Cinemalaya goes online this year

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FIVE YEARS ago, the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival showcased only short films for its main competition as the festival started transitioning to longer production schedules for full-length features, bigger grants, and a unified main competition. This year is another transition year as the festival will again be showing short films for its main competition, and will be holding, for the first time, an online-only Cinemalaya experience as the pandemic halted any thought of conducting what is considered the country’s premiere independent film festival on-site at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

“I think this will only enhance the work that we’re doing. In fact, we were thinking about [going online] a few years back… I think people’s viewing behaviors have changed with what’s going on, so hopefully this can be translated into continued if not increased viewership in Cinemalaya,” Chris B. Millado, artistic director of the CCP and festival director of Cinemalaya, said during a digital conference on July 15 held via Zoom.

Cinemalaya has been attempting to go online since a few years ago and Mr. Millado noted that when they did try in 2014, it was met with controversy after entries from the 2012 and 2013 competitions were uploaded online without permission from their filmmakers. The films were eventually taken down.

This year’s festival will be held online from Aug. 7 to 16 on video-sharing platform Vimeo and will be featuring 10 short films in competition and 20 exhibition short films.

On March 22, Cinemalaya announced that they were postponing the festival because of the COVID-19 pandemic as the organizers “recognized the health and safety hazards the film production may pose on filmmakers and workers” as they tried to meet the deadlines for the festival, according to a statement posted on the Cinemalaya Facebook page. This led many to believe that the festival would be moved to a later date within the year or even the next, but after much consultation, the organizers decided they could push through with only the short films that had been submitted.

It helped that they had more than 240 short film submissions this year.

“These people submitted their films… and [we thought] this would be a nice time to highlight the short filmmakers. So we said we should continue with the festival and make the short films the main event this year,” Jose Javier Reyes, competition and monitoring chairperson of the festival, said in the conference in the vernacular.

And because the pandemic made it unsafe for the full-length entries to be produced, Cinemalaya has opted to put all the full-length entries for 2020 and those chosen for 2021 in Cinemalaya 2021, in what Mr. Reyes called a full-length carambola as next year’s festival will have 18 feature films in the main competition.

Cinemalaya gives grants for 10 feature films per year but the pandemic has caused two entries to drop out for 2020.

Cinemalaya will be held online this year from Aug. 6 to 17 via the festival’s own Vimeo page. Mr. Millado said they chose this platform as they provide security against piracy, although they did create a team to be on the lookout against infringement.

He admitted that it was more difficult to set up the online experience as they had to arrange for paywalls and iron the kinks out of streaming a festival online.

“It’s a brave new world. We don’t expect a seamless experience, but I hope our viewers appreciate that this [was made] in the context of a learning curve,” Mr. Millado said.

The festival typically attracts around 50,000 audience members during its two-week run at the CCP and select cinemas nationwide, but with the festival going online, its organizers said they are looking to reach “the same viewers or even more” as by going online, the festival films will be accessible to more people. “This time we’re not limiting ourselves to Manila audiences but also to audiences all over the Philippines,” Mr. Millado said.

After the festival’s run on Vimeo, the entries can be viewed via the ABS-CBN streaming service iWant and its global subscription service channel, The Filipino Channel (TFC). This, Mr. Millado said, will give the festival a wider reach than it usually has.

Wider reach notwithstanding, he said that they are not looking at the same revenues to be earned with this year’s festival as they are not charging what they would normally: the festival is charging P75 for a bundle of five short films or P350 for a festival pass which includes all films, talk backs, and webinars. The tickets for each film at the 2019 Cinemalaya cost P200 while festival passes went for P3,500.

This year’s 10 competition short films are: Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert (The Broken Vinyl Record) by Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori; Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside) by Joanna Vasquez Arong; Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss by Sonny Calvento; Fatigued by James Robin Mayo; Living Things by Martika Ramirez Escobar; Pabasa Kan Pasyon by Hubert Tibi; Quing Lalam Ning Aldo (Under the Sun) by Reeden Fajardo; The Slums by Jan Andrei Cobey; Tokwifi by Carla Pulido Ocampo; and Utwas (Arise) by Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay.

In Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert, an old vinyl record alters a closeted gay man’s life; while memories catch up with her as a girl visits a ravaged port city in Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos.

Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss tells the story about a department store sales lady who unearths the ultimate secret to regularization, and Fatigued is about an employee who overslept and must wake up from a nightmare.

Living Things is about a woman who discovers that her decade-long lover has turned into a cardboard standee. Pabasa kan Pasyon follows a Bicolano family that turns to religion to make both ends meet.

In Quing Lalam Ning Aldo, a transgender sampaguita farmer decides to renovate their neglected kitchen as soon as she hears that her son is coming home. The Slums, on the other hand, follow a documentary team that progressively intervenes and trespasses into the lives of a poor family living in the slums as they try to cope with the loss of their TV.

In Tokwifi, a mestiza 1950s star, trapped inside a television that falls from the sky, dreams up a romantic romp with a Bontok man who doesn’t know how to kiss. (“Tokwifi” means star in the Bontok language.) Meanwhile, Utwas narrates how a young boy discovers the ocean as he tries to learn how to dive and fish.

Aside from the main competition, Cinemalaya will also be showing 20 short films in exhibition: Ang Meron Sa Wala (Beyond Nothing) by Arby and Christine Larano; Ang Nawalang Haligi (Pillar) by Sarah Mya Regacho; Dama De Noche by Lawrence Sibug; Grand Gestures by Cody Abad; Gulis (Lines) by Kyle Jumayne Francisco; Habak by Paolo Matibag and Mia Salisbury; Himagsik ng Hiwaga (Revolt of the Mystic) by Geoffrey Solidum; Igib by Joey Paras; Jepoy by Avid Liongoren; Kung Saan Patag Ang Bundok (Where The Horizon Meets The Mountain) by Dolliete Echon; OctoGod by Shievar Olegario; Paon by Seb Valdez; Pinakanakapagpapabagabag-Damdamin (Most Disturbing Feeling) by Jermaine Tulbo; Si Gloria at Si Juan by Gilliano Salvador; Sumasaiyo (Yours truly) by Jermaine Tulbo; Tarang (Life’s Pedal) by Arvin Alindogan Belarmino;Tahanan by Mick Quito; Mata by Bryan Kennette Padilla; Displaced by Aedrian Araoj; and The Rooftop by Avirup Biswas.

Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video, said to be the longest-running independent film and video competition in Asia, will also continue its run this year. Visions of Asia, one of the major components of the film festival, will screen award-winning indie films from the region.

Cinemalaya will also pay tribute to individuals who have made great contributions to the Philippine film industry — director Peque Gallaga and actress Anita Linda. The festival will also be doing retrospectives featuring previous Cinemalaya films.

Screenwriter Ricky Lee, in partnership with Cinemalaya, will conduct a scriptwriting masterclass. There will also be a virtual reunion of his writing workshop alumni.

For more information about the festival visit the CCP and Cinemalaya websites and their official social media pages. — Zsarlene B. Chua