Dark, intriguing short films

* Spoiler alert! Probably one of the stupidest plugs I’ve ever seen. They practically wrote the entire story of both shorts.

Dark, intriguing short films
Malaya, Entertainment section
October 26, 2006

FEATURED in the TV program “Shorts” tonight at 10 on ABC are two short film both directed by young filmmaker Anna Isabelle “Sunshine” Matutina who has exhibited and won accolades both here and in film festivals abroad. She has edited extensively for “Ang Pamilyang Kumakain ng Lupa” (feature film directed by Khavn dela Cruz), “Blood Bank” (directed by Pam Miras), “ICU Bed #7” (directed by Jon Red, finalist in CinemaOne Originals), “Dilim” (directed by Topel Lee, finalist in CiinemaOne Originals), and many other short and feature-length films. She currently works as a freelance editor in television networks.

The first film, “Panaginipan” was a finalist in Cinemalaya 2005, while the second film, “Ika-Siyam na Palapag” was exhibited in the 7th Cinemanila International Film Festival and competed in the 28th International Women’s Film Festival of Creteil, France and in the Malescorto Film Festival in Italy 2006.

Get into the dark side of Sunshine’s mind and sensibilities as “Panaginipan” explores the story of two young women: Mona who is cold and unfeeling and Sarah who is bright and bubbly, but vulnerable in her relationships with men. The two friends, though with diametrically opposed personalitites, are united in their wish to escape life. Together they think up different ways of dying, until one day Sarah comes up with the perfect proposition, they just have to force themselves to stop breathing while they are asleep. Sarah wakes up one morning to discover that Mona seems to have been successful in dying by holding her breath. However, she also discovers a more horrifying truth about their situation and finds herself caught between reality and madness.

In “Ika-Siyam na Palapag,” a young woman climbs flight after flight of stairs, her stomach growing larger with each flight. By the time she reaches the ninth floor, she is fully pregnant. She is trying to call out to a young man, seemingly her lover, across another building, but as she ascends to the ninth floor she discovers the young man has another family. She struggles to climb higher and eventually gives birth on the rooftop of the building. Upon giving birth, she leans over to the side with her baby in her arms; seemingly about to throw her child away – when she suddenly wakes up on the bathroom floor, her hands bloodied. Did she or did she not kill her child? Two intriguing fims in one night which is a must-see treat for indie pelikula aficionados from ABC, Thursday at 10 pm.

Squatterpunk Review (Variety)

Mexico City Film Festival
Iskwaterpangk (Documentary — Philippines)

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.


Honor Roll

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.”

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.


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.”



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

Cinemalaya short films to be shown on Mindanao film fest

Sun Star Davao
November 26, 2005

A TOTAL of six short film entries to the recent Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival will be exhibited during the upcoming Mindanao Film Festival slated this coming December 4-11 at the Gaisano Mall cinemas.

The showing of the six shorts that were produced, written and directed by promising independent filmmakers from all over the country is one of the highlights of the first ever-movie festival held in Mindanao.

“The Cinemalaya films serve as an inspiration to promising filmmakers here in Mindanao, these well-crafted films produced at a low cost will show to us that we can make quality films by putting a premium on ingenuity and creativity rather than relying on large budgets,” Lou Raphael Cañedo, organizer of the Mindanao film fest said.

The short films are:

By Joel Ruiz

Winner of the Best Short film in the Cinemalaya Film festival; The film’s plot revolves around Dolores, a housemaid and her husband Ambo, a gardener who were hired to take care of a mansion while its owners are on a long vacation. Uneventful weeks go by until a small accident sparks a series of discoveries between the couple.

By Anna Isabelle J. Matutina

A story about two young deeply disturbed women struggling to find an end to the pointlessness of life, After unsuccessful suicide attempts, they discover a fool proof way to end it all- that is to consciously stop breathing.

Blood Bank
By Pamela Miras

Story of three people and the uncanny ties that bonds them; DES who suffers from aplastic anemia who receives weekly blood transfusion in a blood bank where EMMA works as a med tech. And CLETO a notorious robber who transforms into a weekly blood donor after he mugs Des, his way of making up for the crime he has done to her and to others before her. The ties that bind the three are soon strained with their respective wants going against their dependency on each other, until a discovery forces the advent of a catalyst that will break the connection.

