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Cinemalaya 2023 finds a new home in PICC

Feature-length selection now includes documentary and animation films

DESPITE the renovations being done at the main building of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the 2023 edition of the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival returns this August with screenings of full-length and short feature films in competition, this time at the nearby Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

The festival’s 19th year, which has the theme “ilumiNasyon,” will feature 10 full-length films and 10 short features from Aug. 4 to 13 at various venues around the PICC.

“We wanted to retain the unique community spirit of Cinemalaya. We hoped to find a venue that would give a similar creative vibe as if you were moving in the CCP main building,” said Margarita Moran-Floirendo, CCP President, during a press conference on July 5 at the PICC Meeting Room 5, now dubbed the Bulwagang Palma.

Thus, the PICC became their choice due to its history, having hosted the Manila International Film Festival in the 1980s.

Chris B. Millado, Cinemalaya’s festival director, added that the “brutalist sibling of CCP” was a no-brainer for them to consider.

“It’s the same National Artist for Architecture (Leandro V. Locsin) who designed the CCP Main Building founded in 1969 and the PICC founded seven years later in 1976,” he said. 

Meanwhile, this year’s theme, “ilumiNasyon,” reflects the festival’s goal to “challenge filmmakers and audiences beyond just skimming the surface and take deep dives to illumine the depths.”

“These might inform, reshape, and challenge the way we think through and experience this work in progress called the nation,” said Mr. Millado.

In addition to being part of the first Cinemlaya Film Lab held virtually, this year’s full-length films received P1-million each from the CCP and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), amounting to a total grant of P2 million.

The 10 full-length films in this year’s film festival are:

• Ang Duyan ng Magiting by Dustin Celestino

The film is a collection of interwoven stories about life and violence in the Philippines, following a college professor, a university chancellor, a social worker, a police chief, two students, two mothers, and a lawyer.

Award-winning actress Dolly de Leon, who plays the social worker in the film, told BusinessWorld that despite her success outside of the country, she wishes that “all Filipinos, from average moviegoers to government authorities, can fully support Philippine cinema.”

“Films such as this one show that we have so much to offer,” she said.

For director Dustin Celestino, Ang Duyan ng Magiting is “a contemplation and a meditation on the agony of an entire nation.”

• As If It’s True by John Rogers

In the film, fading social media influencer Gemma, played by Ashley Ortega, and struggling musician James, played by Khalil Ramos, exploit each other in a not-so-fake relationship.

“We had a great experience shooting this film and I hope everyone enjoys it as well,” Mr. Ramos said at the sidelines of the press conference.

According to director John Rogers, the story is “a simple premise of a friends with benefits kind of situation, but in the lens of internet fame and influencer culture.”

• Bulawan nga Usa (Golden Deer) by Kenneth De la Cruz

The film by Iloilo-based filmmaker Kenneth De la Cruz follows a man who embarks on a soul-stirring journey to a mystical mountain to look for the golden deer. Instead, he develops a friendship with a mountain boy.    

“We’ve previously concentrated on Manila filmmakers, but when we open our eyes to the stories told by those further up in Luzon and down in Visayas and Mindanao, you realize that Manila is not the Philippines,” Jose Javier Reyes, Cinemalaya’s main competition and monitoring chair, told members of the press.

When asked if diversifying the competition films had to be intentional, Mr. Reyes said that it wasn’t the case and that “regional filmmakers are just that good.”

• Gitling by Jopy Arnaldo

The film follows a Filipina translator, played by Gabby Padilla, and a middle-aged Japanese director, played by Ken Yamamura, who test the limits of language and understanding while creating a film’s subtitles.

Director Jopy Arnaldo said that words and language being able to deceive and confuse people is what inspired him to make Gitling.

“In a world where we undervalue the voices of others, mostly focusing on our own in a conversation, I wanted to make a film that explores the act of genuine understanding between people,” he said.

• Huling Palabas by Ryan Espinosa Machado

The film follows Andoy, a 16-year-old boy in search for his long-lost father whose life changes when two movie-like characters appear in his hometown.

“Just like the movies, Andoy must decide whether to conclude his years-long search for his father with a bang or with a whimper,” the synopsis reads.

Set in 2001 in a town in Romblon, during a time of transition from VHS to VCD, the film is director Ryan Machado’s way of capturing the stories of his community and drawing from his personal experiences.

• Iti Mapukpukaw by Carl Joseph E. Papa

In the film, Eric is a man who lives a rather normal life working as an animator in the Philippines. However, he doesn’t have a mouth.

As a Filipino-Ilocano rotoscope animated film, Iti Mapukpukaw is the first animated film to be included in the feature-length competition.

“The whole point is how good the proposal is regardless of genre. We are not judging based on genre but based on content and promise,” said Mr. Reyes, when asked why the selection committee decided to accept the animated film.

For director Carl Joseph E. Papa, the film is personal, even more so than all his previous animation. With it, he aims to prove that animation is “a visual form that can do stories that live-action films do.”

• Maria by She Andes

Maria, a common given name to a Filipina, is the title of this documentary which focuses on three women named Maria after the bloodbath of Duterte’s drug war.

“In 2016, Duterte’s drug war left 26,000 to 30,000 families, fatherless or husbandless. The wives and mothers of the killed victims are left trying to meet both ends for their families,” the synopsis reads.

Director She Andes said that she wanted Cinemalaya to be a platform for their stories since the festival has become a major voice in the local social landscape.

“I’ve observed that majority of women filmmakers in the Philippines are documentary filmmakers,” she said at the press conference. “I often ask why; maybe because we have more sensitivity to issues of the world.”

• Rookie by Samantha Lee and Natts Jadaone

A romantic comedy centered on an LGBTQ+ couple, this film follows Ace at her new school and her journey joining the volleyball team and falling for the team captain Jana.

Rookie is about “the moments in our life that shape us… about how the lessons and the people from our younger days come together to help make us into a person,” according to director Samantha Lee.

“Ultimately it’s about how society is still very much rigged against women but we continue to play to win anyway,” she told the media.

• Tether by Gian Arre

The film is about an arrogant playboy and a timid young woman who discover that any kind of pleasure or pain they inflict on themselves can be felt simultaneously by the other person.

“We may not be tied to another person the same way Kate and Eric are in the film, but we remain tethered to relationships that we can’t fully abandon,” said Gian Arre, director of the film.

It also tackles “abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual awakening, the subversion of gender roles, and the helplessness of becoming a victim.”

• When This Is All Over by Kevin Mayuga

A film is about a disconnected, desperate guy who forges a deal with a group of privileged misfits to plan a secret party at the height of a global pandemic.

According to director Kevin Mayuga, it’s about people who have the chance and the privilege to escape reality.

“I was never acutely aware of my privilege more so than when the pandemic hit. While I was fortunate enough to be comfortable, countless others were struggling and literally fighting for their lives,” he said.

He harnessed that guilt in making this film, which portrays an exaggerated class divide.

For more details on the film festival, visit the CCP and Cinemalaya websites and social media pages. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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