Theme: “The Minority As the New Majority”
The Cinematografo International Film Festival made a big splash in its first year, showcasing the best of Filipino and Filipino-American cinema. The festival opened with acclaimed director Loy Arcenas’s grand musical, ANG LARAWAN (The Portrait). Throughout the four days, we showcased independent and classic films from the Philippines. We also turned the spotlight on Filipino-American documentary filmmaker, Ramona Diaz, in a tribute and retrospective of her work. Issues ranging from representation to the state of Philippines-US relations were tackled in engaging panels with the theme of The Minority as the New Majority. The festival closed with the International Premiere of THE GHOST BRIDE, a horror film tackling the Chinese custom of marrying the dead.
Based on National Artist Nick Joaquin’s award-winning play, ANG LARAWAN offers a glimpse of a rarely seen side of Manila before it was ravaged by World War 2. Two sisters struggle to part with their father’s last masterpiece in order to solve their financial woes. Sumptuous, elegant and epic, this grand musical harkens back to a time of hopeful innocence and how this will all change with the impending destruction brought about by war.
Horror maestro Chito Rono returns to the genre that solidified him as one of the major auteurs in Philippine cinema. THE GHOST BRIDE brings the director back to his roots, mining the rich tradition of Chinese myths and superstitions for a terrifying story of a woman who follows ancient customs, marrying someone dead for money, only to find that she gets more than what she bargained for.
In an age of fake news and alternative facts, Cinematografo recognizes documentarian Ramona Diaz whose quiet camera has observed both the truth and what we hold to be true in today’s society. A retrospective of her work followed by a special screening of her latest film, Motherland, was one of the festival’s highlights.
Ang Babaeng Humayo
(The Woman Who Left)
Lav Diaz, PH, 2016, 228 min
A meditative reworking of Tolstoy’s “God Sees the Truth But Waits.” Lav Diaz’s noir opus in 2016 bagged the Golden Lion prize at the 73rd Venice Film Festival. The female protagonist, Horacia (Charo Santos) wrestles herself with reintegration, vengeance, and transcendence after being wrongfully incarcerated for three decades. The film runs nearly 4 hours and is considered the most succinct yet compassionate narrative of the master filmmaker to date.
Loy Arcenas, PH, 2017, 124 min
Adapted from the musical play of the same title, Ang Larawan (The Portrait) is based on National Artist Nick Joaquin’s three-act play, “A Portrait of a Filipino as an Artist.” Set in pre-World War II Intramuros, it tells the story of sisters Candida and Paula Marasigan, daughters of high profile painter, Don Marasigan. The sisters undergo financial hardship and are torn whether they should sell their father’s last great painting, ‘The Artist and His Muse’.
Mario Cornejo, PH, 2016, 95 min
Stuck to his life as a celebrated surfing instructor in Baler, Ford (Sid Lucero) has always been told that he is the son of director Francis Ford Coppola. As he enjoys a seemingly cloudless life unencumbered by myths and stories, Ford gets embroiled in a menage a trois with Fiona (Annicka Dolonius), and with his childhood friend fiancee named Serena (Gwen Zamora). He continues to cover up his inner restlessness by getting wasted with weed and alcohol until the surfing season comes to its close and Ford is forced to reveal his past along with old wounds and inaction.
Mikhail Red, PH, 2016, 116 min
For his second full-length feature film, young filmmaker Mikhail Red interweaves two plot lines that depict the loss of innocence of two characters as they cope with the harsh realities of survival. Layered with prevailing issues of abuse of power and corruption, the film succeeds to present itself as a hybrid film that draws inspiration from Western parables infused with magic realism present in most of the sequences in the lush countryside.
Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko
(Those Long-Haired Nights)
Gerardo Calagui, PH, 2017, 72 min
Gerardo Calagui’s, social realist drama introduces us to three transgender sex workers who saunter along the streets of Manila’s red-light district to offer their friendship and services. Loosely based on real life events, the film embroils the viewers into taking a hard look into their nocturnal world of humor, anguish, and survival.
Zig Madamba Dulay, PH, 2016, 98 min
While working to fulfill the traditional dowry imposed by his potential parents-in-law, an indigenous Aeta boy named Atan Dimaya (Garry Cabalic) encounters a beautiful student-researcher named Rain (Anna Luna), who he begins to fancy, when he ventures out of the mountains into the city. Rain is working on her thesis about life partners of intermarried Aetas and the lowlanders. When Atan’s father reminds him that he needs to fulfill his promise of marriage with Ani (Joan dela Cruz), he starts to distance himself from Rain. After his no-show act at the night of their pre-wedding rituals, Atan sprints downhill from infatuation to the conflicting values of tradition and obligation.
Patay na si Hesus
(Jesus is Dead)
Victor Villanueva, PH, 2016, 90 min
When Iyay (Jaclyn Jose) learns that her estranged husband has died, she decides to drive her family to the wake. A self-confessed fanboy of film and pop culture, young director Victor Villanueva utilizes dark humor to the road trip film structure to showcase a layered social commentary on human behavior against a tapestry of religious traditions, intimacy and forgiveness. A hit on the international festival circuit.