By Milo Tolentino

Inside a dark room, a man commits a murder. An act of madness that left him emotionally crippled with guilt and paranoia. The man struggles to hide his crime and cleanse himself with water. But it seems the corpse has its own agenda, haunting him again and again. The films shows a struggle of a murderer hopelessly trying to atone himself of his sin of violence but to no avail.

By Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

Winner for Best Direction, BABAE is a coming of age story of two women who grew up together in a slum community along the railroad tracks. A mixture of drama, comedy, musical and fantasy that would surely touch the Pinoy heart in you.

By Lawrence Fajardo

Winner of the Philippine Star Special Jury Prize. The story of a young vegetable vendor who seeks vengeance against a meat butcher who is also a leader of a gang of butchers- cum- bribe collectors. Beaten several times by the gang leader as he continually picks fights with his unbeatable foe. Until one day the leader hurts his younger brother. The young vegetable vendor promises vengeance and practices hard for the fight. The task may be difficult but he is willing to kill and be killed in the fight of his life.

Celebrating woman in film: Kamalayang Kababaihan

6th International Women’s Film Festival. (2006)

Cine Adarna of the UP Film Institute hosted the only women’s film festival of its kind in the Philippines from March 1 to 8, coinciding with the celebration of National Women’s Month in March and International Women’s Day on March 8.

The week-long festival, with the theme Kamalayang Kababaihan, featured films by women on women. The festival recognizes and celebrates women filmmakers who have made significant inroads in presenting alternative visions for both men and women.

Screened over the week-long festival were Connie and Susan, Relasyon (Affair), Mga Pusang Gala (Stray Cats), The Piano, Sepet (Chinese Eyes), Sancharam (The Journey), Manola Coge el Autobús (Manola Gets the Bus), Para Que no Me Olvides (Remember Me), and the special advanced screening of the acclaimed movie North Country by Niki Caro, featuring Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand.

To mark its 16th year celebration, the festival added the short film and video competition to extend its objective of furthering women’s consciousness. For this first endeavor, the IWFF had distinguished female personalities Brenda Fajardo, Marra Pl. Lanot, Avic Ilagan and Ellen Ramos as panel of judges. The films in competition were Candice Marie García’s Ahon (Rise), Anna Isabelle Matutina’s Panaginipan (The Dreaming) and Ika-Siyam na Palapag (Ninth Floor), Lina Bayu Fibriani’s Menepis Gengsi Meraih Mimpi (Catching the Dream), Giselle Ordinario and Regina Rebasa’s Paglipat (Moving On), Rina Khoury’s \m/, Antoinette-Mae Herrera and Jemima de Vera’s Tulog Na (Tonight, I Slumber), El Naggar’s Met’ahara (Late), Anna Charis R. Raya’s Trip to Quinawan, Precious Ann Tayog’s Revolt of the Hymen, Julie Celebre’s Talyer (Car Mechanic), Judy Anne Buenaventura’s Ang Mahiwagang Tsinelas ni Chenelyn (Chenelyn’s Mysterious Slippers), Francesca Balaguer’s SHErachi & Manhattan Rolls, Lai del Rosario’s Happy Birthday Fiji!, Nadine Khan’s Wahed Fi El Million (One in a Million), Dianne Carla Sibal and Ma. Ranina Sanglap’s Piring (Blindfold), Muselli Loise Cruz and Joan Jelica López’s Sibuyas (Onions), and Rianne Hill I. Soriano’s Karsel (Prison).



Review by Vingel Yago, June 19, 2008

KATORSE SHORTS is a project of The Katorse Writers’ Group, a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop (hence ‘Katorse’). I saw their ad on Philippine Star last Sunday and decided to go watch the series even if Robinson’s Galleria was so way out of my usual route. Thanks to BC for giving me a tip on how to get there from Manila (if you’re anywhere near the Metropolitan Theatre area, wait for a bus that goes to Taytay or Cainta).

