Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Intercultural dialogue: »Cultural Policy« Slovenian Style
April 25, 2008, 6:04 am
Filed under: festivals | Tags:

I received an e-mail with some distressing news recently from our friends in Slovenia, regarding the Ministry of Culture’s decision to completely cut all funding for their festival, Isola Cinema. The news became even more painful to take when after reading of the details leading up to the Ministry’s decision. I will post the letter below.

I had the pleasure of attending the festival last year and it is truly one of the most inspiring film festivals that I have been to: combining an atmosphere of warmth and community with a genuine and discerning love for cinema; something increasingly rare in the festival world these days. Every city should be so lucky to have a festival in its vein.

In support of Isola, and for the benefit of readers, I’ll post transcriptions of some Q&A sessions I recorded during Isola Cinema 2007 in the coming weeks. Discussions with Abderrahmane Sissako, Boris Lehman, Jacqueline Veuve, OM Productions, Nicholas Rey, as well as Slovenian filmmaker and festival co-founder Vlado Skafar’s introduction to his Silvan’s Sine School programme. For now, here is the letter:

Intercultural dialogue: »Cultural Policy« Slovenian Style

We would like to draw your attention to the last episode in what seems to be a systematic and persistent governmental policy of trying to root out film culture in Slovenia.

The proposal of the Slovenian Film Fund TO CUT ALL FUNDING for the Isola Cinema festival –with the argument that “its content is inappropriate for co-financing”– is not only a gross injustice, it is also an insult to film culture, to culture, to intercultural dialogue, as well as to the respect for the legal system of the EU presiding state.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Kino Otok/Isola Cinema is an annual international film festival, that in its four years of existence “has been building a formidable reputation”, as Kieron Corless wrote in Sight & Sound last year. He concluded his festival-report with calling Isola Cinema “a well nigh-perfect festival”.

All of the directors who have attended the festival have spoken fondly and enthusiastically of Isola Cinema. Everybody –to name just a few of them: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abderrahmane Sissako, Lav Diaz, Abolfazl Jalili, Mika Kaurismäki, Christopher Coppola, Shaji Karun, Pablo Trapero, Lisandro Alonso, Girish Kasaravalli, Peter Mettler, Roger Gnoam M’Bala, Valeska Grisebach— have expressed their sincere wish to return to the “Island of Cinema”. There is ample evidence to prove that the Isola Cinema festival has an impeccable reputation when it comes to both public appreciation and critical acclaim.

For the past four years the municipality of Izola and the Slovenian Film Fund have underlined the significance of this festival by financially supporting it.

On January 16th 2008 the acting director of the Slovenian Film Fund, Mr. Igor Prodnik, sent the festival a letter informing it about the results of its application for financial support for the 5th edition of Isola Cinema. The commission who assessed the festival’s application gave the project 99 out of 100 points. The commission concluded that “with the Isola Cinema festival the applicant has kept on demonstrating that it is a strong and on programme-quality-based festival-event, making it one of the important film events in Slovenia. In evidence of this we state the exceptional popularity of the festival with the film experts, as well as with the numerous foreign guests of the festival, and with the Slovene and foreign public, which responds to it with an ever-increasing interest. The commission unanimously proposes that the Isola Cinema festival should be supported as much as possible”.

Based on the commission’s report, the available funds and the order of precedence by which the application had been received Mr. Prodnik proposed to co-finance the 5th edition with an amount of 10.000 EUR.

Since this represented a cut of nearly 50% (in 2007, the Film Fund decided in the end October to support the festival –that took place in May-June earlier that year—with an amount of 19.800 EUR) the festival wrote a letter of protest within the procedurally approved term of three days, asking the commission to reconsider their decision.

We did not receive any reply to our letter of protest.

Instead another commission was appointed (this time presided by Mr. Jambrek, current head of the Programme Dept. of Slovenska kinoteka/Slovenian Cinematheque) who reassessed our application and came to an entirely different conclusion.

