Archive for the ‘Film Appreciation and Criticism’ Category

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THY WOMB_Cinematic; How About EL PRESIDENTE?

December 30, 2012

Brilliante Mendoza’s Thy Womb’s timeframe is short; Mark Meilly’s El Presidente is long. Literally, the former is shorter in duration; the latter, nearly double its length. The former is an indie film with a budget obviously minuscule compared with the latter which reportedly spent P130 Million to produce. Perhaps because it is a period picture that entailed a lot of costumes, and needed many actors as it covers different phases in our country’s history  –from the latter part of the Spanish period c. 1896-97 [excluding the childhood flashback of young Emilio Aguinaldo] up to time he died in 1964. It is a star-studded film while Thy Womb has but a few actors who so powerfully and naturally acted, you’d feel they were just plucked out from the actual Badjao  community in Tawi-tawi.

Asiong Salonga [DC Version] Director Tikoy Aguiluz, my associate editor Yuka and I were together at Resorts World to watch One More Try hours before the MMFF Award’s Night was to be held . The 10 pm show tickets were sold out however so we just chatted during and after dinner. We first talked about how Tikoy is credited in El Presidente which he hasn’t yet seen. The film actually started with Tikoy’s shot of Aguinaldo writing in his study room. Tikoy is acknowledged as Second-Unit Director which is not proper. Let’s be clear about this. Tikoy was the film’s original director. How can he be possibly acknowledged as such when Meilly was nowhere and was “inexistent” or not in the picture at all when Tikoy shot Nora Aunor’s sequences last July in between post-production of Asiong Salonga 2011? Tikoy was the Director of those film sequences sans Meilly, so why should he be credited as the second-unit director??? Moreover, I asked Tikoy if he shot the meeting of Aguinaldo and Marcela Agoncillo sequence [first appearance of Nora Aunor]. Tikoy replied “No!” She looked so funny in it and she doesn’t reflect the grace of a Marcela Agoncillo. That’s a hilarious scene as it appeared to me. Mukhang ewan si Nora dun, wala akong masabi! Filler na filler ang dating.

Anyway, we ended up talking about Ang Sugo, the 2014 Centennial Anniversary film about Felix Manalo, the founder of Iglesia ni Cristo which Tikoy will shoot  in 2013.

Of the two MMFF entries that I watched, I consider Thy Womb as cinematic gem; El Presidente is a fancy jewel or a raw gem which should have been polished better. Nanghinayang ako sa El Presidente for the following reasons, all subjective of course:

1)      CINEMATOGRAPHY. As I’ve previously posted, I wanted to see the difference between Tikoy and Meilly’s “style. Cinematography is one film element that can give lead to it. As Carlo Mendoza, Asiong and El Presidente’s cameraman himself told me, it is actually what the director wants NOT HIS that shows on the film. It’s the Director’s call in other words. By saying so, I expected concrete differences in Carlo’s work from two different directors. And yes! their style and preferences actually showed. Tikoy’s Nora sequences were said to have been graded to go or balance with Meilly’s because of clear differences.

Tikoy in all his film has always controlled the look, composition and lighting of his film. He is not afraid to demand extreme close-ups and wanted chiaroscuro lighting; the more contrast in light and shadows the better. On the contrary, El Presidente scenes are largely well-lighted, giving it the TV movie quality and look common in our TV network productions. Whether in wide forest shots or on actor’s midshots, you’d feel the presence of lights and reflectors. Dramatic lighting where mostly needed wasn’t maximized to give the proper mood. Nowhere akong napa-WOW [except perhaps in Cecille de Mille wideshot of the fight between the Americans and the Revolutionaries, but not on how the fights were edited predictably with effects]; also the wideshot of the forest when the revolutionaries were evacuating Cavite. Unlike in Thy Womb where handheld shots and close ups, beautifully framed composition, available lighting were used to give the documentary feel, the reality and naturalness of the environment, El Presidente coverages and scene compositions are generally ordinary. In the former, the lighting helps a lot in giving character and texture to the film. The Tejeros Convention sequence for ex. could have been better dramatized if the lighting mood was proper, with Angry Men as a peg perhaps, so that the build up of tension parallels with the rising anger of Bonifacio character as played by Cesar Montano. So does the part when Aguinaldo joined the Katipunan. Dramatic lighting was absent in one of the most important event in Aguinaldo’s life. Cinematography in El Presidente is uneven. In some, there are even loud video noises. Inserting unnecessary photos also contributed to photographic inconsistencies making the segment like an AVP. Choosing Thy Womb for Best Cinematography is right judgment. [MMFF Winner for Best Cinematography: Odyssey Flores, Thy Womb]

