While many Filipino film buffs agree that we are witnessing the third golden age of Philippine cinema courtesy of the thriving independent film scene brought about by the digital revolution since the mid-2000s, most of us only get to see the tip of that filmmaking iceberg, so to speak, which are the full-length films that screen in the various national filmfests. The bulk of the country’s independent filmmaking output, the short films, is pretty much unseen, not only because they are less advertised than their feature-length counterparts, but more because people are not used to watching them.
That is unfortunate because there is a lot of talent and innovation going on in the short filmmaking scene, what with the increasing number of film schools requiring their students to make shorts as a thesis requirement, as well as the country’s indie filmfests increasingly incorporating short film sections.
I was fortunate to get to watch 125 short films that screened in film festivals in 2015. Here are my favorites:
15 – Ang Kapitbahay Ko sa 2014 (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)
Anya Zulueta’s cheerful story of two neighboring girls who befriend each other from their respective apartment windows goes beyond the cutesy and warms the heart by effectively portraying children’s need for creativity and friendship, notwithstanding their different abilities or the adult world’s indifference to their imagination.
14 – Imahe (Singkuwento International Film Festival)
A father visits the grave of his wife and tells her he misses her a lot and that their children are doing fine. He then goes home and calls his children for dinner. The film’s seeming simplicity is what makes the twist more effective, and Kristofer Navarro’s patient directing and Soliman Cruz’s heartfelt performance make this one a film to remember.
13 – Ding (Cinemalaya Film Festival, QCinema)
Jewels Sison’s tale of a woman who realizes her mistake and goes back to her ex for closure (or a second chance?) strikes all the right kilig chords, courtesy of the chemistry between Pepe Herrera and Vaness del Moral and Sison’s deft handling of emotions: we root for the lovers to get back together but we don’t begrudge the guy for playing hard to get either.
12 – Kaon Durian Aron Managhan (Mindanao Filmfest)
Bagane Fiola’s sexy horror about two lesbian lovers who eat Davao’s famous delicacy, come home, make love, and wake to find some company, offers a spine-tingling experience without employing cheap scares that are almost SOP in horror films these days. Fiola, through expert editing and effective mood setting, should make fellow filmmakers realize that it’s the little things that do us in.
11 – Cyber D3vil x Ahas (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)
Speaking of effective editing and mood setting, Timmy Harn’s 90-seconder about the second coming of a monster, last seen in his Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas (2013), evokes more emotions in viewers than most 90-minute films do. We feel curiosity (pangalawang pagkabuhay nino?), dread (snake man! red-faced, silver-toothed devil man!), nostalgia (analog video! cheesy reaction shots!), amusement (bike-riding snake man!), awe (hands-free, back-leaning, bike-riding snake man!), and, as the credits roll too soon, hunger for more.
10 – Kyel (Cinemalaya Film Festival)
Arvin Kadiboy Belarmino’s minimalist take on a junkie who yearns to be reunited with his woman, snorts katol, chokes on his own vomit, and sees an unexpected visitor is a thrill ride into the consciousness of a low-life. Never has an empathy-building exercise been this more heart-pounding.
9 – Pusong Bato (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)
Pam Miras’ quirky love story about a man and a woman stranded in an island, filmed in hand-processed negatives, harks back to the earliest days of cinema, yet more than an exercise in technique, the film successfully melds technology with storytelling panache, reminding everyone that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium.
8 – Pusong Bato (Cinemalaya Film Festival, World Premieres Film Festival)
It’s hard to resist the charms of Martika Ramirez Escobar’s surrealist yarn of a woman (Cinta, played with the perfect mix of melancholy and idiosyncrasy by Mailes Kanapi) who reminisces the affections of her leading man in a late 1960s teenybopper flick. Even while the story turns into fantasy mode, Escobar’s storytelling sincerity never wavers, and the audience is rewarded with an ending that is one for the ages.
7 – Bayan ng mga Kontraktuwal (Pandayang Lino Brocka)
While the charming Endo (Jade Castro, 2007) has been the go-to film about the country’s infamous labor law loophole (allowing capitalists to exploit the flaw by ending their workers’ contracts before the imposed sixth month to avoid regularizing them and paying them benefits), King Catoy of Pinoy Media Center’s documentary exploring real cases and small victories against big businesses is its perfect complement to fully understand how we ordinary citizens can do something to change the sickening system.
6 – My Revolutionary Mother (Singkuwento International Film Festival)
In seeking to understand how his activist mother decided to abandon societal expectations of mothers (to do housework, to be the primary caretaker of her children) to focus on community organizing in Cebu during the Marcos years, Jethro Patalinghug not only takes us on a historical tour into his mother’s former life during Martial Law (she now lives in the US) but also makes us confront our own notions of expected gender roles vis–à–vis the need to respond to a bigger responsibility.
5 – Walay Naa Diri (Cinemalibre)
Jean Claire Dy’s deeply personal visual essay is a captivating introspection of her identity as a Chinese-Filipino. After her Filipino mother is rejected by the family of her Chinese father, Dy set out on a quest to find her own identity and community, secretly soaking up the Chinese language, literature, and culture on her own. Her ultimate realization – that racial and ethnic boundaries are nothing but superficial categories made up by humans’ insecurities – is one that seems commonsensical yet is still so difficult to challenge.
4 – Tami-aw (Nabunturan Indie Film Exhibition, Mindanao Film Festival)
Tami-aw follows Igi, a young mother living in a Mindanao mountain barrio who sets out with her son to the town center (after a long walk down the mountain and an expensive habal-habal ride) to withdraw from an ATM her quarterly Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) allowance. In just 10 poetic, unhurried minutes, Mary Ann Gabisan (with a script by Arbi Barbarona) shows both 4Ps critics and supporters alike how the government aid is a big help to impoverished families like hers and how, at the same time, it is ultimately insufficient to address the systemic causes of poverty in the country’s remotest regions.
3 – Man in the Cinema House (SalaMindanaw International Film Festival, CineKasimanwa)
Bernard Jay Mercado’s energetic, playful film/performance art serves as both a paean to the roots of cinema and a protest against what it has become. Wearing its influences on its sleeve (Chaplin, Kubrick, Buñuel, to name a few), Mercado’s show features a young filmmaker who shoots (in both senses of the word) Jose Rizal and ends up being chased by a policeman. This is a work of art that is intended to be seen live for its theatrical elements (at one time the actors jump out of the screen and continue their performance in the theater), and while some may see it as a gimmick, the piece is a thought-provoking oeuvre that plays with viewers’ notions of spectatorship/spectacle in cinema.
2 – Ang Maangas, ang Marikit, at ang Makata (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)
Jose Ibarra Guballa’s homage to Western movies achieves the difficult task of balancing comedic and tragic elements in film, and a period film at that! A visiting brash soldier looks for the house of the town captain to collect debt payment and encounters the captain’s maiden daughter alone at home. The woman’s suitor, a simple farmer, later on visits her for harana, and when the captain comes home, the four of them face off in one of the most memorable scenes in Philippine cinema (short or otherwise) in 2015.
1 – Junilyn Has (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)
Carlo Francisco Manatad’s darkly comic tale follows two underage bar dancers practicing a new, particularly challenging routine at home under the watchful eye of their mamasan during a forced break from work when Pope Francis visits the country and adult clubs are temporarily closed. What could have resulted as a one-joke stunt film in the hands of a less-skilled filmmaker turns out to be a nuanced exploration of a teenage girl’s gradual humiliation and ultimate retribution. An instant classic.