personalities Piolo Pascual and Diether Ocampo dipped their fingers in the indie pool. Pascual starred in Cathy Camarillo’s directorial debut Chopsuey while Ocampo joined the ensemble cast of Rahyan Carlos’ experimental drama Pi7ong Tagpo.
Indeed, indie is in.
But as everyone rides into the bandwagon, the essence of what an “indie” is supposed to be is taken for granted.
By definition, an “indie” film, short for independent, is one that is done outside of the studio system, an unfettered mode of production that does not rely with the money from the studios.
According to Tikoy Aguiluz, founder of the Independent Cinema Association of the Philippines (ICAP) and festival director of Cinemanila, the present filmmakers have to unite together and show studios, media conglomerates and policy makers that they are stronger than these forces rather than blabber and proclaim themselves the so-called “indie” and one has to be an “indie” all throughout. Indie, after all, is a Western concept and it means an alternative to mainstream Hollywood cinema. “More importantly,” stressed Aguiluz, “the movement was against the monolithic power of the Hollywood studio system.
“It should not be a fad and send the wrong signals,” he continued. “The bottomline for an indie filmmaker is to be heard and understood by the outside forces. But one has to earn his own stripes and at the end of the days it is about making a good film.”
THE REAL PICTURE
Raymond Lee, producer and one of the co-founders of ufo Pictures observed that the current independent film scene, while getting some help from every concerned sector, is still not generating a support enough to survive. Maraming filmmakers ngayon who thrive outside the studio system, doing their own stuff the way they want to do it. Dumarami na rin ang mga nag-invest o interesado mag-invest sa indie films,” he said. “In terms of helping indie films reach a wider local audience, wala. Kanya-kanyang banat, pahirapan.”
“Kaya usually, low budget because budget is often inversely proportional to creative freedom and integrity,” he continued. “Habang lumalaki ang budget, tumataas ang expectations ng investors or financiers, tumitindi ang pressure na ma-recoup ang ginastos sa pelikula, lumalaki ang chance na mag-give in ang original vision sa so-called commercial concessions. Unti-unti sa umpisa hanggang palaki na nang palaki habang tumatagal at lumalaki rin ang gastos.”
In the end, as Lee stressed, independent cinema is of “severely limiting notions of what makes a film commercial or accessible to a mass audience.”
“May publicity, definitely. Dahil sa support ng media, lalo na sa print. May mga production and post-production grants like sa NCCA and travel grants for filmmakers invited to foreign festivals, like sa FDCP.” But yet it is still not enough to be able to sustain the kind of cinema.
“Government recognition still has some way to go,” Lee concluded.
Posted on 23 January 2008 at 8:00 am