Cinemalaya X: A Retrospective

Last year, UrbanTribe covered the 10th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, arguably the most recognized and established avenue for up-and-coming filmmakers in the country. With a vast library of distinguished films from Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros, Endo, Jay, 100, to Transit, it has become the lifeblood of Pinoy cinema. As such, its tagline last year, “A decade of connecting dimensions” seems prophetic.

However, this year’s Cinemalaya XI took things to a different direction, with only two full length Filipino films in exhibition (Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub and Jeffrey Hidalgo’s/Roy Sevilla’s Silong) and 10 short films.

Read on to find out the thoughts of UrbanTribe’s resident film buffs Biboy and Jay on last year’s festival, as well as the changes that were done this year.

You can still catch Cinemalaya XI at the CCP and Greenbelt 3 until August 15.

To start off, what films in the 2014 festival have you watched? Can you give an overall impression on these films in general? Any standouts or favorites? How would you compare the New Breed films with Director’s Showcase?

Biboy: I’ve watched Shorts A (including eventual best short winner Asan Si Lolo Me? and special jury prize winner The Ordinary Things We Do), all Director’s Showcase films, and all New Breed films except Bwaya (which I vow to watch eventually!).


The shorts were a mixed bag. Great posters though.


The shorts were a mixed bag to be honest. Tiya Bening had editing and sound problems. I saw the twist in Mga Ligaw Na Paruparo from a mile away. Going Home was fine but became too overt and preachy toward the end. But I did agree with the chosen winners. Asan Si Lolo Me? is built on a simple but ridiculous premise that it was able to sustain remarkably all throughout. The audience couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. You won’t be forgetting Trudy and Friends ever! My friends from film school were part of the production of The Ordinary Things We Do, and I understand its sensibilities and play with film form in conveying its message on gender and marriage. Unfortunately, some people in the audience found it peculiar – but it’s understandable, given that it’s non-narrative and experimental.

I’d say the line-up of New Breed is stronger than that of Director’s Showcase, mostly because the former is more diverse, fearless, and a bit more adventurous with both subject matter and form. For example, the editing in #Y is very playful, veiling a serious undertone that reminded me of various youth films from different American and European countries. It also set the bar higher than its other contemporary predecessors Kaleidoscope World (2013) and Coming Soon (2013). Sundalong Kanin and Children’s Show focused on adolescent boys situated in milieus that burden them with overwhelming responsibilities. Child actors are my pet peeves, but these boys managed to overturn that! These boys can act.


New Breed films bring a different kind of flare to last year's festival

New Breed films bring a different kind of flare to last year’s festival


Jay: I’ve watched eight films last year – six from New Breed (#Y, Dagitab, Mariquina, Children’s Show, Sundalong Kanin, and 1st Ko Si 3rd) and two from Director’s Showcase (Hustisya and Kasal).

My very first film was Hustisya, and it gave me flashbacks of last year’s The Diplomat Hotel. Both films discouraged me to watch other entries because, well, let’s just say that they’re not the greatest things to ever happen to Cinemalaya. But then my next two films were #Y and Dagitab; both are part of my Day 1, and at the end of the festival, these two ended up being my favorites. If it weren’t for them, I probably won’t continue watching the rest that I’ve seen.

Among other entries, I really enjoyed Children’s Show and Sundalong Kanin too. Okay, not necessarily “enjoyed” because both films tackled harrowing themes, but still, they’re among the best I’ve seen in any year of Cinemalaya. Mariquina is technically great, but I didn’t like the drama. Kasal could have been better and 1st Ko Si 3rd was okay.

From these movies and the feedback I’ve heard and read, the newbies blew the veterans out of the water for sure. Like Kasal won best film in Director’s Showcase, and it’s not really that good. So Kasal winning says something about the rest of the Director’s Showcase entries.

Biboy: Let’s dig deeper into Director’s Showcase. I really like Kasal so I kind of disagree that it’s a weak movie. But with the disappointing Asintado and Hustisya comprising 40% of Director’s Showcase films, its only major competitor is The Janitor, which increased its win chance by a whole lot.


Nora was brilliant in Hustisya; it's the screenplay that bugged the film down.

Nora was brilliant in Hustisya; it’s the screenplay that bugged the film down.

Asintado was superbly shot with lots of great imagery, but it's hard to root for the main character who dug his own grave with a series of stupid mistakes.

Asintado was superbly shot with lots of great imagery, but it’s hard to root for the main character who dug his own grave with a series of stupid mistakes.


