film festivals

How this film festival is supporting the ‘#NoToJeepneyPhaseout’ campaign

Jason Tan Liwag

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How this film festival is supporting the ‘#NoToJeepneyPhaseout’ campaign
Organized by young filmmakers and enthusiasts, Sinepasada merges community labor movements and film practice to shine a light on the inequities brought about by the jeepney phaseout

MANILA, Philippines – Like millions of Filipinos around the country, Jetri Bolintiam’s life relied heavily on public transportation – both the infrastructure and the people who make a living out of transporting others. So when the transport strike was announced, he took it as an opportunity to understand what was happening.

Volunteering for independent media and research collective Mayday Multimedia, Jetri’s short stint of documenting the transport strike in 2023 with the jeepney drivers became a deep dive into the conditions that forced them to be on the streets, sacrificing their wages to protest the inhumane conditions of the jeepney modernization program and placing the burden of “modernization” on the already financially cornered drivers.

Recording only with a phone and a tripod, Bolintiam “spent months interviewing drivers and their families; experiencing firsthand how the people behind the movement expressed themselves and educated others through their own experiences.”

Spectatorship was no longer sufficient. Something else had to be done. Bolintiam reached out to his friend, film critic and filmmaker Red Sales, and the other administrators Kinoise PH – a close-knit group of film enthusiasts and progressives who initially met in a Facebook group of the same name – to figure out possible solutions.

“After talking to Tanggol Pasada Network, they needed funds for their jeepney drivers who were going on strike. If they are on strike, they are actively choosing an activity aside from work. That act of resistance must be supplemented by the community and we’re doing our part by doing a fundraiser-centric approach for this first leg,” Bolintiam explained.

In the two to three months since their first conversation, the group was able to organize Sinepasada, a community film festival and flea market that hopes to raise funds for the No Jeepney Phaseout Campaign.

The decision to hold screenings was partly motivated by the group’s own proclivities but was rooted in a two-pronged realization: that documentation was already crucial to the survival and persistence of labor movements, but that screenings also enabled this education through film to be grounded, attracting audiences regardless of age and literacy levels.

“The image has so much power in transporting, [in making us examine] how we should feel about what’s happening in society around us. It has a certain joy but it doesn’t fall off the relevant cliff of what’s actually happening with the people on the ground,” said Sales.

Taking inspiration from advocacy and community-driven festivals such as Cine Maralita, Sinepasada, in the words of Bolintiam, was “a celebration of a labor movement, the transport strikes, on film and the people behind it; a film festival centered around a community of real people behind movements like this and how conversations open up around their films.”

The Diliman area was ideal for attracting not only the student population and the art market, but also the communities on the ground – activists who stick it out at Mendiola and rallygoers who were both the subject of the films to be screened and of the legislation slowly pushing their livelihoods to the peripheries. But when options inside UP Diliman were exhausted, Bolintiam found Maginhawa to be the next best place.

“When we were doing the ocular, there were three different PD/labor mass org events happening within one block,” said Bolintiam.

It was a sign. Both Bolintiam and Sales decided early on that it was a non-negotiable to make the event free of charge.

“We didn’t consider screening at cinematheques. It had to be something closer to the streets,” Sales added.

Beyond the financial advantage of a non-theatrical setup, the outdoor alternative film space enabled the removal of any supposed hierarchies that hinder discussions and community interactions.

“We wanted every donation to count towards the fundraiser [for the No Jeepney Phaseout Campaign],” Bolintiam declared.

The films initially programmed were more experimental and included works by Bolintiam, Sales, and other admins from Kinoise PH, partly to reduce cost. But as the program developed through conversations with community organizers and filmmakers, Bolintiam expanded the selection, in part thanks to the help of film critic and educator Epoy Deyto, who would later serve as the moderator of the festival’s forums.

“I realized that it would be a little narrow to be in that mindset,” Bolintiam admitted. 

The updated program includes documentaries such as Gabo Pancho’s Tatay Elmer, James Magnaye’s Baon sa Biyahe, and Jayson Santos’ Para sa Pasada, all of which give a face, body, and weight to the movement by centering stories around older jeepney drivers who have become more involved in the labor organizing, chronicling their day-to-day resistance against the car-centric culture and legislation of the Philippines.

