By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter
THE Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival opened its 16th iteration online on Aug. 6 with a main competition focused on short films instead of its usual full-length features. But with a surfeit of short film choices — 10 in the main competition and another 20 in the exhibition section — Cinemalaya remains successful as a celebration of Filipino independent filmmaking.
It has also made the festival more accessible as film bundles can cost as low as P75, with a premium pass priced at P350.
This writer will be reviewing the 10 short films in competition with this first story focused on the five short films in the Main Competition Shorts A category.
ANG GASGAS NA PLAKA NI LOLO BERT
Directed by Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori
A heartwarming love story about two men: a closeted gay man in his 60s who is living with HIV and a lonely widower in his 50s. The story starts out as a day in the life of Lolo Bert (Dido dela Paz). Everything is normal until his old vinyl record starts skipping and he has to bring it to a shop for repair. There he meets the widower (Soliman Cruz) whose mischievous personality hides a loneliness he has carried since his wife died.
The beauty of the film is in the shared experience of loss between the two as Lolo Bert has also lost his longtime lover, and how a broken record brings the two together. It is a sentimental and melancholic tale about second chances.
PABASA KAN PASYON
Directed by Hubert Tibi
The film, whose title translates to Chanting the Passion, is a Bicolano short film about a family whose poverty forces them to make ends meet by working during Holy Week. In this heartbreaking film, told in all of 14 minutes, a family’s sole way of making money is by chanting the pasyon (a Phillippine epic narrating the life and death of Jesus Christ), playing in Holy Week tableaus, and being voice actors in a struggling radio station. And while the film focuses on the reading of the pasyon and the various events happening during Holy Week, it also tells of the life and sufferings of a poor family in Bicol.
The film shows how central the concept of faith is to the Philippines, the only Christian nation in Asia with more than 86% of its population being Roman Catholic. Religion and faith serve two purposes — as a source of hope that everything will get better and a source of financial sustenance, if only for a little while.
Directed by James Robin Mayo
Fatigued was billed during its first few seconds as an interactive film which required participation from its viewers. In fact, the main character is the viewer, an overworked, underpaid employee whose punishing work schedule led him to sleep for a straight 30 hours and is seemingly trapped in a neverending nightmare.
It is a horror film, with never ending hallways, disembodied voices murmuring “mussah,” and a repeating sequence featuring a dog. But more than a straight-up horror film, what makes Fatigued work is how it illustrates the social ills of being overworked in a society that does not reward hard work as the employee is described as someone who has had to experience bad labor practices and afforded not one social benefit under the law, which in itself is the real nightmare in waking form that millions of Filipinos are currently experiencing.
Directed by Carla Pulido Ocampo
Tokwifi (tok-wee-fee) in the Bontok Igorot language means “star” and in this short film, a Bontok Igorot meets a star after it crashes near their village. But this is not any ordinary star as she is a film star from the 1950s and is trapped in an old television set. Despite the language barrier — the actress speaking in Tagalog and the Igorot in his own language — the two form a bond.
It is a charming film and was perfect to wash away the dread from Fatigued. Though it never explains the purpose of the falling star, the film’s charm is in the unlikely love story between a tribesman and a woman trapped inside a television, how their bond lasts through time, and the beauty of the rice terraces in the early morning sunrise.
QUING LALAM ALDO
Directed by Reeden Fajardo
Quing Lalam Aldo (Under the Sun) is another charming film with a very simple premise: a transgender sampaguita farmer attempts to renovate the family’s outside kitchen after she learns that her son is coming home. She reminisces about her son, who has suddenly called and announced he is coming back, which puts the farmer and her friend into a tizzy trying to renovate the kitchen in order to welcome the son home in style.
As she attempts to get everything ready, everything goes into disarray — which includes a family emergency and a runaway chicken. Disheartened, the farmer looks over the vast sampaguita field she planted and has become a source of employment for the town. The film does end on a happy note with everything working out in the end.
Cinemalaya runs until Aug. 16. For tickets and access to the films, visit cinemalaya.org/tickets.