Why are Asintado and Hustisya disappointing? For me, they are the worst movies in the festival, regardless of category. Asintado is well-shot but has a beyond-stupid (sorry for the term) main character who dug his own grave through the illogical, preposterous choices he makes. You have a main villain who can’t make moves during fiesta time. You won’t sympathize with anyone at all. Hustisya, on the other hand, was all over the place. It went too big with its themes, and the film didn’t know when it should end. Symbolisms were too obvious, and imageries were shocking for the sake of being shocking. If it went small and made the characters reflective of bigger themes and issues, it would have worked better. So I agree with you on that one!

I’d concede though that some of Kasal’s scenes were overwhelmingly long (watch out for two of these in the movie’s first act) and supporting characters had acting limitations, but the movie took unexpected turns and was sensitive and realistic in its portrayal of gay relationships.

Jay: I kind of wish I watched Asintado, The Janitor, and Hari ng Tondo so I could comment but based on the reactions from different social media, I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t think there’s anything special in any of the Director’s Showcase entries.

As for Kasal, I understand that the long shots are meant to linger on the audience, but there are just some scenes that are verging on unnecessary to just plain ridiculous. If Joselito Altarejos focused on the main theme which is gay marriage instead of including other themes like marriage in the province and indie filmmaking, it would have been great. Every scene that focused on the two main characters are very acceptable, but the bloated scenes about the marriage in the province like the parade? That’s too much for me.


Panelists have differing impressions on Kasal.

Panelists have differing impressions on Kasal.


If you were to rank the films you’ve watched, how would you rank them?

Biboy: It’s challenging to rank in all honesty as films have so many aspects (story, technical aspects, etc.) you can individually dissect. But I’m ranking them here based on how these said aspects come together to build on the film’s message – i.e., what I call thematic unity.

Shorts New Breed                           Director’s Showcase
1.     Asan Si Lolo Me?2.     The Ordinary Things We Do

3.     Mga Ligaw Na Paruparo

4.     Going Home

5.     Tiya Bening

1.     Dagitab (Sparks)2.     Mariquina

3.     Sundalong Kanin

4.     1st Ko Si 3rd

5.     #Y

6.     Children’s Show

7.     K’na, The Dreamweaver

8.     Separados

9.     Ronda

1.     Kasal2.     The Janitor

3.     Hari Ng Tondo

4.     Hustisya

5.     Asintado

Jay: Funny thing is, if I were to rank all of these movies without considering their categories, Kasal and Hustisya would be the bottom 2.

Shorts New Breed Director’s Showcase
N/A 1.     Dagitab (Sparks)2.     #Y

3.     Children’s Show

4.     Sundalong Kanin

5.     Mariquina

6.     1st Ko Si 3rd

1.     Kasal2.     Hustisya


Dagitab is the unanimous choice for best film in the festival, regardless of category.

Dagitab is the unanimous choice for best film in the festival, regardless of category.


Biboy: Okay, it seems that our placements in New Breed are almost inverted, except for Dagitab! Since you already kind of touched on your ranking justifications in the first question, let me explain mine. Mariquina is second for me because I felt it was complete… It was cathartic. Plus, it boasts of being an acting showcase! The same goes for Sundalong Kanin and 1st Ko Si 3rd. I ranked the former over the latter because I felt it was more challenging to make – dealing with child actors and being a period film. 1st Ko Si 3rd though is still my favorite as it’s a feel-good movie. But a favorite is not necessarily objectively the best.

I’m surprised you ranked #Y and Children’s Show over these three films. Although I admittedly enjoyed it, I had a bit of a problem with #Y, particularly with Slater Young’s character. It also seemed a bit rushed toward the end. Children’s Show felt incomplete – it was too short and didn’t have that much engaging conflict. Gritty, yes. But engaging? No.

Jay: Hands down you’re right about Mariquina and Sundalong Kanin being great films. Nevertheless, I still have issues with them. Mariquina is like an extension of a Maalaala Mo Kaya episode, and I just didn’t appreciate it. As for Sundalong Kanin, I actually really love it, but the showstopper for me is the guerilla leader parts, which ruined the whole emotional thing that Sundalong Kanin had going on. There are also some questionable choices in it that I couldn’t help but think of different scenarios in some of its scenes. As for 1st Ko Si 3rd, I just think it’s really the weakest. But its ending as I’ve mentioned is great.


Mariquina is the festival's acting showcase, although it gets too sentimental at times.

Mariquina is the festival’s acting showcase, although it gets too sentimental at times.