I am a huge fan of short films. I always get DVDs of foreign shorts whenever I have the chance to come across some. Anyhoo, here’s the list of shorts featured. These came from their 4th-year anniversary DVD.

Ang Kapalaran ni Virgin Mario by Ogi Sugatan
Ambulancia by Richard Legaspi
Manyika by John Wong
Puwang by Anna Isabelle Matutina
Dead Letter by Grace Orbon
Lababo by Seymour Barros-Sanchez
Walong Linggo by Anna Isabelle Matutina

Truth be told, the only film I didn’t enjoy was Lababo. Paciencia, pero I really have no patience for anything that has a leftist bent. Each to his own.

Ang Kapalaran started the series on a humorous mood. This is a take on the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Concepcion (hence Virgin Mario). The story opened with two men on a bed; lovers, obviously, named Jose and Mario. One of them (Mario; Yul Servo) woke up one day to find himself pregnant. What followed next was too hilarious to even write about. The attempt to abort the child took the most part of the film: Jose (Ricky Orellana?) tried making sungkit the fetus using a wire hanger from all the possible body orifices but to no avail, until a man suddenly appeared in the room telling them to stop and announcing that the second coming was at hand. A joyful mystery indeed.

Ambulancia stars Alan Paule and Nor Domingo. Alan is an ambulance driver and Nor is a medic. The story takes a dig on the belief of ambulance drivers that animals get themselves run over by ambulances to save the dying patient being ferried to hospitals except that on this particular day, Alan didn’t run over a dog but his own daughter (who eventually died to “save” the life of a tetanus patient, a friend of Nor). Coincidences can indeed be chilling.

The story could use a little tightening. Parang hindi alam ng writer kung kelan niya tatapusin ang pelicula. Short films should have the ability to leave the audience jarred, shocked or somewhere in between (think Pam Miras’ Blood Bank or Raz de la Torre’s Labada or Jeanne Lim-Pepe Diokno’s No Passport Needed; may ooomph ang ending, gets?). Lingering shots can kill the emotional buildup and ends the film on a flat note. Nasasayang ang effort.

Set in Luneta, Manyika has a promising premise: two young meet and become a couple. Every day, the girl receives a stuffed toy from the boyfriend until her room is filled with them. She becomes inis because the boy can’t seem to say that he loves her. Instead, he gives her more stuffed toys. One day, he decided to give her the largest stuffed toy ever and she throws it on the street out of sheer desperation. Boy retrieves it and gets run over. After the internment, girl comes home crying and accidentaly squeezes a toy and it says, “I love you”. Turns out, all the toys will say the same thing when squeezed and the largest of them gives her the boy’s final message: that he did plan to finally say it on the day he gives her this toy. Sigh. Ano ba ito?! So heartbreaking naman. I wish it could have been shot with a better camera though; plus all that ambient noise! Haay.

Puwang is too long to discuss here (they translated the word ‘puwang’ to “space between”; “Space” was enough na sana because the title didn’t mean it to be a literal physical space. Emotional space ito, eh), but I loved the tension brought about by the confluence of events – a dying father, a son who wouldn’t visit, a daughter giving birth, and another daughter who’s torn between giving up and taking care of the father. Kudos to the actors and to the writer. Shots were good, never mind that the father’s poop was (quite literally) in-your-face. Because of this hindi ko na tuloy matandaan ang ending (I swear!).

May ganda naman ang Dead Letter. Medyo nakakainis na nakakalungkot. I think it is pure poetry in motion. It really captured the situation of many struggling writers (the young writer’s script as pambalot ng tinapa was cliche-ish but still the best way to depict things given the circumstances). A little tightening, okay na siya. Definitely not for all audiences dahil sa heavy drama. Anyway, kudos to writer and director Grace Orbon! (Was this part of the Cinemalaya Shorts A last year? Because that was what I didn’t get to watch.)

Lababo. An advise to the UM Film Society: keep writing, keep watching, keep observing, keep making films.

