Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Now Showing by Raya Martin
May 21, 2008, 8:25 pm
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Tomorrow May 22 at 14h00 on Théâtre Croisette (50 La Croisette) in Cannes is the premiere of a new film by a Filipino filmmaker for whom I’ve been both biggest critic and biggest fan. In a number of ways he and I grew up in cinema together (still growing) over the past several years, and so it is with a measure of pride that I look at what he has accomplished – regarding this acceptance, but even more so the maturity of the work – and with a measure of hope that I look forward to the future – for he is but 24 years of age this year, and there is much more cinema to come. A cinema that, I believe, is slowly helping to fulfill that which Avellana so desired, that: “On the screen, we’ll see the way we talk, the way we make love, the way we die.”

Advertisements / lino brocka

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s official website has just been launched, containing over twenty years of his writing for the Chicago Readers as well as updates on the publishing of his writing and events he is involved with. It includes a search function – important given how much material has been available – which I immediately put to good to use.

I found a piece, Film on Film: Documenting the Director published on May 4, 1990, about a series of documentaries on filmmakers that screened in the Chicago Film Center. One of the films discussed was the Christian Blackwood documentary Signed, Lino Brocka (which Jonathan graciously lent me after we met), a very interesting film featuring an extremely candid Brocka near the height of his international fame, yet still struggling to make the films he wants to in the Philippines.

It’s especially alarming to note that the only significant documentary that has been made on Brocka, the Philippines most well known filmmaker, was made by a foreigner.

The portion of the Rosenbaum article dealing with Signed, Lino Brocka below:

Signed, Lino Brocka (1987), the first film in the series, was made by Christian Blackwood, a German-born documentarist currently based in New York whose previous subjects have included Eartha Kitt, Zarah Leander (the German movie star of the 30s) and her contemporary fans, and the diverse and fascinating people in various motels, in Motel (1989), his latest feature. Brocka, who is the most talented and important director now working in the Philippines–and probably the most prolific, having directed more than 50 films in less than 20 years–specializes in low-budget melodramas, the most personal ones charged with social and political awareness. To date I’ve seen only a limited sample of his work, and this at film festivals, which are regrettably the main venue for his work in the U.S. so far–a common problem for even the best third world filmmakers, and I’m confident from the little I’ve seen that Brocka is one of the best. The raw emotional impact of his films makes them fully accessible, and I suspect that the absence of big budgets and white stars is the main reason Brocka lacks a bigger American audience.

Blackwood’s film focuses more on Brocka’s life than on his films, and considering the nature of Brocka’s career, this makes perfect sense. (This approach worked less well when I recently saw it applied to Raul Ruiz in a British TV documentary, because in that case the emphasis on how nice a guy Ruiz is didn’t leave much space for dealing with the more subversive aspects of his work.) The film opens with shots of Manila while we hear Brocka on the phone speaking in English to someone in France. Then he explains to Blackwood that he’s responding to a French survey about why he makes films, and he proceeds to read his reply–a lengthy statement that concludes “Film for me recaptures the spontaneous, pure, no-nonsensical relationship I had with the world as a child. That is why later, when I learned what was happening to my countrymen, I decided I also wanted to be part of those who tell the truth–I wanted to cry and I wanted to disturb. . . . Signed, Lino Brocka.”

We cut to Brocka directing a scene from a movie. We learn shortly that Brocka is making the film in exchange for the producer having paid his bail bond when Brocka was arrested in 1985 for his part as a negotiator in a transit strike. He goes on to describe his difficult childhood, his varied background (including work as a monk in a Hawaiian leper colony), his homosexuality (and the controversial impact of homosexual themes on a few of his films), the Philippines and its film industry, his unbridled hatred for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and his growing activism; and what impresses one the most through this extended and illustrated conversation with Blackwood are his courage, intelligence, and candor. When clips from his films are shown–apparently filmed directly off a screen or moviola–Brocka translates the dialogue, explains the plots, and offers self-critical comments to Blackwood while we see them. The film assumes as well as demonstrates a direct continuity between Brocka’s passion as a director and his passion as a human being, and while the results can’t completely take the place of seeing a Brocka film, they provide an absorbing and comprehensive introduction.


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