Yes, we Cannes
Triumph has many faces in the celebrated annual international gathering of movie makers and enthusiasts in the south of France. Scoring a nomination, being invited for exhibition, getting there, walking the red carpet like athletes would in the Olympics, having a film sold for foreign distribution and, yes, winning the coveted Palme D’Or—any one of these is sufficient impetus for anyone to take a shot at the dream.
Thus, we are within bounds to proclaim 2013 as a “banner year for the Philippines” in the Cannes International Film Festival, even if we didn’t beat our record of a best-director win in 2009 for Brillante Ma. Mendoza (whose “Kinatay” was fielded in the big-league Main Competition) and, nine years earlier, a Palme D’Or for a short by Raymond Red, “Anino (Shadow).”
For all the stones cast at Mendoza (the late famed critic Roger Ebert pronounced the Philippine entry “the worst film” in the festival’s history), his victory was a big deal. Until the next Pinoy winner in Cannes, Mendoza and Red will continue to be looked up to by their peers.
Filipino independent filmmakers deem the Cannes fest as the one that makes the heart skip a beat. “Always special” is how Adolfo Alix Jr., who landed a slot in the Un Certain Regard section this year with the history drama “Death March,” puts it. Lav Diaz, who competed with Alix in the section pegged as the gathering’s “serious, experimental” aspect, has won the top plum twice (2007 and 2008) in that other dream fest, Venice. Yet, he says, a filmmaker who professes disinterest in screening his/her work in Cannes is a hypocrite.
The late Lino Brocka, who became National Artist for Film, was neither a hypocrite nor parochial. He saw what international exposure through Cannes could do for the sociopolitical critique in his now iconic films. In 1979, his “Insiang,” about the revenge of a rape victim in the slums, became the first Philippine film to screen in Cannes. In 1980, his crime drama “Jaguar” was nominated for the Palme D’Or. In 1981, “Bona,” about obsession and oppression, was screened in Directors’ Fortnight and distinguished for its “independent-mindedness” and noncompetitive nature. In 1985, his “Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim (This Is My Country),” deemed subversive by the Marcos regime, was smuggled out to get to the fest, which had given him a second nod for the Palme D’Or.
This year, his “Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag,” digitally restored through the efforts of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, debuted in Cannes, in the Classics Section.
Brocka’s death in 1991 spurred, more than halted, the Philippine quest in Cannes. The indie community consistently bids for slots there, past monumental production and marketing hurdles, past even the “poverty porn” tag earned, rightly or wrongly, via previous efforts. Little can be done about that; we are a poor country. But to the credit of our indie filmmakers (“independent” means not backed by mainstream studios), we’re almost beyond that sorry tag.
While poverty is still the prevalent backdrop for many films that get considered for, and often win, festivals abroad (not just Cannes), it has been creatively woven into other themes, like coming of age in “Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros” and satire in “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank.” Both films went on to win acclaim abroad.
More and more, the poverty ingredient is impressively consigned to the background, as in other winning exports—“Busong,” “Harana,” “Bwakaw,” “Boses” and “Thy Womb.”
Our indies have been looking beyond merely supplying a perceived demand from the developed world for illustrations of squalor and sleaze. This much is clear to Diaz, whose Cannes debut with the four-hour “Norte: The End of History” was marked by a five-minute standing ovation and declared by at least two foreign critics as the best in this year’s fest. “I make films for cinema,” Diaz says, “never deliberately for any festival.”
Our indies have conquered the world, from Australia to Russia to much of the West, except Cannes. That its commercial components—film market, the hunt for distributors and future foreign partners/producers—have not dampened enthusiasm for its artistic aspect says much about the festival’s attraction. But the commercial opportunities are also a prize worth pursuing. Erik Matti’s “On The Job” was exhibited in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, and the distribution deal that he scored is said to be the biggest ever for the Philippines. The deal guarantees, for one, screening in 12 US theaters in the fall.
Yes, we Cannes. And maybe next time: the Palme D’Or of our filmmakers’ dreams.
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