|Will Cinemanila put
us back in the
|Author: Lito B. Zulueta
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.''
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
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
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