Friday, April 30, 2010

33rd Urian Awards: Kinatay wins best picture award!

Cine Adarna, University of the Philippines Diliman (April 29) - The 33rd Urian Awards started late but was fortunately brisk and fast-paced. Host Butch Francisco added some suspense by hinting of a possible big night for the film Himpapawid. The first five awards went to five different films. When the first two acting awards were given out, Himpapawid emerged as front-runner with three awards. Another film caught up with Himpapawid in a matter of minutes. The film Lola was recognized for best screenplay. The leads from the film shared the best actress award. Both films were tied with three awards.

Brillante Mendoza's scooping of the Best Direction award for Kinatay made it a three-way fight for the Best Picture award. In the end, the good-looking and very-much alive Piolo Pascual announced that the spine-tingling Kinatay will bring home the top prize. It is the third straight time for a Mendoza film to win the Best Picture Award. His other Urian-winning films are Tirador and Serbis. In a statement read by his lovely daughter Angelica, the filmmaker expressed elation over the selection of his film and remarked that he must be doing the right kind of films.

A heartwarming sight was seeing film industry veterans getting awards from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Acting icons Rustica Carpio and Anita Linda thanked Mendoza for getting them. Another veteran performer Lou Veloso was honored for his excellent performance in the film Colorum.

The feisty producer and actress Armida Siguion-Reyna was this year's recipient of the Natatanging Gawad Urian. She candidly remarked that she fought with nearly everyone in the local film industry. She admits that there is only one person who she cannot and did not vanquish and that is Joseph Estrada. She hated his guts so much that they became enemies. The animosity disappeared and Siguion-Reyna now openly exhorts voters to choose Estrada in the coming May 10 elections.

Winners of the 33rd Urian Awards

Best Picture: KINATAY (Swift Production and Centerstage Production)
Best Director: Brillante Mendoza (KINATAY)
Best Actress (tie): Rustica Carpio & Anita Linda (LOLA)
Best Actor: Lou Veloso (COLORUM)
Best Screenplay: Linda Casimiro (LOLA)
Best Short Film: TO SIOMAI LOVE
Best Supporting Actress: Marissa Sue Prado (HIMPAPAWID)
Best Supporting Actor: Soliman Cruz (HIMPAPAWID)
Best Production Design: Brillante Mendoza (LOLA)
Best Cinematography: Raymond Red (HIMPAPAWID)
Best Editing: Orlean Tan, Ralph Crisostomo & Miko Araneta (ENGKWENTRO)
Best Music: Francis de Veyra (THE ARRIVAL)
Best Sound: Albert Michael Idioma (KINATAY)
Natatanging Gawad Urian: Armida Siguion-Reyna

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

amBisyon 2010: Justice & Human Rights (Requiem for M by Kiri Dalena / Laro by Emman de la Cruz)

The November 2009 massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao is a difficult topic to put on film. The barbarity of the perpetrators is too much to take. The graphic descriptions from news reports are so gruesome it makes the skin crawl. Several victims were beheaded. Some of the women were raped. Corpses and vehicles shared the same vast burial pits, which were creepily prepared days ahead.

Five months later the incident is still big news. Media groups raised a howl over Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s decision to dismiss murder charges against two prominent members of the Ampatuan clan. You can’t blame the media people because 30 of their colleagues died during the massacre. It is the biggest atrocity committed against journalists in years.

One of the amBisyon 2010 films, Emman de la Cruz’s Laro reenacts the November 2009 massacre using action figures and plastic toy vehicles. It is not a great film. Heck, it’s not even one of the better films from the omnibus. But, if we take into account how the Ampatuan clan members played around with the results of the elections in 2004 and the brazenness in which they dispose of rivals and media people in 2009, then the film makes sense. The arrogant members of the clan are so full of themselves that they believe they can toy and bully anyone who gets in their way.

Jailed suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. continues to fool around with the media people. There is a certain smugness in him that seem to say ‘I’ll get away with this.’ He was able to hold a press conference wherein he shared his choice of presidential candidate and senatorial candidates. Andal seems to get a kick being in the media spotlight. Maybe what he needs is a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick in the face.

