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Reviving Manila’s Dying Cinema

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Has Cinemalaya helped breathe new life into a sluggish Filipino film industry?

We often complain about how bad local movies are. Oftentimes, we would rather see a Hollywood-make rather than part with our hard-earned cash to buy tickets to a Pinoy movie.

But those days may just soon be over.

New scenes and sequences are shot to tell fresh, original stories through Cinemalaya. Photo shows an image from Pepe Diokno's Cinemalaya entry Engkwentro.

And the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, which began in 2004 could be the answer. Its first run five years ago paved the way for now-successful filmmakers and international film festival mainstays Aureus Solito and Adolf Alix Jr.

Ten finalists for the full length feature category and another 10 for the short feature category are chosen every year. Each filmmaker is given seed money to do their dream movie. The subsidy partly covers expenses from pre-production all the way to post-production.

The finished motion picture will then be screened for a week at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and becomes eligible to compete for the Balanghai awards in different categories.

The event aims to encourage new and budding filmmakers to come up with fresh new cinematic works. In an interview, Cinemalaya Foundation Chairman Antonio Cojuangco is optimistic the organization “will be much more than a flash of light but a constant beacon that will show us the way to a cinema that is liberating, meaningful and truly Filipino.” Apart from the film competition and the festival, Cinemalaya also features an annual film congress where different aspects of independent film making—from fresh new story ideas to marketing—are discussed.

Soon after its launch, the film organization sparked renewed interest among young artists. Says Cinemalaya entries ICU Bed # 7 and Saan Nagtatago si Happiness? (Where Hides Happiness?) director Rica Arevalo, “Cinemalaya came at a time when people were hungry for new materials from maverick filmmakers... It gave hope that our cinema is alive and that the young generation is up to the challenge to come up with better works.”

Cinemalaya also gave room to filmmakers keen on tackling socially-relevant topics that mainstream films didn’t dare touch. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) examines the life of a young homosexual living in a slum area. John Xavier Pasion’s Jay covers the unethical practices and abusive tendencies of the media. This year’s Engkwentro (Encounter) of Pepe Diokno tells the story of the state-supported vigilante groups in Davao.

Over the years, Cinemalaya has proven the country is not running out of film talents. Entries like Maximo Oliveros and Endo received critical acclaim during its commercial and international release. Cinemalaya participants, from directors to actors, have even broken into mainstream cinema.

The annual competition and festival have spurred the rise of the local independent filmmaking movement. Many people in and out of the film industry are upbeat the public will soon witness another golden age in Philippine cinema, thanks to today’s generation of Lino Brockas, Ishmael Bernals, and Mike de Leons.

Print ed: 08/09


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