A Twitter conversation started by Kurtiss Hare amongst some fellow cinephiles was nano-trending the other day. Kurtiss proposed we ponder what comes to mind when we hear the words ‘program notes’. Appropriately vague enough to encourage opinions from many different directions, Kurtiss followed up one of my tweets by asking if there was ‘any specific writer, venue or even movie’ that I associate with quality program notes. I singled out the program that Film/Video Curator Joel Shepard -and forgot to mention co-curator Philbert Ortiz Dy, but include him now – provided for the 2013 New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts of San Francisco. The program notes are concise yet still manage to touch on many historical/political/cultural/structural points pertinent to the films within the wider series and the wider community that inspires the filmmakers.
Shepard’s contribution brings in some recent political events along with a paragraph on the importance of the developed festival scene in The Philippines from Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, Cinema Rehiyon, to Cinema One Originals, the former two I’ve had the pleasure of attending myself. Dy goes into detail about what he sees as the major theme emerging from this year’s collection: violence. From the stylized violence of the horror genre in Erik Matti’s Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles to the filmic depiction of real life violence in Arnel Mardoquio’s The Journey of Stars into the Dark Night, to the internal bludgeoning of family conflict in Shireen Seno’s Big Boy.
Due to some family obligations that send me back to Cleveland just prior to the series, I didn’t ask for screeners for this prep piece. But here are some highlights based on what I’ve read, heard, or already knew.
Erik Matti is one of quite a few Filipino directors at Cannes this year, where his On The Job was in the Director’s Fortnight . I met Matti at my first trip to the Far East Film Festival in Udine and I had a blast each time I interacted with him, including a long conversation at a dinner. However, I can’t say I was impressed by his film because I can’t even recall its title or plot. But the film of Matti’s Shepard and Dy are bringing to the New Filipino Cinema series sounds like a lot of fun, Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles. For those who don’t know, the aswang is the Filipino equivalent of a vampire. One of its distinguishing characteristics is it flies around as only a torso. You can get a snippet of the aswang tradition in Dino Ignacio’s video here for the old San Francisco outfit The Skyflakes, a band named after a popular saltine cracker brand in The Philippines. While checking out this Tagalog-ean Twilight, you can imagine you’re at Cannes, or not.
A big deal at Cannes this year is a restoration of an older Filipino film, Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975). Brocka was the first Filipino filmmaker to present at Cannes with Insiang in 1978. This year’s New Filipino Cinema series brings a classic of its own, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (1982). On my second trip to Udine, I got to meet Bernal’s daughter Joyce, a director herself who was brought to her first film festival ever at Udine to screen Mr. Suave (2003). One evening while at a restaurant/bar with the other directors, Joyce Bernal jokingly asked me to protect her from the Korean directors’ drinking games, directors that included the late Park Chul-soo. She finally relented and climbed atop a chair to drink some concoction they created when everyone in the place began chanting in Korean phonetics – ‘Joy-ee-su! Joy-ee-su!’.’ I have heard a lot about the significance of Joyce Bernal’s father since that time, so I was delighted to see Himala on this year’s schedule. It’s my if-you-can-only-see-one recommendation.
I was able to interview director Benito Bautista at what is now the older New Filipino Series at YBCA for his excellent neon noir Boundaries. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get that interview up before decisions were made to pull the VCinema Show podcast. If we could have, you’d definitely hear how Bautista is a director to watch. He returns to this year’s series with Harana, a film that’s been receiving multiple accolades on the festival circuit. It’s about a serenading art in The Philippines that is less utilized these days, but still has some devoted practitioners who Cyrano-ly assist lovers in their efforts to win over the focus of their own amorous devotions. I’m hoping this film gets the wider release it is due, but if you missed it at CAAMFest, you might want to take advantage of this second opportunity, just in case.
Finally, my go-to friend for all things Filipino cinema and music is my buddy, and co-worker, Golds. She is adamant that I, and everyone else, go see Marie Jamora’s What Isn’t There. She literally screamed in the office when she saw this one among the list of YBCA’s New Filipino Cinema films. I’m sure part of the joy this film brought for her is how it weaves the local Manila music scene within the storyline. Sadly, a SF DocFest commitment conflicts with this one for me, so go see it since I can’t. And don’t tell Golds I couldn’t go.
Here’s hoping I get another chance to see What Isn’t There. And more so, here’s hoping the YBCA continues to make the New Filipino Cinema series an annual thing.
The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ New Filipino Cinema 2013 series runs from Wednesday, June 5th through Sunday, June 9th. For more information and tickets, visit YBCA’s site here.