2)      STORY / SCREENPLAY – content is epic in proportion, fine! But by putting so much, El Presidente loses a lot more. It gave more emphasis on events, on action scenes to show perhaps the production costs and producer’s expenses. It failed to dramatize more the conflicts of the man, his person, his dilemma, his psyche so that we could have ride with his feelings deeper – his difficulties as catalyst of Philippine revolutionary forces. The highlight of his life is Philippines independence; that’ s what he lived and fought for in the first place, it was his and the country’s turning point. But the build-up is seemingly lacking, it felt like it was just an ordinary sequence in the film when it appeared. The nationalism fervor could have been more sparked, more built up as we see them fight that led to the triumphant waving of our flag, and hearing the national anthem in 1898. Aguinaldo lived during such time when atrocities were committed by Americans, when spies were aplenty. There were lots of room to work on surprise and suspense to make the story more gripping and interesting. If you are not aware of it, there are many secret doors to exit or enter Aguinaldo’s house which could have been utilized to add drama and show the dangerous life our heroes had to go through. After the Spanish period, there’s sense of urgency to finish the film, it is like shuffling of cards fast to bring Nora Aunor onscreen, and who disappeared just as fast, to finish off the movie. Thy Womb’s story is actually a simple love story — what a woman could do for a man she loves so much and wanted to be happy. El Presidente is also a love story, and a more complex one — what a man did for his Mother Country. With the latter’s story complexity, more could have been done to make it better. It had all the chance to be the best but unfortunately meeting MMFF deadline is the culprit. I don’t want to react about the historical accuracies or inaccuracies since they already claimed  that it is either only 95% accurate, or “fiction based on a historical character.” I’ve seen some of the changes but there’s no point talking about them out of respect for the filmmaker’s “creative freedom.” I just wonder how they affect descendants of heroes focused on.  [MMFF Winner for Best Story, Henry Burgos for Thy Womb; Best Screenplay, One More Try]

3)      ACTING – No variations in the acting or performance, even the looks of Jeorge Estregan from the time he pledges as Katipunan member to the time he declares Philippine independence. He is obviously acting; Aguinaldo’s soul or just his aura was not in him except in the few shots taken in his house in Kawit, or when he was already old and rarely some in between when he has no dialogues.  Happily, walang timba nang luha sa puntod [tulad sa Asiong] nang nakaluhod pagkamatay ni Candido Tirona. O dahil wideshot ang kuha? Yun nga lang bakit hinimatay pa? But then there’s a shot while he was in the cabin, wailing…dun kaya??? Ewan ba! Tikoy would prefer silent, and mellowed acting there, I am sure. And I would love to edit out  unnecessary melodramatic acting too. Favorite stances from Asiong surfaced as follows: the way he pointed at the picture of Queen Christina to Baron Geisler, the way he stopped [forgot the character] when two of his men were about to fight and of course, using two guns a la traditional cowboy  [a la Asiong, more so a la FPJ] while fighting when we know that guns were scarce during those days; and just a gun was commonly used. Oh well, “creative license”?

Moreover, I have witnessed that using comedians in serious roles wasn’t effective. As Baldomero Aguinaldo, or Lolo/grandfather of former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Bayani Agbayani’s first appearance alone elicited laughs, though he wasn’t making a joke. So does, Epy Quizon. In one sequence where Gerald Ejercito as Crispulo Aguinaldo died, his expression with matching slow motion made those seated beside me to laugh and exclaim: Ano ito comedy? [MMFF Winner for Best Actor, Dingdong Dantes; Best Actress: Nora Aunor, Thy Womb]

4)      EDITING – It was refreshing…a sigh of relief for me NOT TO SEE the Fade In/Out to Black that they used to destroy Asiong Salonga. Either narendahan ng director or natauhan sa senseless and stupid use of those devices. Nevertheless, the slow / fast motion and freeze effects in fight sequences were used again, but this time too overly done that they became predictable. They were fine to a certain extent but they should have been sparingly used to maximize the effect and heighten the drama. Another funny cut [just to shorten the already long film perhaps] is when Gregorio del Pilar was shot. He fell down from his horse. Shot on top-angle, hands presumably of the Americans enter frame and shown in the act of destroying his rayadillo or undressing him. That was the impression the shot gave. The problem is: the scene faded out at that point that it gave the impression Del Pilar would be raped. Many in the audience laughed, including me…the historical fact is Del Pilar was divested of his personal belongings. But that’s it, the shot was cut too short it gave another meaning and “malicious” impression to the audience. For every cut that you do, there is a reason…[MMFF Winner for Best Editing,Vito Cahilig, One More Try]

5)      PRODUCTION DESIGN – Costumes, art design in general are good, clearly the art department researched but in many scenes, even at the height of fighting, the general’s uniforms are SOOOOOOOO clean and white, SOOOOOOOOO new that my feeling was that they have just come from the tailor or from the laundryhouse. Niluma man lang sana bago suutin. In fact, among the first trailers the producer came up with and released, it was as if they were advertising Tide bar and soap: “Ano ang mas malinis, mas maputi?” The settings are good; location is the same place where some of the Asiong’s scenes were shot. Moustache in some sequences were not properly glued,  they look they’d fall anytime; or they were just too big for the character’s face, they looked so funny. It has not the naturalness in costumes, and settings of Thy Womb, complementing with the natural acting of the main players that contributed to overall design giving the film its right to win the award. [MMFF Winner for Best Production Design, Thy Womb]

6)      MAKE UP – I don’t know why they won when the first appearance of the “old woman” had been very disconcerting because of bad makeup, so much so that I wished they used a real, old woman there. The same with the actors who were so tidily made up…with faces looking unblemished. Probably, quantity of casts to put the make up on mattered, or in their criteria. [MMFF Winner for Best Make Up, El Presidente]

