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Will Cinemanila put us back in the world-cinema map?
Source: Inquirer
Author: Lito B. Zulueta
Date: 1999-06-27
THE CINEMANILA International Film Festival, which will open

July 3 and runs until July 10 in Mandaluyong City, is arguably

the first truly international film festival in the country since the

defunct Manila International Film Festival in the 1980s.

Many filmfests had come after the MIFF, but they were

noncompetitive and mainly occasions for Filipinos to catch up

with what was going on in the global cinema. In contrast,

Cinemanila will exhibit both competition and noncompetition


Judging from the apparent eagerness of foreign filmmakers to

join the race, the festival is already a success.

Cinemanila comes at a most auspicious moment. The festival

circuit in the region has slowly become crowded, with several

cities such as Fukuoka, Tokyo, New Delhi and Hong Kong

competing to be the Cannes, Venice or Berlin of Asia. Also, the

more established Western festivals have fought tooth and nail

over the years to attract Asian movies and play discoverers to

the new Akira Kurosawas, Satyajit Rays and Lino Brockas.

In such a gradually constricting scenario, Cinemanila might bill

itself as the international film festival in Southeast Asia. But that

would be putting the cart before the horse. In any case,

Bangkok has already established its own festival that reportedly

has had some success despite Thailand's debilitating economic


Sundance of Asia

Festival director Tikoy Aguiluz is quite modest about the

prospects of Cinemanila. He envisions it to be the Sundance of

Asia, referring to the American festival founded by actor Robert

Redford that has become the foremost showcase of

independent films in the US, launching the careers of Edward

Burns and Stanley Tucci. Therefore, Cinemanila would like to

expand the boundaries of filmmaking by focusing on movies

made outside the studio mainstream. In so doing, it can discover

new talents that can revivify cinema.

We have screened a number of the movies and it appears this

early that Cinemanila would, indeed, fulfill its ambition to be the

blowhorn of new voices in the cinema on this side of the world.

For example, ''Moebius'' from Argentina is literally new because

it is made by greenhorn Gustavo Mosquera, just fresh out of

film school. In fact, he was assisted on this debut by his

classmates and mentors.

The notion of the new extends to the subject matter and

treatment. ''Moebius'' is about the befuddling disappearance of a

runaway train from the Buenos Aires subway. The production

notes bill the movie as made according to the sci-fi genre, but its

real spirit is Borgesian. The fact that the train has been sucked

in to another dimension as shown by archival maps of the

subway is something the legendary Argentinean poet-fictionist

and incunabula collector could have concocted himself.

Then there's ''Made in Hong Kong'' by young Hong Kong

director Fruit Chan. The movie is a multilayered mosaic of

cinematic influences as it tells the story of a small-time punk.

The immediate inspiration seems to have been Wong-Kar-Wai,

the flashy director of ''Chungking Express.''

But you stop and think Wong has been influenced by Quentin

Tarantino and Oliver Stone of the ''Natural-Born Killers'' phase.

And we know Tarantino has acknowledged his debt to ''Shaft,''

''Cleopatra Jones,'' and the raunchy B-movies of the 1970s.

The train of possible influences is virtually unstoppable. As a

record of juvenile angst, of course, ''Made in Hong Kong'' can

be considered an HK version of ''Rebel Without a Cause.''

Prestige, respectability

Then there's ''Birth of a Butterfly'' by the celebrated Iranian

filmmaker Mojtabe Raei. It's a poetic triptych consisting of

stories about a boy's adjustment to life with a stepfather, a

young cripple's pilgrimage to a holy shrine, and a teacher's

experience in a remote rural village.

The motif that ties the three together appears to be experience

and growth, both in scale and quality, perhaps more than

emphasized in the first two stories in which the boy-heroes

make peace with themselves or are initiated into a subtle but

moving realization after some form of exile: the first, through an

escape to a beautiful vineyard where a reconciliation is struck

between rebellious stepson and father, and the second, through

a religious pilgrimage.

The spirituality is particularly enhanced in the last story, which

is so rich in biblical overtones one might mistake it for a

Christian morality play.

And, of course, there's ''Central Station,'' the glorious Brazilian

film by the exciting new director Walter Salles, which has

already made the rounds of the festival circuit (Grand Prize and

Best Actress in Berlin) and won the Golden Globe for Best

Foreign-Language Film.

True to its independent credentials, ''Central Station'' was

produced by Arthur Cohn, who has won five Oscars for

foreign-language features and documentaries. Cohn will

reportedly attend Cinemanila, and his presence will surely

bolster the festival's independent identity and infuse it with a

measure of prestige and respectability.

Our alternative cinema

The rub here perhaps is that, for all its claim to being the venue

for independent filmmaking, Cinemanila will obtain in a milieu

that has been largely controlledand debasedby major

Filipino film studios. Aguiluz is perhaps conscious of this while

he tries to get the cooperation of the studios that, admittedly,

cannot be left out if we're talking of organizing a ''Filipino''


In any case, Cinemanila may yet be another prodding stick or

lightning rod for the studios to get out of their decadent

commercial mindsets. The relative success of Good Harvest, an

imprint or subsidiary of Regal Films, in making boldly innovative

low-budget movies, should point to a fresh, alternative way for

our cinema.

Good Harvest movies being eyed to be the official Philippine

entry in the festival include Jeffrey Jeturian's ''Pila-Balde,'' Lito

Casaje's ''Batang Pro,'' and Lav Diaz's ''Hubad sa Ilalim ng



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