The Cultural Center of the Philippines is bustling anew with young and adult moviegoers attending the 11th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. This year’s outing officially opened on August 7 with the screening of Taklub, and will conclude tonight with the nationwide premiere of Silong.
While both opening and closing films boast of star power—via legendary actress Nora Aunor for Taklub and bankable actor Piolo Pascual for Silong—it is exciting to note that Cinemalaya aficionados did not fail in showing support for the rest of the films in the festival, albeit for the first time a collection of 10 short films.
Divided and shown into two sets, these raw and out-of-the-box stories are Apasol (Chasing Sun) by Ryanne Murcia, Gatilyo Ng Baril by Glenmark Doromal and Eero Yves Francisco, Kyel by Arvin “Kadiboy” Belarmino, Nenok by Rommel “Milo” Tolentino, and Sanctissima by Kenneth Dagatan for Shorts A; and Lisyun qng Geografia (Geography Lessons) by Petersen Vargas, Mater by Annemikami Pablo, Papetir by Darwin Novicio, Pusong Bato (Stone Heart) by Martika Ramirez Escobar, and Wawa by Anj Macalanda for Shorts B.
For Shorts A, two films with very opposite themes stood out. One was Sanctissima, a Cebuano production by Cebuano director Dagatan. A “graphic” film, it portrays the life of traditional abortionist Marisa who lives in a secluded house. Unknown to her clients, Marisa has been feeding the extracted fetuses to her son for 20 years. One day, a complication arises when her very child develops an insatiable hunger.
The entire short is set inside the abortionist’s house. Dagatan proves to be a visual storyteller for being able to build up suspense with the use of Marisa’s believable portrayal, and this despite not a single change in scenery.
The atmosphere at the small but packed CCP Studio Theater quickly changed from gory to funny with the screening of Nenok by veteran short filmmaker Tolentino, who joins the Cinemalaya competition for the seventh time.
In a previous interview with The Manila Times, Tolentino shared his excitement in returning to Cinemalaya this year knowing that there will be no full-length features in competition. Known for his children-centered shorts, the director successfully translated interest once again through titular character Nenok.
An orphaned nine-year-old kid, Nenok finds a home Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. He makes religious sculptures and images for his friends, with whom he shares the cemetery as his playground. But most of all, he enjoys tormenting the stern parish groundskeeper, Mang Johnny.
A seasoned director, Tolentino effectively brings out the simple joys of a child. His cinematography was also outstanding, combined with a funny dialogue boxes that draws laughter from the audience.
The Manila Times surveyed the crowd that came out to watch Shorts A, and asked about their favorites. Young students favored the gut-twisting Sanctissima, while older ones enjoyed the light-hearted Nenok.
Notable too were three other films in this first batch depictig strong messages of addiction in Kyel, love in Apasol, and history in Gatilyo ng Baril.
Meanwhile in Shorts B, there are high expectations for Escobar’s Pusong Bato, which has already bagged a Best Film Award at the Manila-based Singkuwento International Film Festival in the summer. Moreover, the short film has already been screened in major foreign film festivals in Cannes and Busan.
The film is about Cinta Dela Cruz, a middle-aged faded actress who tries to relive and remember her glorious days as a movie star in the 1970s. She does this by watching films at home everyday until one day during an earthquake, something breaks into her window and wakes her up from her Hollywood dream.
Also a strong contender is another original entry in the Singkuwento International Film Festival, Lisyun Qng. Geografia by Vargas, which won him Best Director. It is a coming-of-age gay tale between friends Tib and Tric who develop feelings for each other.
Like Tolentino, Vargas is also a veteran short filmmaker who has awards from both local (Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals) and international (Thailand and Mumbai) film festivals.
Screened alongside Pusong Bato and Lisyun Qng. Geografia were Pablo’s Mater portraying a mother and daughter relationship; Ma-calanda’s Wawa about a boy’s journey in bringing his father to his final resting place; and Novicio’s Papetir starring real-life ventriloquist Ruther Urquia.
The winners of the short film competition will be revealed at the Cinemalaya Awards Night at the CCP Main Theater on Saturday.