Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Postcards from the Cinema, Serge Daney
September 30, 2007, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Philippine Chronicle

(Pages 50-51, Postcards from the Cinema, by Serge Daney)

Serge Toubiana: What sort of alliances or friendships did that motivate you to have during your school days?

Serge Daney: Those are effectively the right words: “alliance”, “friendship”. I never imagined that I could have any other sort of relationship with people other than one based on friendship. Friendship– the idea, or categorical imperative, of friendship– covered everything, including sex. But it’s stronger than me: even when in Harrar, the city of Rimbaud, I meet little Abddullahi, a 15-yeara old boy, who is as clever as a monkey, I consider him to be a friend as well, that is to say, an equal. Otherwise, it’s simply prostitution. But again, when I see another boy, in Manila, a young prostitute named Dany with a tattoo on his right buttock, put his clothes back on and put my money in his underwear, I feel a sense of equality, of empathy which paves the way. I’m capable of criminal indifference, but not sneering cynicism.

I remember my first day at school– elementary school because I didn’t go to nursery school– and the way that I became friends with another boy my age named Michel. It was already the question of the day: Who’s to be a friend? Who’s to be an enemy? A child’s wisdom is extraordinary. He knows that he’s not going to be one of the loudmouths that dominate the playground, that he doesn’t want to mess with those guys, and that he has to ignore the bullies in order to have sublime friendships. Definitely a defensive attitude.

Michel and I went every year to La Foire du Trone. It was a true event. We rode the bumper cars and our pleasure mainly consisted of not being bumped into! I was thinking about this period and I thought that perhaps I was completely in love only once in my life, and it was with Michel: we were about 7 or 8 years old. I would go play at his house on rue Keller, and would play the most miserable games without toys, just codes that we made up. I never again had that feeling of time stopping, of a remaining abundance: there’s just one person there who fulfills all possible roles and horizons. As they in the cantata: Ich habe genung, which means I have enough.

That was the absolute alliance, absolute security, due to the fact that we were two, united like the two halves of an hourglass. Obviously there was always this of genug in my later alliances, even and especially with Cahiers du cinĂ©ma, with some nevertheless very mitigated results. There is always this child’s gaze at his peers on the playground: who will I be a friend with this year?

(This is the second in an ongoing series of posts that will chronicle, as objectively as possible, curious references to Filipinos or the Philippines in internationally produced art or writing. The reason for doing this, I am of yet unaware. But there is an impulse. They are filed under the category Philippine Chronicle.)

King of New York (Chaplin, 1957)
September 30, 2007, 2:39 pm
Filed under: Philippine Chronicle

Last night I watched Charlie Chaplin’s King of New York (1957):

Incidentally, a few weeks ago filmmaker and production designer Cesar Hernando sent me a filmography of Filipino genre film director Richard Abelardo. The filmography mentioned not only the Filipino films he directed, but also the ones he did Visual Effects for and the ones worked on in Hollywood as Scenic Artist; including one film by Charlie Chaplin:

Footlight Parade (1933)
Only Yesterday (1933)
Cat and the Fiddle (1934)
Modern Times (1936)

(This is the first in an ongoing series of posts that will chronicle, as objectively as possible, curious references to Filipinos or the Philippines in internationally produced art or writing. The reason for doing this, I am of yet unaware. But there is an impulse. They are filed under the category Philippine Chronicle.)

Funding World Cinema…Culture?
September 25, 2007, 8:45 pm
Filed under: philippine cinema, propositions

Any filmmaker worth his salt will tell you that the audience that means the most to him are those whose feet tread the same soil.

Continuing the train of thought set out by the previous post…

There are a number of European Film Festivals that provide funding for films coming from “Developing Countries” (sorry Singapore!): Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund (annual budget: 1.2M Euro), Goteborg Film Fund (budged not listed on website), Berlin’s World Cinema Fund (500,000 Euro), and (for documentary projects) International Documentary Festival Amsterdam’s Jan Vrijman Fund (360,000 Euro) to name but a few examples.

