I have never been to a Cinemalaya screening. Pampanga is a relatively urban province located near Metro Manila, but even there, Cinemalaya—one of the most celebrated Filipino film festivals— has never been given the promotion that it so rightly deserves. Often overshadowed by western pictures, big budget movies, and given short-lived slots in cinemas, the inaccessibility of the event has hindered the chance of a lot of curious viewers to a unique and enchanting experience with independent Filipino films (but this is a conversation for another time). The situation we are experiencing now has given Cinemalaya a chance to explore a new way to showcase its creative contenders. With this year’s theme “Streaming consciousness”, for the first time, the 10 main competition short films alongside 20 other exhibition short films were made available to digital online streaming through Vimeo on Demand from Aug 6-17, 2020.
I was able to watch the main competition short films and out of the 10, here are my top personal favorites in no particular order: Ang Gasgas Na Plaka ni Lolo Bert by Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori, Tokwifi by Carla Pulido Ocampo, Quing Lalam Ning Aldo by Redeen Fajardo, and The Slums by Jan Andrei Cobey. Here’s why.
Ang Gasgas Na Plaka ni Lolo Bert (dirs. Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori)
This film is blanketed with a fog of longing. A package containing memorabilia arrives for Lolo Bert, a closeted gay man living with HIV. He goes to a record store upon discovery that one of his records is broken, where he meets a cheerful and curious widower. What ensues is a tale about remembering and acknowledging our past, letting go, and opening our hearts to new opportunities and chances for happiness. Like records that become dysfunctional when scratched, sometimes it’s better to call quits on remnants of what had been, no matter how hard we try to salvage them. We may love the memories associated with the broken record, but there is a lot more to look forward to out there, outside the scratched vinyl that doesn’t belong to us anymore.
Tokwifi (dir. Carla Pulido Ocampo)
A charming and unique love story between a mestiza actress from the 50s and a native from Bontoc, Mountain Province, Tokwifi, on the surface, is an endearing romance that transcends language and physical and cultural barriers. It doesn’t shy away from painting an enlightening picture of the indigenous peoples who have poured their souls in creating the Rice Terraces. Incorporating subtle jabs at issues of toxic modernism and eurocentric beauty standards, Tokwifi does a great job of piquing your interest and telling a story without losing its light atmosphere. It successfully incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, and romance while still being anchored to the beautiful roots of the Bontoc tribe.
The Slums (dir. Jan Andrei Cobey)
Comedy is my favorite thing in the world. That’s why I instantly fell in love with The Slums, a mockumentary that was a breath of fresh air from all the heavy themes in this short film list. It focuses on a typical poor family in the aftermath of a recent fire and the film crew that came to document their lives. It tackles a wide range of issues: poverty, untreated children who suffer from undetected congenital mental/physical disabilities, drugs, and arson for capitalistic gains, among other things. One of its strongest points is its depiction of media exploitation, seen when the media crew blatantly tries to manipulate the situation of the family just so they have something to feed their ‘poverty porn’ narrative no matter how inaccurate their portrayal.
I was hooked from the opening salvo involving a broken television; it was such a great way to introduce the characters. Every single character has a role to play, and it ends with the family uniting regardless of their own big personalities and how different they are from each other.
Quing Lalam Ning Aldo (dir. Redeen Fajardo)
There are films that just exude so much love even if it’s not explicitly verbalized. There is a lot about this film that endears me. As a Kapampangan myself, it’s a delight to hear the characters speak the language I hear in my household. The setting, which is almost void of anything modern, with a dirty kitchen outside the house facing the sampaguita fields; it feels too familiar. When you’re stuck in a place that is detached from the advances of time and feeling left out by someone you have cherished all your life, it can feel suffocating no matter how spacious your home is. The film reminds its audience that people leave, and time passes, but it doesn’t mean that what you have bears no value. Happiness is hard to recognize when we think of the love that seems so far. Quing Lalam Ning Aldo shows us that yes, people leave, but one way or another they will return home. At the same time, it is not a sin to seek happiness from the Sampaguita that blooms under the sun and the smiles of the friends we have on our side. It is a reminder that love can also be found in the little things.
Here are the remaining films in Main Competition:
Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss (dir. Sonny Calvento)
Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss has captured my attention from its opening parody of a well-known mall’s jingle. From the get-go, the film exhibits a strong front just like its main character Vangie, a contractual employee in a fictionalized shopping mall who is about to get fired from her tardiness. It is a comical and fantasy-like depiction of the hardships of
slavesworkers under capitalism; a testament to the pitiful truth that there is only so much a living human being can do to make ends meet and fight the looming monster that is the capital C.
Living Things (dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar)
A dream-like character study that depicts the relationship between the two leads and how they deal with one of them turning into a cardboard cutout. At the beginning of the film the two characters are seen debating which one of them will take out the trash, showing how unyielding the two are despite their decade-long relationship. No one wants to back down no matter the persuasion. However, towards the conclusion, the woman consciously and voluntarily sacrifices her physicality to be a standee like her companion. It’s so satisfying to see the juxtaposition of their attitudes in the beginning and in the end; love changes people and it is in the choices that a person makes that proves this point.
Utwas (dirs. Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay) and Pabasa Kan Pasyon (dir. Hubert Tibi)
Two films that possess such gorgeous imagery. Both are well shot, capturing the beautiful scenery of their respective settings. Both deal with the difficulties of work, and how the characters survive in poverty. While Utwas was very vague, often misleading in its dialogue, and has an ending that feels more confusing than surprising, Pabasa Kan Pasyon is very straightforward and had me saying, “ah, of course” when the final scene rolled.
Fatigued (dir. Robin James Mayo)and Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos (dir. Joana Vasquez Arong)
There is something to applaud about how exceptional horror movies are in eliciting such strong emotions when done right, but I personally don’t watch them simply because I get scared easily. So, I pride myself for even trying to watch Fatigued even if it took me 4 attempts to even get past the 2-minute mark, but I eventually gave up (I’m sorry for this!).
On the other hand, Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos is the type of film that doesn’t have to label itself horror to be terrifying. It’s one thing to be told about the events of such a disaster, but there is something even more frightening and gut-wrenching when it’s shown in the eyes of a child, the naive, and the innocent. The film makes you feel for the afflicted of the typhoon, making you question if the government had done enough. Finally, it makes you uncomfortable because that’s what cold truth is supposed to make you feel.