Celebrating Filipino Films at the New York Museum of Modern Art

Celebrating Filipino Films at the New York Museum of Modern Art


Film lovers, Filipino film lovers to be very specific, had a great time in New York as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) unveiled A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema, which aims to celebrate the diverse  and styles of what is now considered as the third golden age of Philippine Cinema.

Characterized by a prolific and dizzying array of genres and styles, the ongoing Third Golden Age of Philippine cinema is celebrated in MoMA’s extensive, unprecedented survey, A New Golden Age, on view from June 1 through 25 in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters. A total of 18 films by 13 directors were screened.

The aforementioned Third Golden Age of Philippine cinema spans from around 2000 to the present, following the first golden age, in the 1950s, and the second, from the 1970s to the early 1980s.

The Philippines’ current wave of sustained creativity is unusual in its diversity of style, audacious formal experimentation, and vibrant spirit of adventure. Defying simple description, this variety of distinct cinematic statements makes it an exceptionally unique and largely unrecognized movement.

“This is just a small sampling of recent Filipino films. We have a lot more but we had to choose and that was the hard part,” shared film writer Gil Quito, who co-wrote the Nora Aunor film ‘Merika. Quito joined curator La Frances Hui, associate curator of MoMA’s Department of Film in coming up with this list of films.

“Unlike many film movements, his new wave is very hard to describe or define. It is a highly individualistic movement with a few common traits to bring the films together,” Hui said, as she introduced the opening film. “This is why contemporary Philippine cinema is unusually unique and exciting and also the reason why it is not as widely acknowledged and studied, as it should be. We hope that this series will change that.”

MoMA highlights the stylistic mélange of the Third Golden Age with a wide-ranging selection of films—from the 2017 Sundance Special Jury Award–winner Motherland (2017), which intimately explores the Manila-based busiest maternity hospital in the world, to the works of acclaimed champion of slow cinema Lav Diaz and gripping thrillers by prolific newcomer Ato Bautista.

Baby Factory

The festival-like celebration opened with the sold out screening of Motherland, a documentary by Ramona Diaz, the woman behind Imelda, Don’t Stop Believing: Everyman’s Journey and The Learning.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January, provides an inside view of Fabella Hospital, the busiest maternity hospital in the Philippines.

“It is such an honor to be opening the series and to be in the company of these other directors Brillante Mendoza, Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, Ditsi Carolino, among others. Thank you for raising the profile of Philippine cinema,” Diaz said.

Her film tackled the friendships and relationships that formed among the new mothers in the busy hospital and shows how both the hospital employees and the patients cope with the challenges by coming up with creative ideas to meet their needs.

This cinematic wave is also typified by its raw reflection of the current political situation in the Philippines—with MoMA’s selection including Brillante  Ma’ Rosa (2016), which tracks the fate of petty drug dealers at the hands of a corrupt law enforcement system, and Clash (2009), whose plotline of a “strongman” city mayor who implements crime-fighting death squads mirrors headline-grabbing stories coming out of the Philippines today.

Finally, the New York audience was given a chance to watch Jaclyn Jose’s intense performance in Ma’Rosa, which gave her a Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Five of the filmmakers Ramona Diaz, Ato Bautista, Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, and Isabel Sandoval were present for post-screening discussions of their work.

At the Q-and-A with Ramona Diaz, she revealed that Motherland was born when she was in Manila researching for another film that had something to do with reproductive rights.

“Someone told me to visit what was called the baby factory in Manila (Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital) because they said it is a must-see place if I was working on reproductive health. When I visited the place, I was just overwhelmed, I was taken by the place,” Diaz shared. “I knew my story was there, I had found my film and it was very clear to me.”

Fabella Hospital, the busiest maternity ward on the planet averages 60 births a day—and at its peak, as many as 100 babies within a 24-hour period.

“Fabella is the final safety net for very poor pregnant women, most of whom cannot afford either contraception or the $60 delivery fee.  The images I saw at the hospital  – the nurses who did their best to tame the noisy chaos of Emergency Room arrivals, the crowded corridors, the premature births and cramped recovery rooms with double occupancy of single beds – gripped me and wouldn’t let go,” Diaz added.

The MoMA series opening night was attended by representatives of the Philippine Consulate General, film enthusiasts from the community, academics, filmmakers and members of the local Fil-Am community.

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