Talking Movies (Or Why I Stopped Being a ‘Film Critic’)

three-bad-film-2

I never liked being called a “film critic.” It was a burden that I didn’t want in the first place. It meant that every piece I wrote had to be coated with a thick sludge of seriousness. Thoughts became proper and each turn of phrase sharpened with a sense of responsibility to the reader and, by extension, the filmmaker — if they happened to chance upon the real estate where my words were being farmed out. I tried taking up this challenge a few times, calling on the ghosts of the film critics I admired so I could somehow do their profession justice. My attempts were meager, stuttering efforts on being firm and authoritative. My writing was never meant to hold such weight, a fact that I accepted early on in my short-lived post as a film reviewer. Why should I continue when there were better and more powerful figures out there, more adept and skilled at conveying the experience of watching films? There was just too many of us around, stomping and grunting, thinking we had something significant to say. And when you’re just another voice bellowing out into the wilderness, maybe it’s finally time to stop.

Pelikula was an enjoyable exercise bolstered by the excesses and ambitions of youth. Tumblr was young and we were just a couple of kids who had time to kill, curious about like-minded people online. The climate was of ecstatic discovery. People collaborated, driven by a sense of community, no matter how small it was back then. When we started Pelikula, Tumblr, as a platform began growing, and as year-end film lists were starting to dominate our dashboards, we thought it would be cool to introduce a film blog with a local perspective. We managed to run the blog steadily for three years. Enthusiasm wore out, people got busy and priorities were restacked. The blog gathered dust, pumped back into life by our occasional attempts to resuscitate it. It’s been eight months since we last posted something. Perhaps we’ll get back to it, now that we’ve grown up a little bit, certainly with a bit of editorial experience that was lacking when we first started. But it’s good to see it once in a while, if only as a reminder that we were once kids, thriving on recklessness and bursting with ideas that we thought would change the world.

What’s your greatest achievement? ”Someone asked me that in an interview. I drew a blank. Nothing. It was a simple question and for someone just two years out of college, I should have had an answer. What does it mean? Is it an award from school? Graduating with honors? No. That’s for nerds. What then? Publishing a book! Directing a film. I have none! All the responses streaming around my head — careful enough not to tumble out of my mouth — were the kind of sad replies from someone who hasn’t done sh*t. I wanted to say “co-creating Pelikula” and it should have been because it was “the little film blog that could,” at least in the three years that it was consistently running. Eventually, I was honest enough to say that I hadn’t really “achieved” anything yet. I told the interviewer about my plans of publishing a book on Philippine cinema and how I think life is actually a never-ending quest for the ultimate achievement: enlightenment.

Nope. I’m totally kidding about that last part.

There was a time, when we still had Pelikula, that I would watch an average of two films a day and post my thoughts/reviews online. Writing about films then was almost a reflex for me. Getting copies of Filipino films became a bit of a quest for me. I loved going to Quiapo, looking for classic films by Mike De Leon, Ishmael Bernal, Marilou Diaz Abaya, Celso Ad. Castillo, and even recent Cinemalaya films I didn’t get to watch. I attended film festivals religiously, shelling out hard-earned money for tickets, festival passes and, in some cases, repeated viewings of films I loved.

I don’t get to watch a lot of films these days. It’s funny because I have better access to films than before. There are always plans to watch Slant’s 100 Best Horror Films or Indiewire’s Best Films of the Decade(So Far), but I almost always end up sleeping on weekends or binge-watching a TV show that I’ve already watched ten times over. Film festivals now sound like a chore, especially the prospect of sitting through three bad films just to get to a good one.

More than anything else, it’s just the deluge of deadlines and the constant stream of responsibilities that get in the way. It’s hard to appreciate a film when your brain has been turned to mush by five days of work, which is probably why I turn to mindless/light entertainment when I feel exhausted. You’d have to chain me to a chair and stick an IV drip into my arm to make me watch another arthouse film.

