This is Shangri-La: A mall with art and soul
ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2014 - 12:00am

You’d think that the mall is just teeming with shoppers toing and froing, with store windows shining, shimmering and, er, splendid — but pockets of epiphanies are popping elsewhere in the area, elegant grand dramas are happening in the darkened cinemas of magic and memories.

A failed cellist returns to his homeland, becomes a nokanshi, and eventually learns the importance of interpersonal connections through the beauty and dignity of his work. An adolescent boy returns to Cold War-era Hungary to spread the gospel of Jerry Lee Lewis and great balls of fiery rock n’ roll. A young Ewan McGregor runs through Edinburgh’s Prince Street pursued by store security guards, the demons of junk addiction, and the riffs of Iggy Pop. These wonders are unfolding as people are going about their usual ways of shopping and snooping for that next big super-sale. 

The abovementioned vignettes refer to classic movies that have been shown at the Shang Cineplex in the past few years (Departures from Japan, Made in Hungária from Budapest, and Trainspotting from Scotland). These are extraordinary and beautiful cinemas from around the world: story-centric, character-driven, and a buffet of assorted viewpoints about the human condition all unfurling inside a movie-house in a mall… would you believe?

Well, this is Shangri-La Plaza, nothing else quite like it.

Shangri-La Plaza Corp. EVP and GM Lala Fojas explains it thusly: “First of all, what makes Shangri-La Plaza different is that we’re offering an experience — for malling and entertainment in a very comfortable environment. We go beyond the shopping aspect. We also bring in culture — such as film festivals, musical performance and art. Over and above malling, we offer a lot of other things. Shangri-La Plaza is food for the senses and feast for the soul.” 

And it’s currently a very lively time of the year at the Shang, according to Shangri-La Plaza division manager for marketing Marline Dualan. She says, “Especially for art-and cinema-lovers since every month we have events here that celebrate the arts.” 

The Saturday Group recently commemorated its 46th year with an exhibit titled “Homage to the Masters” from July 14 to 21 at the East Atrium of the Shang’s East Wing. Names such as H.R. Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, BenCab and Roberto Chabet have been associated with this art group through the years.

This year’s winners for the Ateneo Art Awards and the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism will be announced in August at the Shang as well.

According to Fojas, “We started hosting the awards in 2008. In 2009, we signed a five-year contract with the university — with the Shang to be the home of the Ateneo Art Awards. This year, we signed another partnership. This is our 7th year. (The organizers from Ateneo) love the venue because there is a mix of people who appreciate art and it is very accessible because of our location. The objective of Ateneo is to bring art closer to the general public, especially the youth.”  

 “And sometime in October, we’ll have an exhibit presented by Art Circle Gallery focusing on Steampunk. We are always on the lookout for new artforms that we can bring to a setting like ours,” says Dualan. “And art is always evolving. Our Art Plaza at the Level 4 of the Main Wing is evidence of that. The galleries regularly mount exhibits that showcase the works of established and emerging artists, as well as events that encourage a greater appreciation for art.”

So is cinema, even the classic ones can be forward-thinking and endlessly inspiring if you’re a filmmaker or simply a closet cineaste.

The Shang Cineplex and the Japan Foundation, Manila have recently hosted the Eiga Sai, or Japanese Film Festival from July 3 to 13. This year’s theme centered “on the family unit and the strengthening of bonds through shared experiences.” The festival presented an attractive and diverse lineup of compelling features, true-to-life stories, animation, and documentaries that broadly showcase the rich heritage, tradition, and culture of Japan and its people.

There was Homeland, director Kubota Nao’s debut feature on a family who rediscover their reconnections with one another after the Great East Japan Earthquake in Fukushima. The film opened this year’s Eiga Sai and was also an official selection of the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival.

There were coming-of-age films as well — A Story of Yonosuke, The Kirishima Thing and Momoiro sora o — and a host of others.

And ongoing until tomorrow at the Shang is MovieMov 3: Italian Cinema Now, the festival which brings together some of the best in contemporary Italian cinema along with the classic works of famed Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola in his own showcase called Classic Retrospective.

Fronting Moviemov’s impressive line-up is the most recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty), which chronicles the musings of aging socialite Jep Gambardella on his life and the city of Rome. The synopsis: “After his 65th birthday party, the once-acclaimed novelist-turned columnist walks through the ruins and streets, encounters interesting characters, and reflects on his life, first love, and sense of un-fulfillment.” Critics have compared it to another Italian cinematic masterpiece called La dolce vita, since La grande is “a moving meditation on life set against the exquisite sights of Rome.”

“Next month, we’ll have the Silent Film Festival (Aug. 28 to 31),” says Dualan. “Then in September comes Cine Europa (Sept. 11 to 21). In November, we’ll have our latest offering, the Sundance Film Gala. Moviegoers will get to see films featured in Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. “

That’s an entire year devoted to being a friend of the new, the unfamiliar, the cinematically fresh. 

When did this whole focus on world cinema start?

“From the very beginning, it has been part of the mall’s philosophy to infuse art and culture into retail,” Fojas explains. “Before the new Shang Cineplex came to be, we had two huge cinemas, which was the home of pioneering film festivals like Cine Europa and Eiga Sai. There was another theater which was for the exclusive use of Repertory Philippines.”

In the past years, more and more film festivals set up operations at the Shang. Festivals focusing on Australian, New Zealander and Taiwanese cinemas popped up from time to time. The Chinese Spring Film Festival is also held here (this year, it was from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2 in time for spring).

And moviegoers come from as far as Batangas and Bulacan, students arrive in droves to watch these films and immerse themselves in a sea of stories via the silver screen.

Fojas explains, “It’s very heartening to do our little part to make these artforms accessible to a wider audience. We get feedback from mall guests as well as from the diplomatic and cultural communities who appreciate our support for culture and the arts.“

There are personal dimensions as well. Marline cannot forget movies that have deeply resonated within her ever since. There was this movie on the artist El Greco at Cine Europa. The Shang executive just came from Greece at that time and she could relate with the artist’s journey, physical and otherwise. Marline also loved the aforementioned La grande bellezza from Italy and Departures from Japan.

That’s just one person. Imagine how the cinematic experience is amplified within the thousands upon thousands of moviegoers who have gone to the Shang Cineplex to enter the brave new world of cinemagica.

And left with a shopping bag or two of handy, all-purpose epiphanies.

* * *

The Shangri-La Plaza is at Shaw Blvd. corner EDSA, Mandaluyong City. For information, call 370-2500 local 579 or visit

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