For the sake of discussion, let’s limit ourselves to the Hubert Bals Fund– as they appear to be the largest funding agency, and films from the Philippines– as it is where I reside:

Projects supported in the 90’s, but never completed:
Miserere Nobis, Lino Brock, 1991 (of course, Lino passed away, a fair reason)
Makapili, Raymond Red, 1993
Senor Pertierra’s Dream Machine, Nick Deocampo, 1994
The Birth of an Island, Grace Ambilangsa, 1997

Projects hat have received grants recently but remain to finished:
Moro2Moro Maharlika 2Moro, John Torres
Years When I was Father’s Child Outside, John Torres
EDSA XXX, Khavn De la Cruz
Mondomanila: How I Fixed My Hair After a Really long Journey, Khavn De la Cruz
Now Showing (former tite: Glint of an Alley in a Rush), Raya Martin

Supported projects that have been finished:
The Family That Eats Soil, Khavn De la Cruz, 2004
A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, Raya Martin, 2005
Heremias, Book One, Lav Diaz, 2006
Balikbayan Box, Ramon Mes De Guzman
Death in the Land of Encantos, Lav Diaz, 2007

One must be extremely grateful that these institutions exist, most especially given the chances that they take with the films they fund. Gertjan Zuilhof, a member of the Hubert Bals Fund team (herein referred to as HBF), says that part of the reason for a fund such as this, is to provide preliminary funding for audacious films that otherwise may not get made. That is the risk, he concedes, and therefore it is only naturally that some of the films that they support will not get made.

To prove the chances that they take you need only look at the honor roll of projects by Filipino filmmakers from the 90’s that received grants but were never completed.

It is wonderful that there is support for these films and projects, but there are questions that linger: what happens once the films are finished their tours of festivals? How are they received at home, by local audiences?

While more than likely none of the completed films would turn in earth-shattering numbers at the box office in the Philippines, they certainly all deserve a larger audience than they’ve received thus far, and certainly a healthier level of discourse, that is, if there has been any form of discourse at all. To give an example: There have been more shallow articles have been written about Lav Diaz as a personality in Philippine magazines and newspapers than there have been screenings of his trilogy– Batang West Side, Evolution of a Filipino Family, and Heremias, Book One— and this includes screenings of the film that have happened in Universities and Cafes.

As it stands, these grant-giving bodies are funding sophisticated cinema from developing countries (a noble act), but without encouraging the development of an audience for them in these countries.

Herein do we suggest an idea:

Could not, say, a modest portion of 5% of the (roughly) 1.2 Million Euro that the HBF distributes annually go toward support for the enrichment of film culture in the countries whose cinema they support? That 5% portion (in effect, 60,000 Euros), put towards various film journals or workshops for young and aspiring critics, would certainly go a long, long way toward improving (or in some countries establishing) a film culture.

If the concern of the HBF, as per their mandate, is to provide support for the artist, to encourage a more vibrant film culture in the filmmakers country of origin is not exactly out of place (HBF does for example provide up to 15,000 Euros for distribution of the film in its country of origin), in fact, it would seem like the next logical step in the process. There are few greater forms of support a filmmaker can receive than to be appreciated and respected in the place where he works.

Documenta 12 and Southeast Asia
September 25, 2007, 11:15 am
Filed under: magazines, quotes | Tags:

“The documenta is regarded as the most important exhibition of contemporary art, drawing attention from all over the world. It was initiated in 1955 by the artist and art educator, Arnold Bode, in Kassel. After the period of Nazi dictatorship, it was intended to reconcile German public life with international modernity and also confront it with its own failed Enlightenment.” (link)

The 12th edition of the infamous Documenta Exhibition was staged this year, and one significant part of it was a magazine exhibition:

“Nearly 100 publications with different formats, different orientations and focuses from around the world were invited to think together about the motifs and themes of documenta 12. This process has generated over 300 articles, essays, interviews, commentaries and illustrated essays.” (link)

Sounds enticingly interesting, I imagine what that process yielded must be a joy to read (Documenta produces a handsome publication at the end of their exhibition, often available in Manila, at a handsome price, at Fully Booked Bookstores). Though it turns out the proceedings did raise eyebrows with the cost of putting the exhibition together, and what the struggling Magazines themselves got out of participating, being put to question.

