When real meets reel

- Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2012 - 12:00am

Manila, Philippines -  “Some of the more exciting videos being done by indie filmmakers are documentaries,” says filmmaker Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., curator of the documentary section of this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Del Mundo notes, “Many of the early indies in the ‘70s were documentaries” and independent filmmakers today have not stopped producing their own takes on real life. “Perhaps the main reason is that there are urgent issues that need to be addressed and film is an effective medium to keep these issues in the consciousness of the public,” Del Mundo says on why filmmakers turn to documentary filmmaking.

The entries featured in Cinemalaya’s documentary section this year indeed take up various issues and reflect many different facets of life. The full length documentaries programed are: Give Up Tomorrow, produced by Marty Syjuco and directed by Michael Collins; Dance of My Life, produced and directed by Lyca Benitez-Brown; Harana, produced by Florante Aguilar and Fides Enriquez, directed by Benito Bautista; Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar, produced by Joey Gaston, Fiona Borres, Agnes Villar, and Jay Abello and directed by Jay Abello; and Journey of a Filmmaker: Marilou Diaz-Abaya produced and directed by Mona Lisa Yuchengco.

Michael Collins’ Give Up Tomorrow is as exciting as a whodunit story.

There are also two programs made up of short documentaries: three shorts which were made during the 2nd documentary workshop of the Goethe Institut Manila ­– Guerrera: Warrior Women directed by Sari Lluch Dalena, Dere sa amo sa San Andres, directed by Michael Christian Cardoz, and Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok, directed by Lauren Sevillano Faustino; as well as Front Row – Ang Pinakabata produced by GMA News and directed by Joseph Israel Laban; and God, Church, Pills and Condoms produced by Arleen Cuevas and directed by Fritz Kohle.

The documentary section was introduced in the festival last year, with a program composed solely of the output from the 1st documentary workshop sponsored by the Goethe Institut Manila, in cooperation with the School of Design and Arts of De La Salle College of St. Benilde and the Independent Filmmakers Cooperative. This year is the first time for the section to be made open to all docu filmmakers.

“The documentary section is non-competitive, but I had to make some choices since the slots are limited,” Del Mundo explains. “This year, we are highlighting the section with major documentaries, aside from choice documentaries from the workshop.”

All the documentaries to be featured were produced in 2011 and 2012, ensuring truly fresh and relevant perspectives from the documentarists of today. Del Mundo also notes that three of the films featured – Give Up Tomorrow, Harana, and Dance of My Life – are Fil-Am productions, which give the audience yet another perspective in which we may view our country and culture.

Lydia Benitez-Brown’s Dance of My Life explores life as Carnival Queen.

Del Mundo expounds on these selections: “In this year’s Cinemalaya docu section, there is Give Up Tomorrow – the subject is Paco Larrañaga, a young man accused and convicted with a group of men of the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters in Cebu. It’s as exciting as a whodunit story, perhaps even more gripping because you know that real people are involved. Another is Dance of My Life – Bessie Badilla’s story. Bessie used to be a model for the Balenciaga House and a television celebrity. It traces her personal story that is highlighted by her stint as the Queen in the Carnival in Rio. Harana is a nostalgic search for this lost tradition of serenading one’s love interest. It’s something not to be missed by people, young and old, who love music.”

The other documentaries featured are by homegrown talents, taking up a myriad of topics. Jay Abello’s Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar gives an in-depth look at the Negros sugar industry, drawing from interviews with both sugar hacienderos and sacadas (migrant workers). In Journey of a Filmmaker: Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Mona Lisa Yuchengco takes a glimpse at the director’s life with the help of her friends – fellow filmmakers, critics, and even her doctor.

The short documentaries are equally interesting and varied: Guerrera: Warrior Women by Sari Lluch Dalena traces the stories of women during the Martial Law years; Dere sa amo sa San Andres by Michael Christian Cardoz tells a story of harvest despite a dying river; Lauren Sevillano Faustino’s Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok captures the traditional tattooing process of the mambabatok; the various sides of the RH Bill debate are presented in God, Church, Pills and Condoms.

Del Mundo notes that television often becomes an outlet for documentaries, but these broadcast documentaries often depend on a celebrity-journalist. An exception to this, however, is found in Ang Pinakabata, an episode of Front Row, a documentary series broadcast on GMA News TV.

“It is very seldom that documentaries are shown in theaters, much less in commercial theaters. This is true not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well,” says Del Mundo on the rare treat the Cinemalaya audience is being offered.

REEL LIFE: Model and Canival queen Bessie Badilla is featured in the documentary Dance of My Life.

“Eventually, I hope that the documentary section will be part of the competition. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a separate section. The documentary can be part of the present competition,” says Del Mundo, adding, “If people say that documentaries are boring, they must be watching the wrong ones. The better documentaries work like feature films. The storytelling is just as exciting.” After all, many times real life is even more intriguing than fiction.

For full schedule of screenings at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt and Trinoma cinemas, please visit culturalcenter.gov.ph.

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