7)      DIRECTION – My guess was right, it was Best Direction for Brillante Mendoza. Afterall, he succeeded in really making his cast, especially Nora Aunor get into the character and soul of a barren midwife, who worked hard in looking for someone who could fulfill the wish of her husband to have a child. The choice of image sizes, extreme close ups, and handheld movements make the viewers part of their world or become the characters themselves. The use of silence and wide shots when needed; the concentration on the character’s soul; which in Jeorge Estregan as Emilio Aguinaldo, Meilly failed to achieve. There is distance between the audience and the character. You do not get “into” the character.  There is no emphathy. At times, Estregan’s dialogue delivery are so reminiscent of Asiong Salonga, astig ba? There is something missing in Aguinaldo’s character the way he was portrayed. The director has a big hand on this. And with the use of cursive scripts to caption or introduce the scene, the film turned out to be like reading a history book. Kulang na lang ng turning a page or page peel transition.El Presidente is like Baler, only better because of the important subject it tackled. [MMFF Winner for Best Picture, One More Try but Best Direction for Brillante Mendoza; Best Second Picture, El Presidente]

I watched the first screening of Thy Womb at SM MOA with less than 15 people in there last December 26; El Presidente in its second screening with nearly fully packed seats. Kulelat pareho sa takilya ngayon but worth seeing especially Thy Womb which despite winning the major awards, some theaters have pulled the film out because of poor revenues. But I hope many more could watch it, if only to know the culture of our Badjao community… really appreciate La Aunor, and get a surprising treat from Mendoza. For a change!!! Unfortunately, if last year it was grand slam for El Presidente producers who also produced Asiong Salonga, it was probably grand sla_ for them this year for not winning the major awards they were targeting and for sure expecting deep in their hearts. But I still laud them for producing it…as I’ve said, realizing an epic and a dream film is in itself is a big FEAT. Defeating the other purposes for which the film were made is another matter. There are other award-giving bodies, aesthetic values of jurors vary, as well as their criteria. Hope is there for those who didn’t make it this time.

Lastly, I do not know whose bright idea it was to put the Memoirs of Aguinaldo at the the end of the film. By doing so, they have limited or suggested a biased and one-sided version of his life… Di nila naisip yun?

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El Presidente_Fiction Film Based on a Historical Figure??

December 26, 2012

By describing Metro Manila Film Festival 2012 entry El Presidente, centered on the First President of the Philippines Emilio Famy Aguinaldo as “fiction film based on a historical figure,” [Click to read Philip Cu-Injieng’s Aguinaldo and his story], by no less than its director Mark Meilly, isn’t there the possibility of exaggerating, NOT treating, even distorting historical facts to serve whatever purpose the filmmaker or the producer want the audience to see, perhaps believe? By saying so, shouldn’t this sever its description as a historical drama film and simply call it a  period movie?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines FICTION [originating from Middle English ficcioun, from Middle French fiction, from Latin fiction-, fictio act of fashioning, fiction, from fingere to shape, fashion, feign] as, 1: something invented by the imagination or feigned; specifically : an invented story; 2: an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth <a legal fiction>; and 3: the action of feigning or of creating with the imagination. [Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fiction]

If a film is fiction therefore, or as Merriam-Webster defines it, as an “invented story” — though based on an actual historical figure’s life, and a controversial one at that — is it still ethical to use the real name of the actual person and call the film that person’s bio-pic?

Treating something historical — in narrative, documentary or docu-drama form, the creative artist’s way is surely the domain of the filmmaker. But when declared as FICTION, creative freedom or creative license comes in with his personal, or the producer’s prerogatives, “likes and demands” possibly put in. He/they can give reason for any change in the real story, and who’d question that but primarily the descendants of the historical subject who may get offended, or elated depending on their family’s depiction; or the historian’s who are after facts based on evidences. But which is easy to counter by stressing to those who’d question  the truth that it is NOT a DOCU. In other words, those who would demand for truth can be countered by simply stressing on such distinction. Anyone who’d question the truthfulness of events highlighted, the film treatment, and how the director sees the character saves him from criticisms and further questions that may come from those who’d stick to reality. I shouldn’t bother as a viewer to question anything given the fact that the film is fictionalized. Because it is not a documentary film afterall… Why then, should the producer brag about the presence of historians as consultants in their set if the freedom to “invent story,” has been exercised?

Clearly, this sort of a “waiver” is the film’s redeemer as far as content is concerned. Very wise indeed! They can exaggerate or downplay characters, and manipulate truth to suit any particular purpose. Aguinaldo or Bonifacio can be a BIG giant of a hero or otherwise; any character for that matter may be trivialized, even eclipsed depending on what the artist’s imagination has “feigned” or “created.” Everything depends on where he wants to lead the audience or what’s the desired action they want from them. The principle of marketing and advertising to sell a product applies.

