Cinemanila is under way. Raya’s already posted pictures from opening night at Cinematografica, as well as a brief item about Tran Anh Hung shooting part of the French-Produced “I Come with the Rain” starring Josh Hartnett in these parts.
Noel Vera and I were asked to contribute two Philippine Cinema centered lists to Cinemanila this year– 9 Best Filipino Films Shot on Digital Since ’99 and 9 Best Filipino Films shot on 35mm Since ’99. The idea was that Noel, another participant and my list would be tallied to create a master list and the films that rated highest would be screened in this years festival. I’m not sure if this will be pushing through this year however– perhaps they believe 10-best for Cinemanila’s 10th Anniversary next sounds better.
On the topic of lists, Noel Vera has laid down the gauntlet, drafting a much more ambitious one: a list of the 100 Best Filipino Films he has seen. There’s always a level of chutzpah involved in making a list such as this, and for the sake of argument and discourse it’s probably best to stick to an audacious title such as 100 Best Filipino Films instead of My 100 Favourite or the 100 Best I’ve Seen. But these are things any list-maker from the Philippines is forced to consider, simply because we don’t have access to a lot of our cinema history anymore:
My list, my biases, at least one of which I’ll freely admit to right now: the deplorable lack of titles from earlier decades, especially pre-war. As I’d noted in an old article, the Philippines is suffering from a kind of cinematic Alzheimer’s, with thousands of old prints already rotted into vinegar (or worse, turned into cheap plastic New Years’ trumpets), and more well on the way.
The issue needs to be addressed, and I for one hope that the Philippine government–flush with cash, or so all the latest economic news tell us–will actually spend some of the taxes they’ve squeezed from Filipinos in general (and the Filipino film industry in particular) to at least try save some of those prints.
I highly recommend checking out Noel’s list, and more importantly, seeking out the films on his list.
The idea in his introduction that writing about older Philippine cinema almost essentially becomes a desperate plea to save rotting films, reminded me of something I wrote for another list…
Noel and I were also both asked to contribute to a list of 75 Hidden Gems for the August Issue of the UK film magazine Sight and Sound. While the cover subtitle The Great Films That Time Forgot isn’t entirely accurate (some films weren’t particularly praised when they were released and thus overlooked from the start, and others are but only a few years old), the list itself, which has been posted by someone online here, is quite useful and interesting, as the editors made a strong effort to include critics from all around the world. We were asked to nominate and write about a single film that we felt was forgotten or overlooked. Only my piece on The Moises Padilla Story appears in the magazine (thankfully Noel had written about Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos one of the other unprinted titles I was attempting to nominate), though, like any good opportunist (and lover of Philippine cinema with a good conscience), I tried to smuggle in notes on three Filipino films instead of one, writing in my introduction (that went unpublished)…
Any attempt to write about a forgotten or overlooked film from the Philippines inevitably results in an act of activism: you are compelled, among the lexicon of great films produced in a near century of the country’s cinema, to choose important works that still have surviving prints in salvageable conditions. (And sometimes you even push the limits and mention three films instead of one, out of desperation, and hope that your notes still get printed.)
For better or worse, despite its hardships and organizational troubles, Cinemanila is without doubt the most important film festival in the Philippines. It’s the only one, in a pirated DVD-haven country with no Cinematheque to speak of, that cares to bring in quality international cinema in 35mm prints. It’s the festival that I grew up in as a film viewer.
Most of the buzz among the cinephile community this year is about the imminent arrival of the famous former video store clerk (or is he here already?). While it is exciting, it certainly needs no additional push here, so we turn our gaze in other directions related to the festival:
The Digital Lokal Competition is only five films deep this year, but promises to be interesting. Here’s the line-up:
1. Ala Muerte Ala Swerte by Briccio Santos
2. Autohystoria by Raya Martin
3. Juan Baybayin by Roxlee
4. Pain Things by John Red
5. Voices, Tilted Screens and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition by John Torres
All five will be Philippine Premieres. The only one I’ve seen is Raya’s Autohystoria (whose title is an invented composite of the words automatic, history and hysteria), which I think just might be better than his first-feature Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional). It feels like a sin to say it, considering the majestically beautiful 35mm black and white images of Indio Nacional, and the fact that Autohystoria was shot in 2-days with no budget on 24p digital, but so it is. American critic Robert Koehler saw it Buenos Aires, and certainly likes it. John Torres appears up to his old tricks, and will surely to put together something intriguing out of disparate footage, however much he is rushing to meet the festival deadline. Roxlee’s film I know absolutely nothing about; but he’s always worth watching, even when not brilliant. And it will be interesting to see what Briccio and Jon Red come up with…
(Love Conquers All, by Tan Chui Mui)
Other titles screening in the first-week that I’ve seen and would say are worth checking out:
– Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-Soo, Korea)
– Love Conquers All (Tan Chui Mui, Malaysia)
– Leaf on a Pillow (Garin Nugroho, Indonesia)
– Love for Share (Nia Dinata, Indonesia)
– Village People Radio Show (Amir Muhammad, Malaysia)
– Ploy (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)
– The Arsonist (U-Wei Bin Haji Saari, Malaysia)
– Paris Je T’aime (Various, France) *at least a few of the films in the omnibus
I haven’t seen but am particularly looking forward to, that appear on the first week’s schedule:
– Control (Anton Corbjin, UK)
– Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, Iran/France)
– 2 Days in Paris (Julie Delpy, USA/France)
– Muhksin (Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia)
– The Unseeable (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand)
– Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
as well as this little event on Friday:
1:00PM – 4:00PM | Grindhouse Day
(with Mr. Eddie Romero and Mr. Cirio Santiago)
Sans Soleil: The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.