JOHN DENVER TRENDING, a film about cyberbullying filmed in the Kinaray-a dialect of Antique, was the 2019 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival top winner, bagging six awards including Best Film and Best Actor at the awards night held on Aug. 11 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
The film, directed by Arden Rod Condez, also won the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award for Full-length Feature, Best Original Musical Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.
“[John Denver Trending is awarded the Best Film] for its highly relevant subject matter, its highly convincing characters and effective ensemble acting by a cast of non-professional actors; for its nearly epic sweep of its masterful use of the resources of cinema to depict a boy’s entrapment and doom; and for its coruscating critique of the social media as an engine of lies, hate, and destruction,” the citation read.
The film follows the story of the titular character who is accused of stealing a classmate’s iPad, becomes embroiled in a brawl which is filmed and uploaded online in a form that portrays him as the villain, and the subsequent harassment he faces online and in real life.
Mr. Condez, talking to reporters backstage after receiving the awards, said that they never expected to win so many. “We never prepared for anything like this,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“I feel we really underestimated the Filipino audience… but then they surprised us,” he added, before explaining that after the Cinemalaya run, they are meeting with film distributors for possible theatrical wide release and to bring the film to international festivals.
“We’re having meetings with distributors, they’re trying to get us for a theatrical release but we didn’t know how to respond because we never, never thought of [a commercial run]. We initially planned to show it in schools and micro cinemas and we never imagined it could have a chance for a theatrical film because it’s a regional film and the language isn’t familiar,” Mr. Condez said.
“Yes, it’s a regional film but its subject matter is very universal that even people from Vietnam or China can understand the story of John Denver,” he explained.
This is Mr. Condez’s first Cinemalaya entry.
The film also won the Best Actor for Jansen Magpusao. This is Mr. Magpusao’s first acting role.
Meanwhile, the Best Director trophy was given, once again, to Cinemalaya veteran Eduardo Roy, Jr. who directed F#*@ Bois. Mr. Roy won the same award in 2016 for Pamilya Ordinaryo, a film which won the Best Picture in the same festival.
“I feel more emotional this time around because the competition this time is really tight,” Mr. Roy told reporters backstage after the win.
This is Mr. Roy’s fourth entry to the Cinemalaya — the first was Bahay Bata in 2011 followed by Quick Change in 2013.
F#*@ Bois also won the Best Supporting Actor trophy for veteran actor Ricky Davao who said that this is first time he has won an award after participating in the festival for almost all of its 15 years.
The Best Actress trophy was given to Ruby Ruiz who starred in Iska by Theodore Boborol, a story about a woman taking care of her profoundly autistic grandson.
More people filled the venues of this year’s Cinemalaya.
Chris B. Millado, Vice-President and Artistic Director of the CCP, announced during his speech at the awards night that the festival’s audience at the CCP had grown to 55,000 during the two-week run of the festival, but noted that these are unofficial figures — they are yet to get the numbers from other Cinemalaya venues in Metro Manila malls and in other cities including Iloilo, Naga, Davao, and Pampanga where the 15-year-old film fest was shown this year.
Mr. Millado also noted a “25% increase in box office” at the CCP, though he admitted that it may be because of the increase in ticket prices from P100 to P150.
In the same speech, he announced that the festival will be extended until Aug. 15 in Ayala Mall Cinemas and Vista Mall Cinemas. The festival was supposed to end on the 13th. — Zsarlene B. Chua