An interesting article brings to light some issues that came up in discussions between Editors of Southeast Asian Arts publications, small publications that, generally, just scrape by. An excerpt from the article by Kean Wong:

“And then there is the faint whiff of a neo-colonial gesture in play, where these publications of Documenta12’s defined ‘peripheries’ are feeding a much richer metropole of the magazines project’s headquarters in Vienna, feeding it with ideas, text and images mostly for free, and transferring even more of such ‘wealth’ towards an exhibition budgetted at EUR19 million planned over five years?

Would a redistribution of priorities and funds produce a better outcome for struggling Asian (or Latin American, or African, etc) publications, where savings made from fewer international conferences of editorial elites are instead spent sponsoring, say, several editions of Indonesia’s KUNCI [4] or Malaysia’s SentAp! [5] journals? Such sustenance would in turn help develop some critical mass for arts activism and seed more cultural debates, agreed the usually polite editor of SentAp!, Nur Hanim Khairuddin. And it would certainly have helped save the superb South-east Asian arts journal based in Singapore, FOCAS, from closing prematurely – ironically, the last issue of FOCAS was launched on the eve of the week-long ‘Asia Speaking Up!’ meetings mentioned above.

Even as most of these Asian publications struggle to survive – like SentAp!, going from edition to edition in a daze of unpaid articles and frantic fund-raising while avoiding too many compromises with both commercial market and government demands – the space for the free and open discussion about art, society and pointed debates about state-sponsored utopias continues to shrink as media and consumption habits change.” (link)

Fine Writing
September 17, 2007, 2:22 am
Filed under: philippine cinema

Dear humble readers (all few of you),

The more film criticism I read, the more I wonder about the history of film criticism in the Philippines. While several attempts at producing serious cinema publications have been made, none have lasted very long. It is safe to say that ours is not a culture that encourages polemics (click here for evidence).

That said, I’m curious as to what fine writing on cinema does exist in the Philippines, and for this, I solicit your assistance to answer the following question:

What are some fine individual examples of Filipino film criticism?
Are there any particularly memorable pieces of criticism from, say, Hammy Sotto, Constantino Tejero, Gino Dormiendo, or Lito Zulueta, Nick Deocampo, Noel Vera?

It can be written in English or Filipino, be recent or old (old might even be preferred), but it must be a single article written by a Filipino about a Filipino film. Post your answer(s) and explain your choice(s) in the comments section of this blog. Feel free to post or link said piece of criticism should you be able to.

Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things, Vol.1
September 15, 2007, 4:01 pm
Filed under: Updates

Since the last update, Tarantino has come and gone (and is apparently a big fan of Quark Henares’ Keka), Raya Martin’s Autohystoria took the Grand Prize in Cinemanila’s Digitak Lokal competition with John Torres’ Voices… receiving the Jury Prize, Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos received a Special Mention in the Orizzonti Documentary section of the Venice Film Festival, and the local Urian awards given out (list of winners and comments on that follow), and I’ve been on all-too-brief trips to Singapore and Bangkok. Ah, so much to discuss!

But also so busy.

So in lieu of a proper update allow me to plug a book compiled and published by Malaysian writer and filmmaker Amir Muhammad (blog link on the left) that I had the pleasure of picking up: Malaysian Politians Say the Darndest Things. An brief interview with Amir about the book can be found here. And the book itself may be purchased online here.

To quote Malaysian Politicians… (a book of quotes whose introduction begins with a quote about quotes):

“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”
– Winston Churchill, as quoted by K. Das