A look at some of Cinemalaya’s short films

By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

THE country’s largest independent film festival opened its 16th installment on Aug. 6 — a fully online, short film bonanza with a collection of 30 short films, 10 of which are in the competition section.

In this piece, this writer reviews the five films in the Main Competition Shorts B group.

(The review of the first five films can be found here: https://www.bworldonline.com/of-broken-records-falling-stars-and-sampaguita-a-look-at-some-of-cinemalayas-short-films/)

• Ang Papakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside)

Directed by Joanna Vasquez Arong

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck the Philippines. Considered the strongest storm to ever make landfall, its 315 km/h winds flattened towns in Leyte and Samar, and cut a swathe through the rest of the Visayas, destroying property and taking thousands of lives with it. That’s the crux of the film Ang Papakalma sa Unos.

The short film is peppered with stills and videos of the aftermath of the destruction, with its director, Ms. Arong also serving as its narrator. She talks about the destruction of the typhoon, the insensitivity of the country’s top leader to the plight of the affected, and why there wasn’t a local term for “storm surge.” The film also tackles the shared trauma of a community which was beaten down by a typhoon they initially thought was just a passing storm.

The film brought back memories of Haiyan/Yolanda. One of my most vivid memories was watching a newscast at midnight where a man carrying his child passed in front of the camera and when the reporter asked what happened to the child or if the child needed help, the man said that the child was dead because he drowned. I could still remember the shock on the face of the reporter.

I think that’s the biggest draw of the film: it shows that Yolanda was more than a storm. Yolanda was something that changed the lives of so many people that until now Taclobanons say they are still afraid of strong storms: this coming from people who are used to typhoons, who thought Yolanda was just another passing storm. Yolanda was real, and she was terrifying.

• Living Things

Directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar

The story follows a couple who have been together for 10 years and then, all of a sudden, the man turns into a cardboard standee of himself and the relationship changes — or does it?

This film is probably the most abstract entry in the competition section of Cinemalaya as the film uses cardboard standees as a metaphor for how people change through the years and how a relationship changes when people change. The only thing that didn’t change with this couple is their wanting to stay together, even if that means lugging a cardboard standee everywhere.

• Utwas (Rise)

Directed by Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay

This is the story of a boy who tries to learn his father’s craft and become a fisherman himself. This is the story of a boy who counts how long his father can stay underwater while he tries to fish but comes up in about 30 seconds holding nothing but trash from the ocean floor.

It is also a story of how fisherfolk are directly affected by the continued destruction of marine biodiversity because of dynamite fishing and other unsustainable fishing practices while dealing with mounting pollution.

Utwas is a simple, straightforward film, and it may be the most simple film in the main category because it is clear within the first two minutes that its makers knew what kind of message they wanted their viewers to get: that the environment needs to be saved because not only is the sea a source of livelihood, the sea is a source of life and it can also take a person’s life.

Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss

Directed by Sonny Calvento

If James Robin Mayo’s Fatigued (in the Main Competition Shorts A group) was a horror film peppered with social commentary on the plight of overworked, underpaid workers, Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss, makes the same social commentary as a comedy.

Set in a small department store, the film follows a saleslady who is called to her supervisor’s office for failing to prove that she is “dying to serve” the store’s customers. She is asked to hand in her resignation while the supervisor — who is working out on her stationary bike — recounts all her violations, which include eating lumpiang shanghai (spring rolls) while on duty.

The saleslady is unwilling to accept her fate because not only does she need the money, her supervisor failed to remember the time she sold 10 nonstick pans in two hours. So she follows her supervisor home and discovers the true secret of succeeding and moving up the ranks of the store.

The film is brilliant in how it presents the situation of contractual workers who are being paid barely minimum wage and yet are held to impossibly high standards of customer service in such a sarcastic, yet humorous way.

The Slums

Directed by Jan Andrei Cobey

After two films tackling the social ills of poorly treated contractual workers, The Slums is a commentary on the phenomenon of “poverty porn,” or how filmmakers capitalize on presenting the squalor of the slums as a backdrop for their creations.

The film follows a family of five who are interviewed by a documentary crew about a recent fire. Now, the purpose of the crew is unclear but what is clear is how they intrude into the life of this family who, despite being poor and living in the slums, are reasonably happy with their lives. The crew then tries to present a different kind of poor-ness to the family which includes eating only dried fish and living in perpetual sadness.

It is an entertaining film about taking back one’s narrative.

Cinemalaya runs until Aug. 16. For tickets and access to the films, visit cinemalaya.org/tickets. Tickets are priced from P75 for a film bundle to a P350 premium pass.