Originally published in The Philippine Star (August 8, 2015)

The Wooly Mammoth: The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

nuclear-power-plant-5

Anyone who’s watched enough movies would tell you that walking through the insides of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant feels much like a tour of a horror film set. Its dark hallways, abandoned rooms, and crumbling equipment echo an atmosphere of dread—a similar kind of terror that cloaked the country when the plant was supposed to start operating in 1986 amid many questions about its safety. At the time, the plant had been in construction for a decade (although it was briefly halted in 1979 to check for defects brought about by the issues in the Three Mile Island incident in the United States), and it cost the government around $2 billion. Built as a response to the 1973 oil shock, it was envisioned as an alternative to the petroleum dependence of the country. Today, in the midst of the looming energy crisis, the mothballed giant remains as a symbol of wasted potential.

Looking at the vast expanse of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, all 389 hectares of it, it’s astonishing to see that there are only about 13 people left to look after its slumbering shell. On a bright, though sweltering, afternoon, the site is something to behold: tended landscapes, manicured greenery, and the coastline make for a stunning background to the plant’s grey behemoth. A small, two-story office sits outside the main building, where I, along with a writer, photographer, and his assistant, set up camp for a shoot we were producing for Rogue. A brief overview was given before the tour inside the plant. The advantages of nuclear power were outlined as well as a general description of how the plant was supposed to be working, if only it wasn’t shut down by President Corazon Aquino, following the panic triggered by the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

Inside, only a few lights illuminate the floors and network of steel pipes that crawl throughout the walls and ceilings. A few guards roam around to secure the area, and just in case someone was stupid enough to nick a few things here and there. Hulking machinery and equipment — all of which were supposed to be state-of-the-art in the 80s — are unused, obscured by the superior technology that now exists. Tags mark knobs and handles, preservation labels left by inspectors from BNPP’s South Korean sister plant (meaning they both share the same schematics and features), who studied the plant for recommissioning, in the event the government decides to get the plant up and running, a move that would cost around $1 billion.

At the heart of the plant is the massive nuclear reactor. Protected by a domed structure made of 1 m-thick concrete and 1.5 m of steel, it was supposed to provide 625-megawatts of clean energy. The reactor has since been dismantled, inoperable without the fuel, which has been sold to Siemens in 1997. According to our guide, no radioactive material exists in the site.

Nuclear energy hasn’t been the easiest alternative to sell to the people. It is a topic weighed on by years of fears, accidents, and bad examples that give it a bad name to this day. NAPOCOR has been keeping the plant on its wings, with some advocates hoping that there would be an administration brave and smart enough to create a nuclear energy policy for the country. A huge chunk of the energy we consume comes from plants powered by coal, a resource that we still import from other countries. We are one of the countries with the most expensive power rates in Asia, higher than Japan which has used nuclear energy — and survived despite the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

A tangled web of bureaucracy and politicking has also kept the plant from running. It still stands as a Marcos legacy (which is why President Noynoy Aquino wouldn’t even touch it), an expensive mistake to some that should have never been built in the first place. It took the country over 30 years to repay the cost of construction and still consumes P40 million in annual maintenance funds. And all that we have to show for it is a grey giant, dormant on a lonely hill overlooking the sea, occasionally wakened by group tours, turning the plant into an attraction.

Read the full story on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Rogue’s June 2015 issue now on newsstands and zinio.com/rogue.

Battle Scarred

Alex Gilvarry, Photographed by Gabby Cantero; 2012
Alex Gilvarry, Photographed by Gabby Cantero; 2012

Alex Gilvarry’s acclaimed debut throws a Filipino fashion designer into the snarling jaws of New York’s fashion world.

The title of Filipino-American Alex Gilvarry’s debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, can be a little intimidating, or as Random House president Howard Kaminsky pointed out in the book’s testimonial video, annoyingly problematic. Its cover is grim: a mascot-looking prisoner reading a fashion rag as the darkness of his prison envelops him, the seven-word title stamped throughout the cover like a protest or a plea. It sounds like the kind of book that should only be read by anyone whose idea of a good time is watching CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.