Sana Maulit Muli
(Hopefully Once More)
Olivia Lamasan, PH, 2015, remastered, 121 min
Originally made in 1995 and remastered 10 years later. Co-starring Tony award-winning performer Lea Salonga and matinee idol Aga Muhlach, the film is regarded as a classic by most Filipinos in the romantic film genre. It tells of the journey of a young couple who opted to live apart in search of a better life. Under the direction of Olivia Lamasan, the festival is proud to bring the film back to the big screen, digitally remastered after twenty years. Shot in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Avid Liongoren, PH, 2016, 90 min
Fusing live action with 2D animation and motion graphics, director Avid Liongoren transports us to a world where human beings co-exist with creepy monsters and tiny robots against a backdrop of a comic book world. Marty (Enzo Marcos), the geeky teen protagonist, visualizes evil people as monsters. He is secretly in love with Sally, a quirky gadget inventor who also happens to be a victim of domestic violence. Marty’s comic art world almost collapses when Sally meets her alpha male boyfriend. He eventually musters the courage to confront his real-life monsters and help Sally escape from her own veiled turmoil.
The Ghost Bride
Chito S. Roño, PH, 2017, 120 min
To save her family from being homeless and her father dying from a heart condition, Mayen (Kim Chiu) desperately agrees to the offer of a Chinese matchmaker for a huge amount of money. In exchange, Mayen must submit herself as a Ghost Bride to a wealthy but dead Chinese man. This deal, however, happens to be a deadly curse when the dead groom’s ghost becomes jealous and possessive of Mayen. It begins to take a toll on her and the people close to her heart.
What Home Feels Like
Joseph Abello, PH, 2017, 104 min
Forced to retire after more than three decades of working as a seaman, Antonio Concepcion (Bembol Roco) finds himself in a hapless state of alienation and familial displacement, the usual ramification of being an absent patriarchal figure. His futile efforts of catching up with his kids is aggravated further when he finds the truth behind his wife’s desire for him to go back to seafaring. The debut feature of young director/writer Joseph Abello treads on a familiar course of family drama, but steers it with the right blend of performance from his lead actors and intricate storytelling that is one from the heart.
Curiosity, Adventure & Love
Sunshine de Leon, PH, 2016, 62 min
Starting with her migration to the Philippines in the 1930s, American centenarian Jessie Lichauco shares her vivid memories of her marriage with a Filipino lawyer and her insights on the cruelty of war, survival, and strength of the human spirit. The film won Best Documentary at the New York-Los Angeles International Film Festival and several other international film festivals.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Every Man’s Journey
Ramona Diaz, USA, 2012, 90 min
A testimony to Youtube’s cyberpower to discover musical talents, this documentary details how Arnel Pineda got fished out of obscurity and landed a gig that changed the course of his life – being the frontman of the iconic American band Journey. Director Ramona Diaz bankrolled on Pineda’s blithe spirit in articulating his story and his palpable energy when performing the band’s almost anthemic hits. The film won the Audience Award at the 2013-2014 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Independent Lens season of films.
Ramona Diaz, USA, 2003, 103 min
“The people need a role model. They need a star, especially in the dark of the night.” Ramona Diaz’s debut film illustrates the life of Imelda Marcos as she ascends from being an impoverished child in the province to becoming the richest and most celebrated First Lady of the country. Interspersing from third party interviews to her own narration, the film bagged the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Give Up Tomorrow
Michael Collins, Marty Syjuco, USA/PH, 2011, 95 min
This documentary centers on the ensuing trial of Paco Larranaga, along with six other young men, accused of a murder case of the Filipino-Chinese girls. Filmmakers Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco probe the hostile delivery of bureaucratic leadership, media sensationalism, and racial profiling. It won several awards in various international festivals, including Best Documentary at the 2013 National Film Society and the Audience Award at the 2012 San Sebastian Human Rights Film Festival.
Ramona Diaz, USA/PH, 2017, 95 min
For her fifth feature length documentary, director Ramona Diaz reinforces her niche in the industry as a driving force in documentary cinema. The film takes us into an almost claustrophobic yet intimate experience inside one of the world’s busiest maternity wards, Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila. Presenting the story in its purest verite form, the film opens with the hospital staff doing their perfunctory roles and then moves fluidly into a sobering look into humanity and motherhood. This film is followed by a conversation with filmmaker Ramona Diaz, as part of a tribute to her career.
Leo Chiang, Johnny Symons, USA, 2016, 75 min
Co-directed by S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons, the film captures a significant event in the history of Philippine politics when the world’s first and only LGBT political party called Ladlad, attempts to elect a transgender woman to the Philippine Congress. Soon, they realize their uphill battle is not just against political conservatives but also public perception.
Sunday Beauty Queen
Baby Ruth Villarama, PH, 2016, 95 min
Director Baby Ruth Villarama follows the lives of five Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong as they juggle between the harsh realities of their working situation and the sense of empowerment they get from joining beauty pageants on Sundays. The city where the characters hang out with their fellow expatriates to celebrate their favorite day off is a vision of human anguish veiled in pageantry.
