Filipinos have always been movie aficionados. Over the years, the branding of Filipino cinema has been infiltrated mostly with cheesy romantic-comedy starring the country’s most famous loveteams; comedies that utilize superficial and condescending jokes; horror films where half the time viewers can already predict where the ghosts will show up; dramas turned into mistress catfights, or babies being switched at birth. These plots, although overrated, still continue to appeal to the masses.
Indie films, on the other hand, are oftentimes pushed to the corner, away from the spotlight. Maybe because they do not have the biggest stars, the movie titles that are named after 90s love songs, the big-budgeted productions, fancy sets and trailers, maybe because they are simply ‘uninteresting’ or maybe, it is because they obliterate the illusion of life mainstream films portray, the kind of life that is easier to grasp than the one outside the corners of the movie theater.
The present state of indie films, PPP
Looking back, Indie Films have always been present in the industry since the 80s. This movement of Indie films continued until the 2000s and has established award-giving bodies such as Cinemalaya, CineFilipino, QCinema, and Cinema One Originals dedicated to its artistry.
However, 2017 seems to be a promising year for Indie films to flourish with yet again another film festival, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. In honor of the Buwan ng Wika, the Film Development Council of the Philippine (FDCP) partnered with commercial theaters to exclusively screen the 12 chosen films for the festival.
The lineup included Jason Paul Laxamana’s 100 Tula Para Kay Stella, Jenilee Chuanso’s Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, Enzo Williams’ AWOL, Kip Oebanda’s Bar Boys, Paolo Villanueva’s Pauwi Na, Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Salvage, Randolph Longjas’ Star na si Van Damme Stallone, Miguel Franco Michelena’s Triptiko, Mikhail Red’s Birdshot, Ralston Jover’s Hamog, Zig Dulay’s Paglipay, and Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus.
In a press conference, FDCP Chair and CEO Liza Diño-Seguerra said, “Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino will be a big celebration of Filipino films for our audience – a festivity with a wide variety of genre films to choose from nationwide,”
The festival aims to connect Filipinos to more meaningful films through its wider release and to establish an affinity between the Filipino culture that we seem to have lost to Westernization. With twelve films under its wing, the audience will surely have their money’s worth of humor, romance, comedy, drama, action, and even history.
The PPP is undeniably a new platform for visionary filmmakers who unceasingly continue to explore stories that cut through all societal spectrums even though they are rarely given much recognition by the populace in the previous years.
Going beyond the reel
Much of what these Indie films are not only a product of a rich imagination and creativity but also of real people and experiences that not many storytellers dare tell.
Randolph Longjas, director of Star Na Si Van Damme Stallone, said that the film was inspired by his late cousin who also has Down Syndrome. After his cousin died, Longjas realized the absence of tackling Down Syndrome in the media.
During the filming, there were a lot of limits, not because the kids who played Van Damme Stallone had disability but because they were simply still kids.
Candy Panglinan who played Vanvan’s mother, Nadia, said “Hindi namin alam kung hanggang saan lang ang kaya nilang gawin o gusto nilang gawin (we never knew the limits of what they could do or what they wanted to do),”
Pangilinan added that despite the limitations, there was never a dull moment on set.
Longjas recalls a very emotional day on set where they had to shoot Paolo Pingol (older Vanvan) to button his polo shirt. Prior to the scene, Paolo’s father told Longjas that Paolo did not know how to button his shirt but Longjas, upon Candy’s request, decided to still proceed with the scene.
During the scene, Candy’s character tells Vanvan (Paolo) to button his shirt and after 18 minutes of waiting and patient insistence, Paolo was able to button his polo. Not only were they able to shoot Van Damme Stallone doing his buttons but also of Paolo’s, leaving the cast and crew in tears.
Patay na si Hesus, one of the entries in the festival, takes you on a family roadtrip. A refreshing take on the humor we have all been accustomed to, Patay na si Hesus tells the story of a typical Filipino family overcoming the bumps and detours life has burdened upon them. Along their journey, we see how all their varying characters, their problems, and misfortunes unravel with every pitstop.
The film reconnects the viewers to the very thing that is constant in their lives, family. A reminder that maybe sometimes, what we need is one hug from our mother, a listening ear from our sister, a joke from our brother, and just the peaceful silence of being together in one small van to make all the waking hours, no matter how unpredictable, matter.
Despite the limitations, the depth and realness these movies can reach is evident. With nothing but pure talent and passion for the craft, one can expect nothing but genuine acting.
Portrayal of a disturbing reality
“Nakikipagpatayan ka sa pagkaing di makain, sa karton para lang may mahigaan sa gabi.” Therese Malvar’s character, Jinky, said in Hamog.
Hamog follows the lives of four abandoned and abused children and their survival in the scary streets of Manila. A dark film that casts light on the realities of child poverty.
Poverty remains to be a critical issue no administration seems to have solved yet. Children steal in order to eat, slum dwellers compete for space for survival, and minors resort to prostitution in order to thrive. Every day, images of families in deep-sleep flocking in front of establishments, finding shelter in cardboards during rain, and wandering along the busy streets during hot afternoons to ask for food have become normal to the eyes of the masses.
What Hamog is trying to show the viewers is the constant battle the marginalized are experiencing every day, the realization that only a few can have a life undisturbed by dangers of the streets. The fact that economic growth has still not trickled down to the huge percentage of the Filipinos still remains impossible to deny.
“Itong mga pulis na ‘to, gagawing ang lahat, sisisihin ang lahat para lang sabihing ginagawa nila ang trabahaho nila.” Manuel Aquino’s character, Diego said in the critically-acclaimed film of PPP, Birdshot.
Birdshot gives us a glimpse of the eerie and disturbing reality of those away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan. A narrative on the unsettling abuse of power and the influence of authority in the shifting of lives of the common people.
Two crimes transpire in the film. First, the case of the missing farmers on a bus en route to Manila to seek for help for their land problems. Second, the disappearance and death of an endangered Haribon.
The two cases intertwine and create a knot that accurately mirrors the present society in the Philippines – the play of power. Diego’s quote, a parallel to the recent case of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, a defenseless Grade 11 student allegedly gunned down by the very people he wanted to become, another addition to the teenagers reduced to collateral damage in the brutal War on Drugs.
Birdshot vividly depicts the harsh reality of those in the countryside, that behind the beautiful sceneries and chirping of the birds lie the fight for social justice.
Indie movies are slowly establishing a new discourse of relevant and significant subjects that we have been apathetic for so long.
The world outside the movie theater
Mainstream films undoubtedly offer the laughter, the heartbreak, the kilig, and the thrill we need to take a break from our usual daily routine. And although it is not bad to escape from reality in exchange for the satisfaction of the longing for a more perfect life, we must not forget the real world that lies outside the cinema. A world asking for recognition and to be rescued.
In this day and age, we do not only need films for entertainment alone but films that will help us question our moral values and knock on our apathy.
Indie films are a product of a rich imagination whose foundation is shaped by the everyday occurrences of the common people. They may be of stories that although sometimes forlorn or uncomfortable to watch, but are real enough to disturb our conscience in passivity.
As works of art, these movies will live longer than us and the recognition of their existence is also the recognition of their immortality.