Cinema One: The revolution is sometimes televised
MANILA, Philippines – The ninth edition of the Cinema One Originals digital film festival opens today, November 11, and will over the next week premiere fifteen new Filipino films at three locations in Metro Manila. There is always heady talk surrounding any of one of these festivals. They all make the same claim: that they are at the vanguard of a revolution in Filipino cinema.
Nine years in, in terms of pure content, Cinema One has built a pretty strong argument for that claim. Among the current grant systems available to local filmmakers, Cinema One distinguishes itself with its willingness to take risks and greenlight heavily experimental pictures. Cinemalaya may claim to be fearless, but their output is downright tame when viewed next to Cinema One’s stable of films. It seems unlikely that CInemalaya, for example, would have taken a chance on a very young Sherad Anthony Sanchez back in 2006. Sanchez’s film that year, the mystifying "Huling Balyan ng Buhi," was one of the first films from the initial digital filmmaking surge that seemed to attempt something beyond the confines of conventional narrative filmmaking. In the same year that had Lav Diaz producing "Heremias" and John Torres unleashing "Todo Todo Teros," this festival backed by the staunchly populist ABS-CBN funded a movie just as daring and experimental.
The festival never lost its taste for unconventional filmmaking. The very next year, the festival backed Jerrold Tarog’s debut feature, "Confessional," which was one of the few films from the era that took advantage of the low fidelity afforded by digital technology at the time. 2008 brought another Sherad Anthony Sanchez film, "Imburnal," Richard Somes’ excellent genre debut "Yanggaw," as well as Senedy Que’s conceptually risky "Dose," which depicted a relationship between an adult and a minor.
Every year of the festival has provided the country with some of its most interesting, memorable and convention-defying films. 2009 gave us Ray Gibraltar’s deeply "Wanted: Border." 2010 offered Remton Zuasola’s thrilling "Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria," which was shot in one continuous take. Antoinette Jadaone’s "Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay" and Shireen Seno’s "Big Boy" were among the highlights of 2011. And last year’s edition brought a ridiculous variety of ideas to the table: Khavn’s riotous punk musical "EDSA XXX," Pam Miras’ Digital Harinezumi-shot "Pascalina," and Gym Lumbrera’s deconstruction of language "Anak Araw," and Arnel Mardoquio’s meditative "Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim."
It’s an impressive list of films, to be sure. One could certainly run down this list and conclude that some sort of revolution has taken place, with Cinema One leading the charge. But the situation is a little more complex than that.
If there is a revolution, it is a deeply flawed one. It remains marginalized, with only a few of the films having a life outside of the festival. Cinema One doesn’t really seem to be incentivized to make sure that these films go on to be seen by more people. While Cinema One takes risk with the selection of the content, it’s still very conservative when it comes to further distribution. The festival retains a good chunk of the rights to every film produced under the banner, and exerts some control in choosing future venues for exhibition.
And Cinema One often just defaults to the path of least resistance. A lot of these films simply end up as content for the cable channel. Few get to travel. Even fewer make it to a commercial run, and those that do aren’t marketed with the same vigor that’s afforded to other films under the Lopez umbrella.
This isn’t a problem unique to Cinema One, however. All of these festivals exert some measure of control over the films they produce. It actually calls into question the very idea of calling these films “independent.”
This is not to say that the festivals are bad. In the end, more films are still being made than would have been otherwise, and they have become a consistent source of the best Filipino films made every year. And just having these films made seems to have pushed even the mainstream to explore ideas outside their comfort zone. In the balance, Cinema One and its ilk are definitely a good thing. But there’s certainly room for improvement.
As it stands, whatever revolution Cinema One actually represents remains a very niche thing. It exists within an echo chamber of praise being dealt out by only a very limited subset of the population. Interest in these remarkable films from the larger market has remained pretty low. Even the films that the festival gave larger grants to last year under the pretense of being more “commercial” have yet to see any sort of proper release. They run the risk of simply being forgotten, as is the case with the vast majority of films that have come of these systems.
They will only pop up occasionally on the cable channel. This side of the revolution in cinema is essentially stuck in the ghetto of pay television. Granted, it is the number one cable channel in the country, but even with the help of that distinction, the viewing of these films is often reduced to an incidental act. It doesn’t necessarily push the cause of these films forward. And while Cinema One is completely and justifiably within their rights to keep taking this safer path, one hopes that their boldness eventually carries over to thinking about the future of these films. –Rappler.com
Philbert Ortiz Dy is the resident film critic of Clickthecity.com, culture and sports editor of Manifesto, and a writer-at-large for Esquire Philippines.
Silhouetted film projector in smokey room image from Shutterstock