Realities of Filipino life tackled in 4 films

THE TESTIMONIES of people affected by extrajudicial killings (EJK), a couple in a turbulent relationship, a media studies student who meets his most admired broadcaster, and a story of a family man who climbs to the peak of the mountain while recovering from a traumatic experience are among the non-competition highlights in this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the 17th edition of Cinemalaya migrates online via KTX.ph. The pandemic has also resulted in this year’s edition focusing on short films for the competition section, to give more time to the feature films to be made under current constraints. It is planned that the feature films in competition will be shown next year.

The Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival — an all-digital film festival and competition “that aims to discover, encourage and honor cinematic works of Filipino filmmakers” — is a project of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the Cinemalaya Foundation, Inc.

Alongside the screening of the 13 competing short films, Cinemalaya this year presents the Premieres section, featuring four never before seen feature films by Filipino filmmakers. The feature films will be screening for the duration of the festival, Aug. 6 to Sept. 5 on ktx.ph.

The four films are the family drama Highest Peak, directed by Arnel Barbarona; the drama He Who is Without Sin, directed by Jason Paul Laxamana; neo-noir film Love and Pain In Between Refrains, directed by Joselito Altarejos; and the social monologue Tao Po, directed by Mae Paner (also known as Juana Change).

Highest Peak (screening on Aug. 7 to 14) follows a man who decides to follow through with his family’s plan to climb Mount Apo after losing his wife and son. It is a journey of redemption, closure, and healing. The film stars Dax Alejandro, Mara Lopez, Henyo Ehem, Rowena Caballes, Jea Lyka Cinco, Johnny Hager, Buggy Amplayo, Jun Alcover, Bong Artil and Ferdinand Mesias.

He Who is Without Sin takes (premiering Aug. 15 to 21) follows what transpired during a chance meeting between a broadcasting student and the TV reporter he idolizes. In the days that follow the encounter, the young student shares with his friends three separate versions of what transpired. Through the conversations with friends, he comes to terms with the idea that his idol — a dignified newsman who is supposed to be a paragon of virtue — is not who he appears to be on television. The film stars Elijah Canlas, Enzo Pineda, Pearl Lagman, Migs Campanilla, Lara Fortuna, Gio Gahol, Marnie Lapus, and Iman Ampatuan.

During an online press conference earlier this week via Zoom, the film’s director, Jason Paul Laxamana, said that the film is semi-autobiographical and based on his personal experience as a broadcast journalism student who met one of the broadcasters he admired. “During their meeting, questionable things transpired. The film is an examination of his thought process,” Mr. Laxamana said in English and Filipino.

Love and Pain In Between Refrains (premiering Aug. 22 to 28) deals with a tragedy that feeds on love and co-dependency, and the cycle of abuse and violence. It follows high school sweethearts who lost touch with each other after graduation and meet again after 10 years. Feelings rekindled; they start living together. But what was supposed to be a beautiful relationship turns into a traumatic reunion. The film stars Oliver Aquino, Elora Espano, Richard Quan, Anelle Durano, Suzette Doctolero, Natileigh Sitoy, Anjo Resureccion, and Jill Urdaneta.

“It deals with the psychology of the abused and the abuser in the cycle of violence,” said director Joselito Altarejos.

As an advocate of “Cinema of the Social Consciousness,” Mr. Altarejos — who directed the 2014 Cinemalaya Best Film Kasal, Tale of the Lost Boys (2017), and Unfriend (2014), among others — aims to create films that educate and inspire his audience to become more vigilant and conscious of the country’s social issues. “I would like to offer my films to help people see what is happening around us,” he said.

Tao Po (premiering Sept. 3) follows the social awakening of a photojournalist when he covers the tokhang beat. After several immersion trips and in-depth interviews conducted by artist-activist Mae Paner and playwright Maynard Manansala, four monologues were developed that give faces to the issue of extra-judicial killings.

“Ang pelikulang ito ay magandang mapanood ng napakaraming Pilipino para mayroon tayong konting glimpse na makita tungkol sa nangyayari sa atin based on four personal narratives of people affected by extrajudicial killings (It would be good for many Filipinos to watch the film so that they have a glimpse of what is happening around us based on four personal narratives of people affected by extrajudicial killings),” director and producer Mae Paner said.

Tao Po will also premiere at Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Cinema under the Stars or drive-in theater at the Liwasang Ullalim located across the center’s main building on Sept. 3. A talkback session will be hosted after the drive-in film screening. Discussion for the other three films will be hosted online prior to the premiere of each film.

Tickets for the Premieres are priced at P250.

INDIE NATION SECTION
Meanwhile, four full-length feature films will be shown in Cinemalaya’s Indie Nation section.

These are: Lockdown by Joel Lamangan; Kintsugi by Lawrence Fajardo; Don Filipo by Tim Munoz; and ECQ Diary (Bawal Lumabas) by Arlyn Dela Cruz Bernal.

Mr. Lamangan’s Lockdown is about a returning overseas Filipino worker who desperately turns to cybersex in the middle of a global pandemic and a struggling economy. The film stars Paolo Gumabao, Max Eigenmann, Allan Paule, Ruby Ruiz, Jess Evardone, Jim Pebanco, Angeline Sanoy, Paul Jake Paule, Sean de Guzman and Alexis Yasuda.

Kintsugi refers to the Japanese method of repairing broken porcelain, wherein shards are reattached with gold. The film follows a Filipino OFW factory worker who develops a close bond with his employer’s daughter. Filmed in Saga, Japan, this is Mr. Fajardo’s second Sinag Maynila full-length entry after 2015’s Imbisibol. JC Santos and a cast of Filipino and Japanese actors star in the film.

