Friday, October 10, 2008

Blazing the Trail with Indie Films

The Filipino moviegoer has always been easy to please. When he goes to the cinema or rents CDs and DVDs, he is simply looking for a good story, preferably one he can relate to. Filmmakers realized this a long time ago, and serving proof to such connection is the existence of what seems to be a formula for making a Filipino movie. There’s the rags-to-riches story, the vengeance-is-mine plot, the you-and-me-against-the-world theme, and the being-poor-can-be -funny portrayal. These are familiar stories that awaken Filipino sentiments as they carry the Filipino cultural experience. But as that experience changes, so should the perspectives and approaches that represent them.

There are always newer, fresher and more relevant portrayals of the Filipino culture, which filmmakers with braver perspectives and directives other than citing the dough have been raising the Filipino flag with. Free from the constraints of corporate media, independent filmmakers show what authenticity is made of.

One of these is Lagusan, a film about the lives of an abortionist and her son who did not know of his true identity. Lagusan earned the award of Best Drama Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2004. There is also Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, which features an adolescent boy who faces the challenges of growing up a homosexual in a poor and conservative family and society. This has earned for itself several local and international exhibitions, nominations and awards, including the Montreal World Film Festival, Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival all in 2005. Kubrador, depicting the twists and turns of the life of an ordinary bet collector of jueteng, has won four awards and 16 nominations from international film festivals, within 2006, including the Moscow International Film Festival for Best Picture, the Osian-Cinefan International Film Festival, and the Vancouver International Film Festival. Donsol, a story involving the whale sharks in Sorsogon known as the butanding and two people whose lives became intertwined with the migration seasons of the fish, have won in the Asian Marine Film Festival and Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in 2006, as well as earned was the official selection for other film festivals including the Cairo International Film Festival and the Asian Festival of 1st Films.

This year in May, Serbis by Brillante Mendoza and Now Showing by Raya Martin have been accepted as entries in the 61st Cannes Film Festival. This is first time in more than 20 years that the Philippines had been able to enter such prestigious festival, succeeding only to Lino Brocka’s Jaguar in 1980 and Kapit sa Patalim in 1984. Serbis tells the story of how a family in Pampanga survives by operating an old movie house disguised as one that provides for sex and sexual favors. Now Showing, on the other hand, depicts the life of the most familiar girl selling pirated CDs and DVDs in the busy streets of Manila. Lav Diaz, another indie filmmaker also added to the Filipino pride with his winning for the second time in the Venice International Film Festival this year. His film was entitled Melancholia, one that seeks an answer to why there is “so much sadness and so much madness” in life; but the eight-hour film provides no answer in the end.

Throughout the decade, there have been numerous independent or ‘indie’ films that have blazed the trail to making Tagalog movies. It is about time that the Filipino experience is more accurately, sincerely and creatively pursued and captured visually. It’s about time Filipino movies make their viewers think as much as they feel and are entertained.

* This article is by Armin Santiaguel II, webmaster of


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