5 Filipino indies at Singapore fest

Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - March 31, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - One of the greatest things that can be said about film in this day and age is that with the advances in communication and technology, it remains one of the most potent and viable mediums for the cultural exchange of ideas, and intellectual sharing across borders. I was witness to this when I was in Singapore and dropped by the Singapore Art Museum for the sold-out screening of Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There) at the South East Asian Film Festival. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-received the film was, how favorable was the reaction of an audience of various nationalities to an ostensible coming-of-age film that struck a nerve, thereby transcending its Philippine setting.

Now on its third year, the festival complements the ongoing exhibit of South East Asian Art. The brainchild of art administrator Teo Swee Leng and film critic Philip Cheah, the festival runs from March 22 to April 14. On a non-competitive basis, exhibited are 20 full-length films from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and host Singapore, with a sidebar of Vietnamese experimental shorts. Teo was more than enthusiastic about how robust our indie film scene continues to be, and proudly cited that of the 20 films, five come from the Philippines. Also an opportunity to meet emerging directors and filmmakers, the festival creates post-screening discussions when possible, and during the one held for Ang Nawawala, associate producer Issa Litton was regaled by the outpouring of enthusiasm for the film and its singular musical soundtrack.

I mentioned “ostensible” coming-of-age storyline for Ang Nawawala because it’s unlike our mainstream youth-oriented films that deal almost exclusively with puppy love, and up the cuteness quotient. Jamora’s screenplay takes a more in-depth look at family dynamics, gives us “young love” via unconventional young adults (one is a young man who has taken a vow of silence since he witnessed the death of his brother when he was only 10 years of age, and the girl is a waif recovering from a recent break-up with a charismatic musician). Against type, they’re drawn to each other. One memorable sequence is courtship via vinyl record sleeves. Interesting to observe how Jamora captures this generation’s angst, where communication is often done via texts, social networking, and visual, rather than verbal, displays — and this segues nicely with our hero’s disposition to non-speech. And it also meant a lot to the audience that didn’t have to rely heavily on dialogue, or reading the sub-titles. Music is a universal language, and the smart selection of songs, their placement in the film, and how they conveyed emotions and moods, made this film such a hit with the audience. In fact, during the post-screening discussion, we had to laugh when a member of the audience said that the best thing he liked about the film was “the f---ing soundtrack.”

Teo was looking forward to Lav Diaz’s Florentina Hubaldo CTE, a six-hour film that deals with a woman’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and her struggle to retain memories. Pureza, a documentary by Jay Abello is a haciendero’s son look at the sugar industry of Negros. Mes de Guzman’s Diablo, the 2012 Cinemalaya winner, deals with a widowed mother and the roles her five sons play in her life, after the death of her husband. The fifth Philippine film is The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Dagaluan’s Children, an opus from Gutierrez Mangansakan that uses a Cotabato Maguindanao fishing village as a metaphor for spirituality and fatalism.

Opening the festival was a Malaysian film, U-Wei Bin Haji Saari’s Hanyut. Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly, which follows a Dutch trader and his daughter with a Malaysian woman during the colonial times of the late 19th century, the film made the Dutch trader “marginal” and instead made central the Malay mother and how, even if educated in Europe, she wanted her daughter to embrace her Malay-ness against odds. Among the closing films is Indonesian director Ifa Isfansyah’s The Dancer, about a gifted ronggeng folk dancer’s life and how her success spells prestige for her rural village, as a treatise on tradition versus progress, personal love versus community spirit and obligations.

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