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Philippine Presence at Singapore Film Festival

I wrote an article about Philippine cinema at the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). With the help of a friend (thanks Erwin!) it was printed in the Philippine Star yesterday. While I am glad that it was printed, it was not done so without shaving off 600 or so words (including all mention of Noel Vera's book launching), and shifting the focus of the piece from the strong Philippine presence at the SIFF, to Filmmaking on the Fringe as the title suggests. All the same, the article is online (sans pictures of Lav, Rox and Khavn) and can be viewed here. The version I submitted can be read after the jump.


Philippine Presence Felt at Singapore Film Festival
by Alexis A. Tioseco

Digital filmmaking workshops and digital films in the ‘fringe’, a personal rock documentary and personal shorts, a young director’s First Time In Competition, a ‘Southeast Asian Masterpiece’ Out of Competition, and a Critic After Dark launched: to say that the Philippines had a strong presence in this years Singapore International Film Festival would be an understatement.

DV Filmmaking Workshops

Korean filmmaker and lecturer Park Kiyong, a resource speaker at the Asia-Europe Digital Film Workshops, relates a story of having met key “Nouvelle Vague” figure Agnes Varda in Paris three years ago, shortly after she had shot the documentary The Gleaners and I on Betacam and DV. In the film, you can see that Varda has her final cut pro editing system next to her kitchen, and she runs back and forth to it and the kitchen, editing while cooking a meal. Inspired, Kiyong approached Varda and asked her if she could give a DV Master class at the Korean Academy of Film Arts, of which he is the director. Varda humbly refused his request, “I’m 73, I’m old, and will die soon” she said, “I must spend my time making films.” Before leaving she grabbed Kiyong’s hand, and said, with a smile, “Isn’t DV wonderful!”

Digital Video is rapidly changing the way movies can be made. What started as early Digital “experiments” have evolved into a vibrant and thriving art form, one aesthetically distinct from the film format, but that can effectively be called cinema. The immediacy of the images, simplicity of use, and cost-effectiveness have all endeared Digital Video to filmmakers around the world regardless of age or region of origin.

It is with this in mind that the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), working with the Singapore International Film Festival and the School of Media and Film Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, organized the Asia-Europe Digital Film Workshop. Seasoned DV artist Khavn De la Cruz, along with five young and talented filmmakers, including Roel Mondelaers (Belgium), Piotr Rosolowski (Poland), TinTin Wulia (Indonesia), Tan Chui Mui (Malaysia) and Noh Dong Seok (Korea, whose exceptional low budget black and white digital film My Generation was screened at the festival), were flown in to each guide and mentor a team of graduating students from Ngee Ann Poly through the production of a DV short film. For the students of Ngee Ann, whose final projects had all been shot on 16mm film, working on a skin-tight four day schedule (one day pre-prod, two day shoot, one day edit) and shooting on DV was quite a challenge, but they were glad to face it. Each mentor worked with the students, giving them advice and feedback at eevery stage of production. The six shorts that were produced, varying in length, theme, and aesthetic, were all screened at the Goethe Institute as part of the festivals ‘Fringe’ events. Khavn, well known for his over-the-top extreme films, had a strong hand in the work of his students film, titled Bad Times. It’s shooting location: Singapore’s red light district of Geylang.


Fringe Films

The ASEF workshop wasn’t the only thing that Khavn was in-town for, as two of his short films Lata at Tsinelas and MondoManila: Institusyon ng Makata were shown as part of the fringe screenings at the Goethe Institute. Complete opposites, the nastiness and rage of Mondomanila played counterpoint to the charm of Lata at Tsinelas- essentially a children’s film, the displaying two conflicted sides of its maker. Both films screened previously at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Shown together with Khavn’s two shorts were Topel Lee’s Nak Nang and Mes DeGuzman’s Diliman. The effects-laden action driven Nak Nang is the latest short film director Topel Lee, who shot to popularity in indie circles with his masochist comedy short Bruce. Shot on black and white DV, the low-key Diliman is the first feature film from director Mes Guzman; a filmmaker who shot to prominence internationally for his short film Batang Trapo.

Personal Works

Screening together in the main program of the festival was Rox Lee’s Romeo Must Rock, and the three short films of John Torres – Tawid Gutom, Salat, and Kung Paano Kita Liligawan Nang Di Kumakapit Sa Iyo. Famed animator Rox drops his pencil and turns his camera on for this one, pointing it at a familiar subject: his enigmatic iconoclastic brother Romeo. “I would have made this even if he wasn’t my brother” said Rox, when speaking about the film on Studio 23’s The Breakfast Show this past December, and watching it you can see why. Rox films scenes of a mellow Romeo at home and in his room discussing casually everything from modern pinoy rock to his University buddies; and juxtaposes them with wild footage of Romeo in concert; singing, screaming, crying and wailing … to Jimi Hendrix’s “Wild Thing”. An independent artist all his life, around the time of his “Lee Almighty” exhibit at Magnet ABS-CBN last year, one could see white paper with black text pasted onto a pole at the Edsa/Quezon Ave underpass. The text read: “There is something inside everyone one us that wants to be a Romeo Lee”.

