FILM

REVIEW: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2021

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This year, the PPP moved from showcasing feature-length films in theaters nationwide to programming free short films on its FDCP Channel website. In photo: “Si Jet at ang Dark Lord ng Dol Gurskul” (dir. Gio Gonzalves) is a hybrid of animation and live-action that fully embraces the fantastic. Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

September is deemed by the Film Development Council of the Philippines as Film Industry Month For its first year of celebration, the FDCP included a lineup of activities, including their “flagship” film festival, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. This year, the PPP moved from showcasing feature-length films in theaters nationwide to programming free short films on its FDCP Channel website from Sept. 17-26. As the biggest local film festivals shift their main focus to short films and regional and collegiate short film competitions gain more exposure, the short film continues to be the dominant film format during the pandemic.

READ: The place of Filipino short films in Southeast Asian cinema

The fifth edition of PPP is divided into two categories, with a total of 25 films. There is the festival regular Sine Kabataan, which comprises five-minute shorts geared towards children. And the other is Sine Isla: LuzViMinda, which highlights films from the regions. Both categories have an overarching theme that can glue most films — that of repairing intrapersonal relationships.

Animation is the shining feature in Sine Kabataan and the whole festival. Yes, the actual animation in some films does still leave big room for improvement, but is commendable enough that flaws aren't so jarring that they take away from the material presented. Another element that is prominent is that of fantasy. Mixed with animation, the fun and playful nature of the narratives and points in Sine Kabataan become more easily digestible especially to children.

“Jombi” (dir. Angela Francesca Andres), “Reconnected” (dir. Jude Bradley Avelino), and “Mga Ulap Tayong Nagiging Ulan” (dir. Demetrio Celestino III) are all fully animated shorts. “Ang Alamat ng Prinsipe at Mandirigma” (dir. Jacob Mikhail Collado) and “Si Jet at ang Dark Lord ng Dol Gurskul” (dir. Gio Gonzalves) are hybrids of animation and live-action that fully embrace the fantastic. “Abot Kamay ang Langit” (dir. Brian Spencer Reyes) and “Ang Bunga sa Tiyan ni Adam” (dir. Ella Louise Salomon) are live-action in a normal setting, but both still have fantastic core elements.

Companionship and solitude

“Ang Alamat ng Prinsipe at Mandirigma” is the most technically refined out of all the films in the category, and probably the most effective in conveying its message of acceptance. Screenshot from FDCP CHANNEL/YOUTUBE

The fairy tale “Ang Alamat ng Prinsipe at Mandirigma” is the most technically refined out of all the films in the category, and probably the most effective in conveying its message of acceptance. Beautiful animation intertwines well with its live-action shots as if they were really alive in the world. But the heart of the film comes from the revelation that its main relationship is about familial companionship in times of personal crisis. “Mga Ulap Tayong Nagiging Ulan” is about solitude and accepting the need to let out on your own. This film, which is the shortest in its category, works most like a children's story book and feels like a warm embrace of validity.

“Abot Kamay ang Langit” is a fantastic science fiction story showing a mass exodus away from the planet. Photo from FDCP CHANNEL/YOUTUBE

“Si Jet at ang Dark Lord ng Dol Gurskul” acts as a blend between “Jombi” and “Ang Alamat,” though not as strong as the latter. “Dol Gurskul's” main strength is its take on high fantasy as a coping mechanism for a bullied kid and, like “Jombi,” bullying as an evil horror to be overcome. The costume design is great. “Jombi,” however, needs further development and clarity.

“Reconnected” is about resisting the temptation of addicting digital presence that severs you from more meaningful relationships. Sound design can improve on what its animation lacks. “Love in the Ungodly Hour” (dir. Bradley Jason Pantajo) feels the most mature in the Sine Kabataan category. Is the dialogue unsubtle? Sure. Along with “Reconnected,” straightforwardness is its main strength.

“Abot Kamay ang Langit” is a fantastic science fiction story showing a mass exodus away from the planet. Its two sibling main characters are left behind, taking the world for their own. The final sequence and visual are its biggest punch; the rest are lacking. “Ang Balay ni Conrad” (dir. Ardinian Jaq Sanque) has both themes of solitude and companionship, but is unsure of what it ultimately wants to say with its story.

Exploring sexuality in youth

Two films deal with two critical situations an adolescent can experience — pregnancy and circumcision. Although both beg more to be desired.

 It has the twist of gender switching as its main hook, with the male bearing the child. Aside from this twist however, nothing new is really given, and the film can be seen as a usual interaction just heightened for comedic effect. “Jeremy Supot” sees the titular character try to reconnect with his estranged father through the rite of circumcision. It’s fine, but it needs both further development and introspection.

“Ang Bunga sa Tiyan ni Adam” deals with teenage pregnancy. Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

Where have you been?

Absence plays a huge role in the Sine Isla category. No film best depicted longing for something that isn’t there more than “The Man Who Isn't There and Other Stories of Longing” (dir. Trishtan Perez). It has the perfect marriage of form and message. We see the lives of strangers and familiarize ourselves with their challenges, just by being voyeurs in a photobooth in a matter of seconds. It asks us to be active viewers solving the puzzles of their burdens — look at characters and who they are with, see who eventually disappears, guess the cause of the disappearance, then watch how the disappearance affects those who are left behind.