But Non-enemy Combatant is actually funny. It’s about a Boy Hernandez, a Filipino designer who moves to New York, and sets out to conquer the fashion world. Mostly everything goes according to plan — until Boy’s ties with a terrorist are uncovered and he is taken away to “No Man’s Land,” a notorious prison the likes of Guantanamo Bay.

From inside a six-by-eight-foot cell, Boy recounts his foray into fashion, name-dropping big designers such as Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera and Diane Von Furstenberg. His confessional was later compiled by fashion journalist and editor Gil Johannssen, who introduces the heavier political threads that surround Boy’s case — and corrects Boy’s misappropriations (Boy, for example, attributes a Nietzsche quote to Coco Chanel and mistakes Flaubert for Proust).

Boy’s similarities to certain Filipino fashion industry figures, namely Bryanboy and Timothy Garcia, have led people to think that Gilvarry based his protagonist on these larger-than-life characters.

Gilvarry explains, “I wrote about half the novel when my friend Liz Moore said ‘You know there’s this guy Bryanboy. I don’t know if you know about him. He kind of looks exactly like the character you’re writing about.’ So I checked him out and his website. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ The similarities were crazy. Bryanboy sort of looks like the man I had been imagining as Boy.

“Bryanboy was one of the blogs I started reading more and more as I finished the novel so probably a little of him filtered in. In fact, I wrote him in the book, I mentioned him a few times. He’s one of the bloggers who writes about Boy to make him a little more famous in the Philippines,” Gilvarry says.

Gilvarry, a Norman Mailer Fellow who has contributed to The Paris Review, is striking in a Fil-Am sort of way (later, some people would tell me they picked up his book because he is “so gwapo”). He stands 6’3” and his warm voice makes for a perfect NPR commentator. He occasionally visits the Philippines and researching for Non-Enemy Combatant brought him more often in familiar places such as Manila and Samar, places that eventually became Boy’s past. Despite being born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Gilvarry admits his Filipina mom allowed him to grow up in a half-Filipino environment. He doesn’t speak Tagalog but his mom’s way of speaking English made him aware of the rhythms of the immigrant language.

Thus, Gilvarry’s Boy reeks of basic Filipino nuances — he maligns idioms and pronounces f’s as p’s or v’s as b’s. But Boy also bulldozes stereotypes in a world where Overseas Filipino Workers are usually portrayed as hardworking laborers who juggle jobs just to send money home; their voices clipped with Americanized English while hanging on to a hard Filipino accent as a crutch and a lifeline.

Non-Enemy Combatant comes at a period in the US where legalities surrounding immigration have formed a heavy cloud in an already volatile socio-political atmosphere. It has been the subject of many polarizing discussions, particularly now that the US presidential election is looming.

“America is a country of immigrants in some ways. Of course, now we don’t see it that way, people there don’t see it that way. There’s a big fear of the immigrants more than ever in recent history, I think. It was really just from inspiration and you can get a lot of metaphors out of the story of migration,” Gilvarry says.

Through Boy, Gilvarry weaves a gripping tale of post-9/11 New York, a city that has learned to stand ground and lick its wounds while still bracing against semblances of threat that hang in the air. The landscape may have changed and an enemy has been taken down but for Gilvarry, New York is still charged with the climate that has pervaded over the past decade.

“The biggest change was Osama Bin Laden is now dead, right? And I found that the climate hasn’t changed as much as we think it has, even though it has been 11 years since 9/11. We’re still at war with terrorists, we’re still very afraid of them,” Gilvarry says.

Non-Enemy Combatant not only skewers post 9/11 distrust and discrimination, it also addresses the dearth of the Filipino voice in American literature, something that he has always sought out as a publishing editor and as a reader of immigrant novels.