On April 8th, the –very same– acting director of the Slovenian Film Fund, Mr. Igor Prodnik, wrote the festival another letter with as heading: “This letter replaces the letter of January 16th 2008”. It informed us that the new score given by the new commission was considerably lower. Instead of 99, the new commission gave the same application a score of 74,34 on 100. The conclusion read: “The members of the commission have the opinion that despite its relative media recognition, the content of the project is inappropriate for co-financing”.

Cutting all national funding of Isola Cinema severely jeopardizes the future of one of the most important international film festivals in Slovenia.

Since Isola Cinema is a film festival that has “intercultural dialogue” on top of its agenda, we consider this decision to be an insult to the mere idea of intercultural dialogue. This is all the more painful, considering that 2008 is the “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue”, and considering that this is happening in the country currently presiding the European Union.

As the procedure described above illustrates (including –to call it euphemistically— “highly irregular” practices, such as changing a selection commission in mid-procedure; sending out two different commission-reports with very different results in response to the very same call; not responding for nearly 3 months to procedurally approved terms of protest), we also believe that this is an insult to the mere idea of legality. It is the exact opposite of transparency of cultural policy.

As with the previous letter by the Slovenian Film Fund, we have –of course– also this time immediately sent a letter of protest to Mr. Prodnik and CC-ed it to the Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti.

We sincerely hope the decision will be reconsidered. However, based on the way Isola Cinema has been treated in this procedure, it looks like a lot of pressure will be needed to be able to reverse that decision.

Therefore we would like to ask you to spread this information to the Minister of Culture of your country, or to everyone who –and every institution that– could possibly put pressure on those who could reverse that unfair decision:

Igor Prodnik
– – acting director of the Slovenian Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia & Director-General of the Directorate for Media at the Ministry of Culture
Dr. Vasko Simoniti – – Minister of Culture
Janez Janša – – Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia


Koen Van Daele
Director Isola Cinema
PS: we would appreciate if you could also CC any letters of protest to:


Isola Cinema has a special relationship with the Philippines, having had as guests in 2006 the trio of Lav Diaz (screened: Heremias, Hesus Rebolusyonaryo), Raya Martin (screened: A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, The Island at the End of the World), and Khavn De la Cruz (performing a live piano score for the screening of Indio, which brought some members of the audience to tears), and having screened last year Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro, and in 2005 Joyce Bernal’s Mr. Sauve (in a programme done in cooperation with Udine Far East Film Festival).


On this page are collected letters from the international film community regarding the situation.

Cinema du Reel 3: Interview with Lav Diaz
March 10, 2008, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Articles, festivals, interviews, philippine cinema | Tags: ,

This interview appears in French in the Cinema du Reel catalogue

The Agony and the Ecstasy:
Fragments of discussions with Lav Diaz on Death in the Land of Encantos
Part One: July 2007

Alexis Tioseco: One of the first films that you made was a documentary on street children. Though I haven’t seen the film, I remember well when you spoke to me about it in a conversation a few years ago. Recalling the work you told me, in a very emotional tone, that should you have the chance you would want to destroy it. You said that it was that film that first brought you to the United States, and that it was difficult to reconcile how you had benefited from the work with the fact that the lives of the subjects hadn’t improved. Now, with Death in the Land of Encantos, you are straddling the lines between documentary and fiction. You started out shooting documentary footage of the people of Bicol and their stories after the typhoon but decided to write a story around it. At what point did you decide to use fiction, and what made you decide to do this?

Are you weary of the ethical dimensions of making a documentary on such a tragedy, and feel it is only fiction that you can tell their stories? Do you still wish to destroy the early documentary on street children?

