It was best to talk about the films after the dust has settled and while the excitement remains fresh.
CINEMALAYA 12 was tagged as "Breaking the Surface". In so many ways, for the past dozen years since its inception, the Philippine Independent Film Festival has spearheaded numerous trends and unraveled some of the most prominent names in Philippine cinema today --- whether determinedly independent or eventually mainstream.
Despite the abundance of "independent film festivals" mounted each year, CINEMALAYA has kept its trademark while complementing the other pursuits to give a chance to the new voices of cinematic arts to find their way into popular consciousness if not attention. The point is that indie film festivals were never meant to compete with one another --- regardless of their intentions or thrust. These are all valid opportunities for young and old filmmakers to find an alternative avenue to create the films that they have always wanted or dreamed of putting together without the demands of commercialism looming like swords over their harassed heads.
Independent film festivals must be venues for celebration --- for they emphasize the freedom of collaborative artists weaving their imaginations together to make more than just movies --- but films. Along that line, CINEMALAYA (through its various ups and downs, victories and intrigues, praises and criticisms) survived its first twelve years with many reasons to be proud.
For it was through CINEMALAYA that filmmakers like Jerrold Tarog, Cris Martinez, Lawrence Fajardo, Derrick Cabrido, Eduardo Roy Jr., Jason Paul Laxamana, Gino Santos, Dan Villegas and so many others found their venue to show to the Pinoy audience the stuff that they were capable of making as well as the stuff that they were made of.
This year's crop did not fail to offer its share of surprises as well. The surprises are both bad and good --- but then there is no such thing as a perfect program wherein all the major entries are masterpieces with hairline differences in the quality of aesthetics. If there was one thing learned by the organizers (and screening committee ) of the festival is that so much relies on the sophistication, expertise and command of the film director in bringing to life beautifully crafted screenplays.
After all, there is a major difference between reading a terrific script from seeing it translated to lights and sounds, dialogue and music from the gestation of principal photography through the rigorous and extremely critical process called post-production.
A beautifully written script is unlike literature: it is not the ultimate end product but only a means to turn the printed words into images as well as sounds.
From these pages, the director transforms them into something tangible and malleable. From his resources, the director uses technology to recreate his interpretation of life in whatever fashion he so deemed. His discretion in using what is available to him also reveals his maturity and focus on the theme that he wants to convey to his audience.
Indeed, ff ever there was any lesson learned in this year's festival, then it is the significance of the director --- his command and knowledge of what to do with the material --- and how to tell a story by turning it exclusively into his own vision.
A beautiful script cannot and can never guarantee the delivery of a beautiful movie ... if its director does not have a complete and solid vision of not only how he wants to tell his story but why this movie is being done in the first place. More important than anything else is --- what does the filmmaker want to say? It is never about fancy style, motion-sickness inducing camera work or anakanamtupang CGI ... but about the very reason for the existence of the film.
It should never be about the ego of the filmmaker as well for when that gets on the way ... you get nothing but splendid nothingness passing as film.
This was why two of the best films in CINEMALAYA 2016 showcased the craftsmanship and complete control of its filmmakers. These works showed very definite vision.
Yes, Eduardo Roy's PAMILYA ORDINARYO follows the now decipherable aesthetics of found stories, reminiscent of the works of the contemporary masters like Brilliante Mendoza or even Jeffrey Jeturian in his exploration in Kubrador. It is all about mis en scene, the truth in characters --- not much in the convolutions of plot or the irritation of having a moral lesson or a hugot line hitting you right across the face. Roy's PAMILYA ORDINARYO is about the ignored, the neglected and the people we deliberately refuse to look at when we walk down the streets of Manila --- out of fear or out of conscience realizing that there are such people who co-exist with us.
But the rawness is the beauty in Roy's best work to date --- diminished of the sensationalism of subject as that found in his Quick Change. Instead, this is a film so real and true that the process of watching the lives of Aries and Jane, homeless and sleeping/fornicating on laid-out cardboard sheets on the sidewalks, is pain going beyond pity but more of anger and revulsion as to why such things are allowed to happen to children who end up being parents even before they realize the consequence of their actions.
Then of course there are the sterling performances of Ronwaldo Martin and Hasime Killip who did not merely act out the Ordinaryos but actually became Aries and Jane. On the big screen they are recognizable, familiar and even terrifying. These are the street kids who roam around the streets of Manila ... even the sidewalks and side streets around Tomas Morato in Quezon City or any god-forsaken nook and cranny of the city. There was such authenticity in their acting that they were no longer acting.
