A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Cinema in situ

NABUNTURAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/20 September) — IN SITU,  the Latin phrase that literally means “in its (original) place or position” as well as “on site” or “in position”,  “locally”, “on the premises” or “in place” to describe an event where it takes place – is not what one would think of when the name of Nabunturan, capital town of Compostela Valley Province,  comes up in a conversation.

But these past four days – 17 to 19 September 2015 –  I was just amazed how in situ was the appropriate term to use when referring to an event that took place in this ordinary Mindanawon town.  This rather amazing event is the NABIFILMEX or the Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition where most of the films were shown in situ.  Meaning, there were short films made by the ordinary folks of Nabunturan showing in their original place of origin, that is, films locally produced.  And the actual site where the films were shown was the local plaza of the town where there is a park where people can sit on cement benches or grass.

This was also in situ, referring to the yesteryears of my youth when films were shown for free in the town plaza of Digos where I grew up; the original drive-in theatre or as the NABIILMEX would label – an open air theatre or cinema in open spaces.  What a delight these past four nights were for those who made it to the film showings of this very local (very yano nga film festival).  The goings on of this film exhibition  paralleled the thrills of cinema romantically profiled by the award-winning Italian film CINEMA PARADISO, now considered  an extraodinary film classic.

Through my elementary years and early high school, there were those vehicles owned by merchandising corporations selling soap, cigarettes, etc. that traversed the small towns delivering goods to the sari-sari stores. While going around town, the driver announced that he would be showing films in the evening in the town plaza in case there was no rain. At night, the driver  unfolded the gadgets for film showing; most films were old Hollywood films including those about cowboys, comedians and Christ Jesus. In-between, there were the endless advertisements. We had to bring chairs if we wanted to sit comfortably.  Of course, there were enterprising vendors selling boiled peanuts.

NABILMEX  brought those memories back as we sat in situ to watch the films at the town open air plaza in Nabunturan. A big screen – the size corresponding to what cinemas have – was set up facing the park and the people could either sit on cement benches or on the grass. The sound system made it possible for everyone to clearly hear the films’ sounds.  This time, however, these were no longer long feature films from Hollywood.  Instead, we and  Nabunturan’s madlang people watched short films made by budding filmmakers, most of whom are ordinary folks including those who are citizens of Nabunturan.  On an average, these were films that lasted from 10 to 20 minutes and these were in Bisaya and Tagalog with English sub-titles.

And what a collection of short films the organizers were able to gather from all over the country.  The award-winning Mindanawon filmmaker, Arnel Mardoquio (Sheika, Crossfire, Riddles of my Homecoming, Alienasyon), the event’s film curator, reported that there were more than 70 films submitted for consideration; 25 were selected for the exhibition and were thus eligible for the competition’s awards. Selection was influenced by the filmfest’s theme – Fulfilling Hopes, Fueling Dreams. I managed to watch 15 of the 25 films in competition during the two nights that I was at the event.  Most were quite impressive with a few that can easily make it both of national and international short films’ festival.

These films cover a wide range in terms of genre, aesthetics, content and style of filmmaking. One film is animation about young love (Jovanni Tinapay’s Memorya), another is a comedy that initially mimics a TV cook show but ends up with a feminist streak (Yves Patron’s Putahe ng Ina),  one was about a character needing psychiatric assistance (Amaya Hari’s Mga Handuraw sa Kahilitan),  one was about a gay person’s struggle to assert one’s identity (Clanch Belleza’s Julie), about a young man forced to go into boxing to have a mother hospitalized (David Ignacio’s Posporo Palito), a man whose conflict with his father led to suicide (Ralph Quijano’s Sky is Everwhere), high school kids bragging with each other regarding clothes’ collection (Darlene Ramos’ Blusa), a kind male teacher with kidney problems (Jelford Teves’ Supot), a poetic rendition of the impact of a disaster among those living by the river (Amj Macalanda’s Wawa), a Lumad mother and her 4Ps engagement (Maria Barbarona’s Pagtuaw), an adultery that ends in tragedy (William Ranara’s Pantok), a film about the Mandaue Children’s Choir (Dani Bautista’s Atong mga Kanta).

