As they have for the Devil, people have given the coronavirus pandemic many names. ‘Miss Rona’ has been dubbed ‘The Great Revealer,’ cast in the role of harbinger of ‘The New Normal,’ in which we’ve had no choice but to take part for two anxiety-ridden years. So, it only feels right that its imminent departure (fingers crossed!) get its catalog of ‘great’ names, too, all promising to go back to the life that once was: a ‘Return’ to the office, a ‘Rebound’ for the economy, and a ‘Reset’ of our lives.
QCinema’s contribution to these promises is to ‘jumpstart’ Filipinos’ return to moviegoing, a culture that had quickly vanished and gone painfully unmissed even by its most ardent of lovers. No one missed the greasy floors of the theater, the dizzying headlights that are the smartphones flashing against the dimmed projection, nor the possible exchange of droplets with strangers for two hours inside a confined space.
It’s a tall order, to say the least. One that even the festival logo seems to affirm: featuring a clapper adorned with electric currents, it seems well aware that moviegoing in the Philippines needs a proper resuscitation. And that mission is left in the hands of QCinema, a homegrown international film festival that had gamely set course for high-minded places from the get-go. “One city to the world,” and all that.
This year, QCinema enlisted six Filipino filmmakers for their main competition program, #QCShorts. Though these films don’t necessarily fire up everybody’s engines, they are great reminders of the incredible filmmaking waiting for us once our circumstances get better.
Right after the bump: our field notes from QCinema 2021’s QCShorts program.
i get so sad sometimes
A: Sadness should have no place in the 21st Century. Yet, here we are helplessly resigned to feelings of inadequacy and detachment at a time of constant excess and connectivity. This feeling is accurately depicted in Trishtan Perez’s i get so sad sometimes, a film that magnifies loneliness using intimate close-ups of human faces and even tighter shots of blue light-laden visages. It helps that the main character is in high school, a period of life where each heartbreak is an axe wedged directly into the heart. The isolation in the film, however, is not pressed only on the main character; everyone, despite their best efforts, are afflicted with feelings of aloneness and sorrow. Most interesting bit: ‘ghosting’ in the chaturbate kind of sense and ‘ghosting’ in the you-shut-out-people-who-actually-love-you kind of sense.
G: Why do I feel personally attacked by this film 😄? Trishtan Perez’ i get so sad sometimes brings me back to the times when I made questionable decisions during my naive, chaotic youth. I relate to this film, but not just because I actually did chat with strangers online, or the fact that the film is partly shot in Cagayan de Oro, or that the film is in Bisaya. The quietness and pacing of the film evokes an air of nostalgia, so much that it’s easy to see your younger self in the characters. I felt the familiar thrill of anonymous online chats, even the awkwardness around family. Needless to say, this film speaks directly to me.
Ampangabagat nin Talakba ha Likol
A: What a release. Maria Estela Paiso’s Ampangabagat nin Talakba ha Likol (It’s Raining Frogs Outside) is a cinematic mural of every pent-up emotion we collectively felt about the circus that was the past two years. Like King Ramses II in the book of Exodus, we’ve turned away from the omens, many of their forewarnings falling on our deaf ears. The story, if there is one, is about a woman contemplating why is it raining frogs outside…erm, literally. But make no mistake: Paiso’s message, presented in a cocktail of mediums and forms (from sullen stop-motion to haunting CAD renders), is a clear call to make amends and clean up our messes as people, both as individuals and as a collective. Wisdom from a red shirt: “Walang tinapay sa mesa kung hindi aalsa ang masa.”
G: I know they say that nothing beats seeing films inside the cinema. But for some reason, watching Maria Estela Paiso’s Ampangabagat Nin Talakba Ha Likol (It’s Raining Frogs Outside) at home, anxious and alone, made this film such a deeper experience for me. I don’t know if this is the intention, but from the perspective of someone who’s been on a self-imposed quarantine for months, the film perfectly captured the anxiety of being stuck at home, afraid to step out because the world feels like it’s about to end outside these walls.
Most notable in this film is its use of various media. The striking visuals are alien, yet eerily familiar at the same time. We are taken through a montage of dizzying, sometimes blurry shots that, to me, described what it’s like being alone not by choice, but by mandate. It’s suffocating, routinary, and claustrophobic.
The fact that the film is in Sambal makes it feel more real, intimate, and it’s easier to see yourself in the main character, Maya. We have the same frustrations: with how our country is being raped by the greedy, and as much as you want to do more, our current political climate and health crisis is weighing us down. Maybe the world really is ending after all.
A: So much of Henry is spent on long, wide-eyed glances. They reveal a kind of curiosity, one that bothers not to question but tries to understand. So, when the titular young boy (played by Carlos Dala) gazes upon his sister-in-law’s fraught face, you share with him the stabbing pain on your side. This is a mark of Kaj Palanca’s filmmaking. Those who have watched his previous short, Contestant #4, will have a greater appreciation for his new film, a sensible progression from the themes he had explored with Celeste Kuh in 2014. Narratively, the film is sparse, filled in with rich moments like one Henry shares with a construction worker about the same age. The interaction, though quite affecting, leaves its meaning out the window. It’s kindness and empathy, mano a mano, against the backdrop of a systemically cruel world.