I liked Walong Linggo because it’s a fine, smooth ending to the series akin to a mug of hot coffee and chocolate cookies after a long day. I guess the official synopsis describes it best: A young man who sits alone in a café every Sunday morning suddenly finds himself strangely falling in love with a girl he doesn’t know. As he tries to get to know her, he is hindered by insecurity and fear of rejection, thus prolonging the much-awaited introduction. Cute concept by writer-director Anne Matutina. Actors Joey Santos and Jaymee Joaquin were very, very good. Mababaw ba ako to like this story? Maybe the simplest can actually be the most likeable.


‘Katorse Shorts’: The long and short of it

This may have come a tad bit too late since the last screening of Katorse Shorts finished a few hours ago. But thank god for Ramil Gulle! Not a lot of people pay attention to shorts (no, I am not going to start ranting about it again), and for someone to write a full review on all the shorts is more than we could ask for.

I met Ramil once since he’s the brother of an old colleague (Reggie Gulle, another filmmaker/editor), but I doubt he remembers me. So we are very grateful for this very generous and honest review. I do wish I could talk to him to answer his questions/complaints on Puwang, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Films should be able to speak for themselves.

Again, thanks to all those who supported our short films!

‘Katorse Shorts’: The long and short of it

Watching “Katorse Shorts”, an omnibus of short films produced by the Katorse Writers’ Group, “a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop”—as they describe themselves—one realizes how many films would have been better had they been shorter.

The most successful shorts in this omnibus prove that you don’t need to take so much time putting your story across–and specifically I’m thinking about Richard Legaspi’s “Ambulansya”, one of the seven short films in the omnibus.

Too bad I learned about “Katorse Shorts” only last Friday. I watched it on Saturday and by the time you read this review, you’ll only have Tuesday, June 17, to catch this compendium of independent short films before Robinson Galleria’s Indie Sine pulls it out.

Still, the effort you’ll put in catching this collection of short films on its last day, as well as the P101 that you’ll pay for a ticket, will be more than worth it.

There are seven short films by six of these “writer-filmmakers” in the collection and it’s a pity that the Indie Sine theater wasn’t as packed as, say, any of the recent Hollywood or local blockbusters.

The best thing about short films like these is that they are freed of many of the usual considerations that are necessary for more commercial fare. As a result, you get a film viewing experience that actually stimulates the more important parts of your brain.

“When Love Begins” vs “Manyika”

In the Joey Reyes opus “When Love Begins” has a scene where Anne Curtis flashes a butt-cheek from out her bikini-bottom as she runs off to the beach in Boracay. Try to guess which part of your brain was buzzing when you saw that scene, huh?

And look at the pairing between Aga Muhlach and Anne Curtis: two impossibly gorgeous people in a seaside paradise setting, with both location and plot conspiring to have them either wear a) anatomy-revealing beachwear or b) fashionable outfits for an evening dinner.

As a potent piece of fantasy and visual allure, “When Love Begins” is luscious and lusty, slick and saccharine to the max. Now what was the story about, again? Oh, yeah, two people struggling toward long-term commitment.

Well, the short film “Manyika (Doll)” in “Katorse Shorts” has characters with the same problem. However, it is set in Luneta Park. The most striking thing about the lovers in “Manyika” is how ordinary they look. These aren’t movie romantic leads, obviously.

The characters, in fact, dress, act and look every bit as ordinary as actual Luneta couples. The guy struggles with commitment and has a weird habit of giving the girl a stuffed toy at the end of every date.

She gets nearly one stuffed toy a day, several a week, and her room is filled with them. He struggles to explain to her why he does it, and fails.

She struggles to commit herself to the relationship, but can’t stand the reality that they never go anywhere except Luneta, and she keeps getting stuffed toys from him. Worse, he could never bring himself to tell her “I love you.”

One night, he gives her the biggest stuffed toy ever–she’s so fed up that she throws it away. What happens next? Watch and find out.

Directed by John Wong, “Manyika” won Best Short Film at the 2006 Cinemadali Short Film Competition and was part of the official selection for the Gawad CCP para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Bidyo.

Sacrificial dogs

The short film “Ambulansya (Ambulance)” is 15 minutes and 22 seconds long–which is surprising to learn since the narrative is so strong and so seamless, it seems to be over in one breath and one is left stunned in the end by feelings of tragedy and wonder.