Kiri Dalena’s Requiem for M deals with a widow’s search for justice. The wailing of Myrna Reblando sends shivers. She gets to see the place where the massacre happened. The image of the backhoe brings up memories of the gory fate of her husband and 56 other people.

Dalena utilized backward playing of scenes. As long as justice has not been served, Reblando and other family members will always look back at the incident and fight for their fallen loved ones.

The two short films are good films. However, I’m recommending a feature film that depicts why incidents like Maguindanao massacre occur. Arnel Mardoquio’s excellent Hospital Boat focuses on political warlordism in Mindanao. It examines the uphill battle by peace activists in the southern island. Try to watch this Urian best picture nominee.

Monday, April 19, 2010

amBisyon 2010: Poverty (Lupang Hinarang Sa Sumilao by Ditsi Carolino / Ayos Ka by Brillante Mendoza)

Poverty alleviation and agrarian reform issues figure prominently in the May 2010 presidential race. Manny Villar bombarded the TV airwaves with pro-poor ads. He presented himself as having come from a family so poor that they didn’t have money to treat his brother. Critics came out to disprove his fairy tale.

A New York Times interview with Noynoy Aquino’s cousin Fernando Cojuangco reveal that Aquino’s vow of redistributing Hacienda Luisita to the farmers within 5 years may be sheer posturing. Cojuangco, chief operating officer of the holding company owning the plantation, said the Cojuangco extended family will not give up the 10,000-acre land or get out of the sugar business.

Politicians prey on the hopes and dreams of poor voters. The National Statistical Coordination Board states that there are 27.6 million poor people in the Philippines in 2006. These poor people live on a little less than 42 pesos a day.

Take a peek into some of their stories…

Lupang Hinarang sa Sumilao (2010, Ditsi Carolino)

The short film is gleaned from a segment of the magnificent documentary Lupang Hinarang. It chronicles the 12-year odyssey of Bukidnon-based farmers to gain back their ancestral lands. 155 farmers walk for miles to fight for a 144-hectare land in 2007. The support of a prominent bishop, politicians, and media compels the government to heed the demands of the farmers.

Filmmaker Ditsi Carolino gave an update on the farmers. Their leader Rene Peñas was assassinated in June 2009. Only a third of the land had been redistributed to the farmers. The fight is not yet over for the Sumilao farmers.

If you want to know why the Hacienda Luisita case is a big political issue, then watch this short film or better yet, watch the original documentary.

Ayos Ka (2010, Brillante Mendoza)

Filmmaker Brillante Mendoza had been criticized for allegedly making ‘poverty porn’ films for international film festivals. ‘Poverty porn’ is a type of film that employs shocking images in showing the misery and suffering of people living or working in hellish, abject conditions. Mendoza countered that he is just showing what is really happening in the country.

One of the things I loved most about the Mendoza films is that despite the grim subject there is some humor or trace of hope shimmering in the films. His latest film Ayos Ka is a wickedly ironic music video. The initial set of lyrics depicts the beauty of living in the Philippines. However, the images tell a different story. Third World squalor is shown for all to see. Kids are scavenging for recyclable items. A snatcher is scampering away with his loot.

There is an unforgettable, powerful scene showing a horde of istambays at a street corner. The accompanying lyrics remind the youth to shape up in order to avoid sharing the fate of these scums. The song ends with a shot of a smiling toddler.

The music video has such an infectious melody that I’ve had a bad case of LSS for days. The images are so brutal that it provokes the viewers to ask why these things are happening in their midst. Hopefully, the pondering viewer will make a wise choice in the coming May 10 elections.

Ayos Ka is a dig on politicians who trumpet economic growth of the Philippines. The economic gains are not trickling down to the ones who need it most. As long as millions of Filipinos are poor, there will also be millions of stories/images ripe enough to be filmed.

