Festivals, Reviews

Cinemalaya 2021: Main Competition Shorts B — Extending the Short Form to Wider Lengths

With the ongoing pandemic still restricting the film industry, there is a stronger need to give an accessible platform for filmmakers to showcase not only their work but also realities that most people may not easily witness today. Films play a much more vital role during these times; as many of us are still confined in physical spaces, we resort to this medium to gain a sense of perspective in the uncertainty of the present.  

This year’s theme of Navigating Currents aims to do this by showcasing films through a digital platform and featuring short films in the main competition lineup. With these shifts, the festival makes narratives from filmmakers more accessible and variable. Here are my two favorites from the lineup of six short films from Competition Set B. 

Kids on Fire (dir. Kyle Nieva)

Exploration of one’s sexuality and gender during adolescence in the Philippine setting is an experience commonly intertwined with religion. Our initial encounters and exposure to such matters are dictated and demonized by religious leaders, emphasizing its harms with no proper clarity. Kids on Fire tackles this through the supernatural: a young boy gaining some kind of divine ability to cause earthquakes whenever he masturbates in his religious camp. The film’s exaggerated and hyperbolic depiction of this provides a satirical look into religious camps’ absurd and obscured treatment of the youth.  It’s a comic relief to witness the boy’s confusion about coming to terms with his newfound ability, which is reminiscent of the experience of shame or guilt one deals with as they navigate these acts and feelings commonly depicted as a sin. 

Beauty Queen (dir. Myra Aquino)

Historical figures in film are often featured in full-length features to fully contextualize the person’s relevance in the present day. Beauty Queen’s usage of the short form proves the medium’s potential in relaying the impact of history in a limited time frame. The opening scene supposedly establishes what’s in store for us: a woman winning a beauty pageant, the crowd cheering for her. However, the following scene takes us somewhere different. The country is now in World War II, and the woman from earlier—who we learn is Remedios—is now living amongst rebel troops attempting to cope with the war. Later on, we learn that Remedios is actually Kummander Liwayway, a rebellion leader of the HUKBALAHAP known for dressing up during battles and encounters against the Japanese. The film’s retelling of Kummander Liwayway’s origins provides an invitation to the portrayal of women beyond the binary conventions of femininity and masculinity; wherein the two cannot necessarily be confined in the kind of women in the Philippine setting. 

Cinemalaya films are streaming on KTX.PH until September 5

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