Alan Paule (as Nato the ambulance driver) seems perfect for the role. The premise upon which the entire story revolves is based on a superstitious belief among Filipino ambulance drivers–or at least, among the ambulance drivers in Nato’s circle.

One of these drivers mentions to Nato during a cigarette break this curious phenomenon: whenever he (Nato’s fellow driver) accidentally runs over a dog, cat or some other animal as he rushes to drive a dying patient to the hospital, the patient makes it alive to the emergency room.

This driver then makes the conclusion that the life of the unfortunate animal had been “sacrificed” and serves to literally give its life-force to the dying patient.

The short film nowhere indicates how prevalent this belief is among Filipino ambulance drivers, but Nato–who laughs at the notion initially–eventually gets to test the theory later on. And what a test it is–to tell you more would ruin your viewing of this gem so we’ll stop here.

Stressed-out sister

In Anna Isabelle Matutina’s “Puwang” (The Space Between), a family grapples with the impending death of their ailing father.

The eldest daughter, Arlene, is married with children but has to shoulder all the expenses and responsibilities of caring for ill parent.

The youngest sibling, Anne, is pregnant and was recently abandoned by the father of her child–who is a married man. While she and Arlene are watching over their father, Anne goes into labor. This naturally places more burdens upon Arlene.

To make things worse, the father keeps calling for his favorite son, Angelo. However, he and Angleo had a falling out and the latter has not shown up for the last five years.

Just when Arlene reaches the end of her rope from all the stress and passes out on the sofa on the hospital lobby, Angelo finally appears. He proceeds to his father’s room.

We’ll avoid giving spoilers about “Puwang” but will only say that it succeeds in painting a gripping, emotional portrait of a Filipino family in difficulty–many if not most Filipino families in the Philippines will surely be able to relate to the plight of Arlene et al. That the film nearly falls into melodrama at some point is forgivable.

The hues of the film are all in gray, the lighting is consistent all throughout–a technical achievement as well as a success in terms of mood and atmosphere.

The only complaint I will make is in the choice of showing certain scatological elements: Angelo wiping his father’s excrement off the floor of the hospital room; another scene where the camera focuses on Angelo cleaning up his father on the toilet.

My reaction as a member of the audience was perhaps natural–hey, this was shit up close on camera. Still, my question is: Was it was truly necessary for the camera to close-in on the excrement? It seemed overkill to me.

On the other hand, for a film that had been understated and restrained all throughout, maybe the scatological shots represented a kind of peak point in the film–when certain repressed, unspoken, and perhaps repellent elements, metaphorically and literally–needed to be loosed upon us.

After all, the father unleashes these elements in Angelo’s presence and he is left, literally, cleaning up after the shit (literal and metaphorical) between him and his dad.

There’s a brief but terrifying moment, right before Angelo approaches his father, when the son locks the door–shutting himself in with his father. One wonders, in a panic, whether Angelo has more sinister plans for his dad.

Is Angelo going to put his father out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow? Is Angelo out for vengeance over the still unrevealed conflict with his father? Or is he after forgiveness and reconciliation?

The film’s ending is no surprise and is actually quite deflating–but then perhaps that just adds to making one’s sense of relief and loss more acute at the conclusion of “Puwang”.

“Dead Letter”

Things got boring for me in “Dead Letter”. I found “Dead Letter” to be much too talky and static in too many parts. I loved the opening shot, though, with images of pages from letters flipping, flappin and falling, the crisp, crackling sound of paper very audible, inspiring a nostalgic mood.

I just couldn’t relate to the main character, who is a writer struggling to finish a script in time for a competition’s deadline. The introspections the writer goes through–which we are made privy to thanks to voice-overs–seem unengaging to me now at my age.

Maybe when I was in college there was a point when such thoughts seemed profound or important, but now come off as rather juvenile.

There were good scenes though. Like when a character, Felipe, from the writer’s script comes to life and confront’s the latter. Felipe is angry and even threatens the writer, “Papatayin kita! (I will kill you!)”. As the film progresses, you hope the character makes good on his promise.