“I don’t think Filipinos are very well understood in literature and in American Literature, too. I feel like in the US, they already have Korean-American literature, which calls to mind a bunch of authors. Chinese-American literature, that calls other authors to mind. But we don’t really have Filipino-American Literature. But of course there are many who are coming around now. But I wanted a Filipino-American novel to tell that story because I don’t think it has been told enough, at least.”

As Filipino-American writers like Gilvarry, Miguel Syjuco, Lysley Tenorio and Gina Apostol pave the way for Filipinos in the greater fabric of world literature, we can only expect that the stature and myth that surrounds us Filipinos will expand to broader horizons, and that we will be known not only for our labor exports and YouTube cover songs.

“I think editors are now more aware of Filipinos and Filipino American literature and it’s only gonna get better and better for everybody as we build our canon,” Gilvarry says.

This article was originally published 22 September 2012 in The Philippine Star’s Supreme

 

The Time That Remains

BMLove is just escape for two people who don’t know how to be alone,” says Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunrise (1995), the first of Richard Linklater’s trilogy that centers on a couple as they go through European cities and discuss pretty much everything there is to be discussed. It’s easy to dismiss the films as ideations of Jesse’s escapist theory but in between dorm-room ramblings on gender studies, the cultural clash between Americans and Europeans, and wistful evocations on love and the fragile nature of relationships, Linklater’s long walks of romanticism touch on a familiar truth; a stripped-down form of love, something that inspired at least a generation of moviegoers to search for an elusive kind of love on trains, cafes, record stores, and second-hand bookshops.

Of course, here we’ll have to settle for alternatives: record shops in Cubao X, Book Sales, Starbucks, or the school library. It’s a search that’s First World and bohemian at best, teetering on the ridiculous notion that a chatty but good-looking Frenchie like Celine (or in Jesse’s case, an American) on the train might be the love of his life instead of a psychotic man-hater. At its most basic, the films operate on the template of Hollywood love, with a hefty serving of intellect and a dash of quirk (although never crossing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Side) but Linklater, who later collaborated with the actors in the screenplays of Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), provides us with conversations that are believable enough to make love-struck wanderers out of us, hoping that we’ll strike up a conversation with someone who reads Kinsey or Georges Bataille. The closest thing that we can settle for here is someone with a dog-eared copy of Haruki Murakami or John Green.

It’s almost been 15 years since Before Sunrise and it took Jesse and Celine nine years to reunite in Paris in Before Sunset. Their initial meeting, brimming with bullshit theories that hallmark youthful musings, provided us with an ending that exposed the hopeful or the cynic in us: would they really meet six months later like they agreed to? Turns out, they didn’t. Celine’s grandmother died and was buried on their supposed meeting date but Jesse did fly to Vienna and stayed there for a week, hoping that Celine would eventually show up. They haven’t quite moved on after that, their one night in Vienna still their most vivid memory. Jesse then writes a novel about their encounter, a clever way to draw Celine’s attention and they eventually meet, nine years later at Jesse’s book reading in Paris. And they’ve done a little growing up, too.

Before Sunset shows a more hard-edged couple, jaded and a bit contemptuous after experiencing fallouts in their respective relationships. But at their core, they’re still those young drifters that met in Vienna. We ride in on that hope too, that they’ll finally pick up where they left off nine years ago, despite the fact that they only have an hour until Jesse flies back to New York. Then Linklater gives us what possibly is the best ending of the last decade.

Nine years later, we have Before Midnight, which premiered in Sundance last January to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Adjectives and phrases rained on the film range from “masterful,” “perfect” to “the best of the trilogy.” Its release was anticipated mostly by the teenagers who saw Before Sunset who have by now turned into battle-scarred 20- or 30-somethings, hoping to find an acceptable resolution to Jesse and Celine’s romance. With promo stills and rumors that hint at the relationship’s demise, Before Midnight gnaws on that paralyzing anxiety that we’ve been harboring all these years: that they’ve never really hit it off and that their romance is just kept alive by “brief encounters in European cities.”