#Y and Children’s Show for me are great movies. I think I got emotionally attached to Sundalong Kanin more than these two films but on filmmaking achievement, I think #Y and Children’s Show prevailed. Plus, Sundalong Kanin is really not that far behind Children’s Show anyway. I found Children’s Show’s ending too abrupt. #Y rocks though, and I’m pretty much confident on why I put it as my second. It’s edgy, it took risks, it’s modern, it’s easy on the eyes, and it’s not devoid of lessons. I guess they could have removed Slater Young’s character and it would still work? But I appreciate it as a twist. His character is probably one of the reasons why Miles (Elmo’s character) committed suicide.

We can go on and on about these films but I’m just happy that we’re in sync on Dagitab. It’s amazing!

What are your thoughts on the list of winners? Do you agree with the choices?

Biboy: I mostly agree with the choices based on those I’ve screened. Kasal is indeed the best film in Director’s Showcase, hands down. Joselito Altarejos mentioned that this would be his last gay film for now, but I wouldn’t mind him making more.

I won’t forgive myself for not being able to watch Bwaya and confirm its standing as the best film in New Breed, but if Dagitab won in its stead, I wouldn’t be surprised. Dagitab is well-shot, well-paced, and well-acted. The deterioration of the marriage of two highly intellectual characters brings forth a lot of wit and heart in an otherwise miserable setup.

Jay: I am very happy with the success of Dagitab. I couldn’t agree more with the wins that it earned. Best actress for Eula Valdez is so well deserved as her performance in the film reeks authenticity. She actually reminded me of Berenice Bejo in The Past even though their characters are very much different from each other. Dagitab also won screenplay, and I wasn’t surprised by it. The interplay of dialogue and silence is like an orchestra. They’re rhythmic and just plain music to my ears.


Eula Valdez deserves the award for her brilliant acting in Dagitab.

Eula Valdez deserves the award for her brilliant acting in Dagitab.


Biboy: Right! Its wins are pretty much deserved. My only quibble with the movie is that I felt it should have ended with the dancing scene between Eula Valdez and Noni Buencamino. That scene would have provided better closure for the couple by tying all the story’s loose ends.

In the tech categories, I’m a bit surprised with Children Show’s best editing (New Breed) win. It was clean, I’d give it that, but #Y should have won because it took more risks and was very non-linear. Kasal and The Janitor split the tech wins for the Director’s Showcase, and they’re all deserved.

In the other acting races, I’ve been an advocate of Barbie Forteza’s best supporting actress (New Breed) win the moment I watched Mariquina. She provided so much gravitas to the role, so I’m happy she won and am excited as to how this win would help her career. Her closest competitor is Coleen Garcia of #Y, but the role was a bit one-dimensional. Giving Coleen heavier or more nuanced materials would definitely give her a win someday.


Barbie Forteza is phenomenal as the young Imelda in Mariquina.

Barbie Forteza is phenomenal as the young Imelda in Mariquina.


Ricky Davao should have won best actor (New Breed) for Mariquina, a heavy, demanding role with at least two win-worthy scenes! Could it be that his involvement in multiple movies in last year’s festival caused a vote split? Was his role confused between lead and supporting? Eventual winner Dante Rivero was solid in 1st Ko Si 3rd, but it was Nova Villa’s movie to be honest.

Jay: Dante Rivero winning is one of the questionable victories for the night. For one, his role in the film is not really categorized as lead. Second, I like his character in it, but there’s no way he’s better than Noni Buencamino in Dagitab or, heck, even Elmo Magalona in #Y. I must say Ricky Davao’s character is even closer to being the lead in Mariquina, but Dante Rivero? JUST NO. Glad for the man though. I’m always happy when veteran actors like him achieve wins like that, may it be deserved or not.

The win that shocked me the most is Bwaya winning best film. I didn’t watch it so I really can’t justify why it shouldn’t win that award, but I don’t know anyone in particular who liked the film. So that’s confuzzling for me.

Other than those, every win of the films I’ve seen like Children’s Show, #Y, Mariquina, etc., are understandable. I’m happy for them.


Cinemalaya winners' group shot.

Cinemalaya winners’ group shot.


In retrospect, how would you compare 2014 to previous Cinemalayas? This started way back in 2004.

Jay: I consider myself a newbie in the world of Cinemalaya. I haven’t even seen the entirety of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, which is one of the most popular entries of the festival. I only started watching in 2013, and the only film I’ve seen prior to that is Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank, which I must say remains one of my favorites. In fact, I think it’s in a different league compared to most of the films I’ve seen. So hilarious.


Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is considered as one of the best films to ever come out of Cinemalaya.

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is considered as one of the best films to ever come out of Cinemalaya.


