The indie scene in full swing in 2013 (First of two parts)
Mario Hernando (The Philippine Star) - November 17, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The independent film scene has never had it so good in 2013, with more institutions providing financial help to filmmakers, more film festivals and venues, support from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and the blossoming of talent.

The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) offered veteran filmmakers grants and then celebrated the results during a week-long National Film Festival: Sineng Pambansa. The network giant TV5 gave grants to filmmakers and screened them at the Cinefilipino festival at Gateway. The Quezon City government under Mayor Herbert Bautista and Vice Mayor Josefina Belmonte was more modest with just three subsidized films and held a festival called Q (or QC, the city’s acronym and the festival’s, as Quezon Cinema) at Trinoma last Oct. 3 to 5.

It is apparent from these festivals that the venues for indie films are increasing. The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the CineMalaya Foundation added more venues to this year’s CineMalaya beyond the CCP theaters into the cineplexes at Greenbelt and Trinoma and Market! Market!.

Earlier, only Robinsons Galleria and old theaters were indie-friendly institutions but now even SM Cinemas and Shang Mall at EDSA have linked with the FDCP led by Briccio Santos and opened their doors to the government agency’s Sineng Pambansa. Only a little more marketing savvy and publicity push should put this event in high gear.

Meanwhile, the MTRCB helmed by chair Toto Villareal has given unheralded support to legitimate indie artists and institutions in terms of easy review rates, inputs and advice and self-regulation. Films screened at the CCP, for one, during the CineMalaya were exempted from the MTRCB reviews but the task of classifying the films for audience suitability was carried by the festival leadership. Thus, a potential tinderbox like Adolf Alix’s Porno was open only to an adult audience at the CCP but not screened at the commercial venues at the more public Ayala Cinemas.

The MTRCB is planning a film summit next year to gather stakeholders in the indie scene and the film industry, to forge agreements and identify common cause, and understand and spread the idea of film classification.

This year, the best film artists — a mix of established mainstream crowd-drawers, indie superstars and much-recognized filmmakers and artists — have been active in various stages of work — planning, shooting, post-production and exhibition: Lav Diaz, Dante Mendoza, Elwood Perez, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Joel Lamangan, Vilma Santos, Nora Aunor, Joel Torre, Elizabeth Oropesa, Anita Linda, Rustica Carpio, among them. Still to be hurdled is the most important challenge of all — drawing in the ticket-buying moviegoers.

So far, commercial successes like Kimmy Dora, Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, Ekstra and OJT have been few, but local moviegoers who avoid Filipino movies like the plague have been “awakened” into the existence of good, worthy movies and are now giving them a chance.

Elwood Perez, the god of box-office hits during the ’70s and ’80s, has come back with a surprising valentine to the indie community, the film-within-a-film Otso, and has promised to do more personal, meaningful work, while OTJ director Erik Matti denied his movie is an indie film (it’s co-produced by Star Cinema, currently the top mainstream outfit, with a budget that may fund at least four other low-budget films).

The winning moments began when the Cannes Film Festival, the Mount Everest of international film festivals, exhibited three films made by Filipinos or with an important Filipino element in the material: OTJ, Metro Manila and Ilo Ilo. On June 18, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino handed out its Gawad Urian only to indie film artists — in all categories.

In the 60 or 80 films submitted to the Academy Awards in Hollywood, three were made by Filipinos or made in the Philippines: Transit, the official Philippine entry shot mostly in Israel; Ilo Ilo from Singapore with Angeli Bayani in the lead role, and Metro Manila from the United Kingdom.

And before the Metro Manila Film Festival opens its pre-festival of indie films before the Christmas holidays (ostensibly to address criticisms about its openly commercial, fund-raising nature), this month, we have Ronald Arguelles’ Cinema One Originals 2013 Festival, now on its ninth year, from the ABS-CBN Network, showcasing 15 full-length feature films, five of which comprise the first of two in the festival’s main categories. The Cinema One bash ends Nov. 19.

