A showcase of world-class independent films from the Philippines
This August, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) presents the sixth annual showcase of independent films from the Philippines with New Filipino Cinema 2017, co-curated by YBCA film/video curator Joel Shepard and Philbert Dy, a professional film critic based in the Philippines who has written for some of the country’s top newspapers and magazines.
Like the country itself — which is made up of thousands of little islands, each with its own culture, dialect, and people — New Filipino Cinema 2017 provides a snapshot of a huge range of artistic achievement.
With the current situation in the Philippine today, New Filipino Cinema has put a special focus on films with social, historical, political and human rights themes.
“It can be difficult to talk about Filipino cinema nowadays. There are still plenty of exciting things going on. The scene is still growing and evolving in surprising ways, with the entire structure of the industry having become the subject of serious conversation following a major shakeup of the country’s biggest festival. But there are other things going on here,” said Dy in a statement and then added, “Faced with the very real horrors brought about by the current administration, it can seem irresponsible to get caught up in the comparatively abstract concerns of the state of our cinema.”
Dy also said that regardless of what’s happening in the country, Filipino cinema has always been a fertile ground for dissent.
“In the time of Martial Law, the likes of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal sowed their outrage into their melodramas. Their stories of love and loss found potent context in the looming tyrannies of the Marcos age. And as the indelible specter of one dictator continues to cast a shadow on the nation, filmmakers continue to tell stories that bring to light, in ways both overt and hidden, the injustices that Filipinos face every day.
“One must acknowledge, however, that the escapist abstractions of cinema cannot truly capture the horrors of this last year. It is in this spirit that we have invited photojournalist Raffy Lerma, whose photos of the victims of extrajudicial killings have shown the world the plain, inescapable reality of what the country is going through.
In our own admittedly small way, we hope to honor those that resist, and those that still deserve justice.”
Complete line up and showing schedule
“Sunday Beauty Queen” by Baby Ruth Villarama (2016, 94 min)
Thursday, August 17, 7:30 p.m. / Sunday, August 27, 2 p.m.
Beneath Hong Kong’s glittering facade, nearly two hundred thousand Filipinas are domestic workers living in relative anonymity. Living with their employers, they work 24 hours a day, six days a week, with only Sunday off. In a beauty pageant like no other, five women give themselves makeovers for a day and gleefully reclaim their dignity. The film documents the lives of these hardworking Filipinas as they escape once a week from their foreign employers.
“Forbidden Memory” by Gutierrez Mangansakan II (2016, 77 min)
Friday, August 18, 4 p.m. / Saturday, August 26, 2 p.m.
In 1974, two years after the declaration of martial law in the Philippines, the Philippine army marched into the town of Malisbong, detained all the residents, and eventually killed around 1,500 of them. This documentary talks to the survivors of this little-known massacre, letting them put into simple words what they went through.
“Apocalypse Child” by Mario Cornejo (2016, 95 min
Friday, August 18, 7 p.m. / Friday, August 25, 5:30 p.m.
It is said that the production of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” brought surfing to the shores of Baler, where much of the film was shot. But this is just one of the many stories told about Baler, a place on the east coast of the country prone to myth and invention. “Apocalypse Child” explores the town’s relationship with its stories through the eyes of an outsider who has fallen in love with a surfing instructor said to have a (hint hint) very famous father.
“Seclusion” by Erik Matti (2016, 88 min)
Friday, August 18, 9 p.m. / Thursday, August 31, 7:30 p.m.
The director of the acclaimed films “On the Job” and “Honor Thy Father” offers this parable set in a monastery in 1947. A group of deacons are undergoing their final trial before ordination: a week isolated from the rest of the world, confronted by the demons that still haunt them. This horror movie builds itself around the kind of religious imagery familiar to anyone who’s been to the Philippines, subverting those aesthetics in service of an exploration of how corruption clings to even the most repentant souls.
“Bliss” by Jerrold Tarog (2017, 100 min)
Saturday, August 19, 8 p.m. / Thursday, August 24, 7:30 p.m.
Iza Calzado plays Jane Ciego, an actress looking to be taken seriously. She produces and stars in a film meant to propel her into the international festival scene, but she ends up getting severely injured. She recuperates in a house under the care of her useless husband and a weirdly anti-social nurse. This intricately structured tale blurs the boundaries between dreams and reality, using genre elements to bring to life the monstrous nature of people in an image-obsessed society.
