Familiar, fantastic, fearless fictions: Short film from FAMAS 2018
Screened last week at the Cinematheque Davao are nominated short films from the 2018 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards, which held its awards ceremony last June 10. People from the film industry and those closely following Philippine cinema hailed this year’s edition as a turnaround with its recognition of more independent productions in its roster of nominees. Part of its revitalization is the inclusion of short films and documentary films for the first time.
Despite its relegated position in Philippine cinema (due to the short attention and even fewer opportunities for exposure), some of the short films from these decades are singular works of vision that signals new and diverse voices in filmmaking. The films in the program is a kind of distillation of these voices. The films showcase fearless and diverse storytelling told in unique perspectives, from narrative fiction to documentary to experimental ventures.
The most prominent narrative thread from the films is one that views the precariousness of the Filipino family being caught in contemporary issues such as migration and violence, and familiar themes like death, loss and longing. In Glenn Barit’s Cinemalaya winner Aliens Ata (Maybe Aliens), we see two brothers accept the reality of losing their mother to overseas work and their father to death. The film is brief and simple but poignant in the way it presents an unvarnished, youthful perspective. The characters are distanced from us visually; but like the drone camera in which the entire film is shot, reality will zoom in soon enough to reveal the realities of the world they will encounter. Meanwhile, the fate of two drug-dealing brothers in Carlo Fajardo’s Suerte (Luck) is sealed as one succumbs to violence of the trade. Its film-inside-a-film structure gives it a fresh twist as the brothers are viewed through a documentary-in-the-making storyline.
Two brothers are also at the heart of Paul Patindol’s FAMAS-winning entry Hilom (Still), (it also won a youth jury prize at the 2016 Singapore International Film Festival). It is set in a coastal town in Northern Samar, a place still reeling from the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda, a perfect milieu for the filmmaker to situate his characters’ exploration of brotherly bond and identity. The film also offers a portrait of disenfranchised youth not only in terms of economic status but more strikingly just like in Aliens, from the loss of a normative familial structure and stability, with the boys’ father strong disapproval of his son’s budding homosexuality. Portions of the film are shot among the famous Biri rock formations which offers a charmingly surreal atmosphere to childlike innocence.
The missing parent continues in the narrative of Engkwento by Ryan Machado, who hails from Romblon. In the film, a young boy constantly visits the forest to wait or look for his missing father, which village rumors tout to be an engkanto, a famous Filipino mythical, otherworldly creature that is used to dissuade children from wandering too far into the forests or in the dark. On the other hand, the father’s presence in Carl Chavez’s Sorry for the Inconvenience is both overwhelming and menacing. A student (played by Ronwaldo Martin) comes home beaten and looks for his policeman father’s gun. What turns out as a revenge-gone-wrong, it reveals a layered commentary on violence and the way it is perpetrated by toxic masculinity and patriarchy.
Some of the standouts from the program include short films from the QCinema International Film Fest lineup. Cebuano filmmaker Keith Deligero’s Babylon (which competed in the the 2018 Berlin International Film Fest) is a phantasmagoric mélange of local lore and genres that pokes fun at our national pastimes and preoccupations, miseries and mysteries. Part science-fiction and part revenge flick, it continues to show the Deligero’s brand of adventurous, punk filmmaking. Kiri Dalena’s entrancing Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman (From The Dark Depths) combines documentary footage and experimentation to create a film that evokes “memory, delirium, and forgetting”. The diverse imagery creates ruptures in storytelling that reflects the fissures of our own nationhood even as it is told from a sense of personal loss.
Also from QCinema is Xeph Suarez’s celebrated Si Astri Maka si Tambulah, about a Badjao transwoman caught between familial ties and individual freedom, it is a film that dares to open up discussion on LGBT issues especially in a region bound by religious beliefs and norms. Mike Esteves’ Link, diverges from the narrative thread of the program. The film revolves around two characters: a man and a woman, a writer and a character. It is focused but beguiling, offering only shards of information about the entire affair. In a dreamlike setting, it can be viewed as metaphor of the ever-consuming creative process and the power of fiction. Rounding up the program is Beverly Ramos’ short documentary Dory, about a gay centenarian who holds traditional, normative beliefs even with his own homosexuality. Told through the character’s equal measure of good fortune and misery, it manages to be both life-affirming and ironic.
Note: This article was originally published in Mindanao Times, July 08, 2018.