Participating filmmakers in this year’s Cinema One Plus, the first category, are Borgy Torre for Kabisera; Mes de Guzman, Sitio; Miko Livelo, Blue Bustamante; Adolfo Alix Jr., Alamat ni China Doll; and Keith Sicat, Woman of the Ruins.

Torre’s Kabisera examines human nature and man’s capacity for evil as he shows how the discovery of narcotics worth huge amounts of money transforms him — for the worse. It stars Joel Torre, Art Acuña, Bing Pimentel, Bernard Palanca, Ketchup Eusebio  and Meryll Soriano,

De Guzman’s Sitio is described as a “psychological thriller” about upper-middle class siblings who leave city life and encounter the “terrors and threats in the rural landscape. It features Arnold Reyes, John Prats, Ria Garcia, Anja Aguilar, Biboy Ramirez, RK Bagatsing and Jess Mendoza.

Livelo’s Blue Bustamante is a family-drama comedy about an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) who unexpectedly loses his job in Japan, thereby becoming a double for Blue Force, a superhero character in a planned Japanese kiddie show. It stars Joem Bascon, Jun Sabayton, Dimples Romana and Jhiz Deocareza.

Alix, the most prolific indie filmmaker for the past several years (and this year’s Gawad Urian Best Director for Mater Dolorosa), directs Lav Diaz’s screenplay titled Alamat ni China Doll, starring a powerhouse cast consisting of Angelica Panganiban, Cherry Pie Picache, Cesar Montano, Phillip Salvador, Anita Linda, Allan Paule and Evelyn Vargas.

Sicat’s Woman of the Ruins enters the realm of science fiction. It is about a storm-ravaged island and a resurrected casualty. In the picture are Alessandra de Rossi, Art Acuña, Chanel Latorre, Elizabeth Oropesa, Peque Gallaga, Moises Magisa, Joe Gruta and Rolando Inocencio.

Each of these five films received a P2M grant from Cinema One Originals.

In the festival’s other category are Angustia by Kristian Cordero, with Alex Medina, Ma. Isabel Lopez, Jazmin Badong Liana, Michael Smith and Victor John Loquias; Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas by Timmy Harn, starring Mervyn Brondian, Kay Brondian, Sebastian Sanchez, Timmy Harn, Liza Lorena and Jimmy Fabregas; Island, Whammy Alcazaren, with Benjamin Alves, Luis Alandy, Peque Gallaga, Marita Zobel, Acey Aguilar and Lego Tan; Bukas na lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na, Jet Leyco, with Raul Morit, Nica Santiago, Dan de Guzman, Peewee O’Hara, Herald Dechavez, Paolo Domingo and Lemuel Silvestre; Iskalawags, Keith Deligero, with Kerwin Otida, Reynaldo Formentera, Wendel Otida, Johnreil Lunzaga, Joriel Lunzaga, Micko Manilo and Mark Laurence Montalban.

Saturday Night Show, Ian Lorenos, with Matteo Guidicelli, Joseph Marco and Rayver Cruz; Philippino Story, Benj Garcia, with Mark Gil, Junjun Quintana, Nur Domingo, Hazel Orencia and Kimmy Maclan; Shift, Siege Ledesma, with Yeng Constantino, Felix Roco, and Alex Medina; Bendor, Ralston Jover, with Vivian Velez, Simon Ibarra, Evelyn Vargas, Anna Luna, Lester Llansang, Sunshine Teodoro, Chanel Latorre, Apollo Abraham, Nico Antonio and Czarina Alcantara; and Riddles of My Homecoming, Arnel Mardoquio, with Gingging Hyde, Perry Dizon, Madz Garcia, Jet Sabayle and Jillian Barbarona.

These 10 films were given P1M each. Arguelles has announced that bigger grants will be available at next year’s event. Updates and schedule are available on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Cinema1Channel).

ALEX MEDINA ANITA LINDA ART ACU BLUE BUSTAMANTE FESTIVAL FILM FILMS INDIE
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