The independent women of Cinemalaya

The Manila Bulletin
CCP press release
July 5, 2005

“The good thing about indepedent cinema is that it’s not a business. We don’t consider what we can get in return. Para siyang bisyo – napakamahal na bisyo. (It’s like a vice – a very expensive vice).”

This statement encapsulates the passion and commitment for filmmaking of six women who were hailed as finalists for the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and Competition, slated July 12-17, at the CCP.

The six finalists — Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Anna Isabelle “Sunshine” Matutina and Pamela Ann Miras (short film category), Rica Arevalo, Coreen “Monster” Jimenez and Michiko Yamamoto (full-length film category) — are an interesting combination of filmmakers comprised of both novices and experienced film connoisseurs.

Except for Pamela Ann Miras (Blood Bank) who took up film & audio visual communication in UP Diliman and Rica Arevalo (ICU Bed #7) who is a communication arts graduate from De La Salle University Manila, the other finalists don’t have any formal education on film-making.

Michiko Yamamoto (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros) is a mathematics major in computer science from the University of Santo Tomas, Sigrid Bernardo (Babae) holds a certificate in theater arts from UP Diliman and Anna Isabelle Matutina (Panaginipan), also from UP, has a degree in broadcast communication.

Each filmmaker tackled different issues that are sure to whet every filmbuff’s appetite – from family and marital problems, teen angst, to underground trade and homosexuality.

When asked how they came up with such concepts, most of them agreed that they want to create something that reflects Filipino culture.

For instance, Pamela considers the concept of selling blood for a living “very Pinoy.”

“It’s not something that is done in first-world countries. Blood is donated, it’s not something you sell,” Pamela notes.

Coreen Jimenez has the same “Pinoy” rationale behind the concept of “Bigtime,” a film collaboration with Mario Cornejo.

“It’s about hitting it big, and everyone, especially in the Philippines, wants to hit the big time. It’s very Pinoy, too!,” Coreen confirms. “Since its hard to climb that ladder (of success), you just want to make a quick buck,” she adds.

“I want to show the different faces of women, all about women and men who like to be women,” says Sigrid, the director of “Babae,” while Anna’s Panaginipan deals with teen problems, and Rica’s “ICU Bed #7” (her third script to win an award) are part and parcel of the Filipino psyche.

Such themes, which delve into the intricacies of modern-day Filipino culture, are rarely seen in mainstream movies nowadays.

Rica observes, “It [movie industry] has been dead for a long time, but there are always filmmakers na gagawa at gagawa ng pelikula.”

Even the film industry’s long dormancy period may have caused it some good. “Kailangan niya kasing mamatay para mabuhay ulit. Tingnan mo ngayon, ang dami nang lumalabas na bagong mas malalakas ang loob,” Anna explains.

“That’s why in Cinemalaya, we could write whatever we want to write without thinking who’s going to watch it,” Coreen adds.

This emergence of new filmmakers may also be attributed to new technology. With the availability of HD cams and digital video cameras, anyone can practically make his/her own film.

However, with easy access to new technology, there is a big possibility that independent film-making might graduate to a mere “trend.”

“Since a lot of people are doing that right now, sana hindi lang siya uso. Of course at the end of the day, it’s still your story, and that’s why independent cinema is what it is,” Pamela relates.

Having been given the chance to show their works to the public through the film festival, all of them hope that festivals such as this will continue to propagate indie filmmaking awareness and bring indie films closer to the grass roots.

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.

The Digital Film Revolution

by Sofia Guillermo

WHEN ONE SPEAKS OF A “GOLDEN AGE” OF PHILIPPINE CINEMA, one invariably looks back with nostalgia at the Seventies and Eighties when the likes of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal made films that mirrored the realities of those troubled times. Now, over twenty years later, Brocka and Bernal have long been gone and the times are troubled still. It may be the least of our worries that cinema since then has succumbed to the crass commercialism so prevalent in today’s mass media. Under the threat of being buried alive by imports from more quarters than ever before, industry players have responded more and more often by cashing in on the hysteria du jour, spewing out instant hits “inspired” by flash-in-the-pan loveteams, novelty songs, and personalities whose value lies in their susceptibility to commodification. Now and then, of course, we get the occasional transgenerational epic full of sound, fury and other slaphappy treats. Really, there’s no business like showbusiness, but despite these least-common-denominator appeals to the audience, business is alarmingly bad as a quick glance through the “Now Showing” pages would tell us. As of this writing, only one local film is premiering in theatres this week.

The Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival screenings–the most recent leg being at the Greenhills Promenade–give encouraging proof that, while the industry may be moribund, filmmaking is alive and well. Here are feature-length films and short films, all independent and driven by a simple need: to tell a story in moving images. It is to Cinemalaya’s credit that it has recognized the short film as a form that can hold its own. In literature, it would be ridiculous to find fault with a short story for not being a novel and in much the same way, short films tell stories that are appropriate to the form. The six short films screened, winners and finalists of the Cinemalaya competition, are near-perfect in their brevity.