Lav Diaz: After reading a Philippine Daily Inquirer story about the aftermath of Reming (Durian is the international name), the strongest typhoon that ever hit the country in living memory, I decided to shoot some footage, not intently a full blown documentary; just record images of the tragedy, interview people, survivors, and give it to an NGO, the UN mission here, or any agency, foundation or institution that needed some footage. Maybe they can use it. I wanted to do something. I thought I could contribute with my camera. I was disturbed by the apathy of people outside Bicol. It was no big news to them even though they learned from the news about the tragedy. Ah, talaga, maraming patay. Maraming nalibing ng buhay. Grabe pala, ano (Oh, really, many people died. Many were buried alive. It’s terrible, no). Period. And they’d go back to the contemporary Pinoy inanities like what was happening with the national pastime Kris Aquino, [daughter of former president Cory Aquino and TV host of game shows] and her new husband and her pregnancy. I myself didn’t realize the magnitude of the calamity until I read some accounts.

And I am really attached to Bicol. The last shoot of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino was shot in Ligao and Guinobatan, Albay, and Rawis in Legazpi City in November of 2004. And a big part of Heremias, Book Two, about seventy five percent was shot there August to October in 2006. Some of the shooting sites and places where we stayed during the production were really ground zero during the typhoon; villages like Guinobatan, Daraga, Arimbay, Sto. Domingo, Padang, Pawa, Rawis, Cagsawa.

When I got there, it was hell. The smell of death was everywhere. All you could see was utter disarray, devastation, destruction, insanity, pain, sadness, unbearable suffering. Villages were gone, hundreds of people were buried alive, hundreds were missing. Pompeidom, worse than Mayon’s 1814 onslaught. It became a point and shoot exercise because everything was a part of the tragedy; it was just everywhere. You shoot in silence, trying to make sense out of the devastation. By then, a documentary was taking shape and initially, there was a subconscious thread that I was following, visiting the places where I shot the two films, and visiting friends. I was like… this was where we shot this scene, and we put the camera here. Now, the trees are gone, the road is now a river. The lead actor walked here, we followed him. The road is gone, it is now covered with sand and huge rocks, unbelievably huge rocks, some are bigger than nipa-huts [small homes constructed out of bamboo], and you wonder how the typhoon was able to carry them down. Many dramatic scenes happened in this house, now half of the house is gone; the owner says they almost drowned. I am reenacting the camera movement, imagining the characters are still there, and I am doing a take two or three of a certain scene. It was a very depressing exercise. I was thinking of doing juxtapositions—scenes from the two films and the remnant of the calamity in the locations where we shot them and of course, the whole tragedy as expressed by people we interviewed and those who got involved in the two productions. This became the initial mise en scene of the work, a shoot-edit exercise that’s taking place in my head.

Back to Manila after a week of shoot, I watched the footage. It was harrowing. I couldn’t sleep. I decided to take a different approach, a mixture of documentary and fiction. I already had a story in my head and wrote an outline. We contacted three theater actors, Roeder, Perry Dizon and Angeli Bayani; two local non-actors, the painter Dante Perez and Sophia Aves, played major roles. I just told them we’d do improvisation. I selected four people to work with me for the sound, design and stills. I was the cameraman. It was just a small unit. The first weeks, we used a tricycle [to get around] but eventually [we] got a cheap van. I was writing the script while we were shooting. I wrote the script at night, usually at dawn, and before breakfast, they were reading the scenes for the day. I chose the buried village of Padang as the central location of the story. We shot the film in six weeks within the months of December and January. I added more scenes this May, June and July in Pila, Laguna and Makati. I’ve been in the cutting room the last three months. The film could run seven to eight hours to nine hours. Initial reactions to the work? The Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam International Film Festival gave post production support. Toronto invited it with two scheduled showings; one will be an installation in an art gallery. Venice might get it, too. But I am not sure if I can do a final cut by August. Again, I am struggling and battling with its structure and content. It is becoming a fierce aesthetic battle because the story keeps evolving and, again, I am a slave to the discourse: theory versus common sense, intellectualizing versus being simply tactile, romanticizing versus just being honest about it The form is constantly changing that is why I couldn’t stop shooting, I couldn’t stop viewing and viewing and re-cutting the initial cut and I am dead tired, numbed and bored. I actually erased the whole first cut, a seven-hour version, in utter exasperation and anger and started from scratch again. But I am not complaining. The deed did me good. I was able to exorcise myself from being trapped in a post-pit of robotic editing.

