Five Filipino Films That Deserve a Global Audience

Unknown to many, Philippine Cinema has prospered despite the flagging support of the general viewing public. Since the early 2000s, brave storytellers like Lav Diaz and Raya Martin have released a steady stream of films that have carved out a distinct perspective of our myths and stories. Producers and filmmakers like Raymond Lee and Jade Castro shun mainstream and indie categorization for the sake of clear-cut narratives that are both accessible and more endearing than most big studio drivel, as depicted in films like Endo and last year’s hit Zombadings:1 Patayin sa Shokot si Remington.

Film critic Philip Cheah even noticed the strong lead of the Philippines in the new wave of Southeast Asian films. “Filipinos themselves don’t realize the nexus of creativity that they exist in. They groan at the thought of how far behind their cinema is. But any outsider would be rendered breathless at the amazing power of their independent spirit. I know I was blown away when I watched last year’s crop of new indie films at the Seventh Cinemalaya film festival. There were tons of new films and after the regional wave of 2010, you could say that the empire (or the country’s center) struck back! The Manila-based directors rallied and released a surge of great films. But it’s not a real competition anyway. Filipinos know that they were born to create.”

With the emergence of films like Yam Laranas’s The Road in the international circuit as well as screenings of small-budget gems like Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (the most critically acclaimed local film of 2011) in film festivals abroad, it’s truly an exciting time for Philippine cinema. The numbers of local releases may have dwindled but it’s undeniable that there are more quality films being produced.

Just in case you need more convincing, here is a list of recent films, including shorts and full-length, that deserve a wider audience not just locally but elsewhere in the world.

Tundong Magiliw (Tundo Beloved)

Dir: Jewel Maranan

Unlike other films that deal with poverty, Jewel Maranan’s Tundong Magiliw refuses to slither down Tundo’s infamous image. Instead, she captures an intimate portrait of a family struggling to make ends meet, and witnesses a birth that foretells a future riddled with its own emotional baggage and promises.

Mapang-akit

Dir: John Torres

Torres’s take on the aswang myth wanders from the idyllic into a poetic play of the supernatural. Made from outtakes of a collaboration with a Danish filmmaker, Mapang-akit creates its own language while still grounded in cultural quirks of a hushed town haunted by a grim spell.

Big Boy

Dir: Shireen Seno

Big Boy approximates the glories and pitfalls of childhood in a swirl of hallucinatory images. Seno’s film, based on the experiences of her father, evokes the traps of our labyrinthine remembrances, where faces and names blur but the emotional resonance resounds stronger than ever. Timmy Harn and Gym Lumbera’s Class Picture, a short film that recaptures the fading pleasures of the titular photograph, should serve as a companion piece.

Sakay sa Hangin (Windblown)

Dir: Regiben Romana

Sakay sa Hangin immerses us into the rich culture of the Talaandig tribe as we follow the tribe’s musician on his quest to save his dying heritage. Romana’s film reminds us that our country holds more riches than what our school textbooks have shown us and that music will always be a universal vessel of peace.

Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved)

Dir: Christopher Gozum

Mixing fiction and documentary, Lawas Kan Pinabli shatters the heroic notions about overseas Filipino workers. The film is divided into several interviews with OFWs in the Middle East whose harrowing experiences stem from their dream of better lives. But the film also shows how some Filipinos knowingly break rules and cultural norms to fit their misguided intentions, not realizing there are realities far bigger than themselves until they eventually hit rock bottom.

Originally published in The Philippine Star Supreme (May 26, 2012)

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It’s strange how Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Ball” can be both a celebration of oneness and a paean to the perils of individuality. As an outspoken advocate of the LGBT community (“I cannot respect homophobia and intolerance of the gay community!” she bellows during the Manila leg of her tour), Gaga has embraced the rainbow connection like a currency, something she has conflated in Born This Way and its title track. “The Born This Way Ball” is a celebration of this virtue, a spectacle of pomp, grace and aggressiveness that has earned her the adulation of her “little monsters,” and the ire of conservatives around the world. But it’s this kind of pelting that makes her even stronger.

By now, Gaga’s spiels from the concert have circulated around Twitter and Facebook like an infectious chain of text messages, punctuated by the proclamation of “I am certainly not a creature of your government!” People are quick to jump on this as her way of wagging her middle finger to the protests that surrounded her arrival but it’s, more or less, her elaboration of the manifesto that she blabbers on all throughout the show. She mixes ‘80s kitsch with goth/medieval sensibilities and Golden Age science fiction to catapult the rise of a “new race”: a population distilling her advocacy that ultimately stems from the Bible, no matter how hard the fundies crucify her as devil incarnate. Gaga, after all, was schooled in a convent.

When armed with her love-yourself ammunition, Gaga becomes a strikingly commandeering presence; a high priestess of pop music. She is the honey badger of the music industry: she really doesn’t give a sh*t. She preaches what she wants and she does it like no other prefabricated starlet. The “Born This Way Ball,” she says, isn’t just a big-ass promotional platform, it’s a venue for her beloved fans to celebrate their true selves under the banner of empathy and togetherness; a prayer rally for those inflicted with low self-esteem. And with anthems like Born This WayBad Kids, and Hair, she can make anyone feel like they’re up there with her, living their childhood dreams. If you’ve been cheated on, duped or cast off, Gaga’s songs can be her way of braiding your hair and giving you a pat on the back. “It’s okay,” she’ll say. “They’re all replaceable anyway. Look at my couch, it’s all man meat. They’re more useful this way.” And for that moment, while you sing along to her ridiculous turns of phrase, you believe her.

Without the cultivated persona, Gaga is at her strongest. The Fame era songs remind us how once she was obsessed with boys, blinding lights, and proving her detractors wrong, how her glitter-guzzling former self has given the world turbo-powered fusions of Eurotrash and electronica without the baggage of empowerment. Syllables turn into tics; gummy earworms that lounge in your head for days. Songs like Poker Face, Just Dance and Love Game are proof of how her old pop star image has helped catapult her into a larger-than-life performer. And when she hit the Born This Way era, she threw off the sequined gloves and put on a Versace-designed habit and launched into a mission to preach her gospel to whoever wants to listen and be enlightened.

But at her most vulnerable, Gaga is most believable. As she performs the stripped-down version of Hair, she turns it into a powerful weapon; a highlighted passage in a John Green book that morphs into a moment of self-actualization. Your hair may be a ridiculous metaphor for self-expression and freedom but it does make sense.

In the end, when all the bass lines and camp have all been blown into the spotlight, she’ll turn off the lights, stow away her costume and close her book. You’ll walk out, into the antiseptic lights of the arena, humming the chorus line of Marry the Night, assimilating the last two hours in your head. It’s an intense experience, hammered with pop’s greatest transgressions; something that bears a close resemblance to a religious experience. Now go forth and spread the word.

Originally published in The Philippine Star Supreme (May 26, 2012)