“Inside the War on Drugs with photojournalist Raffy Lerma”
Sunday, August 20, 1 p.m.
Raffy Lerma is a photojournalist based in Manila. For twelve years, Lerma worked as a staff photographer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer covering the daily news beat in Metro Manila. He has recently shifted into working independently to focus on his documentation of the government’s “war on drugs,” which he has covered since the beginning of the Duterte presidency. Lerma shot the photo that came to be known as “The Pieta,” which went viral; and was featured in The 2017 New York Times documentary “When a President Says, ‘I’ll Kill You.’”
“Hamog (Haze)” by Ralson G. Jover (2015, 100 min)
Sunday, August 20, 3 p.m. / Sunday, August 27, 7 p.m.
All over the Philippines you will find homeless street children. They are known as “batang hamog,” which translates as “children of the dew.” With amazing performances by its young cast, “Hamog’s” unique blend of gritty drama and magical realism explores the lives of a group of these children.
“Lily” by Keith Deligero (2016, 110 min)
Sunday, August 20, 5 p.m. / Friday, September 1, 5:30 p.m.
“Lily” takes its cue from a popular urban legend in Cebu about a shape-shifting witch that supposedly roams the streets at night. The film imagines a backstory for this witch, casting her as a woman betrayed by the man she loves, left to die while he flees for a better life in Manila. This story unravels the various imbalances in Filipino society, whether it be between man and woman, rich and poor, Christian and not.
“Ma’Rosa” by Brillante Mendoza (2016, 110 min)
Friday August 25, 7:30 p.m.
An ordinary family tries to make ends meet by selling small amounts of “ice” (crystal meth). They get set up by a drug user, and the parents are arrested. Thus begins a harrowing downward spiral, as their children race to find the money to pay off the corrupt police. The film unfolds in what feels like real time, in a gritty social realist style.
“Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead)” by Victor Villanueva (2016, 90 min)
Saturday, August 26, 4 p.m.
Jaclyn Jose stars as a mother taking her children on a road trip from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of their father, who they barely knew. This sharp, at times wacky road comedy takes odd turns through the personal lives of its characters, all of whom fall outside the bounds of the traditional portrait of the god-fearing Filipino family.
“Mercury is Mine” by Jason Paul Laxamana (2016, 97 min)
Saturday, August 26, 7 p.m. / Friday, September 1, 7:30 p.m.
The superb comic actress Pokwang stars as a grouchy cook who is about to close down her restaurant at the foot of Mt. Arayat, due to lack of customers. When a mysterious American teenager named Mercury appears out of nowhere and begs for work, a strange relationship develops.
“Pagdating sa Dulo (At the Top)” – Restored version by Ishmael Bernal
Sunday, August 27, 4 p.m. / (1971, 117 min)
“Pagdating sa Dulo (At the Top)” was the debut commercial feature of Ishmael Bernal (1938 – 1996), considered one of the greatest filmmakers the Philippines has ever produced. Rita Gomez plays a stripper fed up with her lot in life. Luckily, or so it seems at first, she is discovered by a movie director (Eddie Garcia) and put on the path of becoming a star. Bernal always had a rebellious, subversive streak that would add fascinating nuance to his films. Within the context of this exploration of the toxicity of show business, Bernal reveals the greater tyrannies of a society on the verge of Martial Law.
“Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) by Lav Diaz
Saturday, September 2 / Sunday, September 3, 12 p.m. / (2016, 485 min)
Master filmmaker Lav Diaz turns his eye on revolutionary times with a movie that seamlessly blends real history with some of the country’s seminal tales and legends. Simoun and Isagani (Piolo Pascual and John Lloyd Cruz), characters from national hero Jose Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo,” escape into the wilderness following the events of the novel. Meanwhile, Gregoria de Jesus (Hazel Orencio), wife of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, goes in search of her husband’s corpse, only to be waylaid by mischievous forest creatures. In this nexus of reality and fiction emerges a mournful wail for the state of our sad Republic, and a defiant cry of hope for future generations of Filipinos. Presented with a one-hour intermission at 4 p.m.
New Filipino Cinema 2017 runs August 17 through September 3, with a free opening reception on August 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Youth Arts Lounge at YBCA. All films are shown digitally, in their original languages with English subtitles.
For tickets, please visit: https://ybca.org/whats-on/new-filipino-cinema-2017.