By Matthew Escosia
In the second entry of our two-part series on Cinemalaya 2020, we review some of the exhibition
titles that were shown in this year’s festival.
Beyond its Main Competition shorts and full-length features, the true wonders of Cinemalaya can be found in its exhibition line-up. In previous years, Cinemalaya has screened award-winning favorites from other local film festivals in the Philippines and premiered relatively unknown titles. Some of them were only shown in Cinemalaya alone, thus making its very limited screening at a festival a rare
opportunity on the local theaters.
It is through Cinemalaya that lucky Filipino film lovers got to watch hard-to-find titles from celebrated filmmakers such as Lav Diaz’s Ang Hupa (Cinemalaya 2019), Khavn Dela Cruz’s Alipato: The Very Brief Life Of An Ember (Cinemalaya 2017) and Bamboo Dogs (Cinemalaya 2019), and Adolfo Alix, Jr.’s Death March (Cinemalaya 2014), and new voices in its Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video section.
This year’s Cinemalaya also featured impressive films outside its main line-up. The Indie Nation Shorts section, for one, highlights the 20 shorts that didn’t make it in the Main Competition but is worthy enough (according to the organizers) to be screened in the festival. The Premieres section puts the focus on stories and struggles that are more concerned with the “now”. Other nice additions on the festival include the retrospectives on filmmakers that started their mark in Cinemalaya, such as Sheron Dayoc, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Mikhail Red, Lawrence Fajardo, and Joel Ruiz, as well as tributes to Philippine cinema legends that passed away this year Anita Linda and Peque Gallaga.
Here’s a review of some of the exhibition titles featured in this year’s Cinemalaya.
HENERAL RIZAL dir. Chuck Gutierrez
Heneral Rizal puts the spotlight on Paciano Rizal, Dr. Jose Rizal’s brother that rarely gets mentioned in a lot of Philippine history textbooks. Throughout, Paciano tells his hopes and frustrations about his celebrated sibling and the long trend of colonization in the Philippines, as if this film was his only chance to do so. The film is a painful portrait of a dying man hopelessly looking back on the many tragedies he has to brave throughout his lifetime, and an optimistic call for Filipinos to continue fighting for better things.
It’s impressive that Heneral Rizal was made during the pandemic, even more, that it was able to translate powerful messages despite the limited resources to create it.
BASURERO dir. Eileen Cabiling
Basurero follows a fisherman who side hustles as someone who throws dead bodies in the sea. The film essentially operates as a slice of life in a man who gets entangled on a profession that he might be forced to do so in the first place. Evenings usually become sleepless nights, and his day job as a fisherman is not enough to support his family.
Aside from his everyday duties, we never learned more about what he truly is as a person or at least as the breadwinner of his family aside from the fact that nightmare follows him wherever he goes. Additional minutes or even fleshing it out as a full-length feature would make its message denser.
NANG EM dir. Maria Ranillo
Nang Em follows its titular character, an elderly woman, as she lives through the first few months of quarantine implementation in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The film opens a welcoming perspective to how these people are trying to cope up with the emotional effects of being forced to live along due to COVID-19, and while watching it at this time feels very relatable, there is a clunky feeling in how it was made.
Nang Em feels like a rushed production like it was forced to meet the deadlines to screen it at this year’s festival. The film decided to structure itself as a collection of small glimpses of an elderly woman in a day, though it could be better if it had allowed itself to marinate its more crucial moments further.
ANG MERON SA WALA (Beyond Nothing) dir. Arby and Christine Larano
It’s best to not learn much about Ang Meron Sa Wala before watching it, especially with its big reveal in the end credits. But even with this, the film should not be celebrated with how it ended because there’s something exclusive and intimate with how it was approached. It’s as if the filmmakers made the film for someone instead of the audience not related to them.
Without revealing a lot of details, what it was is a father’s recollection of his struggles becoming a father at an early age, failing at being such, and making up on past mistakes with second chances.
It’s hard to imagine that Ang Meron Sa Wala, with its earnestness, wasn’t able to make it in the ten (10) selected shorts in the Main Competition line-up. I wish it gets screened somewhere.
FOR THE KIDS AT HEART: FOCUS ON MILO TOLENTINO
I have always considered Milo Tolentino as one of the most exciting filmmakers in the country. His short films are bolstered with the aesthetics of a kid’s movie but thematically packed with social issues that defined the period it was made. In Andong (2008), its titular child was forced to pick trashes for money in exchange of a lottery
ticket that would give him a chance to win his coveted television set; P (2010) straps Paeng in a community full of ridicule and discrimination during the time of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus outbreak or Swine flu pandemic; the world of drugs and abuse is the main reality of Niño Bonito’s (2011) lead child, Boni; and Nenok (2015), although being the most light-hearted film from his filmography, is a bittersweet narration of a child’s coping up from the loss of her mother.
Despite dealing with serious subject matters, the films of Milo Tolentino were more concerned about how his young lead characters will brave through the challenges pitted against them with their playful and free-spirited tendencies. These children’s playgrounds, bounded by their respective troubling realities, are venues that enable room for maturity than more restrictions.
But the most important thesis in Tolentino’s films is that children will be children, and they will always find a way to be regardless of how challenging their environment has been for them. I’m curious what a Milo Tolentino film set in our current health and political climate would feel like?
Catch the last weekend of Cinemalaya on TFC Online.