Today marks the official opening for perhaps the biggest and pioneering Filipino indie film festival, the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. While the need for storytelling prevails in a time of heightened physical restrictions, the festival turns over to the virtual space, streaming on KTX.ph from August 6 to September 5, 2021.
This year’s theme is “Navigating currents”, to put special emphasis on new cinematic works that could inspire audiences to look at the world a little differently, think about darkened corners of society more openly, and most importantly, take action.
Thirteen short films are in the running this year for the prestigious and sought-after Balanghai trophies, which aim to invigorate and celebrate the new breed of storytellers entering the scene. If you’re still unsure of which titles to check out in the month-long showing period, here’s everything you need to know about this batch of stories and directors:
An Sadit Na Planeta (The Little Planet) by Arjanmar H. Rebeta
Starred, directed, written, and produced by Arjanmar H. Rebeta, An Sadit Na Planeta (The Little Planet) is a 12-minute short that follows a young man who finds himself in a mysterious world, called Planet I.
“Nakatira tayo sa malawak na mundo subalit ngayong panahon, naranasan natin ang biglaang pagliit nito. Samu’t saring quarantines at lockdowns ang ating ginawa. Hindi rin tayo makabyahe saan mang panig ng mundo dahil sa mga restriksyon at limitasyon,” Rebeta explained.
“Sa munting pelikulang “An Sadit na Planeta,” maglalakbay tayo sa loob ng apatnapung araw – apatnapu na nagsisimbolo ng panahon ng pagsubok at pagsusuri sa sarili. Pagkatapos nito, lalabas tayo muli sa mas malawak na mundo bilang buo, bago at malayang sarili,” the creator furthered.
Rebeta, who has created a variety of experimental narratives inspired by the extraterrestrial, is a Bicolano filmmaker from Cabusao, Camarines Sur, who is an alumnus of Ricky Lee Film Scriptwriting Workshop, Film & Media for Human Rights Advocacy Workshop and the Mindanao Screen Lab. Some of the short films in his extensive repertoire are: “Super-Able,” “Viral Kids,” “My Father is an Astro-Not,” “The Complicated Dance to the Wheel of Life,” “A Boxing Country,” among others. His short film “Palabas” was nominated at the 42nd Gawad Urian for the Best Short Film.
Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-Asa at Panlasa (The Lost Hopes and Flavors) by Kevin Ayson
Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-Asa at Panlasa (The Lost Hopes and Flavors) is a documentary by Kevin Jay Ayson detailing the struggles faced by Ilocano food entrepreneurs amidst the Philippines’ battle against the pandemic. The 19-minute film stars real entrepreneurs on how they slowly rebuilt the industry back up again despite the times’ many hardships.
“To say that we went through a great deal of difficulty making this documentary would be an understatement. By extensively expanding our vision and thoroughly learning the lives of the people involved, this project has come to life,” Ayson expessed.
Currently based in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Kevin Jay Ayson kicked off his passion for filmmaking with his own wedding video firm Hearts in Motion. On top of creating wedding videos, he directed short films that won awards in the different local film festivals in Ilocos Norte. His socio-political horror short film “Brad” won the grand prize and other major awards at the 2020 Lilia Cuntapay Short Horror Film Contest held during the Ilocos Norte Semana ti Ar-aria Festival. “Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa” won first runner-up at the 2021 Tan-ok ni Ilocano Film Festival.
Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi by Shiri De Leon
Coming in strong as film student Shiri De Leon’s first short film, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi depicts a virginal old woman who decides to hire a young callboy to change her perspective about men. An unlikely connection forms between the two, with Lola Mayumi beginning to question her beliefs against men with the help of her new friend.
Explaining her motivation to tell this story, De Leon shared: “This film is the lovechild of my past experiences and beliefs as a young woman for the longest time. I was heavily exposed to the Filipino culture of how they treat sex as a “taboo” topic because of the influence of religion.”
