February 2008, nr 296

... Philippines

Pinoy pathos

Notes toward an understanding of the state we're in (aka, what's going on in the republic of the Philippines). Five impressions from Alexis A. Tioseco.

philippine bliss at IFFR.

(1) A small festival of local independent films is organized in the second floor screening room of a café to counter an extremely shitty, larger, state-supported festival of local commercial fare that has been churning out horrible melodrama and B-films even Ed Wood would disown. The venue seats a maximum of 35, though it is filled to the brim but once. The audience is modest but at least passionate, you assume, and the presence of those, however few, make the effort to organize the endeavor all the more worthwhile. At every single one of the screenings that you attend, cell phones light up as members of the audience turn their eyes away from the screen to send or read a text message (the light glowing especially bright because of the size of the room). Several times...

(2) [Notes from my journal: July 2, 2004]
Last Tuesday I took the day off from work to attend a day of the mini-film festival Hoy Pinoy - Sino Ka Ba?. Scheduled to be screened that morning was Kidlat Tahimik's perfumed nightmare (1977). I asked Kidlat about how he met Werner Herzog and what influence Herzog had on him and his work. Kidlat didn't respond to the question of influence in an aesthetic sense, but more of the impression that Herzog made on him in relation to building an audience.
One of the student filmmakers of the German artists commune where Kidlat stayed, asked him to play a part in his film. Kidlat agreed and went to class with that student. The regular teacher of that class was absent, and it just so happened that Werner Herzog served as the substitute, and it was there that he and Kidlat met. When Kidlat had the idea to make Perfumed nightmare, he approached Herzog and asked if he could tell him of the synopsis. Herzog said in a burly deep German voice "Kidlot, I am a fery busy man. But I haf to screen my film for a community. The drife will be 400km each way, and I am going alone. Iv you like, you can ride with me in Volkswagon, and tell me all about your feelm on thee way there and back." Kidlat did.
The film was screened to an audience of about 40 or so people. On the drive back, Kidlat asked Werner, "Verner, you are driving 800km to show your film, and only 40 people have shown up to watch it. Are you disappointed?". "Kidlot", Werner replied, "I am not disappointed. Vee must learn to cultivate our audience. To teach zee people to appreciate feelm. Vee must start somewhere." "Wow", Kidlat said, recounting the moment. "This was Werner Herzog, and he drove 800km, 400 going, 400 back, to show his film to a small community of 40 people. That really stayed with me... The idea of starting small and cultivating an audience."

(3) Lino Brocka is dead. Should we listen?
"The only way I can elevate local cinema from its present 'bakya' status (unsophisticated, ed.) to an artistically acceptable level is to introduce gradual changes until one succeeds in creating one's desired audience. The sincere Filipino filmmaker should get over his hang-up about making the great Filipino film, instead think about developing the great Filipino audience." - film director Lino Brocka

(4) Necessary fiction
In the most interesting year Philippine cinema has had in over a decade, five of the best works made were hybrids - films that either began as, contain elements of or made reference to documentaries, but were not purely so: Lav Diaz's death in the land of encantos (IFFR 08),Raya Martin's autohystoria (IFFR 07), John Torres' years when i was a child outside (IFFR 08), Sherad Anthony Sanchez's huling nblyan ng buhi: or the woven stories of the other and Ray Defante Gibraltar's when timawa meets delgado (the latter two not screening in IFFR, sadly).
All five were shot on digital video (in its various forms), three (encantos, balyan, timawa) and a half (years) were shot outside of Manila (the country-capital that has dominated film production for to long), two were made by 23-year olds (auto and balyan), two were first features (timawa, balyan), and only one was made by a director past his 40s (encantos by the 49-year old master Diaz).
Each of the five films unique in aesthetic but with a similar essential topic at their heart: tragedy (be it social, personal, or a combination of the two, sometimes).
The 'pinoy' pathos is getting darker. ('pinoy' is the name used by Filipinos for their compatriots in the Philippines and around the world, ed.)

(5) The same old figurative (by poet Joel M. Toledo)
Yes, the world is strange, riddled with difficult sciences
and random magic. But there are compensations, things we do

perceive: the high cries and erratic spirals of sparrows,
the sky gray and now giving in to the regular rain.

Still we insist on meaning, that common consolation
that every now and then makes for beauty. Or disaster.

Listen. The new figures are simply those of birds,
the whole notes of their now flightless bodies snagged

on the many scales of the city. And it's just some thunder,
the usual humming of wires. It is only in its breaking

that the rain gives itself away. So come now and assemble
with the weather. Notice the water gathering on your cupped

and extended hands - familiar and wet and meaningless.
You are merely being cleansed. Bare instead

the scarred heart; notice how its wild human music
makes such sense. Come the divining

can wait.
Let us examine the wreckage.

Alexis A. Tioseco
Alexis A. Tioseco is a film critic and lecturer from the Philippines. He is the founder and editor in chief of Criticine (www.criticine.com), an online journal devoted to Southeast Asian cinema.

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