Adding fiction became an imperative as I wanted greater discourse; the enigma of the majestic and imposing Mayon volcano, which was one of the major actors in Encantos by the way, offers a great metaphor for beauty, nostalgia, love of country, corruption, power, humility, death, destruction, redemption, truth, the thesis of suffering and pain as the greater truths of existence. The decision to include fiction is an aesthetic decision. And [it is] very personal, too. Even though I believe that a straight documentary would be very, very strong, my dread of doing it goes back to the documentary on street children and the still unfinished Sarungbanggi ni Alice (Night of Alice). Again, I felt like I was an intruder, a trespasser— an opportunist capitalizing on other peoples’ miseries. I didn’t want to go through that guilt trip again. Also, I wanted to experiment on form and have better control in the direction of its content. I wanted to balance it. Doing fiction puts you on so many levels—an observer, a critic, a philosopher, an empathic creator, a participant, the suffering poet, the man who loses everything. You are creating characters and their stories. Adding fiction somehow pushed my camera’s perspective in a different position. Shooting the documentary parts was like going to the battle zone. This was reality. No ifs and buts. You could be selective with your shots, with people whom you will speak with, but this was reality. You see things but then you wouldn’t know what’s going to hit you. The experience of immersion, or the pain of immersion, has the characteristic of the unknown. You have no control over it. At times it was so immediate and we could not control it. We’d be weeping in an instant. With fiction, there was some control. You write the treatment, the dialogue, have discourse with the actors, do rehearsals, chose the angles. You prepare. But during dramatizations, especially when the actors are truly immersed, then it would be a totally different dynamic. Just the same, you’d be weeping in an instant if a scene hits you.

Also, with fiction you destroy all the cushions of the man with an irresponsible camera that records, turns his back, goes home, edits the scoop and waits for the next calamity, for the next scoop, who treats recording miseries as just a job, because you are actively engaging with it.

The documentary on street children? Do I still wish to destroy it? No. I’ve come to terms with it albeit I’m still haunted by the memory of the street children that I interviewed. The year was 1992. Where are they now? It is now 2007. Did they survive at all? I cringe at the thought. You think of reality and it’s horrors. Hunger. If they are still alive. You think of questions: have they become criminals? The system is still so corrupt and feudal. You can still see hundreds of street children. Poverty is still the biggest issue in our country. Neglect is still a big issue. Irresponsibility remains a big issue. Apathy has gone to cancerous proportion. The sons of the motherland are still killing the sons of the motherland. The motherland is becoming a vast wasteland. The cross remains. The pinoy pathos is getting darker.

And I don’t know if that documentary is still extant. I haven’t heard or I haven’t seen the people who commissioned it.

Continue reading

Cinema du Reel 2: Presentations
March 7, 2008, 10:17 am
Filed under: festivals | Tags:

Update: The following special presentation schedule was released by the festival:

Friday 7
4pm Winter Soldier,
Winterfilm, 96’, 1972
Presentation : Nicole Brenez

8.30pm Lions love (…and lies),
Agnès Varda, 110’, 1969
Screening followed by a debate with Agnès Varda

Sunday 9
4pm One Step Away
Ed Pincus, 60’, 1967
Presentation : Ross McElwee

5.15pm Pictures from life’s other side
Jim McBride, 45’, 1971
Screening followed by a debate with Jim McBride and Bernard Eisenschitz
(The debate will take place in the forum at level -1)

8pm Portrait of Jason
Shirley Clarke, 99’, 1967
Presentation : Yann Lardeau

8.30pm Air dan Romi (Feuille sur un oreiller)
Garin Nugroho, 83’, 1998
Screening followed by a debate with Alexis A. Tioseco and Garin Nugroho

