Cinemalaya marks a decade of funding new independent films this year. Once again, the festival has produced fifteen new features. But for the first part of our coverage, we’re going to take a closer look at the shorts. These two programs, Shorts A and B, don’t really get the fanfare they deserve. They often serve as a good indication of the directors we might be seeing in a few year’s time.
Shorts A starts strong with Sari Estrada's charmingly odd Nasaan si Lolo Me. It tells the story of a mother who, instead of telling her young son that his grandfather has died, brings home a goat and presents it as his magically transformed grandfather. The film gets a lot of comic mileage just out of the image of a goat hanging around a house. But it actually finds a really weird emotional depth through an entire family accepting this but of strangeness as the new status quo.
J.E. Tiglao's Mga Ligaw na Paruparo opens with a husband and wife flirting openly in the kitchen as their day starts. The husband reads a text message on the wife's phone, and comes to suspect that she's having an affair. The movie certainly doesn't lack for drama, and for the most, it handles all of it with aplomb. It's just that the story doesn't really go anywhere, and it kind of ends on a joke that undermines the overall effect.
Even Villarba's Padulong sa Pinuy-anan follows an American left penniless and stranded in the Philippines after falling for an Internet scam. He's befriended by a little kid, who slowly but surely shows him to trust again. This is as treacly as it sounds, and while it's not bad, it ends up feeling so broad that its worthy emotional content doesn't quite land.
It's rare for Cinemalaya to venture in more conceptual waters, so David Corpuz's The Ordinary Things We Do was kind of a surprise. It features a frame of a couple on their wedding, holding a pose in front of the altar. On either side of that frame are two other scenes, each one depicting a same sex couple on the same set, in full wedding gear as well. While the middle couple remains static, the two others have the couples slowly taking apart the scene, stripping away all the wedding pretense. I don't think it's a particularly artful way to convey this message, but it makes for a striking image all the same.
The program ends with Ralph Quijano's Tiya Bening, which mainly depicts one young woman's experience of taking care of a senile relative. It's all clearly drawn from personal experience, and this results in some really raw, powerful imagery. But it does feel more like a rough sketch than a complete piece.
Shorts B opens with Thop Nazareno's Eyeball, which mostly involves a young man (played by Nico Antonio) bragging to a stranger about his ability to bed women he meets on the Internet. While competently done, it is the most schematic of the five shorts in the program, its cautionary trajectory never really in doubt. Strong performances from Nico Antonio and Alcris Galura help make it go down easy, though.
More interesting is Chloe Veloso's Ina-Tay, which basically runs through a telenovela season's worth of plotlines in about ten minutes. There's nothing particularly novel about this Cebuano film's tale of a relationship between a gay child and his gay father, but it possesses a frantic energy and a manic sense of humor that makes everything feel fresh.
Joris Fernandez's Indayog ng Nayatamak is fascinating in theory, the film depicting an artist's mental anguish as a ballet performed by him and his subject, who emerges from the painting he's working on. The concept is solid, and the digital effects employed are pretty impressive. But the movie falters in how it shoots the dancing. Dance tends to be best captured with a flowing, moving camera, and the film's static frames and jumpy editing don't quite capture the grace of the performance. Still, it's always exciting to see a short that tries something beyond the scope of typical narrative filmmaking.
Kevin Ang's Lola is likely best without any prior information, so I suggest avoiding any synopsis of the short. Suffice it to say that it's quite entertaining, even though it cheats a bit in the end by glossing over the practical details of the scene. There is a lot of skill on display in this short, the kind of talent that overcomes the limitations of small-scale production. This is a real crowd-pleaser, the film featuring perhaps the compelling opening of all the shorts.
Lastly Paolo O'Hara's Nakabibinging Kadiliman shines as it depicts the everyday routine of two sisters; one blind, the other deaf. The short doesn't quite earn its ending, which seems to grab desperately for drama that isn't quite there yet, but the rest of it is rather skillfully done. There’s something really affecting in the way the film portrays the breakdown of the easy equilibrium that exists between the sisters. It’s affecting enough that additional external tragedy seems unnecessary.
Of the two programs, Shorts B is a little more consistent all the way through. But Shorts A features my one favorite short this year, Nasaan si Lolo Me. Either way, people should be probably be paying more attention to these short films. It’s as good a peek as you’re going to get of the future of our cinema.
'Cinemalaya X' runs until 10, 2014 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (main venue) and at satellite venues in Greenbelt Makati, Alabang Town Center, TriNoma, and Fairview Terraces. For the complete movie listing, ticket prices, and screening schedules, click here.
For more information, visit www.cinemalaya.org, www.culturalcenter.gov.ph and the cinemalaya facebook page or CCP Film Office at telephone number (63 2) 832-1125 local 1704-1705 and the CCP box office at (63 2) 832-3704.