What happened to the television screening of Part Two of amBisyon 2010 last weekend? The ABS-CBN News Channel 27 should have informed viewers what was the cause of the non-showing. amBisyon 2010 is a great project. I’ve seen majority of the films and I was hoping to see the other films on television. Will there be a screening in the future?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

amBisyon 2010: Education (Faculty by Jerrold Tarog / Wasteland by Ellen Ramos)

The University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) is not under the jurisdiction of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) - UPFI

The UPFI finally bared its fangs and courageously made a stand on the issue of censorship. Before the screening of the amBisyon 2010 short films at UPFI, cinema programmer Nonoy Lauzon read a statement by the institute. It said that any form of censorship and classification runs counter to the academic freedom espoused by the university. UPFI is not, and will not be, under the jurisdiction of the repressive MTRCB. With regards to the issue of holding commercial screenings, Nonoy stated that the Film Theater (now Cine Adarna) is managed and operated by the UPFI as an income-generating unit.

UPFI went on to defiantly screen an X-rated film of AmBisyon 2010 that Friday night (April 9). On that same night, four short films made their television premiere on ABS-CBN News Channel 27. Included in the lineup were the films Faculty and Wasteland.

Faculty (2010, Jerrold Tarog)

UP activists. Academic freedom. Making a stand.

These topics were tackled in the short film by Jerrold Tarog. It is another fine example of Tarog’s ability to input social commentary in his films. The director chose education as his issue because he believes that it is the starting point in bringing about change. The brilliant script is complemented by fine performances by Che Ramos and Bea Garcia.

Two best friends working in an exclusive school in Metro Manila get embroiled in the hospitalization of a student named Julia. The senior student was at a rally when she received the brunt of police brutality. Julia identified Joan as the teacher who exhorted (and probably coerced) the students to attend the rally.

Ria reminds Joan that they are no longer at the University of the Philippines. ‘There are no activists in this school,’ she says. Joan growls back at her friend and points out the need for their rich students to be exposed to social conditions around them. They have the money and network (ie. relatives in government positions) to make important changes in the future.

Ria made a curt comment that the bratty college students do not care about social issues. ‘It is too late to make a change in their behavior,’ she says. Is it really too late? Joan doesn’t think so. The activist makes an emphatic decision at the end.

Social activism has many risks but if activists refuse to make a stand, then who will? If not today, then when will social change start?

Wasteland (2010, Ellen Ramos)

Director Ellen Ramos sees animation as an intimate way of expressing what she wants to convey to audiences. She likes the ability of animation to present serious issues in a lighter vein.

Wasteland takes a look at a scavenger boy’s ordeal in going to school. After a night’s work of retrieving recyclable items from garbage dumps, he gets ready to go to school. In his daily walks, he encounters lots of problems. The rickety school building at the end speaks volume about the state of education in the country.

I adore the feel and pacing of the film. The music and sound effects are okay. But, there’s a tiny thing that marred the film. When the boy started to ascend the stairs his body become longer. I was wondering whether there was a leap from elementary to high school years. But, there wasn’t a change in the time period. The animator had to draw a bigger boy because the steps are too high.

The two short films will be screened once more on Thursday (April 15, 10:30 pm) at Studio 23. Included also in Part 1 are the excellent films of Brillante Mendoza and Ditsi Carolino.
Recommended films about education:
Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong (Mes de Guzman) – Two siblings walk for miles in order to go to school daily

Pisay (Aurelius Solito) – Eight scholars get enmesh in a web of changes during the waning years of the Marcos regime

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

amBisyon 2010: Television schedules

The best and most promising local filmmakers participated in the amBisyon 2010 project of the ABS-CBN News Channel 27. They created 20 short films that dealt with 10 major issues in the country. These short films are meant to provoke viewers to think… about social change… about the future of the country… about the coming May 10 elections…

amBisyon 2010 had its television premiere last Friday, April 9 at 6:00 pm on ANC Channel 27. It was a fantastic start. The first part showed two excellent short films about poverty and two very good short features about education. I haven’t seen the other four parts but I have a feeling that the first part is the must-see segment.

Part One contains Ditsi Carolino’s Lupang Hinarang Sa Sumilao, an eye-opener on the issue of land reform. The short film is an abbreviated version of her magnificent documentary Lupang Hinarang. The best of the lot is Brillante Mendoza’s Ayos Ka. It is a music video showing scenes of poverty. I had a bad case of LSS after watching the video. The rap song Ayos Ka by Mandarhyme has an infectious melody with lyrics dealing with the positive side of living in the Philippines. However, the images tell a different story. These images contain some of the most horrifying scenes captured in a Mendoza film. I still shudder at the brutal scene showing a horde of istambays at the street corner. I hope the youth get to see this film and the Carolino feature. Also included in Part One are the films of Jerrold Tarog and Ellen Ramos.