“I also have witnessed and know firsthand the effect of it being a taboo topic, it limits the lack of sex education to people and a lot of people fall into its abuse, not knowing if it’s normal or not. I was inspired to write this film as therapy, if you call it, a weight off my chest as I wanted to simply tell a story about what it really means to be a “true woman.” Hence the title, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi.”
Shiri De Leon is currently pursuing her film degree at Meridian International College in Pasig City. She was introduced to filmmaking through her family that’s very much into the arts and media. She aspires to break the stereotypes on female filmmakers, and hopes to work and collaborate with different people, adding a piece of them and her heart in her work.
Ate O.G. by Kevin Mayuga
Born out of the “guilt of privilege”, filmmaker Kevin Mayuga tells the story of “Ate” in Ate O.G., an aging house helper who struggles to maintain a good relationship with her teenage employers during the home quarantine. As Ate explores the world of natural medication, she forms an unexpected friendship with her employers, initiating an uplifting experience with one another as they all desperately try to survive these unprecedented times under the same roof.
Mayuga commented, “When my friends and family were all comfortable in our homes, we could see the social disparity and struggle of those less fortunate outside, and even inside with our household help. My film walks along that tall wall of social class difference and the line of employee and employer in the same home, and how I tried to blur those lines with small gestures of kindness and natural medication.”
“The substance might seem like a joke, but to me it’s really the device that breaks the wall of apathy, injustice and social class constructs. A small reprieve, refresher and escape from the mental and emotional damage of the pandemic.”
From his early days as a creative writer in advertising, Kevin Mayuga slowly felt the urge in him to tell a story through film. He has directed and produced multiple digital content, commercials, music videos and short films with various production outfits. Kevin is now shifting his sights and finding his voice in narrative filmmaking – focusing on his first feature film, web series, and short films.
Beauty Queen by Myra Aquino
Beauty Queen by Myra Aquino is a film about Remedios Gomez, a young beauty queen in Pampanga, circa 1940, who joins the Hukbalahap resistance after the Japanese colonizers killed her father. The 18-minute short details her journey with grief, and how a pageant winner tries to find the strength to be who she needs to be for her country, while still unapologetically being herself.
“Growing up, I had limited exposure to inspiring women who looked like me in the films I watched, and that void bore a burning desire to bring stories about Filipino women to life. And I couldn’t imagine a better story than that of Remedios Gomez: a beauty queen who transformed into a fearless resistance leader. Making this film was important to me because it is a reminder that we all have grace and courage within ourselves that we can express without ever giving up who we are,” Aquino opened up.
Writer-director Myra Aquino is a graduate of UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, who grew up in Guam and the Philippines. She is passionate about telling stories that explore the impacts of multiculturalism and globalization on Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and other underrepresented communities.
Crossing by Marc Misa
The suspense drama that is “Crossing” tells the story of security guard Gabriel Arkanghell. Driven by desperation, he planned to rob a bus, only to be beaten to the punch by two more experienced thieves. The 8-minute short documents his struggle to decide between heroism, and his intended heist—confusing the audience throughout if he’s actually the hero, or he will ultimately fall to his villainous intentions.
Filmmaker Marc Misa expressed that he wanted to explore our own narrow-mindedness in the definition of morality into those two basic categories: hero and villain, or good and evil. “Instead, we should look upon the actions and motivations of people and see if those are right or wrong. The result of failing to recognize the complexities of human beings is often stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice,” he stated.
Antipolo-based writer and filmmaker Misa produced and directed his first feature film “Askal” in 2010 through a grant from the National Commission for Culture and Arts. He then went on to direct commercial advertisements and online content with PaperbugTV. He has also worked on various projects as a screenwriter for Star Cinema. He is currently a graphic designer for a gaming company and working on literary fiction. Whether writing stories or directing films, all his endeavors are geared toward his love for storytelling.
