New Filipino Cinema at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco

Thanks to the stewardship of curator Joel Shepard, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has provided a year-round eclectic array of old and new cinema for San Franciscans.  And from June 7th-10th & 17th, the focus is on new cinema, and that new cinema is that of The Philippines.  Shepard has been making trips to The Philippines, once as a jury member for CineManila, in order to meet “dozens and dozens of filmmakers, artists, programmers, critics, cinephiles and plenty of civilians; and [to see] well over a hundred films.”  Working with co-curator Philbert Ortiz Dy, Shepard came back to San Francisco with the New Filipino Cinema Series, a reverse balikbayan box of the some of the most engaging films being made in The Philippines today.

Take for example, Benito Bautista’s Boundary (2011).  This film is a captivating bit of neon noir where a very guapo man enters the cab of a very nervous driver.  Something sinister will eventually happen and we learn that the Manila summer heat isn’t the only thing causing the characters to sweat in this claustrophobic cab with no AirCon on.  The tension builds, underscored by the foreboding soundtrack, as we learn why the cabbie was so nervous and why the passenger is able to keep his cool even without AirCon.

From the fictional dis-ease of Boundary, we move to the real-life disturbing nature that  is documented in Kano: An American and His Harem (2010).  This documentary is about a Vietnam War veteran named Victor Pearson, nicknamed Kano (which is Tagalog slang for a white Amerikano man), who traveled to the Philippines to marry, and marry, and marry again and again, establishing a housing plot of wives and girlfriends.  Kano was well-known for his house parties, attended by local male political officials, where nudity and sex flowed casually, but not freely, since Kano subsidizes matters with his American dollars going further in The Philippines.   Some of the female participants in these soirees were underage, and some of those who were underage, we learn, were encouraged to attend the parties by family members because Kano would financially support their daughters, and by extension, their families.  (There is a powerful short in the New Filipino Cinema series that also touches on child prostitution, but I won’t name which one, because how the issue is revealed is part of how the film makes an impact.)  Without being exploitative, director Monster Jimenez interviews these women to hear their take on their ‘husband’ while he is in jail under statutory rape charges.  Whereas other girls and women rescinded their sexual assault charges, one lonely woman held strong to her conviction, even in spite of her parents attempt to get her to recant.  (Hearing this individual’s parents say their daughter is lying, and the rationalizations they make to ‘prove’ this claim,  is one of the hardest parts of the documentary to watch. )  The economic situation significantly encouraging the women to remain loyal to Kano for financial provisions is clear throughout the documentary, making the single women sitting alone in isolated refusal all the more heroic.

Lawrence Fajardo’s fictional film Amok (2011) utilizes the now classic indie trope of multiple story paths stumbling into each other along the winding way, this time placed in the crowded main streets, sidewalks, overpasses, and side ways of the Edsa-Pasay Rotunda.  Although the area was ordered ‘cleaned up’ for the filming of Bourne Legacy, (a film which appears to refuse to place a Filipino actor or actress in a significant role), Fajardo keeps the aesthetics closer to how they are experienced by Metro Manilans in order to tell this tale of a group of everyday Filipinos either close to their own breaking point, or about to be victims of someone else’s.

One interesting pan-Asian moment in Amok notes the impact of South Korean media culture throughout East and Southeast Asia.  One of the nodal characters in the film scolds her daughter for spending her money on Korean DVDs and the daughter responds by pointing out her mother’s hypocrisy,  “Mom, come on.  You always watch those with me!”  This brief bit of dialogue underscores the penetration South Korean media has made across Asia, particularly the Philippines, where pirated copies of South Korean DVDs proliferate the stalls of sidewalk sellers.  Perhaps to further fuel this popularity of South Korean media, Im Sang-soo’s upcoming film, A Taste of Money, features Philippine actress Maui Taylor.  Sadly, based on David Hudson’s Keyframe summary of the critical response to the film at Cannes this year, it’s looking like my anticipation to see A Taste of Money might not be warranted.*

And then there are the films I haven’t seen, but am quite anxious to check out in the YBCA screening room.  First, Antoinette Jadaone’s mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay.  My friend Golds tells me Cuntapay is an amazing actress who used to freak her out in a lot of the horror films in which she’s starred.  Golds also tells me local film critics were happy to see a film made about such a significant, but under-rated, actress in Filipino Cinema.  Even more intriguing is Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings).  I’ll have to miss this one because friends come before films, but reading that it’s a queer take of the zombie genre using the living dead to confront the modern brain-eating ailment of homophobia, and hearing my buddy Golds laud this one highly,  I’m hoping it’s the kind of film the Another Hole In the Head Film Festival might bring back to San Francisco for a second chance screening.   Director Jade Castro will be in attendance for the single screening of Zombadings 1, as will Bautista and one of the actors (whom Shepard says sold many of his possessions to pay for the flight out) for the screening of Boundary, Monster Jimenez for Kano:  An American an His Harem, and Quark Henares for Rakenrol, another film my friend recommends, partly because it features the owner of her favorite (now-defunct) radio station, Atom Henares, but also because, as Shepard states in the program notes, it features “music and cameos from some of the country’s top musical acts, [and] serves as a rich pop culture snapshot, capturing a very specific zeitgeist. ”

The New Filipino Cinema Series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts contains so much more than what I’ve listed here.  There’s even a 6-hour epic from revered filmmaker Lav Diaz, Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012)!  As usual, Michael Guillen of The Evening Class has been doing an exemplary job of curating his own commentary about films in the series along with the comments of film critics from The Phillipines such as Francis ‘Oggs’ Cruz, Eduardo ‘Dodo’ Dayao, and Richard ‘Chard’ Bolisay.  You can find links to Guillen’s posts on Amok, Boundary, Kano: An American and His Harem,  Niño, Zambading 1, one of the shorts (123), and an interview with experimental shorts film-maker Raya Martin by Alex Hansen.  For the days and times of screenings, you can visit the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts webpage specific to the New Filipino Cinema Series.  And keep your RSS feed fed with VCinema because an interview with Joel Shepard about the series will be posted soon as well.

For more information and tickets to The New Filipino Cinema series running from June 7th – 10th & 17th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, please visit YBCA’s site.


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But Im’s inclusion of a Filipina actress in A Taste of Money inspired me to revisit the career of another actress who got her start in The Philippines – Sandara Park.  I was introduced to her in the cheezy film Super Noypi, (directed by Quark Henares whose film Rakenrol is also screening at the New Filipino Cinema Series). I was curious about this woman speaking fluent Tagalog who appeared to be Korean.  I learned from my colleagues in Manila that Park’s family moved from South Korea to The Philippines when Park was 10 years old and she burst onto Philippines media through a reality, Big-Brother-esque, talent show called Star Circle Quest where she came in runner-up and became famous for her beauty queen wave.  I was curious if the South Korean media was aware of such a cosmopolitan figure and how Park could further extend the international reach of South Korea.  Turns out, Sandara Park did move back to South Korea and is now Park Dara, where she has been featured in South Korean TV shows and is a member of the popular girl group 2NE1, along with releasing her own solo albums.  (Her brother, stage name ‘Cheondoong’ or ‘Thunder’ in Korean, is also in a boy band – MBLAQ.)  I did a very rough unscientific survey of my co-workers in Manila and most of them feel Sandara is more popular in The Philippines since she entered the Korean entertainment industry as Dara, so it looks like my hunch about Park was correct.