REVIEW: QCShorts 2022 Competition

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In the stories told in this year’s batch of QCShorts, states of comfort are far long gone to return to. In photo: A still from "Luzonensis Osteoporosis." Screencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

QCinema's QCShorts program maintains a respectable track record of featuring promising talent and material. It's been credited for granting, and then showcasing filmmakers' raw and innovative visions. These visions are often fulfilled with more integrity than what other platforms could provide.

If last year's batch of shorts were notable for its variety in form and content glued by absurdist sensibilities, this year's batch has tighter similarities within each title when it comes to their approaches in storytelling.

The stories in QCShorts 2022 live in the background. What's actually happening onscreen is equally important to the peripheries; sometimes even to that outside of the frames. In the short films that are included in this year’s selection, characters are lensed by static wide shots, doing mundane things that seemingly do nothing to progress the plot. But behind this facade lies a deeper turmoil. Themes of longing abound — for home soon to be left behind, for landscapes plastered by inhumane progress, for a past long lost, for human relationships already severed and loved ones departed.

In these stories, states of comfort are far long gone to return to. Longing hearts are souls in transition, already neck deep in their rupture. That is why these films are subtle. Maybe too subtle. Their external conflicts are in denouement, relegated in the background. What's in the foreground are people's internal turmoil — hearts in defeat, in resignation, in search of themselves.

It's worth noting that these formal qualities of longing recently and continuously proliferate in local short films, especially within student film circles. Most if not all of the selected filmmakers are young. Some just graduated, some still studying. Filmic longing is not only shaped by raw creative choices, but are carved by economic restraints, limited resources, and tight pandemic protocols.

As a batch, QCShorts 2022 is a cohesive thematic collage. But it's equally important to subject them as individual works by individual filmmakers molded by similar milieu. Some of these films are more effective than others. All of them still have their flaws.

"Luzonensis Osteoporosis" follows the fictional hominid Luzonensis as he travels with his father across town. Sceencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

"Ngatta Naddaki y Nuang? (Why Did the Carabao Cross the Carayan?)" follows Oyo, a boy also about to leave his hometown. Screencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

The first two films in the program are both about individuals finding themselves before going to foreign soil. Also seen are vestiges of an election that failed to keep its promise, hence the diaspora. "Luzonensis Osteoporosis" (dir. Glenn Barit) follows the fictional hominid Luzonensis as he travels with his father across town looking for his passport as he is further urged by his family to go abroad to find a better state of living for themselves. "Ngatta Naddaki y Nuang? (Why Did the Carabao Cross the Carayan?)" (dir. Austin Tan) follows Oyo, a boy also about to leave his hometown. This time, he is in search of a carabao that is tied to a memory of his brother that he lost in previous flood. Where the former is whimsical, the latter is grounded in reality.

The irony of this prehistoric hominid in "Luzonensis Osteoporosis" being uprooted away from the place where he lived and "evolved" all this millenia to find a better state of living elsewhere is the tastiest flavor Barit imbued in his film. Actor Nicco Manalo, made invisible under prosthetics and a hunched posture, is the second key ingredient. However, all the other more fantastic elements sadly serve as deterrents to the short's focus. Why the flying house? Why the operatic singing? It's fun to go with whatever direction "Luzonensis Osteoporosis" throws us into. However, it's at the expense of the message at its core.

"Why Did the Carabao Cross the Carayan?" could use more technical finesse. The necessary elements are there, they just have to fit more comfortably. If Barit savored in fun excess, Tan restrained himself in mundanity. But it's functional. The irony his characters face is no less effective. A former English teacher being able to utter only a few sentences due to old age; an address of a friend's home now gone as it was turned into a supermall. The clarity of Tan's film is muddled due to how it stitched its scenes together. Why did the carabao cross the carayan? To leave its home for greener pastures or to save its drowned sibling?

"Ang Pagliligtas sa Dalagang Bukid" is a victim of flawed analogy, or an attempt at one. Screencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

"Ang Pagliligtas sa Dalagang Bukid" (dir. Jaime Morados) is the unripe apple of the bunch if not because it fails to tune its ambition. To depict a fictionalized rose-tinted account of how the screening of "Dalagang Bukid" could've felt like to a Filipino couple experiencing the magic of cinema for the first time is a wet dream. It's quite questionable how it took anyone this long to attempt it; and an emboldened Morados finally stepped up.

Its first half delivers goosebumps — romanticism and wholesomeness blazed through. The production design, especially the film studio set at 1910s-20s Ermita, screams early cinema, even Méliès. Morados depicts a fictional Atang de la Rama (played by the ever alluring Therese Malvar) as the roaring mytho-filmic titan that she should be.