Watching the young Martin reminded so much of how his older brother Coco started out by portraying raw and real characters in the Brilliante Mendoza movies (Tirador, Serbis, Masahista) thereby giving him the edge of the mere matinee idols. And discovering an actress like Killip creates such a wave of excitement like the eureka moment when indie film makers and audiences found Teri Malvar.
But with the case of finding an actress like Hasmine Killip who apparently has had no acting experience aside from a short film which became her ticket to the auditions, there is both delight and regret. There is joy is bringing to the audience this brand new talent whose true beauty is in what she can give in the challenge of roles rather than how pretty she could possibly become in the hands of a stylist. Yet there is also sadness for Killip has settled down in Britain with her husband ... and it would take some time for the cineastes to see her again on the big screen. We could have had another name to add to the roster that includes fascinating Filipina actresses who may not grace the covers of best selling glossies on local newsstands but command respect from the international scene. These are Angeli Bayani , Mercedes Cabral and the mother lodes of respected Pinay actresses to date --- La Aunor and Jaclyn Jose.
Then there is the other film that also showed the command of the director in shaping and visualizing the material he has chosen to work on. Derick Cabrido's TUOS was the most successful of all the experiments in the festival this year. The use of mixed media ... as well as the diversity of tacking an ethnic subject matter after a trio of films that dealt with social issues like Cuchera, Nuwebe or the scathing Children's Show. Cabrido is determined not to repeat himself by exploring a wealth of possible topics --- thereby creating the lyrical and heartbreaking film about the death of tradition.
If PAMILYA ORDINARYO wowed the audiences with its grit and the stunning talent of its new actors, TUOS celebrated the priceless artistry of its lead actress, Nora Aunor. Well, that was a given. That was expected. The film merely affirmed her iconic if not legendary stature in Philippine movies and popular culture. But as important is to give notice to one of the most underrated actresses in the country today: Barbie Forteza.
For any young actress to hold her ground with THE Nora Aunor, that must be considered an Olympian feat. Forteza already won praise from CINEMALAYA in Milo Sogueco's MARIKINA and it is only all too sad that she has not been given roles that could further hone if not show to the public the caliber of talent she possesses. Yes, telenovela roles can yield so much popularity and name-recall but in an industry where durability can only be ascertained by credibility, there should be that moment when you are able to prove the fans that you are not just another cute face who can cry at the drop of a hankie. And Barbie is definitely far above that level of pagpapakyut as a career.
CINEMALAYA 2016 must also be remembered for other rediscoveries.
Despite the mixed reviews of KUSINA, one consensus was beyond argumentation. Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo IS Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo and nobody in her generation can match that. If Aunor reaffirmed her stature of the actress as artist, Santos-Agoncillo returns to acting in a very brave and experimental film that may have failed in so many aspects but showed the triumph of what first class acting is all about. For an actress to literally carry an entire movie on her shoulder and kawali, Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo is all that this movie was all about. She has gone beyond the accolades of a screaming and steady fan base and is well on her way to etch her name as ACTRESS over and above multi-media celebrity.
The same goes for the rediscovery of Jun Urbano and Leo Rialp in HIBLANG ABO . Known as directors for the stage and commercials, Urbano and Rialp joined Lou Veloso and Fernando Josef in the film version of Rene Villanueva's popular play launched in Gantimpala Theater almost a quarter of a century ago. Whereas Urbano, son of the National Artist for Cinema named Manuel Conde, is best remembered as the comedian Mr. Shooli (with his sidekick Kohol), Direk Jun does a complete turnaround as a dramatic actor together with Direk Leo Rialp as the dominant and damaged geriatric labor leader. To see these icons of directing appear on the big screen as actors grappling with the pains of loneliness and old age --- makes this year's Cinemalaya is feature films worth the wait of two years.
The next batch of CINEMALAYA's finalists was announced during the Awards Night held last 14 August. There are the familiar names ( Laban, Dulay, de Guzman as well as Roy again) as well as the new ones (Escano, Calvento, Pecadizo, Nazareno). There are talks about another big star doing her debut in independent filmmaking ... and the excitement of all these new voices and visionaries ready to show the audiences the prospects and directions of Philippine filmmaking. Indeed, times have never been as exciting as many remain unashamedly excited.
Together with CinemaOne Originals, Sinag Maynila, Cine Filipino and other venues where young as well as ... established filmmakers can find a chance to discover and rediscover themselves, film students and enthusiasts have a lot of reasons to be happy about the shape of things to come.