Festival Report: Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2019
Welcome to the Unreel Cinemalaya 2019 Festival Report! It’s the one-page report where you’ll see Cinemalaya 2019 reviews and reactions of the Unreel Team to all the competition and exhibition films we see in this year’s Festival.
For film enthusiasts in the Philippines, the rainy season is also the mark of one thing – it’s finally festival season! Cinemalaya 2019 is greeted by strong rains and wind, but nothing will stop the Festival fans *cough Unreel cough* from braving the downpour to go all the way to CCP. Truth be told, it’s not like we have much choice because for this year, the screenings for the first five days of the Festival will be held solely at CCP theaters.
We have put up a Festival Guide where you can see the Cinemalaya 2019 schedule, ticket info, movie trailers, and more. As per our yearly tradition, we will also be having a Festival Report, where you can read our bite-sized reviews and reactions to the films we see in the Festival.
There was no other response to “ANi: The Harvest” but yes.
The pitch, as I recall it, was a sci-fi adventure in the vein of what feels like a cross between “Midnight Special” and “Chappie” with some rural gentrification in the mix. The film, too, has been campaigned as the first of its kind, a full-fledged Filipino sci-fi picture that pursues great technical feats with such a meager budget. However, watching as it unravels now, it’s clear that the film has oversold some of its supposedly fine qualities.
The visual effects, if you can believe it, is the least of its problems. The CG modeling is laudable on its own but is an absolute eyesore when composited into the shot. If you force yourself not to blink, you won’t miss the motion capture suits that for some reason are visible in the movie’s final print. It’s all very frustrating. The filmmakers point out that “ANi: The Harvest” exists with only a skeletal VFX team behind it. The implication is that while the final output doesn’t look that great, it’s clear that we can digitally build new worlds in our movies if studios were willing to put more resources in.
As I’ve said, VFX isn’t its biggest issue. It’s the filmmaking itself, particularly the writing. The titular droid—a steampunk-ish “Medabots”-like mecha named Ani—oddly feels inconsequential to just about everything significant that happens. Talks of overturning the government, which is weirdly out of the picture here and swapped with a doting tech giant called Paros, bubble up, but ultimately nothing worthy of serious discussion ever seems to come through.
This movie needed more time—a whole lot of it—in the cutting room. So much of it can be mapped back to the pressures of being “the first” Filipino movie with such scale to its ambition. To me, the movie’s unique position makes it doubly important to deliver a far better movie than what is presented now.
If you’ve seen Eduardo Roy Jr.’s earlier Cinemalaya films, “Quick Change” (2013) and “Pamilya Ordinaryo” (2016), you’d know that his 2019 Cinemalaya entry “F#*@BOIS” (previously “Fuccbois”) is right up his alley. I’ve seen all three films, and their notable quality is that they all share the stories of the poor and marginalized, and the consequences of society’s judgement that they deserve less. Through his films, Eduardo Roy Jr. reminds us that the socially excluded members of our society are not just statistics, nor incidental facts that you encounter in your daily commute. They are people living real, human struggles.
If I’m not mistaken, “F#*@BOIS” is loosely based on real events. I remember hearing in the news a few years ago about a 44-year old barangay chairman killed by two internet-famous teenagers, allegedly because they were blackmailed with a sex video. In this film, we follow Ace and Mikoy, two bikini pageant contestants aspiring for a better life. They already have plans for their future, but their dreams are threatened by a video sent by Ace’ previous lover.
The film gradually but effectively changes its tone from erotic and amusing, to downright horrifying and tragic. It’s as if Roy slowly pulls us into Ace and Mikoy’s world – starting with society’s objectified perception of them (effectively shown through a Facebook Live sequence), until we are fully drawn into their lives, seeing the world through their perspective.
Admittedly among the three films I mentioned, “F#*@BOIS” is the one that affected me the least, probably because it’s easy to see where the story is headed. The message though, is no less valid.
It’s clear to me how ardently I disagree with what Theodore Boborol’s “Iska” ultimately tries to say. I’m no betting man but the scene towards the end will doubtless leave an indelible mark, for better or for worse. No scene in this year’s lineup—except, perhaps, the end of “John Denver Trending”—has craned its neck out of the screen to provoke out of this writer so much fury.