Even more personal than Rox’s documentary are the short films of John Torres. SIFF head-programmer Philip Cheah spoke enthusiastically about Torres’ work, saying that they reminded him of the excitement he felt when he first saw pinoy cinematographer Regiben Romana’s shorts. One can understand why. Stripped down bare aesthetically and even more emotionally, Torres turns the camera on and inside himself as well as those close to him, creating, through the fusion of found footage, organized footage, and a somber introspective voiceover, some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful video poems you will ever see. In one particularly moving scene in Kulob, a portion of Salat, John and his (after more spending more than half his life with her, now) ex-girlfriend are on screen, directly addressing the camera. He coerces her into a game she is familiar with, asking her to cry on cue. Angled perpendicularly and positioned not more than a few inches from her, stares directly at her. Staring into the camera, not more than a few seconds pass before her eyes begin to well-up, her gaze un-focus, and, with the sound muted and the screen reverting to slow motion, tears slowly stream down her face. Are they genuine or phony? Real or fake? The answer becomes irrelevant; the pain of the filmmaker is sincere.

Short and Long: In and Out of Competition

Lyle Sacris, renowned experimental video and installations artist, presented his second commercial feature, First Time. Selected for competition in the Silver Screen Awards category, First Time is a sexually explicit omnibus film penned by three very promising young scriptwriters—Ramon De Veyra, Erwin Romulo, and Lyndon Santos. What could have been an exciting and daring undertaking was mangled during production, leaving only a few in-jokes and an interesting middle story to show for it.. First Time does not adequately display the talents of its maker.

The festival, in a daring and audacious move, attempted to market itself to audiences by highlighting its screening of two of the longest films ever made: Edgar Reitz’s Heimat 3 (6 episodes, 680 minute running time) and Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (one story, one 30 minute break, 643 minute running time, sans credits). Diaz’s 5-hour Batang West Side was considered challenging when it won the Best Asian Film Award at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2002, but in comparison to Ebolusyon, it looks like popcorn. Spanning the critical years of 1971-1987 in Philippine history (just before, during and after the Ferdinand Marcos imposed Martial Law), Ebolusyon charts the lives of the members of a single rural family, framing their stories around the historical events of the period. Filmed over the course of 11-years, with the story evolving as much as the characters and the country did in the time it, Ebolusyon is, flaws and all, a towering achievement in world cinema; and arguably the most important Filipino film made since the heydey of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Mike De Leon. It’s duration, aesthetic, and scope combine to create a physical, mental, and emotional experience unlike anything one has felt at the cinema before, causing Philip Cheah to hail the film as a “Southeast Asian Masterpiece’. Diaz combines 16mm film, Digital Video, and harrowing historical footage, to create a hybrid film that is neither pure fiction nor pure documentary. Fifty-two people bought tickets for the film in Singapore, and roughly thirty finished it; the highest non-Filipino audience for the film to date, according to Diaz. A compilations of essays and articles on Ebolusyon, Batang West Side, and director Lav Diaz is being produced in Slovenia, in both Slovene and English language.

Critic After Dark: Noel Vera

Continuing their commitment not just Philippine Cinema, but also the elevation of discourse on it, Philip Cheah through his BigO magazine, published the first book of controversial Filipino film critic Noel Vera. Doubtless the most important film critic to come out of the Philippines in the last decade, Vera has been ruthless and outspoken with his opinions on Philippine Cinema; but always backing up his bark with solid substance and historical perspectives. Agree with him or not (and you will be on one side or the other), his writing has been a reference point for cinephiles both in the Philippines and abroad, making this comprehensive collection of his essays, reviews, interviews, tributes and festival reports (his writings from 1994-2004) required reading in the study of Philippine Cinema. A fascinating fact about Vera, highlighted explicitly in the book’s back cover, is that criticism is not even his first profession: he was been a uniformed bank officer for several years. The title of the book takes off from this idea, painting a picture of Vera as a nocturnal creature finding comfort the recesses of a theater, and in writing in the still of the night. The book is available for order online at: http://www.bigomagazine.com/theshop/books/NVcritic.html, or may be purchased at Dateline Bookshop and Old Pop at the Marikina Shoe Expo in Cubao, Quezon City (if you’re fast, there are limited copies).
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