Packaging, reinventing and marketing Jeorge Estregan as a REEL hero, like former president Erap Estrada in the past, is very useful for recall purposes when the former aims for a higher government post in the future. This is the bottomline. A pattern is forming…

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Thy Womb and El Presidente_2012 MMFF Entries That I’ll Watch

December 25, 2012

I intend to watch Thy Womb by Cannes Film Awardee for Best Director Brillante Mendoza and El Presidente by Mark Meilly. The first one because I loved Mendoza’s “Lola”, and I want to watch a Nora Aunor film. [I walked out though on his film “Kinatay” because of bad projection]. Next, I’ll watch El Presidente where Nora Aunor was directed by Tikoy Aguiluz for the first time. I want to see the difference between the handling of actors of Meilly and Tikoy, and how they see through the lens. What do I mean here? The composition , lens choices, and blocking of characters. I know Tikoy’s films well enough having edited almost all of them. Especially so because I met Carlo Mendoza, both film’s cinematographer last November during the last CineManila International Film Festival. We watched a Thai film together and he told me that differences were there in Tikoy’s and Meilly’s works. He even said that what the directors wanted, not what he wanted came out. Their preferences are clearly perceived; it was the color grader in fact who first saw the difference when the footage from two directors had to be graded.

The last film by Meilly that I saw was Baler which didn’t really struck me. I liked Crying Ladies better. Tikoy managed to get old Aguinaldo’s aura from Estregan’s performance, I wonder how he’d be as young Aguinaldo who was 27 years old when he became President under Meilly’s helm? [Asiong Salonga died at the same age – 27 or 28]. It must have been very, very challenging for Meilly to “exorcise” Asiong out of Estregan’s “system.” It is because I saw remnants of Asiong’s action in Jeorge Estregan’s El Presidente trailer; he was firing using two guns – “a la Fernando Poe;” the same action he added in Asiong’s for those who have already forgotten it. Understandably, it must have been one of his dream actions to be a “hero,” and who wouldn’t want to be, especially if it is your film production? Both roles were played by Estregan who is much older than the two. Kaya challenging din kay Gov..

Baler and El Presidente are of course incomparable. The latter would and should have more action and drama, Aguinaldo’s life being action-packed. I also hope that Bayani Agbayani transcends his image as a comedian. Playing as Baldomero Aguinaldo, Lolo of Ex-Prime Minister Cesar Virata must have been a real challenge for him. I hope he doesn’t make the audience laugh; otherwise, it’s EPM Virata who’d first to cry!

Anyway, Emilio Aguinaldo’s life is quite familiar to me having worked with my Cavite historian brother Isagani R. Medina who made extensive researches on Aguinaldo and Cavite’s local history. I was in fact, his main assistant: field photographer and researcher, proofreader, book layout artist, encoder, etc. The 1996 Centennial Edition of his 824-page book, Ilang Talata tungkol sa Paghihimasik (Revolucion) nang 1896-97 was the last book he edited, annotated and published. We worked on the book for two years. I shot hundreds of photographs for that particular book. Some of my memorable experiences in the book’s preparation was the actual handling of “Acta de Naic” or the Naik Agreement document from the collection of Jose P. Santos and Atty. Jorge de los Santos. I remember that my brother took a lot of time as he painstakingly tried to identify the signatories. I also personally touched to photograph the transcript of records of Dr. Pio Valenzuela at the UST Archives. I had goose bumps when I touched the transcript on thick parchment paper. I never imagined in my life that I would one day be able to hold them. Anyway, I have learned that Emmanuel “Manny” Calairo is on board as its Supervising historian, that’s great! I am quite happy about it. Knowing him personally from his undergrad days, being my brother’s student, and a follower of his ideas, historical writing style and methodology which can be gleaned from the first books he wrote and published, i.e., the book on Kawit, there is less to worry about the historical facts that would be put in the film. Manny is also an alumni of Metro-Manila College in Novaliches founded by my brother-in-law Dr. Mamerto Miranda, Jr. and later run by our eldest sister, Dr. Ligaya M. Miranda.

But our experience with Asiong Salonga last year where the producer’s so-called film ownership license made them bypass the intellectual property rights of a director, doing as such what they wanted on that basis and belief, completely disregarding the director, and what is surfacing as artistic license to change fact is what I am worrying about. Nevertheless, I respect the artistic license of a creative artist, to what extent it will be used when treating not only a historical but a controversial character is something we have yet to see. It is a crucial matter though. But I hope compromises were made and decisions done with Meilly’s rights respected. That’s important!

With the coming centennial birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio next year, El Presidente will enhance better Bonifacio’s actual role in the Revolution. If facts are presented the way they should be, Aguinaldo will be better understood by the Filipinos especially the youth, that is, if they would accept facts based on evidences, and if they were not done in exaggeration. Like in my brother’s article, “Aginaldo para kay Aguinaldo,” I expect them to highlight – Aguinaldo as Father of the Philippine Flag, the National Anthem and therefore, Father of Philippine Freedom.

I have browsed on El Presidente’s original script which Tikoy asked me to read; and Meilly’s as well sometime last August. Both end with bullets of events. But it is my hope that that’s just on paper as I have great hope for the film’s potentials because of the story and its milieu. It is not surprising that the film is said to be two-and-forty minutes long; if needs be, it can be longer. For as long as they give way to Gov’s dramatic, but not melodramatic action. Let his action speak loud not the edit or useless visual effects. If an edit distracts, that only means there is a problem, guys! But that will only happen pag nakialam na naman ang mga producer. Pabayaan nyo ang direktor, pwede ba?