But then the titular "pagliligtas" (saving) occurs. Joaquin, the main character, transposes himself inside the filmic world, attempting to save de la Rama from a fire consuming the movie house. The film is a victim of flawed analogy, or an attempt at one. Why embody lost film history within the fictionalized Atang dela Rama, only to accept she cannot be saved? A woman fully formed insisting she does not need to be saved is one thing. A woman tied to a meaning is another. Morados may not intend this analogy, but it begs the question which "Dalagang Bukid" he is trying to save.

The first three shorts negotiate with heritage slipping away. "Luzonensis Osteoporosis" does this with its main character's identity, having confusion of who he should be. "Why Did the Carabao" does this with its surrounding environment, with healing acceptance. "Dalagang Bukid" does this directly with an anthropomorphized other person, embracing its severance.

The most formalistically adventurous of all the selection is "BOLD EAGLE" (dir. Whammy Alcarazen). It is as loud and as brash as last year's "It's Raining Frogs Outside" by Maria Estela Paiso with the added vulgarity of Alcarazen. Bold, an alterperson spending the day inside his room ruminates about his estranged relationship with his father in a sort of Freudian affect. It results in his inclination towards older men. He calls them "Daddy" while they call him "Baby."

The most formalistically adventurous of all the selection is "BOLD EAGLE." Screencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

The outlier in this batch, "BOLD EAGLE" wallows most in what's on the surface, as formalist works intend. However, Alcarazen still makes sure that the background pops with the foreground in synergy. Alcarazen's maximalist tomfoolery works because it is its main machinery, whereas Barit's feel like distractions. In Alcarazen's approach, "Bold Eagle" becomes a psychedelic viewscape inside Bold's head as he copes with a traumatic relationship in the past that directly affects his lifestyle in the present.

Dead people and environmental threats haunt "the river that never ends" (dir. JT Trinidad) and "Mga Tigre ng Infanta" (dir. Rocky Morilla) like spectres. "The river that never ends" is mundane like Tan's film. But while Tan operates within social realism, Trinidad works in tender absurdity. A trans woman, Baby, takes care of her unaccepting senile father while going through her odd job of accompanying various people who lost loved ones while acting like said loved ones and adopting their regalia.

The film posits an interesting preposition with trans identities. Because of Baby's identity in flux, she is easily able to transpose herself into other (dead) identities, easily able to switch between who she is and who she is not. She capitalizes on her lived experience, channeling them into her own take of an escort service.

"Mga Tigre ng Infanta" is akin to folk horror. Katrina goes to Infanta, Quezon with her father to attend the wake of her grandmother. Upon arriving, she experiences unnatural changes with her body as she begins to be attuned with the place. It is treated like a coming-of-age situation. A bit slow at first, it removed its guises towards the end in the manner of folk horror. Katrina discovers that what's happening with her has to do with her family, and is connected with her grandmother's death especially after her grandmother's body was later abducted during the wake.

In the backdrop of "the river that never ends" is the visage of the Pasig River looming over everything and everyone. With the construction of the Pasig River Expressway ticking like a bomb over the communities living near it. The Pasig River is seen in eulogy. The Kaliwa Dam project is more of an invisible force triggering the events in "Mga Tigre ng Infanta." When development disrupts nature, it retaliates in a frenzy.

"Mga Tigre ng Infanta" is akin to folk horror. Screencap from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

These last three films cope with losing loved ones, through death or estrangement, that their main characters anchor their identities to. "BOLD EAGLE" copes by being with himself. "The river that never ends" copes by being there for others. "Mga Tigre ng Infanta" copes by being with nature inside and outside oneself.

The ending shot of "Mga Tigre ng Infanta," where daughters of nature like Katrina dance like the Bacchanalia serve a fitting capping stone to the selection. In defeat, in grief, in loss, rave in triumphant glory.

QCShorts 2022 all have blink-and-you'll-miss-it narratives. It does not mean they aren't there. Claims over its pretentiousness are unwarranted, as claiming so has always been a pretentious criticism in itself. You just have to look deeper into the foreground of the frames to understand what a film is trying to tell, either to its detriment or not.

Given a larger budget and a longer runtime, it's hard to say if these films would look and feel the same. But many of these films certainly look and feel the way they do now because of the resources they got.

Working around constraints whilst maintaining creative integrity pushes out the best from young visionaries. The QCShorts program is a prime example that local short filmmaking is more exciting than its feature counterpart. Such has been the case for the past years.

ERRATUM: An earlier version of the article mentioned "Kalinga Dam project" instead of the "Kaliwa Dam project." We apologize for this error.