Monday 10
5pm Time of the Locust (13’,1966) and Last Summer won’t happen (63’,1968)
Peter Gessner,
Pacific Film Archive Copies
Presentation : Irina Leimbacher, Film Studies Department, Berkeley University

Rex Bloomstein, 98’, 2005
Screening followed by a debate with Marie-Pierre Duhamel Müller, _ Emmanuel Finkiel, Jean-Michel Frodon, Ariel Schweitzer, Annette Wierviorka

Wednesday 12
12pm The Axe in the Attic
Ed Pincus et Lucia Small, 110’, 2007
Screening followed by a debate with avec Lucia Small and Irina Leimbacher
(The debate will take place in the forum at level -1)

8pm The Last Communist
Amir Muhammad, 90’, 2006
Screening followed by a debate with Alexis A. Tioseco and Amir Muhammad

Friday 14
12pm Les prisons aussi
Hélène Châtelain, 92’, 1973
Presentation : Anne Toussaint – with de Helene Chatelain

10pm Café-ciné with Elisabeth Lequeret, Irina Leimbacher, Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller
Snax Cfé – Free entrance

Saturday 15
11.15am Addoc debate : “Le plan et sa durée, la séquence et son souffle” with Chantal Akerman, Lav Diaz, Claire Atherton, Daniel Deshays, _ Denis Gheerbrant – Free entrance

1pm Filmer en prison, le cadre en question : “Sirrh”, “fragments d’une rencontre” with Caroline Caccavale, Marc Mercier, Kamel Regaya, Anne Toussaint

5.30pm The Cool World
Shirley Clarke, 105’, 1963
Presentation : Frederick Wiseman

6pm Autohystoria
Raya Martin, 95’, 2007
Debate with Raya Martin and Alexis A. Tioseco

Sunday 16
12pm La via del petrolio
Presentation : Bernard Eisenschitz (to be confirmed)

7pm Zmatek
Evald Schorm (35’, 1968)
and Sprizneni Volbou
Karel Vachek (85’, 1968)
Presentation : Helena Zajicova

Monday 17
4.15 pm Voyager, visiter : émerveillements et frissons
Presentation : Serge Bromberg

4.30pm Collection des archives française du film du Centre National de la Cinématographie
Presentation : Beatrice de Pastre – Archives françaises du film

Tuesday 18
7.30pm King Kong
Peter Jackson, 180’, 2005
Debate with Cyril Neyrat, H.Aubron and Y.Lardeau


Also of Philippine interest, two screenings and an anecdote:
1) Burton Holmes in the Philippines
10’ c. 1913
From 1896 to 1946, the Philippines were under American rule.
Friday March 14th 1.45pm, Cinéma 1
2) Bontoc Eulogy
Marlon Fuentes, 57′ c. 1996
At the world faire in St Louis (Missouri) in 1904, Filipino “savages” exhibited as specimens.
Sunday March 9th 11.00am, Centre Wallonie Bruxelles
Thursday March 13th 1.45pm, Cinéma 2

Andecdote: Festival director Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller has in her possession an audio recording of an interview by Marco Muller with Lino Brocka– one of the first international interviews conducted with Lino. Must try to bring back a copy.

Cinema du Reel

Blogging from the Hong Kong airort, in transit to Paris.
I’ll be attending Cinema du Reel, a documentary-hybrid festival held in collaboration with Centre Pompidou. This year’s festival includes the section In Southeast Asia, featuring a tribute to Lav Diaz (screening two films for the first time in Paris), and focuses on Garin Nugroho, Amir Muhammad and Raya Martin. The schedule for films in this section is below:

