No one wants to be taught Filipino values. I mean, who wants to be reminded of our societal myopia? Who wants to peer straight into the mirror to see the cracks, folds, and lines on our unmistakably beastly visage?
After everything that transpired since 2016, it behooves us all to recognize what went wrong. We should, but I realize that right now, no one wants to remember who we are and the values we supposedly uphold. Yet, emerging from the dusty halls of the NCAA is a film festival with the ostensibly didactic goal of programming films that showcase these Filipino values.
Luckily, the entries at the 2021 Sine Halaga Film Festival proved to be diverse and, at the very least, interesting. It’s a heady mix of genres, perspectives, and voices. I kind of miss the indie+alt spirit that other film fests have, but Sine Halaga proves that themed programming doesn’t have to tip over the point of pedagogy or gloss over the facts of life we all live through.
Read on for my full field notes on the entries at Sine Halaga 2021. As mentioned in my previous dispatch, these notes aren’t full-fledged reviews but more like immediate reactions to the films I’ve watched.
While you’re reading, you can tune into my Dispatch Tapes with Emil Hofileña, in which we discuss our favorites from this year’s lineup at the Sine Halaga Film Festival.
Representing the spirit of the fest, Black Rainbow is as values-driven as short films go. The story follows an Aeta family that lacks the financial means to send their youngest (Ron King) to school. It’s a premise that, alarmingly, sounds commonplace — a symptom of our desensitization to their plight. Luckily, though simplistic and wide-eyed in his approach, Zig Dulay never sugarcoats his characters’ situation, yielding a heartwarming story about family, dreams, and community.
Carlo Obispo’s intoxicating body horror-cum-mood piece, 13 Feet, implies its message instead of saying it outright. It’s interesting and supposedly specific. But the spaces around said message fail to give itself body and form. It’s interesting just the same, but I can sense that it wants to say its piece the best way it can, but like its protagonist, the film finds itself like a fish out of water.
Salog Ning Diklom
I don’t obscure the fact that I have a soft spot for directors who are also editors — especially when they’re good. Jordan Dela Cruz — who directs, writes, and edits his short film, Salog Ning Diklom — seems to know exactly each of the functions of all the hats he’s wearing. The result is a tightly wound thriller drama that kicks off and unfurls at a nice pace and pays off with an interesting denouement.
Sa Balay ni Papang
As a big Peque Gallaga fan, I feel like Sa Balay ni Papang is written for me. It is a tribute to the late Filipino filmmaker, whose films like Tiyanak and Magic Temple spawned a spate of curious young ‘uns to turn to the world of movies. Not going to lie: the film has left me pricked with the pointy end of the nostalgia bug. But something didn’t feel right, watching somebody else’s story (Kurt Soberano’s, this film’s director). For a tribute film, it tends to feel somewhat shrouded with self-importance.
Mina’s Family History
There’s a rhythm to slow cinema. It’s subjective and instinctual. Lav Diaz, the foremost expert on this, doesn’t just clump together long, unhurried scenes of mundanities. Sadly, that’s what Mina’s Family History feels like, a film that feels content in cosplaying ‘sine ni Lav‘. The film served everything here: the black-and-white cinematography, the exhaustively long takes, the needless turn for the supernatural. And I kind of just turned away at it.
Masalimuot ya Tiyagew ed Dayat
The needless length of the pandemic has ruined everything. Certain images — even those as mundane as an open body of water — trigger our inability to go out and our helpless yearning for a type of life we’ve all taken for granted. Apart from this context, Jan Carlo Natividad’s Masalimuot Ting ed Dayat is a straightforward queer story. It’s about finding kinship in a limbo of uncertainties and unknowns. The narrative is sparse, banking mostly on the sea as its big visual metaphor. Who do we turn to when an avaricious sea creature sets out to take us?
Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things
Being queer, I have a soft spot for stories about what people consider pranks of nature. In James Fajardo’s fantastic Looking For Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things, there are three: 1.) the Rafflesia consueloae, a parasitic plant known to have a putrid smell, hence the nickname ‘monster plant,’ 2.) the Tikbalang, a creature from folklore whose forbidden love brings rain from clear skies, and 3.) the young boy, outcast by his religious neighbors and believed to be the culprit of the murders in the mountain. The way that these three co-mingle in the story makes for a great watch. Out of the entire in-competition shorts selection, this one resonates with me the most.
Hadlok pales in comparison with the other short films in this festival. It’s conceptually muddled and poorly produced. The story tries to culminate its arcs — one about an angry neighbor, another about an ‘aswang‘, and another about an estranged wife — but fails to do any necessary groundwork. I read it as a vaguely defined story about toxic masculinity, but everything sort of overturns by the final act.
Like the folk song, Arden Rod Condez’s Dandansoy is a story about professing one’s love and yearning for their loved one’s return. Here, that return is tethered to the Filipino diaspora, as the main character — an old ‘aswang‘ (Estela Patenio) — pleads with her daughter to come home to their town. She meets a young man (Jansen Magpusao), who tags along for the trip to a mystical lake where old aswangs go to die. So begins a road-trip dramedy that encapsulates the unenviable feeling of being left behind. It’s my favorite short film of the entire lineup.
Bakit Ako Sinusundan ng Buwan ?
Let’s start with this: Richard Soriano Legaspi’s Bakit Ako Sinusundan ng Buwan? is interesting. Dostoyevskian narrative (maybe to a fault) pressed against a vivid, picturesque backdrop of Mt. Arayat. The lead performance is noteworthy, despite the contrivances of the screenplay. At some point, the writing derails, turning the film into a didactic mess.
The feminist message is hard to miss in Noel Escondo’s Lorna, a short film that shares its title with a tremendous feature film directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. Like the 2014 feature, this film leans entirely on its central performance. Angeli Bayani plays a hard-spent, down-on-her-luck widow who has to pick up her husband’s job as a fisherman to make ends meet. It’s hard not to get caught in Bayani’s performance, but the film doesn’t really do anything after the inciting incident, making the film feel incomplete.
Ugbos Ka Bayabas
Manie Magbanua Jr.’s Ugbos Ka Bayabas talks about an inherently funny subject. You see, the tradition behind circumcision is hilarious. From a supposedly medical procedure, the tradition of ‘tuli‘ has become a lurid show that gives young boys their early peek at toxic masculinity. Though at first wonky and laborious, the film gets charming and funny, enough to carry through the end.
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