A lineup of more than twenty films is guaranteed to be a mixed bag. What stood out from the pack were the personal, the somber, and the sentimental. These shorts are, more than anything, love letters, to the people in them and to the medium itself. Below are the best of Cinemalaya 16’s Indie Nation exhibition films, ranked roughly in order of preference.
Ang Meron Sa Wala (dirs. Arby and Christine Laraño)
Documentaries are more often in the service of the people behind the camera than those in front of it. In Ang Meron Sa Wala, the camera is a silent, almost ubiquitous companion, following an apologetic father retelling the story of his child’s birth and the pain that came with having to leave them for their own good. The narration, as the film’s emotional core, was bolstered by the sensitive and thoughtful filmmaking. By opting to dig deeper instead of aiming higher, directors Arby and Christine Laraño left more indelible a mark over other more ambitious entries.
Grand Gestures (dir. Cody Abad)
Contrary to its title, the gestures in Grand Gestures are relatively small: an arm held, a dinner two seats apart, a withheld glance. The silence is deafening and thick with grief and longing. John, played by Master Of Quiet Acting Gio Gahol, arrives home with luggage (as the actor did in last year’s Sila-Sila) for his father’s funeral, where he is reunited with his mother. Exposition is shown not told, and the restrained performances and strong direction made the risk of long, quiet shots worth it. As someone from a typical Asian family who doesn’t talk about anything real and intense ever, I realized the gestures really were grand, after all.
Gulis (dir. Kyle Jumayne Francisco)
Clocking in at nine minutes, Gulis is proof that in such a medium, less absolutely trumps more. The direction is clear, so every shot felt purposeful, ultimately adding vital emotional textures to the very cathartic closing scene. You feel the mourning of a father and son enduring a loss; you feel the panic and anxiety of having to tell a parent about having a stigmatized illness; and you feel hope. You feel relief. And knowing that this was among Sir Menggie Cobarrubias’ last roles—cue the waterworks.
Dama De Noche (dir. Lawrence Arvin Sibug)
While it appears the short form favors the subdued, it can also serve as a vehicle for gutsier ideas. The camera is stationary in Dama De Noche, where we witness a family at the wake of a fallen OFW. Its modest cinematography puts the focus on dialogue, which is amusing without sacrificing authenticity. It is this self-awareness that ultimately captures viewer interest, a case of art imitating life imitating art.
Si Gloria at si Juan (dir. Gilliano Salvador)
Anyone who has lived in the province has a tale on duwendes and engkantos, usually passed on by their grandmother. Si Gloria at si Juan commemorates these stories and the childlike wonderment it invokes: the animation looks straight out of picture books and the narration is reminiscent of the warm storytelling of our lolas. Perhaps emotional connection is inflamed because this is the kind of story we adored growing up, but this is not to say the film can’t be adored for its own merits.