-Friday 7th at 4.30 p.m. : “Lost”, “Friday”, “Kamunting”, “The Big Durian” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Friday 7th at 6.30 p.m. : “Dongeng Kancil tentang kernerdakaan”, “Layar
Sebuah trilogy politik”, “My Family, My Films, My Nation” by Garin Nugroho (Petite salle)
-Saturday 8 th : “18MP”, “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” by Amir Muhammad. (Petite salle)
-Sunday 9th at midday : “Mona”, “Pangyau”, “Checkpoint”, “Apa Khabar orang
kampong” by Amir Muhammad. (Cinéma 1)
-Sunday 9th at 8.30 p.m. : “Air dan Romi”, “Daun di atas bantal” by Garin Nugroho. (Cinéma 2)
-Monday 10th at midday : “Air and romi” and “Daun di atas bantal” by Garin Nugroho (Cinéma 1)
-Monday 10th at 2.30 p.m. : “Dongeng Kancil tentang kernerdakaan”, “Layar
Sebuah trilogy politik”, “My Family, My Film, My Nation” by Garin Nugroho (Cinéma 2)
-Wednesday 12th at 2.15 p.m : “Mona”, “Checkpoint”, “Apa khabar orang
kampong” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Wednesday 12th at 8 p.m : “18 MP”, “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Friday 14th at 6.30 p.m : “Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo” by Raya Martin (PS)
-Saturday 15th at 6 p.m : “Autohystoria” by Raya Martin (Petite salle)
-Saturday 15th at 8.30 p.m : “Lost”, “Friday”, “Kamunting”, “The Big
Durian by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Saturday 15th at 1 p.m : “Death in the Land of Encantos”by Lav Diaz (MK2)
-Sunday 16th at 4 p.m : “Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional” by Raya Martin
(Cinéma 2)
-Sunday 16th at 11 a.m : “Evolution of a Filipino Family” by Lav Diaz (MK2)

…and also screening in the International Competition is Tan Pin Pin’s Invisible City!

Raya, Garin, Lav and Amir will be in attendance (though Amir will arrive on the 11th, he needs to vote!). I will be introducing Raya’s films, and moderating a debate afterwards; the festival is still determining whether there will be debates after Lav Diaz’s and Garin’s screenings. If you’re in Paris, do come! If you know friends who are, do invite them!


From their website:

Since 1978, the Cinéma du Réel international documentary film festival has been an outstanding international meeting point, where the public and professionals discover the films of experienced authors as well as new talents, the history of documentary cinema as well as contemporary works. The festival programs some hundred films for its various sections, screened at the Centre Pompidou, the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, the MK2 Beaubourg film theatre, the Paris City Hall and several other theatres in the Ile-de- France area.

International Competition
28 French and international premieres, as well as encounters and discussions with the filmmakers.

French Selection
28 French and international premieres, as well as encounters and discussions with the filmmakers.

Retrospectives and Special Programmes

A selection of films where commitment and the driving forces of socio-political movements (against the Vietnam war, for Black empowerment or… for a different way of life) are translated into cinematographic vitality, narrative inventiveness, reinventions of documentary and fiction The programme includes tributes to Shirley Clarke and Jim McBride.

In South-East Asia
From Kuala Lumpur to Manila, from Bangkok to Jakarta, documentary films lend images and sounds to long-buried stories, as witnessed by the works of filmmakers such as Garin Nugroho, Amir Muhammad, Raya Martin. The programme includes a tribute to Lav Diaz, the great Filipino poet of cinema, whose powerful films blend documentary and fiction into a lyrical experience.

Images / Prison: visions from inside
In several European countries, film—especially the documentary—has become a focus for workshops on filmmaking, projections and writing, organised within penal institutions. Here we attempt to understand what they mobilise within their makers and the spectators who watch them on the “outside”.

Figures of tourism : for a history of the “view”
It is well known that one part of the world makes a spectacle of the other part, and this does not date from the advent of digitalisation or miniaturisation of “picture-taking”. From the beginnings of cinema to the present day, what is being played out is a history of the “never seen” and the “already seen”. Modern tourism, with its desire for “authenticity” and “discovery, is the central theme of many films bearing the impossible dreams of the “first times”. Filmmakers take possession of tourist images, re-examine and re-compose them. The tourist as a character and tourist images as material for critical analysis guide a programme that mingles documentary and fiction, past and present, films and videos by plastic artists… to call into question the contemporary “view”.
In partnership with MNAM (Collections Cinéma et Nouveaux Medias), and in association with MK2 Beaubourg and ACRIF.

