2011: Highlights in Film
The movement towards digitalization of filmmaking has of course created a sort of debate among filmmakers and critics who perceive analogue and digital film as distinctly different mediums that should be utilized appropriately. While there are films such as Big Boy or Raya Martin’s Buenas Noches, España, an experimental film that explores the forgotten love affair between Spain and the Philippines through fragments that compose childhood memories, that separates analogue and digital in terms of utility and aesthetics, there are films like Loy Arcenas’ beautifully crafted Niño or Alvin Yapan’s seductively ambiguous Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet) or Mes de Guzman’s arrestingly lyrical Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (At the Corner of Heaven and Earth) or Jade Castro’s shockingly irreverent but undeniably hilarious Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Zombadings: Kill Remington with Fear) that are all very classic narratives and could have worked whether or not they were shot in analogue or digital.
Of course, the primary rationale towards the digitalization of filmmaking is economy, at least for the Philippines. Simply put, shooting in digital film is cheap, or to be more accurate, cheaper than shooting in analogue film. This has allowed for films that have themes that are not marketable to the masses to be created without any expectation of monetary compensation. Very personal films, tackling aspects that are too intimately connected to the filmmaker to be regarded as universal such as the death of a father in Khavn de la Cruz’s Pahinga (Breather) or the secret life of a man uncovered by his wife through letters he left behind after he passed away in Laurice Guillen’s Maskara (Mask).
Then there are the films from regions that have little to no expectation into becoming markets for film to force them to create their own films. These so-called regional films are more personal reflections for their crafters than products. Busong (Palawan Fate) is for its director Auraeus Solito a summation of his creative life, a long-awaited reunion with his roots as directed by the timeless stories relayed to him by his mother. Sakay sa Hangin (Windblown) may not be considered a regional film since its director, Regiben Romana, is neither a member of the Talaandig tribe or is a resident of the Bukidnon province in Mindanao. However, the film stretches itself from being a mere curious portrait of the ethnographic distinctions of the tribe into a parable that is too authentic and too heartfelt to be conveniently discarded from the category.
Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Bahay Bata (Baby Factory), a heartfelt foray into the busiest maternity ward in the world, has for its parents the many real-time successes like the many films of Brillante Mendoza. Its obsession for truth seeps towards the method of its filmmaking, mixing documentary footage with a narrative framework to flesh out its underlying agenda of exposing the problems of reproductive health in the Philippines. On the other side of the spectrum is Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, which bends what we conceive as reality, utilizing the form of documentary filmmaking to make it seem that its imagined plot involving a famous bit player who suddenly finds herself nominated for an acting award is grounded on reality, to reveal certain truths about the vices and virtues of the entertainment business.
Lawrence Fajardo’s Amok, Benito Bautista’s Boundary and Lav Diaz’s Elehiya ng Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan (Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution), on the other hand, are clear works of fiction, owing their existence to the many genre works that have come before them. Amok is clearly more concept than fiction. Set in the crowded and chaotic junction of two major Manila streets, the film merely gives glimpses of lives quickened, changed, or abruptly halted by a singular act of brazen violence. Boundary, set mostly within the confines of a taxi, portrays the streets of Manila with a certain level of mistrust, allowing for a storyline that unites top-level corruption with bottom-level criminality. Finally, Elehiya ng Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan is Diaz’s take on the noir, where typical fractured Diaz characters get embroiled in a story of crime and greed, while a visitor from the past (her reason for existence, for us, is an open-ended mystery) walks the same streets they live in with decades worth of melancholy.
2011 saw all the trends, quirks, and mannerisms that were developed throughout the years evolve to maturity. There are reportedly great films still left unseen, due to the fact that I have to juggle paid fealty to the law, my irreplaceable passion for the moving image, and whatever personal life I have left. Despite that, the fifteen films that have found themselves in this list more or less reflects the fallacy of the concept of Philippine cinema, that there is a direction the so-called national cinema needs to concentrate in, or that there is a single way of writing or shooting films, or that there is a formula for quality as there is a formula for commercial success. Moving towards directions already treaded or pioneering towards areas nobody else has explored, these films deserve to be seen, to be enjoyed, to be discussed.
Top 15 Feature Length Filipino Films of 2011:
1. Big Boy (Shireen Seno)
2. Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (Antoinette Jadaone)
3. Sakay sa Hangin (Windblown, Regiben Romana)
4. Niño (Loy Arcenas)
5. Pahinga (Breather, Khavn de la Cruz)
6. Elehiya ng Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan (Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution, Lav Diaz)
7. Bahay Bata (Baby Factory, Eduardo Roy, Jr.)
8. Buenas Noches, España (Raya Martin)
9. Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (At the Corner of Heaven and Earth, Mes de Guzman)
10. Amok (Lawrence Fajardo)
11. Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Zombadings: Kill Shokot with Fear, Jade Castro)
12. Busong (Palawan Fate, Auraeus Solito)
13. Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet, Alvin Yapan)
14. Boundary (Benito Bautista)
15. Maskara (Mask, Laurice Guillen)