Nevertheless, I congratulate Gov Jeorge Estregan for finally producing and realizing his dream film…That in itself is a FEAT! Now, we’ll see where feat and defeat comes in if at all… On Apl  de Ap take — I don’t think it succeeded. It’s off the film’s beat! Hindi bagay. For the youth they say. What works on one, may not work on the other, the Asiong formula didn’t seem to work this time. Even the music theme of Asiong, La Paloma by Ely Buendia, caught on like wild fire or viral once uploaded. In fact, you may, or may not believe it, but up to now, searches on Asiong Salonga still daily land on this blogsite.

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Weekly Writing Challenge: Shift Your Perspective / Self or the Masses?

December 5, 2012

She loved Domenikos Theotocopoulus or El Greco, Robert Delaunay, Willem De Kooning, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pablo Picasso. Some influenced her painting style in her early attempts to paint…

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Above are some of her works that were spared from the fire that burned down their house in 1998; they luckily happened to be in her sibling’s residences.

Portrait_Nanay_SMALL

Portrait Sketch of Mother before she Died in 1999

But for whatever reason only God knows, she was led to the less trodden path — of documenting in film, materials and subjects untouched for years, either because of lack of interest in them, or her subjects are marginalized. She stopped painting altogether as the passion for advocacy film making grows.

TIga and Alyana

[L] A historical docu film on the socio-cultural life of the island inhabitants before World War II; the last island held on by the Americans before surrendering to the Japanese in 1942. It concludes with an anti-war sentiment; [R] The first local feature-length digital film on autism in the Philippines that advocates for inclusion and mainstreaming of persons with autism.

“Any regrets for the detour?” I asked myself.
And so many times in between asked God: “What do You really want me to do?”

And I always end up with a smile you know.

Ptg in Nova As I come to think that paintings are appreciated only by the few who happened to collect or own your work; at the most by the owner’s visitors who drop by at their house. I have witnessed the BIG difference. Documentary films reach out to hundreds, at times to thousands of people in one screening day because of digital technology. Comparatively, I never saw anyone shed a tear looking at my paintings; they get puzzled in fact. They ask a lot of questions. They find it difficult to see what I saw. Racking their brain, in a way training them to see beyond mere forms I think is quite challenging for them. Often than not though, communication fails. And when that happens, there is no give and take between me and the viewer, between you and me. It becomes a one-on-one activity. It serves only the Self. The viewer does not matter. You cease to exist. It is simply art as self-expression; it is self-serving.

But I saw lots whose hearts were touched by the truth my film for example on autism presents. As such, docu film making has since then become my most fulfilling activity in life. When we hop around towns and cities to spread autism and deafness awareness to our citizens who still believe in cultural myths that outcast persons with disability in our society, and the outcome is clearly paradigm shifting of attitude towards them by some, not necessarily all the viewers, there is the sense of triumph not only for myself but for my subjects. Sharing what I have learned is a two-way process with rippling effect at times. I learned from my subjects; others have learned from what I have learned.

SO and Rizal

Docus that advocate for the respect and recognition of Deaf Filipinos’ Linguistic Human Rights and the right to choose the language that would give them their cultural identity.

There’s that unexplainable joy of being able to attain my goal, in easily getting my message across to the target viewer. The experience is quite rewarding. In both modes – painting and docu film making – I have something to say. But in the latter, many people benefit. From Self to Society, that’s quite a leap. No regrets whatsoever!

Pitz & Fort

Drawing practice last week

Nevertheless, whatever I do now, there is still that remote dream of again dabbling oil colors on canvas. I therefore struggle to get back to basic drawing –a skill that needs to be practiced if at all confidence to paint has to be regained.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/narrative-mode-challenge/

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Tiktik – The Aswang Chronicles: Reaction

October 28, 2012

I enjoyed watching the horror, comedy film directed by Erik Matti. It really made me laugh. The mere presence of Joey Marquez typecast as a comedian immediately tells us on what to expect from him and from the film. He didn’t fail me; his usual antics were there. I just wished he offered something new in his acting. “Boy Bawang” ad [pasimple but effective] was also quite laughable. Mabenta sa manonood as I heard them heartily laughed at the scene just as I did. “Holes” in story flow was felt – especially the point where Dingdong and the rest of the family except Fely [Janice de Belen] ran for refuge at the “asinan.” Must have been production time constraints because that crucial point would have taken a lot of more time to do, or would stretch it, if, the story on how they managed to escape from Roi Vinzon’s aswangs was properly delineated. Roi’s acting was quite stiff. Para syang robot – understandably enough because he had just to imagine his orchestrations of the creatures. However, the idea of using aswangs and bawang [garlic] was very Filipino. Nakasakay ang marami. However, there’s something foreign in the way they were represented, the way they moved, jumped or leaped. Could it be that I’ve seen that elsewhere?? Dingdong was fine in his acting, but Lovi Poe’s personality is more suited I believe in a realistic and dramatic film. [That’s why I want to see Sa Sinapupunan!!].