Kawatan Sa Salog (A Toy In the River) by Alphie Velasco
Alphie Velasco introduces a mystery drama in Kawatan Sa Salog, a Bicolano-language short that follows a mischievous child into a mysterious island. After getting reprimanded by his father over a dinosaur toy, young Santi finds himself in a strange place, dictated by strange traditions. The 19-minute film depicts his story of desperately trying to make it back home.
“When watching movies, I always think about how fun is it to live in a fictional world different from reality. Back when I was still an innocent child, I reluctantly visited my mother’s hometown, Caramoan. But once I’d arrived, I was captivated of how simple and beautiful that place is. So I made a story based on my experience, yearning the days I’m blissfully living with my late grandmother,” Velasco opened up, noting how the film also explores his views on the cycle of life and religion.
Film student Alphie Velasco is currently pursuing his degree at Asia Pacific Film Institute currently based in Imus, Cavite. He enjoys mystery and cult stories, especially character-driven films, such as Nymphomaniac, Mulholland Drive, 8 1/2, Watchmen, Grindhouse, etc. His favorite film directors are Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noe , Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky and Roman Polanski.
Kids On Fire by Kyle Nieva
Kids on Fire by Kyle Nieva depicts the story of a prepubescent boy tittering between his sexual fantasies and divine calling. Set in a religious camp, J.C. explores sexuality and what it means to his role in the impending apocalypse plaguing the world.
The film, as Nieva put it, “is a a satirical portrait of bewildered prepubescent children passing through the threshold of sexual awakening while being subject to religious indoctrination.” He furthered, “Inspired by Christian doctrines and eschatological concepts that horrify and confuse children at times, the film explores how faith can be driven by fear and how we use our religious beliefs–or a lack thereof–to make sense of life’s greatest mysteries.”
Producer and director Kyle Nieva is the co-founder of Manila-based creative agency and production company Screen Asia. The films he directed and produced have since been selected for various international film festivals such as Berlinale, San Sebastian, Busan, and Vancouver.
His recent work as producer, Filipiñana, won the Silver Bear at the 70th Berlinale and was nominated for Best British Short at the British Independent Film Awards and at the London Critics Film Awards. His latest film as director, “Kids On Fire,” premiered at the 25th Busan International Film Festival and at the 47th Film Fest Gent.
Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things by James Fajardo
This coming-of-age drama by James Fajardo follows a tikbalang who transforms into a teenage boy to prove the innocence of his community of horse demons, who are constantly blamed for various murders in the forest. As he uncovers the truth, he forms a deep friendship with American botanist Darren, pushing him to risk his life, as well as his kin.
“Looking For Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things” attempts to deconstruct the representation of tikbalang as dangerous creatures in films, literature and other forms. In this way, the filmmaker sought to fulfill its objectives such as, first, to illustrate the weaponization of folklore beliefs in order to serve the interest of the state and the ruling class; and, second, to introduce the process of queering mythological creatures that challenges its previous heterosexist influences. For Fajardo, mythological creatures such as tikbalang should be loved, if not, befriended.
Director, screenwriter, and editor of the film, James Fajardo, is a magna cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman with a degree in film in 2020. His previous works include: “A Letter to the Person I Have Met on Tinder” and “The Boy Who Bleeds in the Middle of the Sea,” which were awarded and selected in different international and local film festivals. He won the Gold Prize at the Viddsee Juree Awards Philippines 2020.
Maski Papano (I Mask Go On) by Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit
A disposed face mask turns into a humanoid in search of his previous owner in Maski Papano, a 5-minute comedy flick by Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit. While desperately hunting down his previous owner, he explores the different areas around Manila with a purpose.
The duo emphasized the feeling of being disposed at the time of this pandemic through this unconventional story: “COVID brought about lots of things – from revealing government incompetence to contain the virus, to isolation and massive unemployment (which we’ve experienced firsthand as filmmakers.) We wanted to highlight this feeling of being disposable as workers and at the same time showing our need to find a community while still being playful and comedic,” they expressed.
