The TOFARM Film Festival 2018 has already started this month, showcasing six full-length films that feature the lives of our Filipino farmers, and encourage discussion about farming and agriculture.
This year’s entries show much promise, including a futuristic drama, a sci-fi film, a historical drama, a period romance, a dark comedy, and a Talaandig tribal drama. The Unreel Team is set to cover all the entries, and compile our thoughts and reactions in the form of “capsule reviews”, to serve as your festival guide.
This festival report will be updated as the reviews come in. See the TOFARM Film Festival 2018 reviews of the Unreel Team below:
TOFARM Film Festival 2018 Festival Report
Alimuom (Keith Sicat)
Synopsis: In the future, farming on Earth is outlawed due to the toxic environment and all agriculture is done off-world. But despite the ban, some scientists and farmers resist.
Review: It’s 2052. Much of the earth is a lifeless, lilac-colored wasteland. Filipinos live in the safety of a Biodome in Manila where they train to become OFWs (Outerspace Filipino Workers…duh!) and work offworld. Due to its harsh environs, the earth has been deemed unfit for planting and the government has banned farming altogether. Things kick off when mutated seedlings are discovered outside the biodome, for which Diwa, a biologist played with knotted cynicism by Ina Feleo, is enlisted for biologically momentous R&D.
All that is built with persistence and aplomb in the first hour of Keith Sicat’s “Alimuom”. It’s clearly devoted to building its futuristic world—from which springs socio-economic issues that mirror those of our present—often at the cost of weaving a coherent narrative. Structurally, it’s a mess: the third act would serve the film better if it had done something with it, but it just kind of…dangled, against the backdrop of a world where long-distance relationships are aided with remote sex toys, outsider rebels who needlessly look as though they’re simply cosplaying “Mad Max: Fury Road”, and supposedly futuristic graphics that look ripped right out of a PS2 title.
I wish I could recommend you watch this without any apprehension, but I can’t.- Armando
Sol Searching (Roman Perez Jr.)
Synopsis: Teacher Sol is dead and cannot be buried because there are no funds. How will the community come forward to put her to rest, this strict and no-nonsense teacher of grade school students and farmers who need to be taught scientific farming methods?
Review: Your admission to Roman Perez Jr.’s “Sol Searching” comes with a golden perquisite. For about a good hour, you’ll be in the company of Pokwang, who plays in this film a stoic friend named Bb. Galoloy and her exasperation by the grasping nature of people around her. There’s a whole map of it on her face, the resignation and somber are not lost in each goofy snark. It’s an irrefutable delight, and in and of itself a reason that will make your admission worthwhile.
“Sol Searching” is smart satirization of the business of the dead, complete with fancy-schmaltzy life insurance memberships and network marketing hoo-has. It’s a supremely funny, often poignant story of a woman (Gilleth Sandico) hardened by the cruelties of choice and circumstance.
That about sums up what I have to say about this movie: Come in for Perez’s filmmaking, and stick around for Pokwang. – Armando
Kauyagan (Julienne Ilagan)
Synopsis: Piyo refuses to accept the responsibilities of being the only son of a Datu from the Talaandig Tribe. He defies his destiny and runs away from home to pursue his dreams of freedom only to find himself behind bars when he is mistaken as a rebel.
Review: Julienne Ilagan’s “Kauyagan” is about homecoming. That’s homecoming to Piyo’s tribe in Bukidnon, his identity as a Talaandigan Datu, and the film’s central existentialist conflict of having to embrace one’s way of life.
This, I think, is a sound concept, but it’s one that’s already been beautifully realized in James Mayo’s lovely 2017 debut, “The Chanters”. Ilagan’s film, however, is similarly heartfelt and a well-meaning look into an increasingly forsaken sample of our people. It’s simple in its construction, and it speaks of resonant issues about family, identity, and culture.
Also, the country can’t have too many films that puts the Indigenous front and center. But that’s a fact that doesn’t fully offset the unmistakable flaws in the film. There’s a whole arc, for instance, that follows Piyo (Jefferson Bringas) at prison, that makes the film’s listless pacing feel even more loose. It’s where its musical aspect comes in handy; one will be hard-pressed not to tap their toes to Piyo’s songs about the Taalandigan people. -Armando
Mga Anak ng Kamote (Carlo Catu)
Synopsis: In fictional Philippines 2048, the humble sweet potato is regularized as a part of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. Those unable to control their appetite for the tuber hide off to the boondocks to plant and eat it out of sight of the authorities. After being isolated in the mountain for years, a woman travels to the city to look for her husband who is held by the police for selling illegal kamote. The journey leads her to a discovery about the past that may or may not have happened.