Anyhow, knowing the technicalities involved as I was fortunate enough to attend the demo by Mr. Monteverde of Post Manila re the making of the film, I already have some idea of the visuals before I watched the finished film. The unnaturalness of the setting gave mythical feeling that should at once should be accepted even before watching or as you sit down to watch the film. Once done, forget realism – in all aspects. That’s why I enjoyed it. And I commend Dolphs, the visual effects editor for his great job. Overall, I appreciated the technical efforts exerted and the meticulous work that went with it. In fact, for that reason alone, watching the film was worth it. Something new is always refreshing. Congrats to you all! May you have more novel films to come!!

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Malaysia’s Charismatic Genius

January 2, 2011

Last night, I chanced upon a documentary on Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr.P. Ramlee, a Malaysian film director, producer, actor, singer, songwriter and composer. I wasn’t able to see the beginning of the docu at History Channel but I got so engrossed in knowing about his life — happy and sad — that I managed to finish the whole docu despite lengthy ad intermissions. What he had done really impressed me, the reason why I am writing about him now. It was my first time to learn about him but I think that he was a gem of a person as  an accomplished film director, the world, not only the Malaysians should be proud of.  He directed and acted in 66 films, and had more than 360 songs to his credit. Even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics of what he was singing in some of the film clips shown, I could feel the soul and his heart while singing his compositions. He was at the peak of his career almost as the same time as our own film director genius Gerardo De Leon and one of my favorite Indian film directors Ritwik Ghatak.

“On the 29th of May 1973, P. Ramlee died at the age of 44 due to a heart attack and was buried in Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur. His untimely death was a huge shock to the nation, and a sense of collective guilt began to spread nationwide, as prior to his death, he had been discredited and rejected by his own nation, citing that he was then a ‘has been’, and his songs and film were no longer marketable.

In 1986 (13 years after his death), in honor of his contributions to the Malaysian entertainment industry, the P. Ramlee Memorial was built in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. In 1982, Jalan Parry, in the center of Kuala Lumpur, was renamed “Jalan P. Ramlee” in his honor. In 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Malaysian honorific title “Tan Sri”, and later in 2009, the honorific title of ‘Datuk Amar’ by Sarawak State Government. The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, an avid fan of P. Ramlee, presented the award to his adopted daughter, Dian P. Ramlee in a ceremony honoring veteran artists in Kuching. On 31 October 2010, a 90-minute documentary on his life was aired on History Channel Asia.” (Notes from Wikipedia. To read more, please click: Tan Sri Ramlee)

Without doubt, the documentary that I saw is the one being referred to above.

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Blind Enchong Dee in “Parol”

December 19, 2010

Last night I watched ABS-CBS’s “PAROL” in last night’s presentation of MMK. I liked the setting so much, and to this I refer to the house as one of the main characters in the film. Sad but it is true that many ancestral houses have to give way to the whims and wishes of the descendants to whom supposedly care to keep the house intact, protected and secured are bequeathed. Attachment are ordinarily cut because of the material lure of the city and the pecuniary reason that comes with just maintaining it. Better sell is the usual reason.

I remember the house of Katipunero Mariano Trias which had to be demolished to give way to a commercial building. I was there at the time when his other descendants were trying to stop the selling of the house — by the adopted person of the man, they said. I was researching for materials for my brother’s book “Ilang Talata nang Paghihimagsik..” that was due for publication then. I even wrote the National Historical Institute if something can be done to stop the action. They did inspect the house I was told, but it was too late…

Anyway, what to me was glaring in the TV show was the lack of research in the presentation of a blind man by Enchong Dee, particularly in the last scene when he had to finally leave the house with a young girl. The natural instinct of a blind man when he is guided is for him to rest one of his hands on the shoulder of the person he is with. I noticed that when I was going out of the room once with Blind Architect Jaime Silva, and in all blind persons who are on the road when they are not guided by their white cane. Notice that when there are more than two persons with a seeing person guiding them, they even line up like a “shoo shoo train.” A blind individual does not walk like a zombie like how Enchong did it. Seeing persons like us instinctively do that when there are brown outs and when it is totally dark. Besides, the time span of Enchong Dee in the TV show is until adulthood. I wonder why he was never shown at all — not even once — the use of a white cane. I can’t believe that he should be always groping the way Dee acted it out.

Another thing that bothers me is the negative idea it presented when Enchong said that he wanted to study.  The mother dissuaded him and explained that she didn’t want him to because she wanted to protect him from harm. Sus naman!! Well, since it is based on a true story, I just pity that man whoever Enchong represented. But the metaphor that he would be the light that would guide his siblings was good.

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Independent Filmmaker’s Privilege

December 30, 2009

CREATIVE FREEDOM

Filmmaking involves personal choices and decisions. The artist’s freedom to choose and decide is an independent filmmaker’s privilege that I am enjoying to the max. I feel privileged—privileged as there is no producer to tell me what to do—what to put, what will sell, what bores him to death so better delete it, etc., etc…

I have my creative freedom to focus on anything that I want to give importance to, as anyone can have their freedom to do their own thing. I cannot be obliged to see what others see or want to see. Let me tell the world that no individual, no school, no institution, no sponsor, no producer has ever commissioned me to do any of my advocacy films. All my films are personal dreams realized. Build your own dream!

