A feast of films, a bonanza of books

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - August 20, 2012 - 12:00am

After almost two years of holding film festivals, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chaired by visual artist and filmmaker Briccio Santos recently staged the first Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival in Davao City.

It was truly national in the sense that the films shown were among the first batch of finalists selected from some 120 regional entries in last year’s National Film Competition, consisting of full-length features and documentaries competing from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and short animated films sent in by any Filipino filmmaker regardless of region. The original dialogue was in the language of the locality, with English subtitles.

This was going to be my first trip to Davao, my latest mission as consultant for the FDCP in charge of media affairs and publications. As in past festivals, our group consisted of FDCP staff, one or two entertainment writers, filmmakers, and indie actors (sometimes professionals and veterans) who had taken part in the production of the films. On this trip was a popular movie celebrity from the past who still appears in indie films and TV dramas: Tetchie Agbayani, who plays a role in Teng Mangansakan’s Qiyamah. Her day job is professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s College. As soon as we landed in Davao, I re-introduced myself: the scriptwriter of her very first film, Hubad na Gubat, directed by the late Lito Tiongson, shot on location on Mt. Makiling sometime in the early ’80s. She remembered the film, the director, and her co-star (Philip Salvador), and since I was mostly a starstruck onlooker during the shooting, she seemed to have no recollection of the writer, but she has remained gracious and friendly.

There was a hectic flurry of events during the Davao festival. The first day kicked off with a press conference presided over by Chairman Santos and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, followed in quick succession by the inauguration of the new Davao Cinematheque, the unveiling of the commemorative Lino Brocka statue, the Red Carpet Night at SM Cinema 3 (top-billed by US Ambassador Harry Thomas, French Ambassador Gilles Garachon, Cannes Best Director Dante Mendoza, and award-winning actress Lovi Poe), and capped by a screening of excerpts from the making of Thy Womb, the latest Mendoza film. The second day of screenings of the 18 films ended with a Chairman’s Night, during which certificates of appreciation were handed out in an open-air program at the sprawling Catalina Gardens on the upper reaches of Davao, where the Shrine of the Holy Infant Child of Prague stands, overlooking the gulf. And the third day climaxed with Awards Night at the Abreeza Cinema 4, graced by the presence of the international jury which chose the winners in the three film categories.

Lino Brocka statue unveiled at Davao Cinematheque. In photo are director Brillante Mendoza, FDCP chairman Briccio Santos, Danny Brocka, Mayor Sara Duterte, and French Ambassador Gilles Garachon

The National Film Festival winners — who received the newly created statuette named Luzviminda—were: Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro, full-length feature film by Sigfreid Barros Sanchez, Grand Festival Prize; Qiyamah (Judgment Day) by Guttierez Mangansakan II and Qwerty by Eduardo Lejano Jr., tied for the Jury Prize; the actors’ ensemble from the film Ang Mga Kidnapper ni Ronnie Lazaro (Ronnie Lazaro, Nonnie Buencamino, Epy Quizon, Dwight Gaston, Soliman Cruz, Hector Macaso and Mon Lee), Best Actor; Sue Prado for her role in In Banka Ha Ut Sin Duwa Sapah (The Boat Between the Two Rivers) by Fyrsed Alsad Alfad III, Best Actress; Wala’y Tumoy ng Punterya (No End in Sight) by Cierlito Espejo Tabay, Best Documentary; McRobert Nacario, for the cinematography of Qiyamah, Best Artistic Contribution; and Si Pagong at si Matsing by Ramon del Prado and Ayeen Pineda, Best Animated Short Film.

The awards night was not without an added frisson, a swirl of controversy over the earlier pullout of the film Malan (written by the highly-respected Davao playwright-composer Don Pagusara) from the festival because of an unresolved controversy between his Buhilaman production company and the director they hired, over the film’s depiction of B’laan cultural practice. The Buhilaman held a picket outside the theater, and Chairman Santos engaged them in a dialogue, giving the FDCP’s commitment to include the contested film in Phase 2 of the National Film Festival in Davao this November, should the two groups arrive at a settlement. Latest word from Davao is that they were about to start negotiations on a possible compromise.

 The FDCP’s festival brochure tells the story of the latest icon in Philippine cinema:

“By naming the statuette Luzviminda, the FDCP is upholding the essential symbolism and vision of Sineng Pambansa or National Cinema: bringing together the creative talents of Filipino film artists from all parts of the country; encompassing the multiplicity of cultural traditions which define the colorful, vibrant, complex and layered tapestry of our national heritage; unifying our many ethno-linguistic voices and regional differences in the common audiovisual language of cinema; thus producing a vivid image of our concerns and aspirations as a nation.

“As a statuette that pays homage to the artistic excellence and the creative spirit of our people, Luzviminda is depicted by the sculptor Jonas Roces as an Indigenous Filipino Woman wearing a traditional wrap-around and her native embellishments, conveying the richness of her culture and the timelessness of her glory as Perlas ng Silanganan or the Pearl of the Orient, her virtues preserved over centuries of colonial rule and the influences of modernization.

“Luzviminda celebrates the epic notion of the diwata or native deity that has served, for ages, as the inspiration of Filipino artists in whatever field or genre, and now as the divine muse of our Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival, she is reincarnated as a figure holding aloft a Star — the star that has long stood as a metaphor for excellence and the striving for perfection in that most modern and pervasive of the human arts: film or cinema.”

The anvil warehouse book sale

Spending the weekend of June 29-July 1 in Davao was a great experience, but I missed out on the first of five weekends of Anvil’s book sale at its enormous warehouse in barrio Kapitolyo, Pasig. The invitation had read: “Now is your chance as authors to buy copies of your books at a huge discount.” I texted back: “How big’s the discount for A Taste of Home?” (This is the book I co-edited with my daughter Len, finalist in the 28th National Book Awards, retailing for P690 at National Bookstore.) Reply: “80 percent.” I was stunned. For the first time, I knew the feeling of being “remaindered.” But on the bright side, at P138 apiece, I could buy even 50 copies and have a ready gift for any occasion!

The following weekend, I hastened to the Anvil warehouse. I was dazed and dazzled by the size of the place and the thousands of books on display. Cheerfully, I asked for my 50 copies. But they could only come up with three limp, smudged copies, the only ones left in the inventory after the first-weekend rush. Who would have thought that an author would be thoroughly heartbroken when his book gets sold out?

 Depressed, I started picking up some, and then more titles — poetry books for P2, novels for P5, reference books for P20 — these by some of the leading authors of the country — and a hard-bound Vicassan English-Filipino Dictionary (new format) for only P350. My library cannot accommodate any more, but I keep on buying bargain books wherever I find them. My biggest purchase that day was a dozen each of my two other discounted Anvil titles, The Secret of the Cave and other stories for young readers, and The Google Song & other rhymes for our times. Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, my fellow writer of children’s stories, kept pitching over more titles which I could not resist. More than half of the books I have I will never have the time to read, and still I go on buying books. Mark Twain’s words give some comfort: “In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

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