Mr. Munoz’s Don Filipo is about a remote village that is gripped with fear as its residents go missing one by one. Now a young nurse is in town to care for an ailing Don Filipo. Will he be the next victim? The film stars Luis Padilla, Adrian Arias, Rap Robes, and Megan Sharpe.

Bernal’s ECQ Diary (Bawal Lumabas) focuses on two sisters in their sixties who are reunited in one house during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) of 2020. Confined together because of the pandemic, the sisters confront an old issue that kept them apart for many years. Starring in the film are Elizabeth Oropesa, Daria Ramirez, Unica Yzabel, and Danni Ugali.

RETROSPECTIVE OF CINEMALAYA AWARD-WINNING FILMS
The award-winning films in previous editions of Cinemalaya will be show in the Retrospective, streaming on ktx.ph starting Aug. 6, 3 p.m. The ticket is priced at P150.

This Cinemalaya section features six short films – Tokwifi by Carla Pulido-Ocampo, Living Things by Martika Ramirez Escobar, Pabasa Kan Pasyon by Hubert Tibi, Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos by Joanna Vasquez Arong, Quing Lalam Ning Aldo by Reeden Fajardo, and Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss by Sonny Calvento.

Tokwifi narrates the story of a 1950s mestiza star who is trapped inside a television. A star falls from the sky and dreams up a romantic romp with a Bontok Igorot man who does not know how to kiss. The film won the 2020 Cinemalaya Best Film for its highly original take on love.

Living Things is about a woman who discovers that her lover has turned into a cardboard standee. Bagging the Best Director award, director Mr. Escobar comes out with a whimsical yet convincing tale of how two people in love confront the challenges of change.

Director Hubert Tibi won the Best Screenplay for his film Pabasa kan Pasyon, which follows a Bicolano family who turns to religion to make both ends meet. The short film has been screened in the Court Metrage section of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos, which received the Cinemalaya Special Jury Prize, has been making the rounds in various film festivals. It tells the story of the ravages of Typhoon Yolanda as seen through the eyes of a child.

The tale of a transgender sampaguita farmer who decides to renovate their neglected kitchen as soon as she hears that her son is going home won the hearts of the viewers, bagging the People’s Audience Choice Award for Quing Lalam Ning Aldo.

Completing the list is Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss, which is about a department store sales lady who unearths the ultimate secret to regularization. The fantasy comedy short film was the first Filipino short film to compete in the Sundance Film Festival.

ACCLAIMED ASIAN INDIES
AWARD-winning Asian indie films will be showcased in the Visions of Asia section of Cinemalaya. Tickets for Visions of Asia films are priced at P150.

Five films, all Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema or NETPAC awardees, will be shown. NETPAC is a worldwide organization managed by cinephiles who promote Asian cinema. Visions of Asia this year offers the following films: A Dark, Dark Man, Bandar Band, Jazz Kissa Basie: Swifty’s Ballad, Mosul My Home, Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space)

A Dark, Dark Man by Adilkhan Yerzhanov, one of Kazakhstan’s foremost filmmakers, is a drama about the investigation of a boy’s murder. After a phony suspect is “caught” by local police officers, things fall apart when a journalist comes to investigate and the detective on the case must conduct a real investigation for the first time in his career.

Bandar Band by Manijeh Hekmat has been shown in 20 film festivals around the world as part of the main competition or as a special screening. It won the NETPAC Prize in South Korea’s Ulju Mountain Film Festival in April 2021. In this drama, Iranian women singers are going to enter an unofficial competition in Tehran, journeying to the city from a southern province just when they have lost all they had in the flood. However, every road they take leads to a dead-end in a flood-stricken land.

Jazz Kissa Basie: Swifty’s Ballad by Tetsuya Hoshino is a candid documentary of Shoji Sugawara, whose lifelong pursuit to recreate the best audio sound imaginable has, for years, attracted audiophiles from Japan and around the world to his coffeehouse.

Mosul My Home by Adalet R. Garmiany, which won the NETPAC Jury Prize at the 43rd Moscow International Film Festival in April 2021, chronicles the journey into the peaceful, abundant and warm-hearted past of Mosul, now in ruins. This documentary journey is filled with love and compassion for its city, and is an eloquent manifestation of the power of art, memory and humanity.

Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) by Akshay Indikar tells the story of eight-year-old Dighu who is exploring his new internal and external environments after his mother and elder sister moved to his grandparents’ village on the Konkan coast following his father’s disappearance.

DOCUMENTARY SECTION
FIVE award-winning documentary films were selected by acclaimed film director and screenwriter Dr. Clodualdo “Doy” Del Mundo for Cinemalaya’s DOKYU section. Tickets to Cinemalaya Dokyu section are P150.

The films to be shown are: A House in Pieces by Jean Claire Dy and Manuel Domes about the destruction of Marawi; Yugto by Joanna Reyes, Cristy Linga and Ja Turla, a short documentary of the lives of Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic; Paraisong Bacao by Adrian N. Manaois, follows a 14-year-old Aeta who lives in a mountainous area that he considers paradise; Last Days At Sea by Venice Atienza, follows 12-year-old Reyboy who lives in an isolated fishing village in the south of the Philippines, but who has to leave for the city to study; Masterpiece by Januar Yap and Kristoffer Villarino, follows a parish priest in Bantayan Island who, inspired by the ceiling paintings of the old churches in Cebu and the Sistine Chapel, embarks on his own epic ceiling painting project.

For tickets, visit ktx.ph. Follow the official CCP and Cinemalaya social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on the Cinemalaya Film Festival screening schedules andother offerings. For more information, visit the CCP website (www.culturalcenter.gov.ph). — M.A.P. Soliman

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