Indies in focus
In the welter of bad news the past two weeks, including the killing of a Revilla boy (allegedly) by his siblings, the slaying of the father of Charice, the slaying of 19 Marines in Basilan and the plunder and corruption cases against many officials of the previous administration, there were spots of good news, and among these were stories about the awards won here and abroad by Philippine indies (movies made by independent outfits).
Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, director of such prize winners as “Kaleldo,” “Serbis,” “Kinatay” and “Lola,” is one of three directors to be honored at the Italian Film Festival which will open at Greenbelt 3 in Makati tomorrow. At the 24th Tokyo International Film Festival last week, Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Bisperas” was cited as the best film in the Winds of Asia-Middle East section.
Last month, first-time director Loy Arcenas’ “Niño” shared the top prize with an Iranian film at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. Lav Diaz’s six-hour epic, “Siglo ng Pagluluwal” (Century of Birthing) had its world premier at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in August.
Among the other directors who have won awards abroad are Adolfo Alix Jr., Jury Prizes at Fort Lauderdale (United States) and Asian Marine Festival (Japan); Alvin Yapan, the Golden Award at the 2009 Cairo International Film Festival for “Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe”; Auraeus Solito for “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros,” top prizes at the Montreal, Rotterdam, Las Palmas (Spain), Torino and Berlin festivals; Chris Martinez, the Audience Choice Award for “100” at the 2008 Pusan International Film Festival and the Vesoul (France) International Film Festival of Asian Cinema in 2009; Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, six major Golden Screen Awards from the Entertainment Press Society for “Boses”; Erik Pasion, honors in festivals in Mexico, Switzerland, Spain and the United States for “Jay”; Lav Diaz, the Silver Screen award in Singapore for “Batang West Side,” and Grand Prize for “Melancholia” in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival; and Pepe Diokno, two awards for “Engkwentro” at the Venice Film Festival. Like Japan’s Kurosawa, these directors first won acclaim abroad before drawing the local audience in.
Indies may yet save Philippine cinema from impending death. Mainstream Philippine movies have become formulaic and predictable, and thus have been losing their audience to foreign productions. On the other hand, the indies have been fresh, creative and socially and politically relevant. On the technical side, the success of the indies can largely be attributed to the advances in digital technology which has democratized filmmaking. Yapan said, “It gave creative individuals a venue to express their own artistry outside mainstream producers’ profit concerns.” The same idea has been expressed by Alix and Solito.
The success of the indies can be attributed to the talent and creativity of Filipino filmmakers, a big pool of directorial and acting talent, a rich cinema tradition that dates back to the American era more than 100 years ago, and the latest digital technology that has greatly lowered the financial requirements for producing movies.
The indies have been winning prizes and acclaim abroad, but except for some “popular” productions, they have not drawn a big local audience. The movie venues are limited to the small and minor cinemas, the advertising is meager, and publicity is often spread by word of mouth. But cinema art houses are beginning to crop up, beginning with CinemaTech in Baguio, and now one being planned in Manila. There are also some movie houses like SM Cinema and Robinsons Cinema which exhibit indie films from time to time.
Schools, cultural groups and other organizations could help popularize indies by “educating” young moviegoers and getting them to patronize well-made Filipino films.
Indies can be a rich source of revenue for the country. Some of them are being snapped up by foreign distribution outfits for exhibition abroad. They can attract tourists and foreign movie makers to the Philippines. They can also help form an international perception of the Philippines as a country that may be financially poor but is very rich in artistry, creativity and talent.
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