A country’s cinema should encompass the aspirations and experiences of its people. And to be truly representative, a country’s cinema needs to be sufficiently geographically diverse. This is still to be desired in the Philippines, where the theaters, when they aren’t saturated by Hollywood blockbusters, are by and large dominated by the products of monolithic Metro Manila studios. To be sure, independent filmmakers are making a dent, and their works, long or short, fictional or documentary, have reached an impressive level of quality. Still, when one considers the major film events, by CineManila, Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals, or the tellingly named Metro Manila Film Festival, it becomes obvious that the Philippines’ filmic output remains largely Manila-centric.
Fortunately, that is changing. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ Cinema Rehiyon recently held festivals for independent filmmakers in Baguio, Naga, Bacolod, Davao and Los Baños. The Baguio event featured 10 films and documentaries shot in the Baguio area as well as Iloilo. “Whenever I watch [the work of aspiring filmmakers], I am happy that there is always a new [perspective] from the local scene,” said award-winning filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik. “As we dig into our backyards, we find gems.”
The Los Baños event, called Pelikultura or the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) Film Festival, featured 14 films along with cinema-oriented workshops. Said Pelikultura head Katrina Ross Tan: “Numerous films from the region have been recognized in Manila and abroad. Regional films redefine the concept of ‘national cinema.’ Now the focus is to develop grassroots filmmaking, telling our own stories. Filmmakers no longer need to go to the city to have their films shown.”
Bacollywood—held in Bacolod, Negros Occidental—has been featuring films aside from its own, such as offerings from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, everywhere from Palawan and Nueva Vizcaya to Cebu and Samar. It was a good showcase for Bacolod’s filmmakers, such as Jay Abello, whose documentary “Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar,” was screened at Bacollywood early this year. “The whole point of holding festivals such as this one outside Manila is for the people in the regions to realize their own impact,” said Bacollywood festival director Manny Montelibano. The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) has also been true to its name, holding its Sineng Pambansa film festivals in Iloilo, Zamboanga and Baguio last year. With each screening and each local film, we find a different view from a different place.
Davao is turning into the hotbed of regional cinema. The FDCP held its first Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival there in June, and the second, called Ikalawang Yugto, only this past week. Six full-length feature films and three documentaries were screened at Ikalawang Yugto, with two important films featured: the digitally restored print of Manuel Conde’s “Genghis Khan” and internationally awarded director Brillante Mendoza’s “Thy Womb,” which has Nora Aunor as its main star. “Since ‘Thy Womb’ was shot in Mindanao, it is only fitting that its Philippine premiere be held [there] as well,” said FDCP chair Briccio Santos. The FDCP is hosting two more events in Davao: the International Film Expo, an assembly for the film industry with presentations and lectures in Lanang, and the Asean-ROK Fly project, with 22 young filmmakers from the Southeast Asian countries to be mentored by Asian film professionals.
Santos noted Davao’s “strategic location” in describing it as “the best place to project Mindanao in particular and the Philippines in general as a filmmaking hub.” He said that with the staging of Sineng Pambansa, the FDCP wanted “to send a clear signal to filmmakers from the regions that they are most welcome to express themselves so that they can participate in forging a national cinema that caters to all Filipinos.”
These are encouraging developments in efforts to decentralize the art scene and to banish the idea of “imperialist Manila” from the field of filmmaking. Perhaps now, the term “provincial” can begin to shed its derogatory tone. From Baguio in the north to Davao in the south, the boost for regional cinema is not a mere light-and-shadow illusion but a tangible and meaningful step toward a truly national cinema.