Of the six films offered by the Division of Humanities of the University of the Philippines Visayas in this year’s college week, I watched five. Five short films, each lasting 18 minutes to 25, in one sitting were too much of a tour de force. I was literally gasping for air in the middle of the third film, and figuratively went asphyxiated and with a sore bottom after the last film rolled its closing credits.
This is one of those good projects of the University in encouraging film appreciation among students. Seeing their classmates, themselves even, and professors on screen acting was an altogether fun and different experience. Moreover, all five out of six used Hiligaynon, the local language of the area, as medium. Hiligaynon can be as exciting and compelling as English when used in screenplay. The other one, Dayo, is in Filipino/Taglish and some gibberish peppered here and there by the supposed English-speaking characters.
Before I begin with my short reviews of all the films, allow me to give my observation on how the event was organized:
The venue was semi-outdoor (or call it semi-indoor). Films aren’t meant to be watched using this kind of set-up. The night sea breeze kept on blowing the overhead screen where the movies were projected, making it difficult to distinguish visual effects used in the films from the motion caused by the overzealous night breeze coming from the sea of Miagao. The monobloc seats were too uncomfortable for prolonged sitting; the stiff white chairs hardly provided comfort to complete the cinematic experience. And the projector was improperly positioned which made the images a bit skewed, distorting the field of vision.
But these were minor glitches that could be forgone easily. After all, the combined sales of the 50-peso tickets barely covered the cost of production of all the films. Expecting that what members of the audience paid for the ticket would entitle them of a commercial-cinema kind of comfort, was too much.
What was the most unpardonable, however, was the behavior of the audience.
I felt I was in a cinema for seedy and banned bomba films in the province. The students, especially upperclassmen who were with their peers, feeling entitled to their very smart opinions (while the movies were shown!), howled and screeched at the most commonplace of scenes, giggled at the most insignificant and insipid of lines. Some loudly laughed at the mispronunciation of the actors, and I heard shouts of invectives and sneer at some sexual and homosexual underpinnings between characters. It was disappointing how UP students have gone that low a point, some might have probably internalized that the more they talk the more intelligent they sound and appear.
The opposite, it appeared, has more truth in it. And what they’ve shown in that very small venue-on-campus was shameful, lacking anything close to what we refer to as urbanity, utterly crude and crass.
Now the films:
Sinda [roughly translates to ‘Enchant’] (written and directed by Mr. Robert Rodriquez) is the story of a country lass, Celia, who is abducted by tamawos (other-worldly supernatural creatures in Panay folklore) and is saved by her boyfriend, Armando, through the help of a surano (shaman).
Visually, this is the most appealing of the five films. Despite the limitations of the equipment used (an ordinary handicam), surprisingly, the colors and texture are crisp and the lighting is superb. It makes use of the forested area on campus in Miagao as location, which I did not know could look that gorgeous. The camera techniques are well thought of, varying every now and then, but at some point these also started to become predictable.
The film’s weakest point, however, especially for an Ilonggo viewer familiar with the story of the tamawo, is the triteness of the storyline. In fact, the story line is too bare it borders to being boring. Some scenes are painfully stretched to compensate for the lack of anything to say.
This (the abduction of a maiden, not the over-familiar storyline) has been a recurring theme in some mainstream films, like Chito Ronio’s T2. It would have helped if a new aspect or twist is added, which could be done by having ample research on the subject. For works produced within the academe, competing head-on with big studios in terms of production quality is a bad decision, instead they should focus on something the academe is good at, and that’s research which can greatly develop an otherwise well-worn theme into something more exciting, if not cerebral.
Bugasan ni Andrea [Andrea’s Rice Container] (written and directed by Prof. Vicente Tan). Andrea, a widow with two children, becomes the object of love of a dwarf (elf, i believe, is a better translation).
We were taught in basic storytelling that a narrative is empty without conflict. This short film cannot use as an excuse its briefness to justify its lack of any decent clash.
There is a dwarf who falls in love with a widow. His love unrequited, he threatens her to hurt her children if she doesn’t go with him to his kingdom. The widow says she won’t go with him and that he should not touch her children. And the dwarf leaves her and her children unscathed that easy.