Before Midnight finds Jesse and Celine in Greece, a rather ominous setting: a country that’s known for its ruins. The years haven’t been easy on Jesse and Celine and here, we find them tangled in the repercussions of their decisions from the last two decades. “How long has it been since we walked around bullshiting?” Celine asks Jesse. You can’t help but feel the last two films have afforded them a ruminative break over everything that they have been trying to escape. For a couple that you’ve projected on your ideas of what love is, Jesse and Celine make for a perfect substitute for a future you’ll hope to find yourself in. So for everyone who’s loved the last two films, Before Midnight is either that last dash to fulfillment or a heavy blow of betrayal.

It’s almost silly, of course, trying to pin your relationship woes on a fictional couple. But it almost seems too plausible since ours is a generation shaped by pop-cultural codes. The release of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, a comedy film that chronicles the struggles of a couple in their 40s, and the second season Lena Dunham’s Girls, catalogue frustrations that come punching in when you’re grappling with quarter-life crisis. These films haven’t given us escape; they have been confrontational avenues where we can deal with our own shortcomings in whatever relationships we find ourselves in. We might be occasionally eaten up by fears, held up by streaks of optimism, and let down by sullied expectations, but our personal histories will always culminate in that moment of reprieve, that like Jesse and Celine, we’ve given ourselves chances to look on a future that we think we truly deserve.

Published February 9, 2013 in the Philippine Star’s Supreme

At the Mountains of Madness: The Making of Himala (Rogue Magazine, October 2012)

For the Entertainment Issue of Rogue Magazine, I got to talk to Ricky Lee about the catastrophic three-month shoot of Ishmael Bernal’s Himala in the sand dunes of Ilocos. 

Out in newsstands this month or buy the digital edition on Zinio.

Of Gods and Men: Give Up Tomorrow (2011)

Photo by Arni Aclao

There is a certain trace of nihilism attached to the title of Marty Syjuco and Martin Collins’s documentary Give Up Tomorrow. After all, its subject is as bleak and hopeless as a Lars Von Trier film. As facts snowball into one apparent truth, the title emerges as a mantra, ushering in a degree of survival, especially for Paco Larrañaga, the documentary’s subject and the public face of the Chiong rape-murder case.

“I think when you leave this film, you’ll wonder how could he survive, how could someone innocent, not just Paco but all the other innocent people, survive (in prison)? And what we learned from Paco, living in the present moment and just getting through one more day, was just inspiring for us. Even though the title seemed very negative, when you watch the film you can see that it’s really a positive advice that kept him going,” says Collins.

This is the case: On the stormy night of July 16, 1997, sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong were allegedly raped and murdered after they were kidnapped at a mall in Cebu City. The case became one the city’s most heinous crimes and the authorities were pressured to come up with suspects or at least a lead. The police then arrested eight men who were accused of the crime, one of whom was Paco Larrañaga, then a 19-year-old student at a culinary school in Manila. The trial went on for decades and became Cebu’s “mistrial of the century,” a public spectacle of our country’s faulty justice system and a catch-all of the media’s penchant for sensationalism.

Give Up Tomorrow shines light on a huge chunk of the story that was never told back then. The media, and in turn the public, had a part in convicting Larrañaga and his co-accused. They were made out as monsters capable of killing two girls out of lust and petty reasons. The film assembles hundreds of interviews and evidence that point out the glaring truth about the case that was overlooked by the prosecutors and the media: the innocence of everyone convicted of a crime interlinked with the most corrupt depths of our society. A haze of facts and shady evidence clouds the real nature of the case. And this is what Give Up Tomorrow addresses: a view of the Chiong case that spotlights an outrageous example of bullying stemming from racial tension.

“We wanted to try to clearly show all sides of the story, to give voice to some who hadn’t had a voice yet in the reporting that had been done on this, to show something fair and let the audience make their own decision. That was always our goal. We also didn’t want it to be a news piece. We wanted it to be a film. We wanted people to connect with the characters emotionally onscreen,” Collins explains.