Lawrence Fajardo’s Kultado (Special Jury Prize) is a gritty slice-of-life story, set mostly in the abattoirs of the Bacolod Public Market, which deals with a young man’s struggle to end the reign of a gang of butchers who terrorize the other vendors into giving protection money. The dialogue is entirely in Ilonggo, something unusual considering the Manilacentrism of most films produced in the Philippines. While it must be admitted that this film shows a higher concentration of violence and gore (explicit and implied) than one would wish for while munching on popcorn, Kultado displays a firm grasp of MTV-style editing techniques. The tight cinematography, fast cuts, and various post-production effects serve to mediate the almost unbearable imagery for the more easily nauseated members of the audience. It is the film’s stylishness and up-to-the-minute sensibilities that make what would otherwise be just another revenge-and-ketchup flick worth watching.

The virtual one-man-production Alimuom by Milo Tolentino, while also graced with the presence of a bloody corpse, is entirely different from Kultado. The story is told subjectively, with the character trapped in an existentialist world where hell is not necessarily other people. The persistence of memory and guilt that is impossible of assuagement drive him into a presumably endless cycle of attempts, almost comic in their futility, to hide (from) what appears to be his conscience. Adding to the sense of claustrophobia is the character’s silence while he conducts his grunty and sweaty labors. In lieu of speech, “incidental” sounds–of windows being frantically closed, for instance–are amplified, allowing us enter, as it were, the inside of the lost soul’s skull. There is also a voice-over that makes subtle mockery of the proceedings: “Kung kaya mong isipin, kaya mong gawin.”

Another auteurial work is writer-director-editor Anna Isabelle J. Matutina’s Panaginipan which is primarily a mood film possessed of an almost elegiac tone that is in keeping with its perilously slight story: Two emotionally-disturbed young women decide to end it all in the most obviously natural of ways–that is, to just stop breathing. Of the Cinemalaya six, this is the most character- and dialogue-driven, with the two leads being studies in contrast: Mona is hard and self-contained while Sara is soft and clingy. They clash in scene after scene yet they are inexplicably bound together in co-dependence. The key to the mystery surrounding the two lies in their curious inactivity. It is difficult to make a film where the characters are going nowhere slowly but Panaginipan succeeds primarily through its rich and textured coloring and the judicious use of unusual camera angles.

Shockingly slick for an indie production is Joel Ruiz’s Mansyon (Best Film) that tells the story of two caretakers, the perfectly-cast Dolores and Ambo, left alone in the eponymous mansion. Like the butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, the housemaid and the gardener are typified by asexuality and inarticulacy. All this changes with the accidental spilling of perfume, a momentous event that inevitably unleashes their repressed humanity with tragicomic consequences. Watching Mansyon is a synesthetic experience and it is as if one can actually smell the perfume and the freshly cut shrubbery. The symbolic use of the color red is also an ingenious detail in a film that somehow manages to avoid being overwhelmed by bric-a-brac. Mansyon is essentially a retelling of the Adam and Eve story, yet as the two are banished from their quondam Eden, they take up their bags not with shame but with a newfound confidence.

Upbeat right off the bat, thanks to the Makiling Ensemble’s jaunty contemporary hegalong riffs, is Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Babae (Best Direction). This short film goes for a more documentary style in telling the story of two childhood friends who grow up together beside the railroad tracks. The difference in their personalities is stated early on with their choice of toys–one plays with Barbie dolls while the other prefers kick-the-can–yet they are the best of friends who grow up to be comrades and, eventually, lovers. The story of the two is interspersed with soundbites from neighborhood manangs that subvert supposed male supremacy in their frankness. Underscoring the film’s message that rigid gender roles are in the eye of the narrow-minded beholder is the use of black and white “stock” which, in the end, gives way to color. Babae is a refreshing take on women’s empowerment wherein all-too-justified anger takes the backseat to love and mutual respect.

Pam Miras’ Blood Bank (Best Screenplay) is a gem of a city story about three people whose lives of quiet desperation and loneliness interconnect despite the odds of urban existence. Theirs is a bizarre triangle not of love but of mutual need: Des is a woman suffering from aplastic anemia, Emma is a medical technician at a blood bank, and Cleto is a mugger. The story revolves around Des whose need for weekly blood transfusions brings the three characters together. Cleto, who falls for Des after he reconstructs her persona from the pictures and personal effects (including a diary) that he finds in her purse, eventually becomes her main donor. Meanwhile, to all initial intents and purposes, Emma is Des’s only friend. The film’s overall theme, successfully conveyed on several levels, is hinted at in Des’s recurring dreams of being besieged by vampires and of turning into a vampire herself. Blood Bank presents an ultimately bleak view of life at the same time that its virtue lies in its clear-eyed gaze at present-day realities.

These six short films presented by Cinemalaya are vastly different from each other yet they have one thing in common: they were all shot digitally. It is pretty safe to say that digital technology will give new life to filmmaking. In fact, it is doing so already. Soon to be gone, hopefully, are the days when to make a film, whether long or short, a filmmaker had to practically pawn her or his soul to a studio for the privilege of having a cherished vision come out mangled beyond recognition. To go back to Brocka and Bernal (and at the risk of sounding like the goofball protagonists of Peque Gallaga’s Pinoy Blonde), those two were not just filmmakers; they were also socially committed artists and that is why their legend lives on. The digital revolution that may very well usher in another “Golden Age” in Philippine cinema would, at the very least, have found favor with them, as it should with anyone who has a genuine love for movies. The number of filmmakers is growing by the day and, even now, the Cinemalaya films may already be just the tip of the iceberg. Filmmaking is alive and well and, for the independents, it is digital. For those of us with stories to tell, there are no more excuses.

(lifted from: