Busan International Film Festival had once named the Philippines as the “Mecca of Asian independent films.” It was not difficult to imagine that the future map of Asian cinema would be made in the Philippines as Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay was lauded with an accolade for Best Director during the 64th Cannes Film Festival in 2008. This was the second time Mendoza entered the main competition in Cannes. At the same time, Raya Martin, who had not turned 30 yet, managed to emerge with Uncertain Regards through his film Independencia (2009).

It is hardly strange then, that the Philippines’ independent film festival known as Cinemalaya Cinco or 5th Cinemalaya (in Tagalog, “Malaya” refers to independence; “cinco” means five), taking place from the 17th to 26th July 2009, was regarded as a large event for independent Filipino filmmakers. This film festival which featured films made by Filipino filmmakers exclusively, invited international juries, thus, garnering the attention of several directors of international film festivals such as: Osian Cinefan (India), Busan International Film Festival (South Korea), Asiatica Film Festival (Italy), as well as others.

On the other hand, Cinemalaya is filled with fresh faces and young blood of Filipino cinema. For instance, Pepediokno, who recently turned 21 in 2009, had directed a feature-length film Enkwentro. This film, which critically examined the mysterious killings targeting influential gangsters who were mostly children and teenagers, had caught the juries’ attention. Indeed, Enkwentro was not the first to raise that theme. Previously, Jim Libiran’s Tribu (2008) dealt with children living in the slums of the Philippines and involved in criminal organisations like gangs. In his discussions with me, Pepe revealed that what made him uneasy had been the youths’ increasing participation in criminal activities. Yet, the laws in the Philippines were enforced through violent means (even via murder) without legal procedures, all of which were quietly ignored by the public due to the prevalence of crime and poverty there. 

Although almost all of the independent filmmakers are young, many reflected awareness towards the rich history and identity of the Philippines. For instance, the opening film of Cinemalaya, Manila, directed by Raya Martin and Adolfo Alix served as a tribute towards two legendary Filipino filmmakers, Lino Brocka and Ismail Bernal. Manila was a contemporary interpretation by Raya and Adolfo of Brocka’s Jaguar and Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980). These two films were chosen as they parallel one another in providing a narrative with Manila as the backdrop. In the competition section, Adolfo Alix’s other film, Karera portrays the root of gambling culture in the Philippines. 

Cinemalaya’s best film, Last Supper No.3 depicts the twists and turns involving the search of a lost Jesus’ Last Supper while navigating the cumbersome bureaucratic system in a genial, albeit satirical manner.  It must be acknowledged that Last Supper No.3’s win had taken many by surprise due to its comedic genre. For most of the festival’s run, the winning films were reminiscent of other, more serious and artistic films.  The combined forces of director Veronica B. Velasco and scriptwriter Jinky Laurel produced Last Supper No.3 as a film that not only caused the audience to shake with laughter, but also, sensitive enough to capture Filipinos’ tradition of displaying the iconic Last Supper in their dining rooms as well as the commodification of religious icons in a capitalist society. 

However, as written by the Philippine’s Free Press magazine the immediate challenge that remains for Cinemalaya lies in redirecting their focus onto their “products” as opposed to “themselves”. In other words, what is of greater importance is not the popularity of the festival, rather the fate of the films shown in Cinemalaya. 

Originally written in Bahasa Indonesia/ Translated by Alma Delia Sukma

Image source: cinemalaya


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