It is raining hard outside now. The whole day was hot. This is a respite as I look out of the pool in front of my room. I’m in Bacolod as I write this, with the executive committee on Cinema of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
My room is at the end of the blue pool. The room shares a space with four other rooms that one reaches by way of a low, winding staircase, with white decorative iron grill. The design of the territory around the rooms is pure nostalgia. It’s the 1960s once more and one expects any of the stars from Sampaguita Pictures to come down the flight of stairs and greet whoever is rising from the pool.
I’m dreaming and breathing of films
Last night the Cine Negrense, in its first year, opened with Peque Gallaga’s Sonata. It was an opportunity to witness the director back in the place of his birth and, as he would always narrate, wonderful childhood. There was really no need to introduce Gallaga but, stickler for protocol as we are, he was still introduced to the crowd, a very young crowd. Who knows—maybe somebody in the audience didn’t know this character of a filmmaker.
Peque Gallaga, as we heard that night, is called “El Pogi.” Talking about the film, Gallaga, to the delight of the crowd, addressed himself as “El Tigulang,” the Hiligaynon for “The Old One.” But as he talked, he seemed a young film advocate himself. It’s already common knowledge how Gallaga spent a considerable number of years in Bacolod forming and inspiring a local film community. That evening, Gallaga demonstrated how his energy and interest for local cultural activities has not waned: He brought up the issue on the use of “Negrense” via-a-vis “Negrosanon.”
I have reviewed already Sonata. Still, after some four or five years, the film still made the audience have a good cry, a perfectly wonderful catharsis.
The story of Sonata, as recalled by Gallaga that night, was a response to the question of how to represent Bacolod in cinema. He talked about the many themes already tackled, repeatedly it may be said. These ranged from land conflicts, feudal social relations, etc. He said people are forgetting the connection of art to the life of people in Bacolod.
I would learn more about Sonata that night.
After the screening, we all repaired to what the city of Bacolod is also known for—grilled food. Awaiting our orders, we talked about the ending of the film. Patrick Campos, the author of The End of National Cinema, and Baby Ruth Villarama, documentarian par excellence and the woman behind such works as the phenomenal Sunday Beauty Queen and Jazz in Love, were visibly moved and, at the same time, bothered by the ending of the film. Without divulging the ending, both critics admitted they were entranced by the decision of the filmmaker to end that way. The story tells us, however, that the wealthy, in narrative, benefits always at the expense of the fate of the poor
One of our duties in Bacolod was to read the paper Patrick and I read during a conference to honor the centenary of Philippine cinema held at the College of Saint Benilde some two months ago. Teddy Co, the chairman of the committee, requested us, together with Baby Ruth Villarama, to deliver the talk in three forums scheduled in between the screenings of short films in the film concourse. Baby Ruth was requested to share the back stories behind the making of Sunday Beauty Queen.
Patrick’s assumed the problematic position of a film historian. Unlike a hard-core historian, he appeared to present the contentious dates attributed to the birth of cinema in the country.
The paper of Patrick triggered many questions about the origin and destiny of Philippine cinema.
The topic I reprised was about the rise of Bikol cinema and other selected films from the regions. In the paper, I asked many questions about the many assumed power and reach of the films in the region.
Two of the Bikol films I shared with the participants were from Kristian Sendon Cordero—Angustia and Hinulid. In the former, the film focused on an aspect of the colonization and Christianization of certain parts of what we know now as Bikol. As imagined by Cordero, that aspect of history was not merely about conquest accomplished through religion. It was also the beginning of the assertion of the “natives” with regard to their understanding of this new set of beliefs, this new God that is full of tremendous and majestic mystery. The title, Angustia” refers to many elements and characters in the film: the priest vanquished by the agony of his guilt about his sins; the natives and their discovery of the “Anguished One.” The icon of the Pieta hidden by the early friars away from pirates and, now rediscovered, earning more power as it becomes the sacred one for the natives; and the impending angst the Bikolanos/Filipinos would face as they confront a religion that would capture them for colonial eternity.
Hinulid, the more seminal work of Cordero, is a cinematic landmark for providing a space for the great actor, Nora Aunor, to portray a Bikolana onscreen. The point I particularly emphasized in my talk was how the film actually encompasses all the available Bikol languages that the actors/characters used in the film. Aunor herself spoke in Rinconada/Iriga Bikol, a language that is not central but peripheral. This enabled the framing of scenes where actors spoke to each other employing their own, respective Bikol languages—a fact that made the Bikolano audience aware of the different strands of Bikol languages smile a bit, a fact that’s lost entirely to the non-Bikolano audience.
When the regional films were created, for they were created and advocated by film scholars from the central Manila, there was the assumed jubilation that finally, here is a form that could strongly oppose the cultural hegemony—the dominane of the mainstream Tagalog films wrongly identified as “national” cinema. As it is, the many regional films face another force and that is the varied, differing heterogeneity of the places, cultures and histories within the regions. In the end, the regional filmmakers create more margins, produce more peripheries as they conjure a subaltern space in relation to the consuming grip of the mainstream cinema, the Tagalog films pathetically imprisoned, and yet mighty in its assumption of power as the national or state cinema.
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