“When we started digging deeper and learning details of the case, we realized you can’t make this stuff up. Nobody can write this up because it’s too crazy, it’s too unbelievable, and the only way to tell this story is to make a documentary,” adds Syjuco.

Stoking racial tension

Even before the conviction was handed out, Larrañaga was already guilty in the eyes of the public. He was a conyo, a privileged delinquent who happened to be a great-grandson of the late Philippine president Sergio Osmeña. His roots were the very ropes that strapped him helpless even though evidence proved that he wasn’t even in Cebu the night the crime took place, a fact that was pointed out by defense witnesses (all 35 of them) using logbooks, school records, and even photographs. The evidence and testimonies were dismissed, saying that these were from friends of the accused.

“The media presented Paco as this mestizo. It was no longer about the facts of this case but about what Paco represented: the whole history of being mestizo, a colonial past, and being related to the OsmeñasThat was the story that was selling headlines and much more interesting so people were just stoking that ethnic and racial tension constantly and facts were just getting buried,” Collins shares.

But with years of research, clarity and brevity, Give Up Tomorrow lets the people involved in the case speak for themselves. It refrains from being an overarching piece of didacticism or unleashing a torrent of information that dumps “facts” readily available for decades. From the opening scene that establishes Larrañaga’s take on the case up to his transfer to Spain to serve the remainder of his life sentence, the filmmakers painstakingly filter voices that eventually mold into a singular perspective of the case. But most of all, it challenges a nation whose notions of guilt and justice were twisted by unfair and biased reportage.

Personal slant

The film teeters, though, on a side that could render its effort useless: Syjuco’s brother is married to Larrañaga’s sister so accusations of bias emerged from some prior to the screening.

“I distanced myself mostly in the edit. The editing was really just Michael and our editor, Eric (Daniel Metzgar),” Syjuco says. “With the 400 hours of footage, it took them two years to edit. For me, I felt this was an opportunity, because I had this guilt, this was happening and I didn’t do anything. I guess I used the camera as a weapon. The true story was never out there. I also didn’t know Paco’s family very well. It’s just now that the film is done and they went to the premiere in Tribeca and we were together in some Spanish festivals, that I got to know them and spend real time with them.”

In a country that perceives personal connection to a subject as a form of corruption, Syjuco and Collins were just focused on doing their jobs as filmmakers, as champions and crusaders of truth.

“Our intention in making this film was to present the truth. We knew that once we did our job and once the people saw the film it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if this film was made by his brother. The facts of the case were just showing the truth. It’s easy to say, if you haven’t seen the film, that there’s a family relation so it’s propaganda. But people who walk into the theater with that in mind always leave and say, ‘You know what it doesn’t matter anymore that you’re related to (Paco), because it’s presenting the truth,’” Collins says.

And as filmmakers who dedicated seven years of their lives working on this film, it’s encouraging to know that Syjuco and Collins don’t just see the controversial subject as a starting mark in their careers.

“We worked on this for seven years and we’re going to see it through the end. From distribution to outreach and eventually creating an impact,” says Syjuco.

ripe time for change

After decades of discrepancies, doubts and disparaging images, the case is still an erroneous landmark in the face of our justice system. The Chiong case has been a playground for men and women acting gods, serving up crooked justice as they see fit. But ultimately, Give Up Tomorrow is about injustice, regardless of its form and who it takes in its undertow. After all, the Chiong family only looked for justice for their daughters and Paco’s family strived to undo the wrongs committed against him.

Like all the great documentaries that preceded it, Give Up Tomorrow is a manifestation of how the medium can serve as an instrument for social change, how it can create a spark that will ignite an impact greater than what the filmmakers realized. And with the changing social climate and the emergence of new voices in the media, maybe it’s about time that we looked back on a more tumultuous version of ourselves and reassessed our faults, prejudices, and accountability.

* * *

For more information about Give Up Tomorrow, visit pacodocu.com where you can contact the filmmakers for screenings and interviews.

This article was originally published in The Philippine Star

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)