Tagyamon is a director, editor, and animator from Manila, Philippines. She is an alumna of the Berlinale Talents 2019, SGIFF Southeast Asian Film Lab 2018, Busan Film Commission’s FLY Film Lab 2019, Docs by The Sea 2020 and ASEAN ROK’s FLY where she was given the Best Fellow Award 2017. Meanwhile, Barit is a Filipino director, sound designer and musical scorer.
He uses elements of play in his works to ease the burden of filmmaking as well as to bring into light different societal issues. His short film “Aliens Ata” won the NETPAC Jury Prize in Cinemalaya 2017. It has also been part of Kaohsiung Film Festival 2017 and SeaShorts 2019 among others.
Namnama En Lolang (Grandmother’s Hope) by Jonnie Lyn Dasalla
Shot entirely through a mobile phone, Namnama En Lolang is a drama in the Kankana-ey language. The story follows a grandmother and her baby grandson as they, together, go through quarantine at home and find solace in each other. Despite the difficult times, Lolang Keyag tries her best to stay hopeful for the sake of baby Eli.
“This concept was created as a form of documentation of the society’s present condition. It preserves the memory of our experiences, the pressing issues, and the hurdles we need to face during this health crisis. It also serves as a platform to give voice to our front liners who are risking their lives to serve the people. Above it all, the film also brings a message of hope that despite everything that’s happening around us, we still keep the faith and continue to live for our loved ones,” director, screenwriter, and producer Jonnie Lyn P. Dasalla expressed.
Dasalla is an up-and-coming filmmaker from Baguio City, Benguet. She is currently taking her master’s degree in Media Studies (Film) at the University of the Philippines Diliman, while working full time as a digital media editor at GMA Network Inc.
Out of Body by Enrico Po
Created by Enrico Po, Out of Body follows young model Elle in a suspense film where she books her first commercial job, only to find out she’s in for a different project than what she expected. After an afternoon of tight costume fittings, rough prop work, and meetings with creepy producers, Elle begins to suspect something else might be afoot.
Commenting on the inspiration behind the film, Po shared: “Growing up,I spent a lot of time on commercial sets. Every now and then, you’d see that same face, mostly from the women, whether it be over going overtime, costume choices, weird direction, etc. Everytime, they’d just have to get over it and go to work. What struck me most is that no one really noticed, sometimes even the women themselves.. I will never forget how easy it was to not notice and simply let things be.”
Po is a Manila-based filmmaker who’s been a film buff since childhood. He graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts majoring in Film & TV. Since returning to the Philippines, he has worked on various documentary, narrative, and commercial projects.
The Dust In Your Place by David Olson
Lastly, The Dust In Your Place is a drama film between a comic strip illustrator and her writer. The 20-minute film dives deep into conversations on relationships, social norms, their history, and their possible future, and it becomes increasingly clearer that the trajectory of the illustrator and writer’s career and friendship are on the line.
“As a filmmaker, I am drawn to stories that lend themselves to an exploration of social psychology,” director David Olson shared. “The story of Rick and Claire is one of two long-time friends who find themselves in a tense situation. Unresolved issues and unanswered questions have been brewing in their minds for years — hovering in the air like dust. You may go from siding with a character to hating them in a blink of an eye or the turn of a sentence. Are some friendships worth it? Or is it worth taking the risk?”
Olson is a veteran in the industry with 10 years under his belt as a director, cinematographer, editor, and producer. He has worked on films, TV, documentaries, music videos, commercials, and video advertisements. In 2011, he edited his first short film. Since then, it has been a never-ending educational experience for him, experiencing filmmaking from many viewing angles: From cameras and concepts to keyframes, call sheets, and coffee-making.
All thirteen short films will premiere at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival from August 5 to September 6, 2021. The lineup will be available for streaming on KTX.ph.
Official film posters and production stills courtesy of Cinemalaya Institute and the CCP.
Rank Magazine is an official media partner of Cinemalaya 2021.
Read more about the films at https://cinemalaya.org/films/finalists/