A still from “The Man Who Isn't There and Other Stories of Longing.” Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

Parents also figure heavily into the films’ narratives. A lot of them either dwell on absent fathers or absent mothers. But how better to emphasize the whole familial schism than through the family drama genre? “Forever” (dir. Domingo Molina) looks the most like a mainstream production. It has family drama tropes, including a layer of melodramatic cheese. Bickering siblings over a parent — a classic. Then it has one fantastic plotpoint that pays off to wrap everything together.

Hello, father?

“Oppa-Wikan” (dir. Tracy Tang and Hanz Florentino) and “Ang Meron sa Wala” (dir. Arby Laraño and Christine Laraño) deal with absent fathers. In the former, a Filipino-Korean boy earns and saves up money through local tourism to go to South Korea and look for his father. Like “Forever,” it is better presented as a family drama with hints of humor. The latter is a documentary processing the filmmakers' relationship with their already found father, the reason for his absence, and their attempt to rebuild their relationship. It works if you care enough about what the documentary presented. Otherwise, think of it as self-help therapy for the filmmakers. Both fathers have returned.

“Gulis” (dir. Kyle Francisco) is a shorter film. But it nicely did one thing it had to do. It focuses on a conversation between a queer child and their understanding father about contracting HIV — it did the only fitting end: acceptance.

In “Oppa-Wikan,” a Filipino-Korean boy earns and saves up money through local tourism to go to South Korea and look for his father. Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

Hello, mother?

“You Are Here” (dir. Neo Bryce Largo) uses the newer trope of found footage social media clips. It is also about reconnecting — this time, with the protagonist's lover and mother. But it is bogged down by setting it during an impending apocalypse. The relationship core is so detached because of random vignettes that it is hard to ask the audience to care for it. So far, its format still has little capital to be accepted seriously.

“Sumasaiyo,” (dir. Jermaine Tulbo) is a eulogy of sorts for a mother, and a remembrance for a sister. Just try not to wander off from its monologue. An online conversation between a daughter and her mother is seen in the two-minute “Replay” (dir. Franky Arrocena). The twist at the end is a gut punch where the minutes before it exist only to build up this revelation. It is the shortest in the category. And again, because of the length and simplicity, it is effective.

Advocacy is a currency

Half of Sine Isla are advocacy films focused on a certain pressing topic that are very hit or miss in effectiveness.

“Halawod” (dir. Anna Katrina Velez Tejero), “Singil” (dir. Maria Graciella Musa), and “Maglabay Ra In Sakit” (dir. Mijan Jumalon) are documentaries. “Halawod” focuses on the plight of the Tumandok against the National Irrigation Administration over the dispossession of their land. “Singil” is an exercise of showing facts only a few degrees removed from actual journalism. “Maglabay” is more of an interview than a documentary coming from an outsider wanting to touch the surface of underground music. All three documentaries are mostly introductions to a topic or issue but at least they let their subjects speak for themselves. They just need a strong sense of direction.

“Palabas” builds from the topic of sexual exploits by a middle-aged foreigner towards a school-aged Filipina. Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

But a film that doesn't understand what it is trying to say is “Palabas” (dir. Arjanmar Rebeta). Building from the topic of sexual exploits by a middle-aged foreigner towards a school-aged Filipina for about two-thirds of the film, it abruptly shifts towards extrajudicial killings. Its format is unjustified. Its tacky handling of the issue through its text only solidifies the state's rationale for EJKs to the eyes of the foreigner. For whom is this film for? The American does not and will not care.

“Tarang” (dir. Arvin Belarmino) is classic poverty porn. It relishes the spectacle of suffering without offering anything new. Some may appreciate this more over the other films in the program along with other films of its kind with its visuals and smooth technicals. You don't often get to see poverty porn that looks good. But maybe that is its main problem — you have to be so detached to make it so formally appealing.

“Urihi nga Luha” is about a mother looking for her lost daughter. However, the reason why this film was made is indecipherable.

You don't often get to see poverty porn that looks good as “Tarang.” Screenshot from FDCP/YOUTUBE

Lastly, it's hard to get what “Mga Bag-ong Nawong” (Sang Damgo Kag Katingalahan) (dir. Mark Garcia) is about without reading the logline. However, it can be the most enjoyable just because of its anarchic imagery. Just let yourself in for the ride.

Upfront, Sine Kabataan is the more consistent of the two as Sine Isla has a mixed selection that is effective in some of its points but also isn't. You could argue that the films in Sine Kabataan show deeper technical discipline and understanding in its topics than Sine Isla's, if only seen from the perspective of children. You just have to take them for what they are, forgiving the flaws. Because yes, if held in the same critical standards usually given in films, a lot of problems in the Sine Kabataan will arise. Is it patronizing? Maybe. The simplicity and innocence of youth is easier to execute in films over heavier topics with its complications and nuances. But there should still be magnitude in the former. And the two shouldn’t need to be exclusive.