G: Kaj Palanca’s Henry feels personal, like taking a peek at an entry in someone’s diary. Except here, we don’t use a lot of words. The film speaks volumes just from the glances of the characters, the expertly framed shots, the overall quietness of the moments.
Carlos Dala is a revelation in this film as the titular character. I love the nuances in his expressions, his performance is subtle yet deep. This energy is complemented by his co-star Tommy Alejandro who in turn exuded a cheerful, caring charm. Their chemistry is undeniable, and you can almost see some spark, an attraction that brings them together.
It’s interesting how the characters’ tender interactions take place in the stereotypically macho setting of a construction site. I like to believe this is the film’s way of challenging toxic masculinity.
MIGHTY ROBO V
A: Who wouldn’t be on-board with MIGHTY ROBO V’s premise? It’s a mockumentary following an ill-conceived government agency that proves unfit to protect the archipelago from a kaiju infestation. Born from the minds of Miko Lovelo (Blue Bustamante) and Mihk Vergara (Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo), this is a film that I had expected to go ballistic since it’s playing in a sandbox of its own design. But it doesn’t. Instead of any substantial critique on what it appears to be getting at, it settles for half-funny observations on influencers and new media. Bummer it didn’t poke fun on greater issues that are also inherently funnier.
G: I’m glad that there’s a sci-fi parody to freshen the palate, among the otherwise more serious films in this year’s lineup. That being said, I wanted to like Miko Livelo and Mihk Vergara’ MIGHTY ROBO V. I really did. I appreciate that it’s socially aware and that it wants to touch on important subjects in the context of today’s political climate. However, it does so at the risk of being too preachy. The film isn’t subtle at all with its metaphors — from the names and behaviors of its characters, the premise of monsters invading the Philippines, even to its parody of Voltes V (which I think is a jab at how the Marcoses allegedly cancelled the said show because of its rebellious themes).
I believe that the film has good intentions, but sadly this gets lost in its effort to stuff as much social issues as it can in a few minutes. It brushed on racism, tokenism, gambling, corruption, the conflict in the West Philippine Sea, the ineptitude of the Government – mashed up in one short film that in the end, we’re not really sure what it has to say. But then again, maybe I’m not the target market. The film is clearly created to communicate a message; this, I understand. I just hope that it reaches its intended audience.
A: I’ll say it from the get-go. Chuck Escasa’s Skylab is my least favorite short film in the lineup. Much of its attention is turned to highlighting the symptoms of the onset of Martial Law in 1979: censorship, sensationalism, misinformation, stifling of critical thought, and more. That’s fine, up until the point where it weighs down the central story of two best friends coming of age in the country’s most trying times. The purported crash landing of a U.S. spacecraft is a good lead-in, but I wonder if that should be points for Cyan Abad-Jugo, the author of the short story on which the short film is based. The screenplay, written by Escasa, gets quite didactic, too, like a domineering professor with a wooden ruler in hand.
G: I appreciate the intentions of Chuck Escasa’s Skylab. Films that talk about Martial Law in the 70s are important now more than ever, especially with the blatant efforts to cover up the bloodiest period in our country’s recent history. However, this is a case where it might have been better to show, not tell. Sadly, the film borders into becoming a lecture, rather than an enlightening piece.
To be fair, the premise of the world ending and the possibility of a satellite crashing into the Philippines draws you in. There are sci-fi thriller vibes akin to Dodo Dayao’s Violator. I just wish that Skylab was able to get me invested in the mystery from beginning to end.
City of Flowers
A: It isn’t always sunny in City of Flowers. Save for some brief moments between farmer spouses, Elena and Nasser, Xeph Suarez’s new short is dry, arid, and grimy — not the sprightly Zamboanga we’ve known the city to be. In need of cash to provide for his pregnant wife, Nasser opts to join a ‘peace rally.’ Try as we can to get lulled by the earnestness of the couple’s hope for a better future, we know the imminent tragedy that’s coming. And when it comes, it still hurts. Without a stroke of violence from the actual siege, Suarez’s film shows us that the wounds remain open and that we shouldn’t forget.
G: It really hits different when you hear a regional Filipino language in a film. For some reason, watching the characters speak in Bisaya, Ilonggo, or any of the hundreds of languages in the Philippines, feels like listening to real people converse in real life. Such is the case in Xeph Suarez’ City of Flowers, which if I’m not mistaken, is in Chavacano. We’re essentially partaking in a slice of the two main characters’ lives, empathizing with their frustrations and sharing the hopes that they have for their family.
Despite the optimistic conversations in the film, you can’t help but feel the sense of dread looming over this hopeful couple. I don’t know if it’s because of the gloomy tone, or if there’s some foreshadowing that the film sneakily planted into my subconscious, but it’s easy to tell that tragedy is bound to happen. Or maybe it’s simply because we all know that in our country, the world is unkind to the underprivileged.
I’m glad that the film feels this real because it’s an important reminder of the Zamboanga Siege. The events that took place in 2013 are also very real, and this film tells us that there are names and faces behind those numbers that were reported that day. People who love and had dreams have died. I think I will be haunted by that gut-wrenching last scene for a long time.