Outside of the 25 films in competition, there were 16 short films in exhibition and their titles include Muted, Chiz Curlz, From Now Till Then, Once a Provinsiyana, Pulang Marka, Ysabella, redlights, Melody, Tony, Angelo ang Batang Ama, Putting Panyo, Pahiyom ni Hasmin and others.  These films were also shown at the Gaisano Grand Mall in Nabunturan during the day.The films in Bisaya were naturally the most popular during the filmfest and one could tell that the local audience responded enthusiastically to them. When one film was shown with English dialogue, I heard a voice coming from the crowd – “Wala na bay sine nga Binisaya?” (Are there no more movies in Bisaya?).  Just when people think that Bisaya films have long been dead, these indie film have resurrected them.

One could tell that these films deal with the everyday lives of ordinary folks – peasants, informal settlers, workers, housewives, students, teachers, the poor, the sick, persons with disabilities and Lumads.  These are our neighbors, people we meet in the streets and those of our families and relatives.  And the films’ narratives are basically about ordinary lives but in many instances caught in extraordinary circumstances. With little budget to work with, the filmmakers tap  local talents.  To the filmmakers’ credit, they made the right choices in casting mostly amateur actors who have the needed “looks” for their roles.  And to the actors’ credits, most of them deliver fine performances; some of them could easily be tapped for mainstream films.

This year’s filmfest is actually the third of this annual event in Nabunturan.  Filmmakers knew of this event mainly through social media and word-of-mouth and managed to send their entries to the organizers. This year, the organizers received 19 film submissions from Luzon, nine from the Visayas (mainly from Metro Cebu), 26 from Mindanao.  Twelve of these films were made by Nabunturanons; six from students of the Nabunturan National Comprehensive High School; six others were products of those who finished the Sine Indie Filmmaking Workshop sponsored by the Municipal Tourism Council of Nabunturan and the DepEd of ComVal held in April this year.  This workshop was conducted by Arnel Mardoquio, Arnel Barbarona and their group of independent filmmakers.

This is what makes the NABIFILMEX truly a marvel is its grassroots character both in making grassroots people be their own filmmakers and making sure that the films are shown to grassroots communities in a situation perfect for such crowds.   After all, this film group’s objectives are to have a venue to showcase the local talents of Nabunturan and to be a channel to bring Nabunturan outside of Nabunturan. Fully supported by the LGU and local government agencies and currently headed by Atty. Karen Santiago-Malaki (also the Festival Director), the former Municipal Administrator, NABIFILMEX is now considered an official festival of the municipality by virtue of SB Resolution No. 2014-382.  Its other main supporters are the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) and the CineFund/Human Security International.

On its third year, NABIFILMEX has already shown that films can be produced and made by local grassroots people so long as they are provided technical and financial support.  It has exhibited the possibility of a local town spearheading an honest-to-goodness  film festival with films that touch the heart and challenge the mind to think.  It may not yet be in the same league as Cannes or Venice, or Pusan or Cinemalaya.  But it certainly holds a promise if it can sustain its commitment in the next decade or so and (be) provided the needed back-up.

There is something magical about a town that gets its act together for purposes of engaging in the field of culture and the arts. This was quite common in our country long before TV and the internet when the plaza’s entablado provided people regular cultural productions from the cenaculo to the bodabil.  When the Sandinistas held the reins of government in Nicaragua, there were poetry festivals across the towns of this small country. At the height of martial rule in Mindanao, there were many community-based theatre groups staging plays.

This time around, Nabunturan is leading the way in organizing a  grassroots-based filmfest. And this time, it engages the most popular art form of the present  – film. In fact, this is the wave of the future.  With filmmaking gadgets becoming less expensive and  more accessible and with the millenials  acquiring more expertise in this field while learning more of the aesthetics, techniques and mechanics of filmmaking, surely other cities and towns may follow the initiative of Nabunturan.

When that happens, everywhere in Mindanao one can find cinema in situ.

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, Academic Dean of the  Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI), and author  of several books, including the recently launched “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,”   writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)].