The difference, however, is that I don’t stand with the movie or any of its characters’ plights. I roll out of the cinema with an insufferable mound of frustration weighing down my brain that my eyes voluntarily roll up to the hollow insides of my skull.
That scene is the culminating moment for the titular photocopy assistant (played by Ruby Ruiz, in a career-best performance). She begs to keep her job—the money, she explains, is to help care for her neurodivergent grandson—surrounded by people whose moniker and self-righteousness she shares, but not, according to the movie, the actual will to fight the battles they parade for.
When literally faced with injustice, the best that activism offers is a concert of chants with nothing but empty fervor. This presumption doesn’t sit well with me. It feels as icky as that absolutely unnecessary rape scene that unraveled early on in the movie.
There is something beautiful and insanely complex in Arden Rod Condez’s “John Denver Trending” and its simplicity.
On the surface, the movie is about a kid accused of stealing an iPad whose violent retaliation is posted online. However, on a much deeper degree, it is an examination of the society that we were and sadly still currently are.
The movie reminds us that there is nothing new to online bullying and misinformation, we have had them in every community and town, social media is just a magnifier.
“Denver” is able to sustain the tension from the start, building on it until that dreadful release, while fleshing out the character’s struggle and how it slowly chips away from the spirit of those involved.
And when the credits roll, there is just so much pain left knowing the story is out there, still happening to someone else. – Glenn
Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez’s “Malamaya” is about a middle-aged painter named Nora (Sunshine Cruz) who started having a relationship with a millennial amateur photographer named Migz (Enzo Pineda). And yet, I left the cinema not quite sure what it has to say about the arts nor cross-generational relationships. The film prominently features these topics, but never dabbles into them enough to open them for discussion.
“Malamaya” explores similar themes to Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab” (also a Cinemalaya entry). But unlike the said 2014 film, “Malamaya” doesn’t give much context behind the characters. What made Nora the cold-hearted, condescending b*tch that she is? What’s the real deal between her and Raymond Bagatsing’s character? How is she in the same circle as Migz? Why can’t we see how horrible Migz’ shots really are???
To be fair, Sunshine Cruz, well, shines in this film. She effortlessly owns and empowers the character. Enzo on the other hand, is a one-note cardboard cutout, who only served as the young eye-candy. Not even the countless butt exposures can redeem the blandness of his performance.
I entered the cinema not knowing what to expect from Sheryl Rose Andes’ “Pandanggo sa Hukay”. I couldn’t figure out from the teasers whether it was a comedy, thriller, or a family drama. Turns out it’s a mix of all those.
“Pandanggo sa Hukay” stars Iza Calzado as Elena, a midwife in Cavite who is preparing for a job interview to work overseas. The film starts out lighthearted and touching. We follow Elena go through her day and see that she is well-loved by the community and has a happy relationship with her peers. The snappy one-liners and comical scenes with her fellow midwives are amusing enough to make you let a chuckle or two. But behind all the humor, you can tell that there’s a looming tragedy bound to happen.
Two things make this film one of my favorite entries this year – the engaging storyline that subtly yet boldly makes a feminist statement, and Iza Calzado’s moving performance as Elena that personified the film’s message. – Geoff
I really wanted “Tabon” to be good. I really did. Xian Lim taking the helm as director and producer of his own film is laudable, and if anything, I hope that this encourages our local artists to explore other roles behind the camera. The last thing I want is to deter a brand-new filmmaker from exercising creativity.
However, as much as I wanted “Tabon” to work, it’s undeniably a premature work. The confusing subtitles and the technical problem that happened during the screening are testament to that.
You know how every every year, there’s that one Cinemalaya entry that’s so bad it unintentionally becomes hilarious and maybe, to some degree, entertaining? “Tabon” is on the run to getting that spot in this year’s Festival. It’s unbearably slow, trugding through a wobbly, bland storyline that can’t seem to decide whether it’s a murder mystery, a supernatural thriller, or a horror-comedy. It’s a hodge-podge work, feeling like the product of Xian Lim experimenting around with what he can do behind the camera.