I looked for something that motivates and drives the characters, I found none.
The film is also found wanting in the technical front. The lighting is unflattering, too dark for something not so horrific (or horrible, but it is). There is so much extraneous sound unfiltered by the mic. And some minor continuity problem. The script has more semblance to a radio script than a screenplay; the main character narrating her every action when she could’ve saved time saying her lines as the audience can see fully well what she’s doing.
Bugasan ni Andrea is like an empty rice container, tapped from the outside — it’s loud, but empty.
Abu sa Kolon [Ashes in the Clay Jar] (written and directed by Prof Emmeline Cabalum and Prof. Maybelle Guillergan) is based on a true story of Nestorio Lagulao from Negros Occidental. Two siblings, recently orphaned by their babaylan mother are left in the care of their mambabarang (sorcerer) uncle who earlier kills the children’s father using barang. Their mother, before she dies, tells them to burn her body and make clay jars out of her ashes. These jars will help the children weather the harsh life by giving them whatever they ask. But their uncle wants everything to himself, including their land, cages the kids and intends to kill the kid when, finally, their mother’s twin, also a babaylan, Lirio, helps them escape their uncle with the help of the clay jars.
Although I felt that the film rushed itself at some point to satisfy the allotted running time, it is able to effectively convey its message. It has a just-right level of complexity to entrance the viewer but simple enough to be told in less than 20 minutes. I’d say I was biased for this film, seeing former classmates playing the lead roles, but aside from that, I saw that this film was well thought out.
The execution of the casts still leaves room for improvement. The costumes of the different characters were higgledy-piggledy; a mix of Spanish-era, contemporary poor, contemporary casual, to something futuristic, but this disconnect makes the feel of the film even more ‘fantastic’.
For the effort of attempting to come up with a production of this size and and the filmmakers going the extra mile by offering something novel and innovative to a film that has an otherwise tired genre, my applause goes to the filmmakers of Abu sa Kolon.
Dayo [Outsider] (written and directed by Prof. Kevin Piamonte). If I follow Umberto Eco’s definition of pornography as any act that extends beyond the normal length of doing it, say, opening a car normally takes five seconds, if the film lingers on the act of opening a car for 20 seconds then it is pornographic.
Dayo unquestionably, therefore, belongs in this genre. The film is made long-winded by those lengthy (and very shaky) shots of the two protagonists walking, enjoying the sunset, and partying that have nothing, if nothing much, to do in the development of the film’s thesis. Aggravating the crime when the main characters can’t let go of their consciously imbibed, all-too stereotypical Manileno way of behaving when they are vacationing in the province. In the film’s case, Boracay.
I’ve seen this done in mainstream films, and mainstream films have already perfected this stereotype. An independent film, using equipment far less sophisticated than those used in big-studio productions, attempting to do exactly like this, will only force itself to succumb to a cinematic feel that is cheap, forced, ugly. And Dayo, unfortunately descended into this pitfall.
Its medium, Tagalog and an ample supply of that constrained twangy American English, caused an uproar among the already rowdy audience. Choonight… Man, don’t you love it here, man? Man, this is life, …man, the sun, ….the beach, …. and the girls, man.
And what are two guys, identifying themselves as close friends, doing in a rented nipa cottage? The not-so-cosmopolitan members of the audience had an answer, and they screamed the label every 25 seconds of the film.
It’s a hodge-podge of confusion, of loose ends improperly knotted, entangling with each other until the film gets lost in the very complicated pattern the filmmaker wanted to weave.
Si Mags, si Maki, kag si Moy (by Prof. Jonathan Jurilla).
Of the five films, this is the one I like most. Simple story line; adorable characters; bright colors; and cool, white monkey.
Si Mags, si Maki, kag si Moy is a 3D animation that made use of the open source animation program, Blender.
It may be the novelty, the almost flawless execution, the multi-variegated framing and perspectives, or all these combined that I liked. And I liked it.
The animation is something a stressed out college student after a day of boring lectures and class activities will enjoy watching.
And besides, it won’t feel sound to impose on these cute creatures the more exacting criteria we set for humans characters, so the film becomes a league of its own. And with the absence of any UPV 3D production as a precedent for comparison, this one stood out.