There are scenes and locations that would be nostalgic to anybody who spent his youth in Manila. The shots of the Central Post Office–which processes mail for the entire country–were very compeling. We see postal workers working with thousands upon thousands of snail mail–yes, snail mail still exists, folks, despite the Initernet. We wonder what those workers would do in case an anthrax-laced letter comes in.

Of course, we zoom into the Dead Letter Section, which is where the writer’s script ends up after he mails it. We don’t know how it ends up there since the writer paid the right postage–or was he just dreaming that he paid postage? Did he even write a forwarding address?

Towards the last third of the film we feel that our hold on the film’s reality has become tenuous and anything can happen: the writer after all has been seeing people who may not really be there, and time seems to have been moving in a loop, etc.

I thought that the whole idea of a Dead Letter Section was not exploited enough. I thought it that it would be central to the film because of the film’s title. I felt a missed opportunity there and thought of several ways in which the Dead Letter Section could have been better used in the story–but then I’m not the director; I was just there to watch the film.

One of the characters, the lady smoked fish vender who hands the writer two pesos in change to allow him to pay the right postage, tells the writer, encouragingly, something like, “Okay lang kahit hindi sila maniwala sa iyo (It’s okay even if they don’t believe you)” before he mails his entry to the competition.

I don’t know if that’s useful advice to a young artist, who needs tons of belief–from himself and from others–in order to practice his art amid all the uncertainties, doubts and discouragements inevitably faced by any young artist facing poverty, ignominy and possible insanity in a society that only values TV and movie stars.

I wondered how “It’s okay even if they don’t believe you” will keep the young artist from giving up and applying for a call center job, instead.

We can’t ask the smoked-fish vender anymore because she disappeared, as in–poof!–leaving only a smoked-fish smell in the air after giving those words to the writer.

I found Felipe to be the only solid character in the film, strangely enough–but then I could be biased since the actor who plays him is Filipino-Vietnamese Roel Hoang Manipon who happens to be a poet, playwright, ficitionist and journalist as well, and who happens to be a friend from way back in college.

The film’s lead character, the Young Writer, is practically a blank slate. We see him walking across Manila’s streets and underpasses, drumming his fingers on the underpass walls–something I found icky, being familiar with the kind of grime in Manila’s underpasses, surpassed only in ickiness by the grime all over the Pasay-Libertad areas–and we wonder, is he looking for inspiration? Or do young writers simply have too much time on their hands?

Our young writer, by the way, uses a manual typewriter to write–a device that was in use when most young people today were not born yet. And yet, the final script when we see it, doesn’t look like it was typed on a manual typewriter but printed from a computer printer.

The voice-over comes back at the end of the film as the writer tries to make his way home–we learn from the voice over that he’s walking home because he wants to save money for food.

The most poetic lines in the film are uttered by the disembodied narrator in the end (it’s supposed to be an internal monologue by the writer, a device that seems to have been used to make up for the impenetrable blankness one encounters in the lead character), lines that I don’t remember exactly–but I remember having liked very much.

The lines that were uttered, in Filipino, said something about November the 16th and hunger and… I don’t know anymore. It’s not that I didn’t like “Dead Letter”–I just don’t believe it. But then maybe that’s okay.

“Lababo” (Kitchen Sink)

The first few minutes spent watching “Lababo” gave me this one-word impression: propaganda. It seemed to rehash every bile-soaked sentiment and opinion against the United States that the filmmakers could possibly throw at us.

Now, like most Filipinos, I also hate America. I hate the United States as much as every Filipino out there, who has relatives in US, who uses the Internet (a US invention); who learned and later corrupted American English; who waits for remittances from OFWs (in US dollars), who watches US TV shows on cable (legally or illegally), who pays to watch Hollywood films, who knows Joyce Kilmer (that fraud) but not the great Cirilo Bautista; and who will probably go and migrate to the US the first chance he gets.

That said, I watched “Lababo” some more and found that it wasn’t simply propaganda: it was ranting and propaganda.

That said, I will say that the University of Makati Film Society did a good job, technically, in making this film. I didn’t like how they depended on voiced-over faux radio reports to move the “story” along–there wasn’t much of a story, just a pastiche of images–but I would be the first to tell them that my views about “Lababo” should not discourage them from making more films.