Catch the replay of Part One of AmBisyon 2010 on Thursday, April 15 at 10:30 pm on Studio 23.

Schedule of television premieres of the other 16 short films (ie. four short films per segment):

ABS-CBN News Channel 27:

Part 2 (April 16, Friday 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM)
Part 3 (April 23, Friday 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM)
Part 4 (April 30, Friday 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM)
Part 5 (May 7, Friday 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM)

Replays on ABS-CBN News Channel 27:

Part 2 (April 17, Saturday 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM)
Part 3 (April 24, Saturday 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM)
Part 4 (May 1, Saturday 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM)
Part 5 (May 8, Saturday 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM)

Replays on Studio 23:

Part 1 (April 15, Thursday 10:30 PM - 11:30 PM)
Part 2 (April 16, Friday 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM)
Part 3 (April 23, Friday 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM)
Part 4 (April 30, Friday 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM)
Part 5 (May 7, Friday 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Papogi: The Imaging of Philippine Presidents (2004, Butch Perez)

Electioneering in the Philippines has been mostly about politicians projecting the right images to the people. As such, image makers are an important part of any politician’s campaign team. They recycle potent images that have been instrumental in getting votes in the past. A look at the current campaign tactics of presidential candidates reveal that they heeded valuable lessons from the 2004 documentary of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Papogi deals with successful presidential campaigns and identifies several Presidents who have captivated the public. Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Ferdinand Marcos, and Joseph Estrada are among the more astute politicians who have dazzled masses with their charisma and mastery of mass media.

Presidents in the limelight

The film suggests that Manuel Quezon is still the epitome of a person who fits perfectly the role of a President. Dashing, mestizo, and good-looking, he exudes oozing confidence in his regal poses for photographs. He instilled national pride by saying he preferred a chaotic government run by Filipinos rather than an efficient government run by Americans. He can easily converse with Americans and the Filipino masses. An iconic image of Quezon planting rice in a field was copied by succeeding presidents. It is a powerful image showing a ‘down-to-earth’ President stooping down to provide the needs of the people.

Long before Nora Aunor broke the stranglehold of mestiza stars in the showbiz scene, Ramon Magsaysay broke the streak of mestizo presidents. He projected himself as the ‘man of the masses.’ His campaign jingle Mambo Magsaysay brought a tinge of showbiz to the presidential race. If Quezon harped on the idea that the Filipinos are equal to Americans, Magsaysay reminded the masa or Filipino masses that they are equal to Filipino elites. A memorable image is that of hordes of people trooping to Malacañang Palace after Magsaysay opened it to the public. It prefigures the countless fans flocking to theaters showing movies of Aunor.

The handlers of Ferdinand Marcos took notice of Filipinos’ love for movies. They created the film Iginuhit ng Tadhana. It told the story of a brilliant lawyer acquitted of murder. Marcos was an excellent demagogue but it was his partnership with beautiful Imelda Romualdez that catapulted him to the country’s top office. If showbiz has Guy & Pip, the world of politics has Ferdie & Meldy.

In 1998, the worlds of politics and showbiz became aligned with the election of Joseph Estrada as president. A key movie of Estrada is Sa Kuko Ng Agila. This film depicts the Filipinos’ fight against the military bases of the United States. When the bases were kicked out of the country in 1991, Estrada and 11 other senators were hailed as heroes. Estrada won as vice president in the 1992 elections. After six years, his celebrity friends such as Fernando Poe Jr. helped him win the presidential race.

Lessons from the past

Presidential candidates still use celebrities and entertainment to boost their chances of winning. A desperate Dick Gordon appeared in an entertaining viral video with the Moymoy Palaboy duo. Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar have their separate groups of star supporters.

The Villar camp knows the value of courting female voters. In mid 1980s, Cory Aquino was belittled as a mere housewife. Women came out in droves to vote for her. Two decades later, Villar selected Loren Legarda as his running mate and chose 5 women in his senate slate.