The Theatre of Reality
La Tentation du Paradis
by Vivianne Perelmuter and François Christophe, with Bruno Putzulu.
The staging of a semi-improvised piece of theatre; the play writes itself in the moment : a lost tourist, images of islands, the ghost of Christopher Columbus, tropical storms…

Special screenings and events Bernardo Bertolucci’s “La Via del petrolio”, Hartmut Bitomsky’s “Staub” etc


Metro Manila Film Farce (2)
January 8, 2008, 1:33 am
Filed under: festivals, philippine cinema | Tags:

Related to the previous post:
The following year I wrote something about the Metro Manila Film Festival again, adding on the notes of the previous year, and submitted it to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (a newspaper I had previously contributed to while in college). The article was duly ignored, so I sent it instead to several mailing lists and posted it on my personal blog (link to blog post).

Raya Martin, then a film student at the University of the Philippines, joined the discussion with a short essay that I also posted on my blog (link to blog post)

We received a fair share of support for our views, though there were also a number of detractors. More than just an airing of opinion, these texts were written as provocations, as a way of getting people to think about and discuss the problems of the festival, and to see who believed them worth trying to rectify, and who didn’t (the discussions that ensued can be read in the comments section of both posts). One young writer who mocked our stance that year while writing in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, is now singing a different tune, writing for The Philippine Star.

Later that year the Metro Manila Development Authority, the festival’s organizing body, convened a group of people over a single day to discuss ways in which to improve the “Festival”. Attended mostly by the likes of people directly involved with the fest, Wilson Tieng (major local distributor and member of the Executive Committee of the Metro Manila Film Festival), Leo Martinez (Director-General of the Film Academy of the Philippines), members of the movie theaters association, as well as film directors Quark Henares and Gil Portes among others, the day appeared to be positive and progressive, with many in agreement on fundamental changes in the festival’s rules and policies. At the end of the day a number of points were raised were unanimously agreed upon (strictly one film per producer, films to be judged based on the finished product and not the script, and the possibility of allotting/allowing smaller theaters to screening independent work). Not one single one was implemented. Proving the day only to be an exercise; a show, in order to temporarily appease the disgruntled by insinuating that the organizers, too, wanted to change things for the better.

The following year things only got worse…

Metro Manila Film Farce (1)
January 8, 2008, 12:59 am
Filed under: festivals, philippine cinema | Tags:

Written in January 2004, for the now defunct

Reinvigorating Philippine Cinema:
The Possibilities of the Metro Manila Film Festival

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One “M” is better than two
From December 25 – January 7, cinemas in the Philippines are polluted by an event known as the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF for short). More than just a venue for less than stellar films, the “festival” is a den of corruption, with the rules, regulations, selection criteria, and awarding criteria, changing unannounced every year to suit whosoever is in the organizer’s favor.

An important aspect of the Metro Manila Film Festival is the fact that, for its duration, there is a nationwide blackout on foreign films. Handled properly, an event with a policy such as this could be a source of national pride– no country that I know does something as daring, let alone at this time of the year (though many have policies throughout the year regarding the percentage of local films that must be screened)– but given its current state, it is an extreme form of oppression.

Held at a time when audiences are most inclined and most free to watch films, it was initially conceptualized as a way to support producers in the Philippines for their efforts throughout the year and to gift audiences with a selection of films, regardless of genre, that we could be proud of.

I’ve written about the Metro Manila Film Festival several times in the past (I will post some of those old articles here in the coming days), but words (and a personal boycott) alone are not enough this time. Audiences must be given options.

Mogwai, a small arts cafe and digital cinema space in the Cubao X (formerly the Marikina Shoe Expo) will be utilizing its 2nd floor deco screening room to show a selection of recent Philippine cinema of my choosing, dubbed as the 1st Unofficial Mogwai Film Festival (MFF for short).