Review: There’s a clear joke in Carlo Catu’s “Mga Anak ng Kamote”. However, there’s no pronounced punchline.
At its center, the film is a lo-fi mystery set in a dystopian future where sweet potatoes (kamote) are considered illegal crop, as though it was a bona fide narcotic. Things kick off when Iyong—played by Katrina Halili, who, here channels an otherworldly curiosity akin to that of Scarlett Johansson’s in “Under the Skin—discovers her husband, Bano (Alex Medina), who happens to be in the business of pushing kamote, disappears without a trace.
“Mga Anak ng Kamote” yields some very resonant ideas, which often get thwarted with its approach that sometimes feel self-serious. There’s an arc that unfurls concurrently with Iyong’s search for her husband—one that, though completely vexing, feels a whole lot more interesting than its sardonic main arc—told through the impressive storytelling device of curtaining out of a square into a full frame.
I don’t completely get this movie, but man was I in for the show. -Armando
Tanabata’s Wife (Charlson Ong and Lito Casaje)
Synopsis: It is the early part of the 20th century, Japanese immigrant farmers are doing well with vegetable gardens in La Trinidad Valley near Baguio. Among them is Tanabata- San. Middle-aged and lonely, he hires a young Bontok woman, Fasang, as farmhand, and falls in love with her. However, Fasang falls for the wiles of a distant cousin, Okdo, and they elope, taking Kato with them. With only his teen-aged aide Tiago working the farm, Tanabata is distraught. He loses his will to live and abandons the garden. He wants to go home to Japan to die, wishing only to see his wife and son one last time.
Review: Every now and again you’ll chance upon a movie as precious as “Tanabata’s Wife”, a truthfully imagined, elegiac ode to the Filipino identity and its rich complexities, told in a supple, exquisitely lived-in story that glistens with human exuberance.
Set in the 1920’s, it centers around the unlikely marriage of Tanabata (Miyuki Kamimura), a Japanese farmer flown in by the Americans to ground the earth of a blooming Cordillera, and his wife, Fas-ang (Mia Fanglayan), an Ibaloi woman hailing from the mountains of Bontoc. There’s obvious reverence to classic Japanese filmmaking in the way that the film is shot, and in flagrant defiance of being too self-absorbed, the film offers a confirmation that it’s rooted in its fascination with three people: Yasujirō Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, and Sinai Hamada.
The result is a searing romance between bodies and across cultures that marshals assured craft by directors Lito Casaje, Charlson Ong, Choy Pangilinan, who makes a film beautiful in its simplicity and moving in its seeming smallness. -Armando
1957 (Hubert Tibi)
A group of farmers in Bicol are at the mercy of Don Jose, a strict landlord. Twenty-year-old Lucio, the son of a former member of the Hukbalahap, pins hopes on the arrival of President Ramon Magsaysay in their area for genuine land reform to take place.
Review: I wanted to embrace the listless appeal of Hubert Tibi’s “1957”. It’s a lighthearted slice-of-life drama that feels perfectly aligned with what ToFarm, as both a creative filmmaking sandbox and a bona fide institution, stands for.
Set in the eponymous year, the film follow The Rosales’s, a family of farmers who tend to a wealthy family’s vast cornfields. There are talks of the president—Ramon Magsaysay, beloved for his domestic policies such as the Agrarian Reform—coming to their humble fields, and possibly award them at least a small plot of land to ground as their own. Anyone who knows a bit of the reform’s history, of course, will quickly deduce the significance of the year, and know that things don’t go as well as these unwitting farmers have hope.
Coming off of this, the denouement to me felt less powerful than it could have been, and the whole thing felt emotionally flat. There are great touches, to be sure, which have me come out of the theater with a knotted frustration that it didn’t ultimately work.
If anything, it’s a truly Filipino movie down to its core: the final shot, a vivid silhouette of a community who pull through for one another in the face of adversity, is a striking image, one whose luster had all but waned following the laborious, meandering plot that precedes it. – Armando
The above reactions are compiled from Unreel editor-in-chief Armando Dela Cruz.
Have you also seen the TOFARM Film Festival 2018 films? Let us know your thoughts and reviews in the comments below!