Wanted: More indie audience

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Director Jun Lana welcomes the staging of more local film festivals as a platform to not just showcase more Filipino independent films, but to also develop more local audiences.

Lana’s award-winning Barber’s Tales formed part of the line-up of over 50 indie films — made by both seasoned directors and emerging talents — being screened in the ongoing Singkuwento Film Festival at the Leandro Locsin Theater, NCCA Building in Intramuros. Singkuwento, a joint effort of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and MPJ Entertainment Productions with the Office of the Mayor of Manila, is quite the “new kid on the block” in the roster of local filmfests which includes, among others, the returning CineFilipino and the Cinemalaya which will, however, have a trimmed-down edition this year what with its two main competition categories (New Breed and Director’s Showcase) cancelled.

In an interview during the Singkuwento opening night last Saturday, Lana said that the number of local filmfests is “not enough” to spread the word and drum up support for the indie films coming out.

He explained, “Any local festival will definitely have my support. This is what I think: I feel that we have enough films going to international film festivals. I think it’s important that we, indie producers and filmmakers, also develop local audiences. Our audience should be Filipino. The primary audience sana of indie films ay Filipino. Of course, we appreciate all the awards and recognitions we received in international film festivals, but nothing compares to being watched by Filipino audiences.”

Barber’s Tales tells of a woman’s awakening from her voiceless and powerless place in her small-town community, which begins to unravel when she takes over her dead husband’s job as the village barber. The film had its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2013, where lead star Eugene Domingo won as Best Actress. It has since made the rounds of foreign festivals, earning more accolades like the Best Director plum for Lana at the 3rd Madrid International Festival last year.

Lana said, “I’ve been to many international film festivals in the past two to three years. These are huge festivals with so many foreign audiences approaching you, saying they are pleased with your film. But at the back of my mind, lagi kong iniisip sana Filipino yung nakakapanood nito, makaka-experience ng pelikulang ito.”

 He added, “I won’t mind making an indie film that will have its world premiere in the Philippines. It’s just that for us, independent filmmakers, it’s not viable to premiere the film here.”

This is why, Lana said, they would first tour the film in international filmfests in the hope that it harvests awards, gathers momentum and creates enough noise to muster an audience here. “Because if we don’t do that, nobody will be interested in our film,” he explained.

Despite the remarkable growth of indie filmmaking in the country, according to Lana, many quality indie films do not get a screening slot. “It’s the reality,” he said. “Sa isang international festival, ang kukunin naman ay one to two Filipino films, swerte na kung lima. Sa dami ng mga ginagawa ngayon, may mga ibang indie films, which are of high caliber, but cannot get a slot. So, what happens now? How do you market that film? How do you release it here? That’s why a local festival is important.”

His Barber’s Tales, the second in a trilogy of stories rooted in rural life in the Philippines (the first one was the equally critically-acclaimed Bwakaw starring Eddie Garcia), is still getting invitations to tour and compete in international filmfests. But Lana said that he has decided to bring the film home.

“When you go to all these festivals, you realize that the most important thing is to actually work on your next film… Parang, how many awards do you need just to tell yourself that you’ve done an award-winning film? This is what I realized as a filmmaker, it’s not about the number of festivals (you joined). I’m (now) more interested in school tours. We’re reaching out to the students. Right after the screenings, there are Q&A sessions. The experience is very enriching.”

Meanwhile, Lana has three new films in production. Last December, he shot the indie Anino sa Likod ng Buwan, the big-screen adaptation of a Palanca-winning play he wrote several years ago, which is a political thriller about a rebel couple and their friendship with a military man. The film stars LJ Reyes, Anthony Falcon and Luis Alandy.

Another film he is working on and which was already selected by the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum for funding assistance is Die Beautiful to be topbilled by Paolo Ballesteros. The comedy-drama is about a Filipino trans-woman (who loves to impersonate celebrities) with the dying wish to be buried as Lady Gaga. But then the body of Paolo’s character gets taken by a Chinese-Filipino family who dresses the trans-woman as a man in the funeral service. Gay friends steal the dead body, which they dress up every day to honor the last request.

Lana is also doing a mainstream horror, titled Retreat House, which is a co-production of Regal Entertainment and Star Cinema and will serve as the movie debut of Janella Salvador. He’s also looking to produce some of the screenplays churned out during the free screenwriting workshop he’s been conducting at Mowelfund.

(The Singkuwento International Film Festival runs until Feb. 28. For screening schedules and other details, visit https://www.facebook.com/5kuwento.)

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