Some of the films to screen have been praised and shown around the world (the works of Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, John Torres), others are ones that deserve more attention locally than they have received thus far (Sa North Diversion Road by Dennis Marasigan, In Da Red Korner by Dado Lumibao, When Timawa Meets Delgado by Ray Gibraltar, the short films of Antoinette Jadaone, the first feature of Ato Bautista), and others still have been praised, but rarely considered (i.e. written about) in the manner they deserve (Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Huling Balyan ng Buhi, the short films of Roxlee, for which there is a dearth of critical literature available). Let this be an occasion not just for viewing cinema, but also for writing, blogging, debating, and arguing about it! That is, if we believe it matters.

Screening are free, donations are welcome, discussions will usually follow. The venue has a modest, comfortable capacity of about 35, so do come early. Hope to see you there.

1st Mogwai Film Festival
Screening schedule

December 28, Friday, 1pm: Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Lav Diaz)
December 29, Saturday, 1pm: Heremias, Unang Aklat: Ang Alamat ng Prinsesang Bayawak (Lav Diaz)
December 30, Sunday, 1pm: Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Lav Diaz)
January 2, Wednesday, 9pm: Otros Trilogy + Todo Todo Teros (John Torres)
January 3, Thursday, 9pm: Sa North Diversion Road (Dennis Marasigan)
January 4, Friday, 8pm & 9pm: Antoinette Jadaone shorts, Roxlee animated shorts
January 5, Saturday, 7pm & 9pm: In Da Red Korner (Dado Lumibao), When Timawa Meets Delgado (Ray Gibraltar)
January 6, Sunday, 1pm: Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Lav Diaz)
January 7, Monday, 9pm: Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula sa Kamulatan (Ato Bautista)
January 8, Tuesday, 9pm: Short Works + Huling Balyan ng Buhi (Sherad Anthony Sanchez)
January 9, Wednesday, 9pm & 10pm: Otros Trilogy + Todo Todo Teros (John Torres)
January 10, Thursday, 9pm: In Da Red Korner (Dado Lumibao)
January 11, Friday, 9pm: When Timawa Meets Delgado (Ray Gibraltar)
January 12, Saturday, 7pm & 9pm: Raya Martin Double Bill; Maicling pelicula nañg ysañg indio nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan), Autohystoria
January 13, Sunday: Discussion day

James Benning’s 13 Lakes, Landscapes, and a brief note on Mt.Mayon
December 6, 2007, 7:23 am
Filed under: festivals, interviews, notes, quotes | Tags: , , , , ,


Slovenian critic Nil Baskar begins his introductory essay on the films of James Benning for the catalog of the Ljubljana International Film Festival:

Fernand Léger, a versatile avant-gardist, once said that the essence of cinematographic revolution lies in “making visible, what used to be merely noticed”. At the same time, he forgot to ask what would happen when the “revolution of the visible” was completed – when the film had shown almost everything? When all the time everything can be seen, and nothing merely noticed? This is the question posed by the films by James Benning, another versatile avant-gardist.

The films also offer the possibility of an answer: they allow us to notice the most obvious again.

There is a beautiful level of contemplation achieved by landscape films when they are done right (that contemplation need not only be of serenity, but even violence, and naturally all that lies between). Benning’s magisterial 13 Lakes screened last month at the Ljubljana International Film Festival (aka LIFFe) as part of a small focus on his recent work. Benning was in attendance and I jotted down these notes during the Q&A that followed the screening.

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Philippine Cinema Lists
August 10, 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: festivals, philippine cinema

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.)

* Jo Atienza, come back, we need you

Cinemanila ’07, pre-fest dispatch
August 6, 2007, 10:18 pm
Filed under: festivals, philippine cinema

Cinemanila banner

Cinemanila begins it’s 9th edition this Wednesday in Gateway Mall in Cubao.
The schedule for the first week is up and online here.

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
(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)