It parallels these with Yugantar’s 1982 proletariat masterpiece Tobacco Embers, which peers into the dehumanizing conditions in Indian tobacco factories and depicts the intersections of both leftist labor movements and women’s liberation movements. The screening was made possible by a partnership with Yugantar Film Collective and Arsenal Berlin.

Taking it a step further, Sinepasada has created opportunities for the community to not only engage with the filmmakers who created these films but also with the subjects of the camera’s gaze, in part as an acknowledgement of the limits of the screen arts as a political vehicle and concession of its existence as mere starting point of discussion.

“[The subjects of the documentaries] have a lot to say and share about their experiences beyond what can be put onto screen. But still, [filmmaking is] such an effective way to share those feelings and experiences to anyone. Because anyone can watch a short documentary and feel sympathy and empathy,” Sales said.

Most notably, the festival closes with National Artist Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare). Released in 1977, Mababangong Bangungot is widely considered a masterpiece in Filipino cinema, demonstrating through a combination of humor and docufiction how the jeepney, in the words of American literary critic Fredric Jameson, “crosses back and forth between the First and the Third World.”

“It was our white whale and a dream scenario for us. We wanted something that could draw an audience without betraying the event. Something ideologically and thematically aligned that could be a fun watch without making light of any of the issues. There’s not really any other film that could fit the mold,” Sales explained.

Sales had met Kidlat four years ago and had emailed but hadn’t received a response. So when he tried again, he didn’t expect a reply. Surprisingly, a notification popped up from the National Artist.

“It was such as long email,” shared Sales, who relayed that Kidlat opened the email by saying he was “kilig to the bones” (over the moon) at the request, later sharing that the first vehicle he learned to drive was a Sarao jeepney and how he documented the factory of Sarao jeepneys in Mababangong Bangungot.

“He showed a lot of passion for fighting against the jeepney phaseout and called it a ‘cultural genocide’. He really took pride in saying he was the most famous jeepney driver in the world because of Mababangong Bangungot,” Sales said.While Kidlat couldn’t go to the event, he showed solidarity with the movement by granting free use of his film.

Film festivals around the world have become elite spaces that struggle to respond to the politics of the times. Under the stranglehold of its many stakeholders of competing political and financial interests, prestigious international film festivals such as the Berlinale, Sundance, and IDFA have failed to respond to the genocide of Palestinians, buckling under the weight of expectation despite their claims to be spaces for nuanced political and artistic discussion.

How then can cinema be more than mere distraction from the atrocities happening around us? Sinepasada, in its modest scale but deep political ambition and anchorage, shows us the way by springing from the grassroots movements, creating spaces that do not have a cost to entry, and attracting an audience not only with quality films but also a clear political challenge to take on; using cinema as a means of unlocking the political imagination.

While Bolintiam and Sales are unsure about calling Sinepasada a “template” for community-driven film festivals (especially ones that can be organized by the youth), they are already in talks with other labor organizations and communities around the country for additional screenings; ones closer to the movement, conducted through makeshift cinema setups to build morale at rallies and strikes.

“Hopefully when it travels, it takes on the identity of the community that holds it. I can imagine Sinepasadas that are education-centric in communities where the jeepney phaseout coverage doesn’t quite capture the depth and breadth of the issue. Community organizers could even program films for children or those who don’t have formal education,” Bolintiam said.

“It’s a beautiful thing because I could’ve never done this without community,” shared Bolintiam who, along with Sales, is making the final preparations for Saturday.

The initial partnerships have expanded to other organizations such as SIKAD and Rural Women Advocates (RUWA), creating a more intersectional movement. “It’s the people I met along the way that helped me build a community film screening with an educational arm and a mass-centered leaning. Meeting people came first, but it’s what gave me the ambition to carry it out with their help.” –

Sinepasada will be held on April 27 from 8 am to 10 pm at 92 Maginhawa Street, Quezon City. Entrance is free. The film screenings will begin at 4 pm. For more details, click here. To donate through Sinepasada, click here. To donate directly to the Tanggol Pasada Network, click here for details.

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Jason Tan Liwag

Jason Tan Liwag is an openly gay scientist, actor, and writer. As a film critic, he is an alumnus of the IFFR Young Critics Programme 2021, the FEFF Film Campus 2021, the Yamagata Film Criticism Workshop 2021, and the CINELAB Workshop 2020 and has served as a jury member for film festivals locally and internationally.