Those guys know how to handle the camera, know how to compose shots, to create pacing–I just disagreed with how they chose to present their anti-American message. With a better story on their hands and the moxie and creativity to go beyond set opinions (about the US or otherwise)–watch out! These guys have potential. The Umak FilmSoc should keep on making more films–and the University should suppport them in that.

“Lababo” has participated in various film festivals and has also won awards including the Grand Prize, Viva –PBO Digitales Short Film Competition 2007.

The film was also in competiton in festivals like the 19th Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video; the 48th Bilbao Film Festival in Spain 2006; and the 8th International Panorama of Independent Film and Video in Greece.

It was also exhibited in the Jakarta Slingshortfest 2006 and the 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival 2006.

So, as a viewer, I may have missed something that these festival organizers and jurors saw–which is okay, as my Inner Smoked Fish Vender tells me.

“Walong Linggo” (Eight Sundays)

The way it was lit and shot, “Eight Sundays” seemed like an extended coffee commercial. More coffee house than art house, this short film is perhaps one of the most charming and endearing renditions of the Filipino male phenomenon of “ka-torpehan”.

In gist, it’s about this guy who spots a pretty young woman at a coffee shop. They see each other for eight consecutive Sundays as the guy tries to muster the courage to introduce himself to the young lady, with whom he is quite smitten.

Will he succeed before the eight Sundays are up? With generous close-ups of Jaymee Joaquin’s pretty face, you enjoy the ride.

Lead actor Joey Santos does a great job as a not really bad-looking guy who has to write his opening lines on paper napkins to figure out what to say to the girl of his dreams.

Each Sunday encounter between the torpe guy and the pretty girl is preceded by short love poems that are flashed on-screen–like dialogue flashed during the silent movie era–yes, there are no speaking lines audible in this contemporary silent film.

The poets who contributed their poetry include the venerable Benilda Santos and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.

This short film’s a charmer and, whether you have good or traumatic memories about young love, “Walong Linggo” is sure to linger on in your memory like a pleasant morning at the coffee shop, when all your worries seem to drift away like the steam from the espresso machine.

“Ang Kapalaran ni Virgin Mario” (The Fate of the Virgin Mario)

Mario wakes up in the apartment he shares with his lover Jose. Mario screams: Oh my God, I’m pregnant, how could this happen?!

Jose is jealous–is Mario sure the child is his? Jose convinces Mario to get an abortion.

This film by Ogi Sugatan really turns reality on its head with its minimalist, Pinoy absurdist approach.

What are we to make of this situation, where a gay man appears to have had a Not-So Immaculate Concepcion, in defiance of biology, physics and theology?

But then that’s what we all like about independent films, full-length or short: you walk out of the cinema with more than just the fading vapors of escapist fantasy; you may get insights about life, feel some genuine passion pierce your “deadma” disposition, or have an epiphany flash through your shopping-addled mind, or whatever it is that art is supposed to do to you.

Katorse Shorts Review

Review by Pat (http://everybodyleaves.multiply.com/reviews/item/6?mark_read=everybodyleaves:reviews:6&goto=0#reply0)

Category:    Movies
Genre:     Independent

I was really excited about watching Indie Sine, while most of other film buffs were rushing to Shangrila cinemas to catch the free viewing of the French film festival i on the other hand, couldn’t wait to feel inspired and to get new ideas from some of the best of our local independent film makers today.

I gotta say that out of the 7 shorts that was shown i only really absolutely liked Puwang and Walong Linggo, a film by Anna Isabelle Matutina (ate sunshine).

I’m not making this review about Puwang and Walong Linggo just because I personally know the director of the movie. But really because i loved it. for me, it was the best among the 7 short films shown in Indie Sine. I know it isn’t a competition and the purpose of Indie Sine is really to orient the viewers to different styles and genres of movies but considering all aspects in film making, for me these two films are at the top of the class, it stands out among the rest.

The screenplay is captivating. it engages the audience into the story, it’s different in itself without disregarding if the audience can relate to the story and understand the message. the cinematography stands out compared to the other shorts, it’s nearly flawless. The scoring was original in Walong Linggo, it sort of dictated or signaled the emotion the characters were feeling and what the audience should feel as well, because it is after all a silent movie. I was afraid at first that i wouldn’t like Walong Linggo coz I’m not exactly a silent film fan but the story was really cute and lite and was presented in just the right amount.