My odyssey shall silently continue…new people to meet along the way…new friends…new knowledge to acquire…a whole new world to enter…new personal mission to accomplish for the greater good.

My films are vehicles to express and share my thoughts with. The audience are my passengers. And if you happen to journey with me as one of my film’s passengers, understand that your angle of view as we travel together shall differ because your story, history and experiences are different from mine.

From autism world, to the world of the  Deaf, I have  now moved on to the world of the Cerebral Palsied…In particular, SO traces not mine shall stay on however, to haunt others perhaps for what they call its lack. But to many others—whether Deaf or hearing, the film beyond trivialities shall certainly be a milestone, if not, a source of inspiration.

I have written this to serve as my personal treatise on the subject of non-inclusion, little, or no exposure in my films, and all the films in the future that I am dreaming of producing as there are still lots that I want to do. This is therefore addressed to all those who presently harbor or unfortunately will harbor the sentiments or grudges of feeling “insignificant” for not being included in my “travel” which is a very personal and an independent endeavor anyway. It is never my wish nor my liking to make anyone feel that way. They unfortunately chose to wallow in it reminding me of a quotation which states that: “It is not what happens to us that is the problem. It is our attitude towards what is happening to us that is the problem.”

(For the full article, see Page “A Treatise on “Exclusion” on the right column)

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When the “I” matters

March 1, 2009

Beauty they say is relative. And I think that appreciation of beauty and film appreciation are pretty much the same. Both depends on the beholder—his frame or state of mind the time he views, for example the film, painting, sculpture or architecture; or his disposition the time he hears the music, song, poem, etc. Let’s zero in on the subject of film viewing. Was he irritable, happy, angry, hopeful, highly expecting, exhausted, what not, the time he views the film? What about his background—a moralist, authoritative on the subject, demanding, a critic? A high school or college student? A school teacher or university professor? Or just a simple viewer who merely wants to enjoy while at the same time absorb what he sees whatever his profession may be. What does he know about filmmaking—technical and creative part of it? Film structure and form? Is he after technical perfection and glossiness of the film over what the film actually offers? Does he look beyond the images? In what the film is trying to say, or rather, what the filmmaker is trying to convey? If the Censor’s board for example, only eyes on “censorable” images without seeing them in the context of the whole film, is that being just and fair? If one sees only a segment and forgets the totality and value of the entire film, isn’t the act limiting?

Anyhow, it is my belief that if a viewer puts a stop to his viewing experience because there is something he does not agree with, or finds something technically wrong in it because he is a perfectionist, it is his right to be so. For at that point the “I” matters. The self becomes important. Their yardstick becomes their experiences, morality, beliefs or what they believe to be what should be. They then stop to participate. Empathy ceases. Negative reaction overpowers. They become ill at ease. Everything seems wrong to their senses. They will dwell on what they view as lack, mistakes, probably indulgences, violence, too much sex, etc. Film “depreciation” follows. Nothing else will matter. For by then they would only be considering themselves.

I have produced a couple of feature-docu films, which are advocacy and educational by nature. And I would like to start on the reactions to Silent Odyssey (2008), a docu on Deaf Filipinos, the more recent among my films:

A friend says SO is “dragging,” another friend says it’s “engaging.” Both are UP graduates.

One says “It’s very long.” The other says “It’s OK with me. I didn’t notice the passing of the time…” Both are hearing educators. They come from the same school for the Deaf.

A blogger who runs a computer school for the Deaf says it lacks historical researches because his school, a Deaf institution and some people whom he expects to be in the film are not there while a lawyer says “malalim at scholarly ang treatment.” Both saw the film for the first time when premiered at the UP Film Center in UP. The former, an educator of the Deaf for years is dismayed, the latter who gets a glimpse of Deaf culture for the first time is touched by what he has experienced.

Although both started walking with me in my journey, one got tired, stopped and just looked from a distance—completely distracted and finally detached. The other continued with the walk, saw everything along the way and felt the sentiments of the subjects—he got involved, his film viewing experience was participative and whole.

There are clearly various types of viewers: there are those who refuses to see what I have seen in the journey because their interests are not my interests, those who are so much into themselves that they could not detach from their being, those who are so critical because they feel they know better and there are those who enjoy the journey with me because of getting enriched by the knowledge they get from the odyssey into diverse world. Film appreciation revolves around the feeling of empathy or having none of it. The experience is subjective. What I appreciate as good and beautiful may not be to others. Everything boils to one thing: YOU CANNOT PLEASE EVERYBODY.

On ALYANA, here are some reactions:

audience-reactions1

When Alyana was premiered, the only negative response that I got was about its length and some shaky shots. I am a film editor and I pretty well know when and where some, not all in the audience will feel uneasy or get bored. But my mentality runs this way: “If you get bored, go out and return if you like. If not, go straight home. Take it or leave it.” That way, I really appreciate being an INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER. There is no one to tell me what to delete and put in. But I am not numb to positive criticisms. Definitely not. Just get me convinced and I shall take them in consideration.

