There was never any doubt that Filipino filmmakers could hold their own against some of the world's best. It was just a question of access. Where can the average Filipino watch quality films made with plots and concepts outside of the mainstream? It used to be only at festivals or select theaters, most of which have a schedule that you need to navigate around. Sino ngayon ang mag-aadjust? (Who will adjust?)
One of the most awaited film festivals of the year is Cinemalaya. The annual celebration of independent cinema is popular to anyone who can make the trip all the way to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, or a select number of theaters across the country.
Right now, Cinemalaya 2020 has gone exclusively online, no thanks to a global pandemic gripping the country. Not only has this move been a long time coming, it may potentially open up the festival to a much wider audience. You already have the regulars and completionists who dig deep and watch as many of the entries as they can, but now you can include those who have always meant to go to the festival but couldn't for reasons, and those trapped in quarantine with all the time in the world.
This year, Cinemalaya 2020 features 10 Short Films, selected out of 244 entries, that will be competing for the Best Film award. We made a preview of each of the finalists, as well as some of the other indie films screening online.
Presented here are reviews for the last five entries. We also have the reviews for the first five short film finalists which you can check out.
Let's get into it.
Ang Pagpakalma Sa Unos (To Calm The Pig Inside) dir. Joanna Vasquez Arong
Set against the backdrop of a city that suffered enormous loss in the devastation of super typhoon Yolanda, Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside) is a quiet contemplation on culture, science and politics in the aftermath of the storm.
A nameless woman overlays commentary over stark visuals of Tacloban City, a place struggling to survive amid the seeming apathy of the country’s leadership. The film poses lingering questions which haunt the restless. Could so much death have been prevented? How could this have ever happened?
Unos tries to soften the blow on viewers by relating the event to myths and legends, as if placing a name to the horror would rationalise its existence. However, it does not mean to distract from such harsh reality, but only to see how people could possibly cope. Where do people pull the strength to survive and to move forward?
The film reminds us that there are names over the death toll. These are not numbers, but people who have lost generations of family. The trauma is unbearable between rich and poor alike.
The piece is narrated beautifully by Anna Rong, whose tone is reflective and nearly painful, conveying the kind of burden which suggests another trauma. One possibly connected to a family member which she casually mentions throughout.
Evoking loss and grief, juxtaposed against petty distractions that will likely remind you of how awful government response to natural disasters are, Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside) needs to be remembered especially in these times.
Living Things dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar
A blinking contest between a couple on who gets to bring the trash outside gives us a glimpse of their relationship dynamic. Kints (Kristine Kintana) and Charles’ (Charles Aaron Salazar) observations and banter revolve around life and themselves. You can tell these two have had a long familiarity with each other which they continue to foster.
The camera work mirrors this, also observing the two and their playful relationship. Perspectives and aspect ratios shift, from wide to narrow, down to the barrel of a lens as if the two were rarely-seen creatures in the wild. The familiarity resonates between viewer and characters until one starts to question the other over minor details.
That’s when abrupt change happens, and we are now left to wonder what the hell is going on.
To speculate would probably spoil too much of the story. Suffice to say, the observing lens still comes back from time to time as the two progress in a relationship made a little more complicated.
It’s hard to guess outright what Living Things wants to convey. Are relationships supposed to last no matter what? Or should one let go when all that’s left is an impression of our former self?
Utwas (Arise) dirs. Richard Jeroui Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay
On an island where the sea is the main source of livelihood, a fisherman (Rene Requiron) teaches his son, Toto (Joemel Bancayan) how to dive and hunt. One day on a dive, both are abruptly halted by the explosion of dynamite nearby.
Utwas continues its father and son tale, and you quickly realise that the ocean is as much a character in the narrative as well. Time also plays a role. it tells you when to eat, when to go out, when the waves calm down, or how far you can push your luck. The concept of time also plays up its importance in the story’s final seconds, and will leave you dreading what comes next.
It’s an incredibly simple story, punctuated by beautiful cinematography that is crisp underwater as it is overhead. The “God’s eye view” lets you have a look at everything as a whole – the vast ocean, the island – before bringing you back down to earth to catch up on our two protagonists.
It’s almost a shame that Utwas exists as a short film and not made longer, with edits that are not as abrupt so they may be left to breathe more fully. The minutes go by fast in this 11-minute short but it is worth a watch, if only to experience hanging breathlessly at its final moments.
Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss dir. Sonny Calvento
Vangie (Phyllis Grande) is miserable in her work as a contractual sales lady at a “trendy” mall department store. Everything, from the cheesy commercial (a reminder when the big malls of SM, Rustans, and Ayala Center would run commercials on network TV), to the faux joy the sales clerks would make at the drop of a customer’s inquiry screams familiar to anyone who’s ever worked retail.
Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss is a send up of what it’s like to work at a boring job, with an oppressive boss (Angelina Kanapi), in a claustrophobic environment that prioritizes corporate perfection minus the human factor. It’s a world that Vangie needs to stay in anyway, despite the negatives, in order to provide for her family.
Who isn’t familiar with that experience? You do your best and the powers that be will find every reason to justify letting you go. Vangie’s story is no different, and we often find that we spread ourselves way, way, way too thin just to survive and prove that we deserve to have that living wage.
The film is, for lack of a better word, weird. There is a hopelessness in seeking out that so-called “work-life balance,” but also a point where things will just happen inexplicably and suddenly. Because life is unpredictable and unfair. Sometimes we just need to roll with the punches and hope for the best.
The Slums dir. Jan Andrei Cobey
A documentary crew records a struggling family in the slums of Tondo, Manila after a recent fire scare. Each member from daughter Pam (Jorrybell Agoto), son Oliver (Dylan Ray Talon), mother Nayda (Sunshine Teodoro), youngest son Boy (Kenken Nuyad), and father Julio (Dms Boongaling), are interviewed in front of a broken television, around which their entire family’s life seems to revolve around.
Shot in a mockumentary style with all the requisite laughs, the story eventually devolves into a struggle with truth and stereotypes fed in service of a pre-determined story.
Things quickly take a turn for the worse, but with that comes a resolution that will have you cheering for the characters in the end. It’s quite the transformation, comparing the family in the first scene versus how they come to be on the film’s last.
It goes to show that dictating a false narrative borne out of bias is not the truth that anyone deserves. Allowing your subjects to act on the agency they have is far more compelling, and less evil.
Cinemalaya 2020 runs from now until August 16. Click here to know how you can watch all these films online.
If you haven't yet, take a look at the review of the first five short film finalists here.
(All images are copyright to their respective owners)