Film fans have a lot to celebrate this August, thanks to two festivals—one, on its 13th year; the other, on its very first—that not only highlight the variety of the participating movies, but also the unshakable commitment of the filmmakers to tell their stories with little or no compromise or regard for commercial concerns.
The first of the two is, of course, the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, which began its run with a screening of Mikhail Red’s award-winning Birdshot at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the 10-day festival’s main venue, on Friday and will end with its much-anticipated awards ceremony on August 13.
This year’s edition, which has “See the Big Picture” as its theme, will screen at the CCP and select Ayala Mall cinemas dozens of movies that are grouped in several sections. These include Panoptika, which showcases documentaries; Festivals Best, which features the finest films that debuted in other local festivals; and retrospectives on the late, great actress Lolita Rodriguez and the late director Gil M. Portes.
Most moviegoers, however, will focus on the nine full-length features and 12 short films competing for Cinemalaya’s Balanghai trophies on Sunday. The full-length films are Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa by Perry Escaño; Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha by Mes de Guzman; Baconaua by Joseph Israel Laban; Bagahe by Zig Madamba Dulay; Nabubulok by Sonny Calvento; Kiko Boksingero by Thop Nazareno; Requited by Nerissa Picadizo; Respeto by Treb Monteras II; and Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig by Iar Lionel Benjamin Arondaing.
Among these titles, the ones that received the most attention are Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha, primarily because it is topbilled by actress-singer-show judge Sharon Cuneta, the latest high-profile star to make her Cinemalaya debut; and the Alfred Vargas-starrer Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa, mainly because of its (seemingly) aggressive marketing on social media.
Cuneta and Vargas aren’t the only recognizable names in this year’s festival, though. There are Cuneta’s co-stars Niño Muhlach and Kiko Matos; Gina Alajar and JC Santos in Nabubulok; Jake Cuenca, who’s in Requited with Anna Luna; Angel Aquino and Ricky Davao in Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig; Yul Servo in Kiko Boksingero; and prize-winning indie queens Angeli Bayani and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino in Bagahe.
Attention must also be paid to the short films, for some of the directors behind them may make waves on the local or international movie scene in the future. These are Aliens Ata by Karl Glenn Barit; Bawod by TM Malones; Fatima Marie Torres and the Invasion of Space Shuttle Pinas 25 by Carlo Francisco Manatad; Hilom by P.R. Patindol; Islabodan by Juan Carlo Tarobal; Juana and the Sacred Shores by Antonne Santiago; Lola Loleng by Jean Cheryl Tagyamon; Manong ng Pa-aling by E del Mundo; Maria by Jaime Habac Jr.; Nakauwi Na by Marvin Cabangunay and Jaynus Olaivar; Nakaw by Arvin Belarmino and Noel Escondo; and Sorry for the Inconvenience by Carl Adrian Chavez.
Some of the most exciting Filipino filmmakers working today first gained notice with the short features they showed at Cinemalaya. They include Red, Lawrence Fajardo (Posas, Imbisibol), Alvin Yapan (Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Oro), Sheron Dayoc (Women of the Weeping River), and Sigrid Andrea Bernardo (Ang Huling Cha-cha ni Anita, Kita Kita).
Three days after Cinemalaya ends, the second film festival this month—the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP)—will open and run until August 22. Set up by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) a few months ago, the week-long PPP is, in some ways, more ambitious than Cinemalaya.
That’s because foreign movies will not be shown during the festival, which will screen 12 diverse and good-quality Filipino films in scores of cinemas nationwide. It’s like the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in that sense, except that it’s set in August.
The dozen films, which were chosen by a committee whose members include FDCP Chairman and CEO Liza Diño, director Joey Reyes and screenwriter Ricky Lee, are: 100 Tula Para Kay Stella by Jason Paul Laxamana; Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B by Prime Crisologo Cruz; AWOL by Enzo Williams; Bar Boys by Kip Oebanda; Birdshot by Mikhail Red; Hamog by Ralston Jover; Paglipay by Zig Madamba Dulay; Patay na si Hesus by Victor Kaiba Villanueva; Pauwi Na by Paolo Villaluna; Salvage by Sherad Anthony Sanchez; Star na si Van Damme Stallone by Randolph Longjas; and Triptiko by Miguel Franco Michelena.
None of these titles had a regular commercial run before their selection.
A number of these films were shown in various festivals here and abroad within the last 18 months. Some have even earned accolades. Birdshot won the best-picture prize in the Asian Future category of last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, while Pauwi Na—a finalist in the first ToFarm Film Festival, which saw Paglipay as its big winner—copped the top prize at the Shanghai International Film Festival in late June.
Hamog garnered the outstanding artistic achivement award at the same Chinese festival last year, Star na si Van Damme Stallone’s Candy Pangilinan clinched the best-actress trophy at the 2016 CineFilipino Film Festival, and Paglipay nabbed 11 nominations at the recent 40th Gawad Urian.
To encourage more people to watch, the FDCP have introduced special rates and promos. Students in Metro Manila can watch any PPP film in any theater for P150 and those outside the capital can do so for P100 once they present a valid ID at the ticket counter. There’s the 4+1 Barkada Promo, in which any single purchase of four tickets for one PPP film yields one free ticket. And for those watching at SM cinemas, they can avail themselves of a limited-edition PPP branded ePlus card for P990, which they may use to watch six films.
During the Cinemalaya 13 press conference at the CCP on July 13, actress-director and Cinemalaya Foundation President Laurice Guillen noted the increase of independent film festivals in the country, granting filmmakers more opportunities to make the films they want to make. It has also certainly given filmgoers more choices on what they can watch.
With a wide range of worthwhile films to choose from, it’s impossible for movie buffs, especially serious ones, to pick only one or two from the bunch to watch. Movie marathons are almost needed to catch them all. Thanks to the PPP and Cinemalaya, August has emerged as the best time for Filipinos to indulge in what the best of Philippine independent cinema has to offer so far.