IT was our second day in Nabunturan, deep in Compostela Valley. It was the second day of the ninth edition of Cinema Rehiyon.
They were up there—all eight of them whose full-length feature films were being exhibited away from the center.
It was a privilege seeing all of them, with minds raring to go and think and act and work on the next project.
It was a forum for filmmakers to talk about the journey of their works from conceptualization, inception, production and presentation.
Teng Mangansakan held his theoretical composure and poise all throughout. Lem Lorca was candid as usual. Sheron Dayoc, fresh from his Gawad Urian triumph, remained the soft-spoken person that he is.
Petersen Vargas was late but, like his film, just too cool to be forgotten. There were two Vics in the forum: Vic Villanueva and Vic Accedillo. The former was funny and irreverent, like his film Patay na si Hesus; the latter was calculating and sober.
Keith Deligero seemed to represent guerilla filmmaking in all aspects even at this stage of his career. Zig Dulay was silken and lengthy in his responses to the questions, like his long hair. Arbi Barbarona held his ground as the person closest to the film movement in the Davao area.
Did we miss anyone? Yes, Kristian Sendon Cordero, who directed the great Nora Aunor in Hinulid, was taking a respite in the grand midwest of America. Bagane Fiola was nowhere to be found, lost, perhaps, in the forest of his symbols. Two days after the forum, I would encounter Fiola at the open-air screening of his film, Baboy Halas, in the municipal plaza of Nabunturan.
Ryan Murcia, himself a voice of gender issues in Mindanao, came not in a pair of slacks but in snow-colored skirt paired with sophistication. The filmmakers came with their incisive wit and intellect, not bad for a festival that thinks of itself as happening at the margin.
Teng Mangansakan was exhibiting his documentary Forbidden Memory, a report of the massacre of some 1,5oo Moro residents of the barangay of Malisbong in Sultan Kudarat. All forms of filmmaking require bravery, both physical and political, but at that moment, Mangansakan could hold the record of being one of the bravest and arduous of them all,
The Malisbong Massacre took place in 1974, with the martial law of the Marcoses just well into its second year. Very few knew of the horrible incident, with the media muzzled and fearful of reprisals.
Mangansakan talked about how difficult it was to interview the survivors. The reason was not merely out of fear and trauma, but also because many other organizations had already gone there and profited from the misery of the inhabitants by earning off the materials produced out of their stories. The filmmaker intimated as to the difficulty of shooting the documentary, as the pains of the key informants could be transferred to the filmmaker.
Lem Lorca would talk about the power of geography, or how the location of a film could make a substantial contribution to one’s narrative. Lorca helmed the film Ned’s Project, the story of a lesbian whose aim was to have a baby. The story was about Ned but it was also the tale of the town. In Lorca’s films, the town of Mauban and the terrains of Quezon Province are characters more than just a frame for the action and the drama unfolding
Sheron Dayoc moved from location to characters. He talked about how his Women of the Weeping River was made with, in a way, nonactors. There was no other way for the story to be told, Dayoc told his audience. Women of the Weeping River featured no actors from the mainstream movie industry
For Petersen Vargas, crucial was the language more than the location of his film. In Kapampangan, the humor of his narrative gets a big chance. He needed to go back to his roots, Petersen admitted, in order to deliver the appropriate message.
Victor Villanueva became the toast of the group, with his Patay na si Hesus scoring big in the new and just-concluded Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. The title had earned him also hate postings on Facebook, with some accusing him of making fun of Jesus. The film, as it turned out, had nothing to do with the death of God, existential or otherwise
Vic Acedillo came from advertising before plunging into filmmaking. He expressed the importance of network and local connection. He had to get to know the people and for them to know about him in the locality.
Keith Deligero of the Binisaya group was unapologetic about his style of filmmaking. He does commercial videos on the side so he could raise the right funds that will support his brand of storytelling. As he owes no one any return of investment, even as he believes in the profitability of projects. He underscored his desire to continually challenge notions of cinema. Most idealistic, Deligero is a tough nut to crack for those who wish to fuse independent filmmaking with certain aspects of commercial mainstream cinema.
Zig Dulay explained his personal and cultural difficulty when he made his film centering on the Agta or Negrito of Zambales. It was not easy casting the Aetas, Dulay said, as the chosen would-be actors had to ask permission from the elders. Dulay articulated how the necessity and urgency of filmmaking remained on the side of the production unit. If ever the Aeta cast worked diligently, it was because they had entered an agreement and not an aesthetic bonding with the filmmakers.
Arbi Barbarona showed in the forum how he had carved his own niche among Mindanaoan filmmakers. His films are touched by contemporary issues that surround him, as a resident of the place and as an artist.
Little did the young audience realize, or maybe they did, that they were listening to the new voices of Philippine cinema, give and take a few more filmmakers. The eight persons onstage belonged to one generation. They could talk and discuss, and they were, surprisingly, without angst. Either they were good in suspending the extremely personal and psychological in them to allow the social beings at their core, or they stood for what artists of cinema are like today.
They were confiding and disclosing, confessing as to the underpinnings of their art and politics. Zig Dulay showed a different kind of courage when he proposed the many endings to his romantic story. Should the Aeta get his girl, who is from the lowland and belongs to a separate ethnic community? Should the girl, the unat or one with straight hair, live with the Aeta? Dulay said his films had two main audiences: those who rooted for the romance between the boy from the mountains and the girl from the lowland. But there was the cultural community of Aetas that believed the Aeta man should go back to the Aeta girl, to whom he already proposed a marriage or made a vow.
Even the camera, or the technology of cinematography, had to be retold. Mangansakan, who belongs to a noble line, explained the detachment of his discourse and his way of seeing.
He grew up in a household where they were raised to have a certain manner of distance. This is manifested in his works.
That morning, this radical notion about the death of the author was subverted by this generation of filmmakers. Their films, for all intents and purposes, demanded multiple readings, with the filmmakers’ historicities being terrific perquisites to a layered understanding of the new films, and the new directors being able to trace and track their ingenuity and ethnicity anytime.
Pauline Kael, a critic for many generations of astute filmmaking, is quoted as saying how “irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all arts.”
I think of the generation of filmmakers who honored the invitation of the ninth Cinema Rehiyon in Nabunturan, and how they will provide the pleasures of the arts while remaining responsible to their audience and their craft.
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