Mexico City Film Festival
Iskwaterpangk (Documentary — Philippines)
By ROBERT KOEHLER
Rambunctious and relentless, Khavn’s aptly titled “Squatterpunk” applies pure adrenaline rush to a day in the life of a Manila shanty town. A bit less harried than many of this wildly active filmmaker-musician’s other features and shorts, docu marries a constantly roving camera (often mounted with ultra-wide-angle lens) with a nonstop punk-rock soundtrack that fuels the action with bursts of aural energy. Terrific fest fare will widen Khavn’s growing fan base (especially among young Asian hipsters), and looks to be a solid specialist vid item.
Center of the pic is young Hapon, leader of a gaggle of youngsters in the desperately poor seaside slum of Isla Puting Bato (with Manila visible in the distance). Kids will be kids: Running, scampering, diving into filthy ocean water, the tykes manage to turn their direly poor surroundings into the world’s most unlikely playground.
Pic turns several conventional notions on their heads, not least of which is standard liberal ideology, expressed in countless docs, that expresses hand-wringing pity toward the poor. Khavn (nickname for Khavn de la Cruz) appears to reject this, kids in these circumstances as they actually are, with endless energy and nerve. This may offend some viewers demanding a more PC line, just as others may not appreciate the driving punk sounds of the Brockas (named in honor of late Filipino film master Lino Brocka).
Latter reference is telling, since the community here is exactly the sort of setting in which Brocka frequently located his complex melodramas. Khavn tips his cap to his mentor while adopting a freewheeling approach that does away with storyline, dialogue and almost any natural sound. Precendent here is actually in the earliest pre-20th-century experimental silent pics that linked motion-filled images with music, and the tradition of the “city symphony” film.
Pacing (via editing by Lawrence Ang, Caloy Carlos and Sunshine Matutina) is breathless, but with enough pauses and quiet passages to vary mood and texture. Albert Banzon’s intensely physical camerawork suggests the lens is like a small kid, dashing close to the ground and taking everything in.
Remarkably, lensing was done in a single day. As usual, to ironically stress his championing of latest in digital vid cinema, opening credits announce “This is Not a Film by Khavn.”
Camera (B&W, mini-DV), Albert Banzon; editors, Lawrence Ang, Caloy Carlos, Sunshine Matutina; music, the Brockas, Bobby Balingit, Tengal, Buccino P. De Ocampo; sound, Arvie Bartolome, Darryl Shy; assistant director, Rayg Generoso. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 22, 2008. (In Mexico City Film Festival — Guest Country: Philippines. Also in Rotterdam, Singapore filmfestivals.) Running time: 80 MIN.