So there, it’s really hard for me to compare. But if I were to do so for Cinemalaya 2013 and 2014, I must say it’s kind of neck-in-neck. In 2013, we had Ekstra and Babagwa, which ended up being my top two favorites, and last year we had Dagitab and #Y, and more. In 2013, we also had Transit and Sana Dati, and while I’m not fond of these two, I recognize how fierce these films are technically. Let’s just say that both years are not great collectively.

Biboy: How ironic! In my case, I’ve been out of the loop these past few years, so I could only compare 2014 to the first three Cinemalayas. At least we’ll have the older and new entries covered! It’s hard to fully articulate into words, but I feel that Cinemalaya has developed a certain “look and feel” since 2004 that carries over to the current roster in 2014. Calling film scholars – this would be a good thesis topic: Cinemalaya Films From 2004 To 2014: Toward Building A Filipino National Cinema. If I had to give general indicators, they would be the use of the long take and tracking shot, a distinguishable brand of humor, and a certain edginess in tackling themes.

I’m not sure if having a particular look and feel impacts the festival. On the negative side, the audience might already have expectations from a Cinemalaya movie. Furthermore, sticking to the same form, topics (e.g., poverty), and clichés might be symptomatic of the lack of growth and maturity of the Filipino movie-going public. On the plus side, Cinemalaya now has a certain brand that works – a brand that could be cultivated as a counterpoint to mainstream cinema.

Jay: For me, it’s all about their vision. Whether it’s about poverty or sex, as long as they have something new to offer, then let them do whatever they want. Whether it’s about love or the current generation, as long as it’s refreshing then I’ll always appreciate Cinemalaya films. Also, it would also be best if they continue to find filmmakers who value the technical aspects of the films. For 2014, I must say that it’s a decent batch in terms of film technicality – way better than in 2013. So I guess Cinemalaya is on its way to finding better filmmakers that it wouldn’t be a problem in the future anymore.

Biboy: One other observation that I have is that it seems that there is a trend where the best picture winners (Pepot Superstar, Tulad Ng Dati, Tribu) are out-popularized by other films in their respective years (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Donsol, Endo), at least from 2004 to 2006. It implies that even non-winners are received warmly and have a great track record of garnering other local and international awards. Cinemalaya also discovered the likes of Aureus Solito, Francis Xavier Pasion, and Adolfo Alix Jr. I’m excited how the new crop of filmmakers from 2014 will benefit from Cinemalaya being more established and respected that in was before.


Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros is still the single most important film that put Cinemalaya on everyone's radar.

Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros is still the single most important film that put Cinemalaya on everyone’s radar.


How do you feel about the change implemented this year, where there is no full-length film competition?

Biboy: This is really very saddening – Cinemalaya has been traditionally the home of independent films, and taking that away from the festival sort of puts it into an identity crisis. This year’s theme is “Broadening Horizons,” where it showcases exceptional films from the rest of the world. As noble as it is to expose Filipinos to foreign films, it is not what Cinemalaya has been about.

And I think the movie-going public agrees. Audience turnout this year seems lower versus last year. There’s no hype or anticipation, barring the opening and closing films. It really took the energy out of the festival. I hope it goes back to its tried and tested programme!

Aside from potentially restoring its full-length film competition, what do you think is still lacking in Cinemalaya? What else is there to improve?

Jay: Last year, I think the entries lacked the edginess of the previous years. No one really stood out to me when the synopses were revealed. I feel like indie filmmakers nowadays tend to think about the audience as well unlike before, when indie filmmakers are much more focused and loyal to their vision.

But at the end of the day, I am not the one to judge. I only know a glimpse of this festival’s background so it’s really hard to determine what aspects the festival should improve in.

Biboy: For me, this is more of wishful thinking, but I feel the festival would benefit from expanding the categories to include documentaries and animated shorts. These would make it more varied and tap more students and upcoming filmmakers to participate. What do you think of the categorization, Jay?

Jay: I kind of agree with you that expanding the categories would not only be beneficial for the festival but also for the viewers. Although I’m really not sure if there are filmmakers out there who work with animation. Documentaries on the other hand are everywhere. Just watch our local news channels and you’ll see lots of interesting documentaries in it.


Francis Xavier Pasion was still categorized as New Breed despite the numerous accolades he received from previous projects, most notably Jay.

Francis Xavier Pasion was still categorized as New Breed despite the numerous accolades he received from previous projects, most notably Jay.


Biboy: I think there is also a need to look into the categorization of New Breed vs. Director’s Showcase filmmakers – an example of which is past Cinemalaya winner Francis Xavier Pasion (director of Jay) being made part of the New Breed roster. This still needs to be confirmed, but sources say that individuals with three films or less are still placed under New Breed. In my opinion, it’s more advisable to only include first-time filmmakers in New Breed to make the category more even and competitive. Raising Pasion to Director’s Showcase is also indicative of two things: 1) Cinemalaya gives him more respect and credence following his win, and 2) Cinemalaya winners are no fluke – they can create even more quality films. Besides, if Bwaya was placed in Director’s Showcase, Asintado would be knocked out in its favor!