Alyana have three versions considering the type of its audience, time constraints and requests by the sponsoring groups:

Version 1 – (2 1/2hrs / 150 min) – the original premiered version with the segment on Occupational Therapists (OT) added. Best for direct beneficiaries and stakeholders: persons with autism and their families, special educators, therapists, caregivers, etc. This is shown only upon request.

Version 2 – (110 min) – the version which goes around the Philippines. It has a 5-year Censor’s permit, the copy shown at SM Cinemas and first exhibited at the Cinemanila International Film Festival (CIFF). It had special screening at the Festival on the Issues Concerning the Mentally Challenged in New Delhi, India in 2006.

Version 3 – (97 min) – the version which was captioned for the Deaf audience. Best for upper high school students and up and those with short attention span. Also good for showings in places where time is a big factor. This version was first shown at the International Women’s Film Festival 2007 in UP and the version requested by Silliman University and ASP Chapter in Iligan City.

(For more reactions to the film, see the page on the right column entitled “Alyana in Tagum City.”)

FOCUS
My film is oral history in format. Focus is a must in watching my films. If one loses focus, if the viewers cannot relate to the experiences of my subjects or cannot for a while detach themselves from who they actually are at the time they sit and watch, the probability is very high that they won’t enjoy and profit from it at all. They will get BORED!

MEANT TO HELP CHANGE ATTITUDE
Since I am not making advocacy films to please anyone but to help change attitude towards my subjects, help erase myths and hopefully remove negative stigma about them, nothing external matters. It is my personal satisfaction to achieve what was formerly just an idea or just a dream. It is my joy to be able to overcome all the obstacles in making my films. It is the accomplishment of what I believe to be my “mission” and to share what I have learned that matter most. The viewers have their own brains to process the information presented to them anyway. Again, it is a take it or leave it proposition. It is MY journey afterall. Viewers cannot be forced to bear the brunt of sitting for hours if nothing sink in their minds anyway. It is a waste of their time. At least, I have never heard anyone commenting that my films are trash.

Remarks of the majority to both films are positive and encouraging, indicators to me that I am doing the right thing and that I am on the right track:

“A bold step—mind and heart opening.” (Autism Society Philippines President DANG KOE)

“…very, very important work to understanding the culture of the Deaf…” (De La Salle- College of Saint Benilde President, VICTOR FRANCO, FSC)

“a trail blaizer…” (Founding ASP member, Mrs. CARMEL ALMENDRALA)

“…hope your Silent Odyssey reverberates nationwide to wake us up, to keep the isolation, ignorance and prejudice outside our world” (Atty. ROBERT SISON)

“It touched my heart deeply…I was crying!” (Maria Luz Cole-Havraneck, Silliman University Alumna, Dumaguete City)

(For other comments on SO, see the trailer at Youtube.com watch?v=fFUeGiYyH6I)

Alyana is going around the Philippines since 2006 while Silent Odyssey  started roaming outside Manila last October 2008 organized ironically by groups of hearing individuals. Both have showing engagements being planned and prepared by various groups for screening this year 2009 in their respective communities.

The Philippine School for the Deaf Parents-Teachers Association has postponed their showing of SO slated in February as Deaf Inc. in Palawan plans to show it too in Aborlan sometime this year.

Alyana is scheduled to have three showings again in Batangas City from 8 am at Lyceum of Batangas this coming Thursday, March 5. It was first shown thrice last February 7 at Batangas Provincial Capitol in Batangas City. (Click here for the Batangueños’ reactions: watch?v=cDKY9bkD-9I)

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“Some like it hot. Some like it cold.”

February 1, 2009

There is a nursery rhyme which goes like this: “Some like it hot. Some like it cold. Some like it in the pot nine days old…” Films must have been like porridge or any food for that matter; its “taste” varies from person to person. As such, people’s reaction to an object of art, a poem, novel or film varies from taste to taste. Some like action movies; films on sex and violence; others the horror types; historical or educational; the majority prefers the melodramatic kind, others comedy, musical, suspenseful, magical or mythical.

What are taste buds for anyway? Personal choices and decisions? The sensors of the senses? Intelligence that differs us from animals? The ability and capability to discern–to differentiate good from evil. We have the power only humans have. To enjoy beauty. To love and be loved. To appreciate Nature, make Nature be a part of us, or destroy it. To use and maximize the talents God gave us, or waste it. To share what we have, or keep it to ourselves for us to enjoy alone…

You may or may not like what is being shared to you however. Have you ever experienced being in a bus or a jeepney with a member of some sect or religious group barging in “to share God’s words?” You may listen to him, or not at all. It is similar to sharing film experience. The filmmaker makes a film to share his ideas, thoughts and visions with the viewers. It may be commercial or very personal. But you may or may not find it good after paying to watch it. You may finish watching a film or a theater performance satisfied, or you may leave the hall before it finishes cursing it like mad or considering it as trash. It all depends on you. One’s taste varies. Like porridge, you may like it hot. But others may like it cold.

In the same manner that when I am asked why I make films for special children, I counter question by asking “Why not?”