2011: The Year in Filipino Films
by Don Jaucian

It’s a proclamation that heralds a new hope for the Philippine film industry: 2011 has been a pretty good year for Filipino films. Whether it’s the triumph of films like Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington over mindlessly offensive big studio productions, the success of Cinemalaya 7, or the spilling of independent filmmakers into the mainstream, these signs of life are indicative of a growing audience awareness that there is more to local cinema than formula films (read: taking a teenybopper love team to a banner movie with a title from a song that’s sure to be in every karaoke machine).

Apart from Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals, and Cinemanila, smaller film festivals were also held this year, including Khavn’s .MOV Film Festival, which paid tribute to Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, and Sine Rehiyon, which proved that filmmaking is alive and well in different parts of the Philippines. The Metro Manila Film Festival proved to be the cinematic claptrap that it still is, with this year’s entries just as mind-baffling a display of big studio mind-fuckery as last year’s were. They also continued their indie/new breed category, which ran for almost a week but featured such hackneyed films with only one or two deserving to be seen. 

The closing of Mogwai Cinematheque dismayed many, with rumors saying that it was all because of managerial dispute. But other film screening venues also cropped up, such as John Torres and Shireen Seno’s As In Shop and Jewel Maranan and co.’s Cinema is Incomplete. Both venues have no door charge and only ask you to share your love for local cinema. Up north, there’s Baguio Cinematheque, which screens both classic and contemporary masterworks of Philippine cinema. 

Local films have also made it to several international film festivals. Auraeus Solito’s Busong (Palawan Fate) opened at Cannes Director’s Fortnight. Adolf Alix’s Isda (Fable of the Fish) and Lav Diaz’s six-hour opus, Siglo ng Pagluwal (Century of Birthing), both had their international premieres in the Toronto International Film Festival. Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet), Loy Arcenas’s Niño and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Bisperas (Eve) all garnered accolades in several international film festivals.

The largely praised box office smash hit Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank) by Marlon Rivera emerged as, what one film critic calls, “the indie film for those who don’t usually watch indie films”. Its cinematic misgivings however displeased many, hitting all the wrong spots in a culture where envy is a common mark of trade. 

This year’s crop of Filipino films certainly yielded an encouraging result, enough to persuade us to devote an entire list for them. 

10. X-Deal (Lawrence Fajardo)

That silhouette of John Hall’s massive erection means serious business. After the death of agricultural bomb flicks and the rise of gay sexploitation films, X-Deal's sexual games and statement tee-worthy one liners (“Masama bang pagpahingahin ang kepyas ko?”) give us a new perspective on the dominance and volatility of the femal psyche. And hey, it's not every day that we get a lead character that blogs for a living. 

9. Isda (Fable of the Fish, Adolf Alix Jr.)

It’s a plot that could have turned for the worse: a mother (Cherry Pie Picache) believing that the fish she apparently gave birth to is her real son, a gift from God. The film’s strange sense of humor doesn’t cloud the point that this is a mother struggling her way through the strife, battling insurmountable odds without losing her sanity in the first place. Driven by Picache’s heartbreaking performance as a woman on the verge, Isda questions the normalcies of motherhood which in the end boils down to the need to love and be loved. 

8. Sakay sa Hangin (Wind blown, Regiben Romana)

Just like Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s sea-faring charmer, Alamar (To The Sea), Sakay sa Hangin blurs the line between truth and fiction. Romana gives us a sublimely engaging immersion to the music and rituals of the Talaandig tribe where a simple crafting of a flute or a guitar transcends the mythic and the conflict brewing around them. Sakay sa Hangin prods us to think that our country is far larger than what our school textbooks have taught us and that music will always be the universal vessel of peace. 

7.Buenas Noches, España (Raya Martin) 

The nuances of history hide in the flickering colors of Buenas Noches, España. Its seemingly endless loop of images exacts the inherent difficulties of our past, forcing us to grapple along with its shifts and meanderings. Owel Alvero and Pat Sarabia’s skittering soundscape serves as the film’s ignition point, using a map where teleportation and Juan Luna paintings form a pocket guide to our history’s netherworld. 

6. Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of the Two Left Feet, Alvin Yapan)

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa glides in elegant rhythms, dispelling the shackles of gender roles and artistic notions through the subtle guidance of the poetry of dance and glances teeming with possibilities. More than an unspoken love affair between its two leads (Paulo Avelino and Rocco Nacino), what Sayaw distills is an understanding of the place of art in our society and how we form and break values and traditions based on its heavy-handed maneuverings. 

5. Big Boy (Shireen Seno)

Big Boy ebbs and flows like the static hum of our own memories. Parcels of recollections flood its stream of consciousness, where faces and voices dissolve and become disembodied. What unravels is a complex mapping of our own past and how we are led, however broken-limbed, to the present. Shireen Seno’s debut film sifts through unreliability that provokes our shattered reminiscences, evoking a hazy trip into the blueprint of our dreams.  

4. Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Zombadings 1: Kill Remington with Fear, Jade Castro)

It happened. An upending of a woolly mammoth, proving that Filipino moviegoers are capable of flocking to a film with a solid story, little known stars and non-formula shtick. Zombadings 1 is born out of a sincere desire of the filmmakers to craft a film that challenges our cinematic perceptions while mining pressing issues (gay discrimination) that are put aside by banal big studio releases where life is always fluffy and ends with the swelling of a second-hand theme song. Through the guise of comedy and horror Zombadings 1 becomes a triumph in many different ways. And most of all, it makes audiences think, prodding them to reassess their pre-conceived (mostly Catholicized) ideas about homosexuality and how gay men and women shape our society as we know it. 

3. Tundong Magiliw (Tondo Beloved, Jewel Maranan)

Tundong Magiliw's strength is its refusal to ram the shitty side of slum dwelling down the audience’s throats. As a continuing documentary, the film unfolds precariously, taking time to familiarize itself into the life of a family deadlocked into Tondo’s inescapable labyrinth. It finds life in the family’s most intimate moments, as they chuckle at Hilary Clinton’s most controversial moments and construct films of their own through covers of pirated DVDs. Tundong Magiliw shows us that there is more to Tundo than its decades-old notoriety and that these people are just like us, looking for something to hold on to in the unlikeliest of places. 

2. Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved, Christopher Gozum

Lawas Kan Pinabli opens with a case of hopelessness: a statistic saying that an estimated six million documented and one million undocumented migrant Filipino workers are scattered all over the world and some four thousand more join their ranks every day. What follows is a bitter picture of the lives of overseas Filipino workers abroad. But instead of depicting OFWs in the usual light, as the new heroes of this era, Lawas Kan Pinabli shows how the hardships of some of our fellowmen abroad are mostly due to their own making.

Christopher Gozum paints two sides of the picture, presenting interviews with real OFWs (Gozum himself is an OFW working in the Middle East), detailing the ordeals that they went through, and discussions with OFW group leaders offering insights about the laws and regulations that Filipinos should abide to while working abroad, or at least in the middle east. Knowingly breaking rules and traversing ethical and cultural standards with reckless abandon, these Filipinos deal with realities that are far bigger than simply just realizing their dreams of giving their families the lives that they deserve. 

1. Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay (Antoinette Jadaone)

What else is there to say about Antoinette Jadaone’s brilliant, meta-loving film about the most famous but nameless extra in Philippine cinema? A lot, really, especially on how it encapsulates the Filipino Dream into the life of its lead actress. But what we should mention is how it deserves to be seen by every Filipino, especially those who grew up with the toothless face of ‘Nay Lilia stalking them in their dreams after watching the Halloween edition of Magandang Gabi Bayan or re-runs of Filipino horror films. 

Taking a chance on an actress who is used to slinking into roles that demand mere minutes (or even seconds) of screen time, Jadaone creates a fascinating study of celebrity culture and how a community builds itself around a person who has represented their dreams of making it big one day. But more importantly, Six Degrees stems from a sincere, gimmick-free desire to recognize the life and legacy of an actress who has worked out of an earnest passion for the craft that she has dedicated herself in all her life.  

Honorable Mentions: Mapang-akit (John Torres), Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat (Ivy Universe Baldoza), Elehiya sa Bumibisita Mula sa Himagsikan (Lav Diaz), Boundary (Benito Bautista), Niño (Loy Arcenas), Busong (Auraeus Solito)