I normally get annoyed at people sleeping inside the cinema. In this case though, I totally understand the guy snoring behind our seat during the screening. -Geoff
Mythology is rich within the family unit, and in the case of Josef Gacutan’s “Wag Mo Akong Kausapin”, it’s a sad one. An estranged father’s guilt and trepidations about reconnecting with his son manifest. Years would go on and he’d tell his grandchildren it was an actual demon, because a demon is easier to explain—and really, accept—than your own blood’s deep-seated derision. I’ve watched this short about three times already since last year, and its effect has yet to wear out. – Armand
Glenn Lowell Averia’s “Disconnection Notice” is my favorite short film from this set. A story about two brothers, the film strikes a deep chord about adulthood, and how difficult things prove to be once we’re on our own or once we need to step up to a more guardian-like role. Watching the relationship central to the story unravel from being each other’s nudniks to an all-out barrage of cursing very quickly goes from amusing to poignant. All this tough-love dynamic is imprinted in my brain as a succession of beautifully shot and edited black-and-white imagery. I doubt I will forget it very soon. – Armand
Harold Lance Pialda’s “Gatilyo” hardly pushes to be anything more than what it wants to be, which is how war, as big a concept it is, trickles down to the individual. Here, the blow is doubly felt. The lone survivor of his campaign, an ex-soldier struggles to navigate everyday life outside the war he had just escaped. The short is succinct and sufficient, though I’m left to wonder how it would turn out if it squeezed for a bit more. – Armand
The obvious crowd-pleaser of the entire set, Julius Renomeron‘s “Heist School” is delightfully cheeky even if it tips over to eye-rolling gags (really, awkward forward rolls?). The movie’s instantly likable quartet doesn’t go Brian De Palma for pressing reasons like, say, in “Bad Genius”, so much as that the prospect of stealing the answers to the exam proves to be a nice break from the mundanities of high school. That speaks wholly to the short’s primary appeal: a light-hearted, snackable little film complete with thick, thumping synth for a score and a wacky teenage spirit to match. – Armand
Norvin delos Santos’ “Hele ng Maharlika” (Lullaby of the Free) transports us to the the 2017 Marawi Seige through the eyes of two boys thrown into the madness of war. It’s remarkable how, despite the claustrophobic scenes, you feel the largeness of the Siege in every ravaged corner and in every nuanced actions of the characters. The film effectively tells us that the biggest casualty in conflict is the innocence of our children. – Geoff
Gilb Boldaza’s “Kontrolado ni Girly ang Buhay Niya” (Girly is in Control of His Life) is crude in its portrayal of physical and sexual abuse, and rightly so. The violence and discrimination that members of the LGBT community face every day is real. The film asks the audience to acknowledge this reality as we follow Girly through the streets, looking for a job. We see how something as trivial as job -hunting can be a totally daunting experience for her. – Geoff
I can’t pinpoint why Don Senoc’s “Sa Among Agwat” (In Between Spaces) feels strangely familiar. I know it’s not just because I grew up in Bukidnon where I presume the story is set. Maybe it’s because many of us know the feeling of having to sacrifice something you love because you know it is the right choice.
But other than being a story of sacrifice, “Sa Among Agwat” also brushes on how greed comes at the expense of the unprivileged. We’re not just talking about the literal space between a young child who had to be taken from his family, but also the widening gap between the rich and the poor. – Geoff
Francis Amir Guillermo’s “Sa Gaming Tanging Liwanag Ay Paniniwala” is gorgeous. It pulsates with atmosphere. I like it, though there are moments that have me wonder about the details missed as the dimness of the final print cloaks them. As always, CCP’s less-than-ideal projection doesn’t help. A bummer, I’ll say, in that I find the short’s sentiments about the violence and unrest that shrouds our lives are quite intriguing. – Armand
I don’t know if it’s just me but I found it difficult to grasp the core message of “Tembong”. I’m sure it has something to say about heritage and possibly, maybe gender dynamics in certain cultures, but these got lost in some stylistic choices in the cinematography. The quick cuts, overlaps, and some other visual styles used tend to shut you out from the movie, rather than nail down the message. – Geoff
Sherom Dayoc’s “The Shoemaker” exudes the same charm as “Hintayan ng Langit” and “Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon”. The film is an adorable story of two old souls – Grace and Elias, as they rekindle feelings that they thought were already long buried. It’s heartwarming to see these characters, who are both on their twilight years, revisit old heartaches and reopen their doors to another shot at love and acceptance. Who says kilig can’t happen at 60?
For more information about the Cinemalaya 2019 Independent Film Festival, visit the Festival website here.