In the end, you have on the one hand that feeling that you want more out of the story because it has already captivated you, but on the other you are at peace because you know it’s complete.

I’m gonna pass on commenting about the other short films, because i don’t want my inexperienced self broadcasting to the cyber world what my inexperienced mind criticizingly thinks. as we all know, it is of course easier to say something good than to say something mean in stuffs you don’t know much about. But Please Please don’t take my word for it, my inexperienced self might be wrong about the other shorts. you can still catch Indie Sine: Katorse Shorts at Robinsons Galleria until Tuesday, June 17. Go to the Links below to watch the trailers. :)

Support Philippine Cinema!

INDIE SINE: Katorse Shorts Trailers

Walong Linggo Trailer:

‘Gov’t tool,’ censors body accused over films X rating

By Christian V. Esguerra, Marinel Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:43:00 12/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s censors board has provoked two militant lawmakers by giving an X rating to three films purportedly casting the Arroyo administration in a negative light.

Gabriela Representatives Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan on Tuesday filed a resolution seeking a congressional inquiry into the rating. They alleged that the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) was being used “for political repression.”

The complaint referred to the short films “Mendiola” and “A Day in the Life of Gloria Arrovo,” and “Rights,” a compilation of “public service announcements on human rights, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.”

Maza said in a statement: “The MTRCB, in rating these movies X, has proven itself to be an effective tool for the suppression of free speech and expression.”

Not fit for public viewing

According to the MTRCB Implementing Rules and Regulations, an X-rated film is “not fit for public viewing.”

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, a founding member of the critics’ group, Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, has joined the two legislators’ protest, along with filmmakers Carlitos Siguion Reyna, Anna Isabelle Matutina, Kiri Dalena, Chytz Jimenez and RJ Mabilin.

The group said they were disputing the censors’ ruling that “Rights” contained scenes that “undermine faith and confidence [in] the government and duly constituted authorities.”

It wasn’t true, either, that “Mendiola” had a “tendency to incite rebellion and sedition,” the protesters insisted.

Neither was the board’s claim, they said, that “A Day in the Life of Gloria” was “libelous and defamatory to the good name and reputation of the President of the Philippines.”

“Rights” got the X rating on Sept. 19; the two others, on Dec. 4.

Chair’s position: Black prop

MTRCB Chair Marissa Laguardia Tuesday said in a phone interview that she was standing by the decision of the review committees in both instances.

Board member Dick de Leon, head of the committee of three that reviewed “Mendiola” and “A Day in the Life,” said the two films had violated MTRCB implementing rules and regulations, thus the X rating.

RJ Mabilin’s “Gloria,” produced by Southern Tagalog Exposure, is a satire on President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration. “Mendiola,” a documentary produced by Sine Patriyotiko, exposes police brutality against those who participate in rallies.

“These two films are libelous and … too one-sided,” De Leon told the Inquirer in a phone interview yesterday. He said they were definitely “black propaganda.”

De Leon noted that “Gloria” made fun of Ms Arroyo. “In the film, humahaba ang ilong ng President (her nose kept growing),” he said.

He added that a portion in “Mendiola” could also be constituted as a violation of Presidential Decree No. 603, (Child and Youth Welfare Code). He explained, “The film featured children without the children’s consent.”

Link to Marcos regime

Maza and Ilagan linked the MTRCB decision on the three films to the political environment of the Ferdinand Marcos’ iron-fist regime, during which the board was established.

“The MTRCB operates on a decree created by a regime that was on the verge of collapse,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Its intentions were as clear then as they are now—to prevent the proliferation of political opinion and expression.”

In their resolution, Maza and Ilagan asked the House committee on public information, headed by Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, to look into the offending ratings.

Second review

Laguardia refused to further comment on the subject because, she said, “The producers could still apply for a second review.”

De Leon clarified: “If the producers volunteer to take out some of the very offensive scenes, then maybe the X rating could be lifted upon second review.”