Cinemalaya 2021: Shorts A Explores Questions of Life, Identity, and What it Means to Be a Disposable Face Mask


With all the films and entries available for your viewing pleasure at this year’s Cinemalaya run, does the “Shorts A” lineup measure up? Spoiler alert: Of course it does.

Admittedly, the virtual edition of a film festival does have its drawbacks, starting from the wealth of content competing for your time and attention whilst online. Because of this, it is crucial for any digitally-distributed film to have an interesting story and captivating execution to hook viewers to their screens without changing tabs, or picking up their phones. The “Cinemalaya Shorts A” program of the 2021 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival takes on this challenge, with seven short films that successfully intrigued viewers to focus on answering the question, what the heck is going on?

From the lightheartedness and surprising poignancy of Maski Papano to the honest and vulnerable discussion on sex in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi, this set of short films takes viewers through a wild ride of emotions and thoughts. Between these two shorts that open and close the set, respectively, are five consecutive stories that deliver a strong sense of unease and tension.

It’s a constant round of wondering from Crossing‘s exploration on morality, Kawatan sa Salog‘s magic realism, to An Sadit na Planeta (The Little Planet)‘s introspection, Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things‘s absurd mythology and Out of Body‘s real-world horrors. That’s a total of 1 hour and 38 minutes screen time of trying to figure out our own answers from questions that initially start at the film’s plot, to those that expand to the viewer’s own existential pondering. Whatever the case may be, this set will undoubtedly make you think.

Here’s a rundown of our thoughts on the seven films you can check out at the Cinemalaya Shorts A program on

Maski Papano (I Mask Go On)

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

The 5-minute short that opens the set is a witty and absurd depiction of what it means to be a disposable face mask. The story is told in parallelism with the reality of the state of unemployment of millions of Filipinos right now, amidst the pandemic, and it manages to make light of the matter without invalidating its struggles and very real effects to one’s mental health. Created by Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit, the humor-filled entry has a surprising depth to it, and ends in a hopeful message of solidarity and community with others.


Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

If there’s one film in this set that will still get you thinking about it hours after the credits roll, it’s Marc Misa’s Crossing. The short runs just under 8 minutes, and it follows the quiet desperation of a security guard who was then driven to rob a bus, only to be beaten to the punch by two other seasoned robbers. He, then, has to decide which role he wants to play: the hero or the villain. This very tense story by Misa threads directly on the line between good and evil and shows just how complex and multi-layered the reality is. At the end of the day, as long as there are systems that fail our fellowmen, there will always be a reason for people to go to extreme lengths just to survive.

Kawatan sa Salog (A Toy in the River)

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

There is a strong feeling of whimsy in Kawatan sa Salog, with its magic realism plot centered on a mischievous boy who finds himself in a mysterious island with odd traditions. The 18-minute production by Alphie Velasco explores the intricacies between life and death, and grips you with the anticipation that something bad is looming in the periphery. The tone, music, and color grading used throughout the narrative all added to the supernatural and otherworldly feeling of the short. In the end, the story wraps up with an extension of wonder that goes beyond the screen.

An Sadit na Planeta (The Little Planet)

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

Starred, directed, written, and produced by Arjanmar H. Rebeta, An Sadit na Planeta depicts a young man exploring a little planet. The premise is simple enough, but its straightforward message on introspection and the reality of our shrinking worlds today is profound and deeply affecting. In the first few minutes, the film opens with a big question mark. Particularly, why he is in a tiny world to begin with. However, as the film further expands (and so does his world), there’s a clear message of positivity the film’s advocating for. Especially regarding one’s mental health when the world is seemingly getting smaller and smaller.

Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

A film by James Fajardo, Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things also has that whimsical tone Kawatan sa Salog has employed in telling its story. Following a tikbalang (horse demon) who transforms into a young boy to inspect suspicious killings in the forest, the film mixes folklore and real-world prejudices and with the concept of identity and self-acceptance. The film leaves a lot of room for the audience’s interpretation, particularly with the ending scene and how the story eventually wrapped up.

Out of Body

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

Out of Body is a suspense short where the protagonist, and the audience, constantly feel uneasy with everything going on throughout the film. It follows a female model—the only woman in the cast—who lands a commercial job where no one seems keen to tell her what the story and her role are supposed to be. There is a straightforward message of what a woman goes through amidst an unsafe environment, with little touches and gestures that imply something very sinister and creepy. The intention to make the audience feel uncomfortable was certainly met, with scene after scene of suggestive messaging, and a very scared protagonist.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi

Production still courtesy of Cinemalaya

Directed by film student Shiri de Leon, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi is a raw and honest discussion on sex. It tells the story of Lola Mayumi, the town’s old virgin, who employs a young call boy to finally see what the hype is all about. The two form an unexpected connection, allowing the two to openly discuss Lola Mayumi’s past and why she grew up the way she did. It was a very moving watching experience, where the audience can’t help but root for Lola Mayumi’s character as someone you want to take care of and learn from. The set-up was also very intimate, and truly evoked a feeling of vulnerability—not just with the characters, but within the audience as well. As the film closed on a hopeful note, it was the perfect end to the program’s lineup of films, and rollercoaster of emotions.

Rank Magazine is an official media partner of Cinemalaya 2021.

Watch these films and all the other productions at this year’s Cinemalaya film festival, running from August 6 to September 5, 2021 on