The charisma of Ramon Magsaysay is the one thing pursued by current presidential candidates. Gilbert Teodoro took on the nickname Gibo to make him more accessible to the masses. Two candidates, Villar and Estrada, both run on pro-poor platforms.

Sincerity is the key

An advertising expert featured in the 2004 documentary enumerated three things that people look for in a candidate. These are platform, track record, and sincerity. Most candidates have similar platforms so the important things to scrutinize are their track records and sincerity.

The camp of Ferdinand Marcos harped on the lack of experience of Cory Aquino. The handlers of the latter emphasize her lack of experience in graft and corruption. This is also the tack used by her son, Noynoy Aquino. In his nine years as congressman and three years as Senator, Aquino failed to pass a major law. His opponents hardly touch on this issue because he might as well emphasize his lack of involvement in political scandals. In a television advertisement, he says ‘hindi ako magnanakaw.’ Is he sincere? Is he sincere in giving up Hacienda Luisita to the farmers?

Truth telling becomes an issue. Manny Villar’s story about being poor backfired on him. What is his definition of being poor? If he or his siblings experienced being hungry for a day, then he was definitely poor. Both of his parents worked so it is unlikely that the Villar family was dirt poor.

Wooing of voters

Voters are bombarded by images of ‘caring and good-looking’ presidential candidates. They need to go beyond the Facebook-persona of the candidates. They should stop being disarmed by flashy, charming ‘suitors.’ All they need to ask is ‘mahal ba ako ng taong ito?’ Is s/he sincere in professing love for the people (and the country)?

Huwag iboto ang isang kandidato dahil lang pogi/maganda siya o mukhang mabait. Baka pang-Facebook lang ang mga imahe. Alamin din kung tunay na may pagtingin itong taong ito. Iniidolo mo at mahal mo nga siya ng labis-labis pero mahal ka ba niya?

Iboto ang kandidatong nagmamahal (at magmamahal) sa ‘yo at sa bayan.

Photo credit

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The White Funeral (1997, Sari Dalena)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4

A lost and troubled bride wanders aimlessly along an expansive white wonderland. Her sister holds the three-meter-long tail of the gown. The latter pauses to take a look at the bouquet thrown by the bride. It is already wilted. The dried branches form a jumbled mess.

A further look at the landscape reveals dried up trees. The whole place seems cursed. Strewn pebbles and stones are all over. A stunning series of images shows how the place was punished. A black-clad malevolent entity is wildly gesturing on top of a church. Sins of unfaithfulness pollute and engulf the whole land. The unexpected punishment comes like a thief in the night. The roaring sound of the torrent, the scary image of the princess of darkness, and superimposed footage of rampaging lahar makes for a memorable, horrific moment.

After the deluge, only a few structures manage to rise above the lahar. There is nary a form of life on the barren earth. Vast farm lands have become a desert. Whole towns are buried and in ruins.

Slowly, there is some life arising. A group of dark-skinned kids crawl towards a gnarled tree. Their faces and bodies transform into a myriad of kaleidoscopic images. A young boy discovers a river and bathes into this refreshing oasis. It signifies the washing of sins from the hearts of the people. Simultaneously, new life springs out from cocoons. Out the people go! Smiling, jumping, and performing a dance of thanksgiving, they were such a joy to watch. It is simply pure bliss captured on film!

Dalena brilliantly used biblical scriptures about people buried in filth and lust, cursed places, and reconciliation to create an inspiring, spiritual movie experience. The uplifting ending resounds to the music of Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria in Excelsis Deo. The excellent music score ups the ante by using Joey Ayala's Walang Hanggang Paalam in the end credits. The Ayala piece has been used in romance films such as Sana Maulit Muli and Donsol but in this film, shot mostly in lahar-ravaged Zambales, the song takes on a new facet. It may also be seen as dealing with God's everlasting love.

A big, big thank you to the UP Film Institute people such as Nonoy, William, Dolly, and Blasilda for persistently screening wonderful films. The short films of Sari and Kiri Dalena serve as a fantastic ender to the celebration of International Women's Month at the UP Film Institute.