The most cringe-worthy scene in the whole festival, from Asintado.

The most cringe-worthy scene in the whole festival, from Asintado.


How can these films have wider reach, recognition, and acceptance in the mainstream?

Biboy: I think it’s counterproductive for these films to be made with the goal to go mainstream. There is a reason why independent films are called alternative cinema. They offer something inherently different from the common fare of romantic comedies and Vic Sotto films the mainstream establishment churns out. It’s best they retain the grit and edginess you expect from indie films.

Producers, I presume, are aware of this. Even if indie films get wide releases, theatre counts are minimal. There is a market for this – although it’s niche. When you go the indie route, profiting becomes secondary. The first goal is always to tell the story.

Jay: A number of entries last year have received at least a week of commercial release. #Y is not necessarily mass friendly because of the “conyo” attitude it portrayed, but I have a feeling that with the right marketing, it could have reached a wider audience. It’s relatable, timely, edgy, and interesting, and I think it’s easy to grasp. 1st Ko Si 3rd is another entry that the audience would have loved but also suffered from poor promotions. The trailer suggests that, and even if the film didn’t end happily, I think the trailer alone would have magnetized the mainstream to watch it.


#Y had all the ingredients to make it big in the mainstream, if it had the right marketing and promotion.

#Y had all the ingredients to make it big in the mainstream, if it had the right marketing and promotion.


I don’t exactly know what the mainstream wants. If I were to dictate, these films deserve a wider audience, but of course, what I want or what I like in a film doesn’t translate to what the masses want. So it was really hard to predict how these indie films would have fared.

Biboy: There’s some truth to that. Coincidentally, #Y and 1st Ko Si 3rd were the box office movies in the New Breed category. I agree both have wider appeal than the rest of the entries, so it’s a bit disappointing they weren’t as well received in their commercial runs. The box-office movies for Director’s Showcase are The Janitor and Hustisya, but I feel they had an even lesser chance to cross over.


1st Ko Si 3rd is a sentimental and feel-good movie that also had a limited commercial distribution.

1st Ko Si 3rd is a sentimental and feel-good movie that also had a limited commercial distribution.


Jay: Especially Hustisya. With Thy Womb’s failed box office in MMFF, I’ve been pretty skeptic about Hustisya’s chances. But the Noranians are always there to support Ate Guy so… 🙂

Lastly, how was the experience of joining and watching the films in the festival for you?

Biboy: Oh, it was fun! Having been AWOL from film school for so long, by attending the festival last year I got to meet my old friends – and new ones too! Several of them are involved in the production of some of the films in exhibition. It’s one of my goals last year to cover Cinemalaya to get my groove back.

It’s my first time in CCP. There’s something surreal about the experience, especially if you see so many people jumping around different screenings, packing most of the venues, selling out tickets. There are celebrities here and there too! It can get overwhelming at times, given that there are I think four or five simultaneous screenings per time slot. But it just reinforces that there is support for these types of films – particularly from the younger folks. It makes me very hopeful and optimistic.

One last piece of advice – buy day passes or season passes well in advance! And once you do, schedule your screenings well. Out of all the venues, it would be easy to recommend the main theatre, as it holds the gala for each film (the producers, staff, director, and actors are asked to come onstage). If it’s fully booked, the little theatre is the next best option. Skip the studio theatre – or else you’ll get severe back pain!


Participating in the festival is a mind-blowing experience!

Participating in the festival is a mind-blowing experience!


Jay: I love films. I love new stories, so each and every entry for me was enjoyable. I love discussing films, so even if I watched some of the worst films I’ve seen in this festival, I still feel like a winner because discussing (aka mocking) it with friends is fun. I always choose to see the good side in films though, but there are just some of them that are impossible to be positive about. I’ll continue supporting Cinemalaya over the years as long as it’s running. I believe one day, one entry from Cinemalaya will represent our country at the Oscars. I’ll continue looking forward to Cinemalaya as I know some of the best Filipino films I’ve seen are products of this festival. So I hope it continues despite the controversy that it faced. Viva Cinemalaya! NUKS. 🙂


Photo Credits: CCP, Twitter, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, Cinemalaya, PEP, GMA Artist Center (Facebook), Balita, Tumblr, Ang Asong Taga Andalusia, Asia Pacific Arts USC, Yahoo!, Philippine Star, Jude Bautista (WordPress), Facebook

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