‘‘Indies,” they are called for now, but a shared hope within their community is that, someday soon, they will no longer be regarded as distinct from the “mainstream.” Cinema is cinema, two out of three independent filmmakers invariably point out in the middle of any interview on the subject.
By definition, an independent film is made entirely, or in large part, outside the major film studio system. This, of course, has vast implications on budget, distribution and exhibition.
We do not set indies apart from those on the other side of the funding fence; they have been doing an impressive job of it themselves by consistently winning awards at foreign film festivals—top- to bottom-tier—this past year, to illustrate, from Locarno to Pyongyang and around the world in between.
To be fully embraced by Filipino audiences is a bigger shared hope, but the next best thing has happily kicked in: curiosity. It was probably this that produced long, late-night-screening queues in mall cinemas for “Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington” in 2011. Everyone in the indie orbit celebrated that first proof of life for the “little” movie outside festival venues, like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where the comedy by Jade Castro premiered, via the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
Recent strides in critical acclaim were set off by director Maryo J. de los Reyes’ “Magnifico,” which won two best film feature awards in the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival special sections dedicated to children and the youth.
The big wave would not roll in until 2005, when digital technology caught up with the Pinoy filmmakers and their prime showcase, Cinemalaya, was launched. From the inaugural entries, Auraeus Solito’s “Ang Pagdadalaga ni (The Blossoming of) Maximo Oliveros” proceeded to win best picture in that year’s Asian Festival of First Films and, notably, the Golden Zenith Award at the Montreal World Film Festival.
“Maximo,” about a gay teen in the slums, landed a best foreign film nomination at the 2007 Indie Spirit Awards, considered a bellwether of the Oscars. It went on to win some eight more international honors, culminating in the Dekada Award (best film of the decade) at the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino’s 31st Gawad Urian in 2011.
For the past seven years, the Gawad Urian trophy has gone to indies. And today, the country has about a dozen indie movie festivals, national and regional. Even the now very mainstream and very commercial Metro Manila Film Festival opened, in 2010, a section that it christened New Wave, for independent productions.
In 2009, Brillante “Dante” Mendoza was declared best director at the Cannes Film Festival for the crime thriller “Kinatay,” beating US filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, among others. In January, the French government decorated Mendoza with the title “Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters” for his body of work.
The indie stamp has become so attractive to actors that there’s been a more pronounced migration from mainstream to indie than the other way around. Studio-grown talents drumbeat their indie projects with much enthusiasm. Could Piolo Pascual be any more mainstream? Well, he starred in and coproduced the 2009 indie “Manila,” directed by Adolf Alix and Raya Martin, which premiered in Cannes.
A best foreign language film nomination from the US Golden Globes or Oscars remains elusive. This is yet another shared hope. For next year’s Globes and Oscars, the Philippines is fielding Lav Diaz’s four-hour “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan,” which just bagged a nomination for the Indie Spirit Awards. This is a bit of pressure for Diaz, Pinoy master of “slow cinema”: His newer “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” all of five and a half hours, won the Golden Leopard (best picture) at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.
It would be “good” to get “Norte” in those races, Diaz told the Inquirer, but added that international awards should not be the ultimate measure of a film’s worth. “A Filipino indie director’s dream is, always, for as many of his countrymen as possible to see his movie.”
The Inquirer launched Indie Bravo!, a yearend tribute, in 2010. We have never run out of honorees. A few of them make quick trips to Manila from their bases in the regions or abroad, to receive the simple tokens—a glass trophy and a Guyito doll—while fellow indies, who turn up to celebrate with them, applaud. The common refrain in the thank-you spiels: “There’s nothing like recognition from your own people.”
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