Melanie Lim, USA, 2017, 15 min
Anito tells the story of Niña, our young heroine, who helps save the life of her beloved friend, Joe. He is the anito that lives inside her family’s ancestral cabinet. Her parents do not acknowledge Joe’s existence and see her friendship with him as a phase she will eventually outgrow. Amidst family tension and strange events, Niña shows the importance of seeing the world with eyes of wonder.
Craig Nisperos, USA, 2017, 12 min
“I can walk in the streets here and it’s easy to just dissolve into the crowd, to simply be an anonymous body finding for space in the pavement.” In this age of social media, Director Craig Nisperos tackles a young Filipino-American’s tale of urban loneliness and feeling of disconnection in a vast urban metropolis.
Flip The Record
Marie Jamora, USA, 2017, 15 min
Set during the resurgence of the hip-hop music scene in the Bay Area during the 80’s, Vanessa, a young Filipino-American teenager gets inspired by watching her brother’s deejay crew recreating new sound by manipulating records and sound mixers. When her brother and other crew members get to witness her natural style and rhythm, she empowers herself by earning her spot in the band. The film is director Marie Jamora’s homage to the Filipino-American community’s contribution to hip-hop music.
Life is What You Make It
Jhett Tolentino, USA/PH, 2017, 30 min
This short documentary chronicles Tony-Award winner and Grammy-winner Jhett Tolentino as he shares his humble beginnings from the slums of Iloilo City, Philippines to the glittery streets of Broadway.
Bianca Catbagan, USA, 2017, 15 min
Trish, a teenage Filipino-American who grew up in New Jersey, discovers that her long-time crush is a lesbian and has a crush on her younger sister, Jade.
The Pleasure of Being Served
Michael Manese, USA, 2016, 16 min
Manese’s short film introduces us to the character of Rosa, an undocumented immigrant who works for Hudson, a brash New Yorker secretly juggling two women – a conservative Filipina professional and a more gregarious yet harmless uptown blonde. In the process of getting to know these two women and her sleazy employer, Rosa gets caught between moral integrity and fulfilling her dream of providing her son with a much better life.
Jeff Adachi, Jim Choi, USA, 2017, 16 min
An intense journey through the underbelly of the criminal injustice system. Seen through the eyes of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who is one of the nation’s few elected public defenders. In this era of mass incarceration and police shootings of young African-American men, the film grapples with the issues of racism, implicit bias and authority. What is not revealed in the film is that the accused is part of an ‘invisible minority’, that is often overlooked even in very diverse communities like the Bay Area.
Diane Paragas, USA, 2016, 21 min
Rose Garcia, a teenager, dreams one day of being a country music star despite the ridicule of everyone around her. One day Elliot invites her to a honky tonk to see one of her heroes Jimmy Redburn who has disappeared for the last ten years. Rose finds out about a visa that lets you stay in the country if you can prove you have extraordinary ability. She enlists to the help of washed-up Jimmy, who is surprised that Rose does have some talent. Rose wakes something up inside Jimmy that has been dead for quite sometime.
State Of The Nation(s)
Speakers: Ramona Diaz, Marty Syjuco, Leo Chiang, and Sunshine de Leon
The Philippines and the United States – and other nations where the Filipino Diaspora live and work – have similar challenges and milestones. From pressing issues of extrajudicial killings, racial discrimination, environmental degradation, extremism and terrorism, to sustaining feats of economic growth, technology, cultural identification, and agricultural advancement. How are these realities affecting us as multi-cultural nations? Who represents, filters, informs us about these challenges and issues? We talk to filmmakers who’ve confronted these issues head on, whether in the US or the Philippines and hear how current events have shaped and informed their storytelling.
The Minority as the New Majority
Speakers: David Magdael, Francis Cullado, Reggie Lee, Alex Lee
Filipinos are the second largest Asian-American community in the United States. Besides being one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the country, Filipinos were also the first Asian people to have arrived on American soil, in Morro Bay, California, back in 1587 during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. One might imagine that because of its long history in the U.S. that Filipinos would have wider social and political influence in U.S. American culture. But hundreds of years on, Filipinos often still operate just beneath the surface, almost as an invisible minority. Whether it’s through occupational obligation or willing assimilation, Filipinos all over the world have quietly integrated into their respective new communities. But there has been an awakening and clamor for Filipino representation in film and television. CIFF talks with influential Filipino-Americans and Asian-Americans in the media industry to examine what brought about this resurgence and discuss the challenges and experiences of being a Filipino in media.
A Tribute to Ramona Diaz
Speaker: Ramona Diaz
The MOTHERLAND documentary filmmaker with a keen eye to detail and an extraordinary verite style of storytelling. During this tribute, clip show and on-stage conversation, we’ll learn how she develops and produces uncommon yet very striking personal films, and have a chance to engage with a revolutionary Filipino-American woman who has become one of the most prolific and admired documentary filmmakers of our generation. Diaz is most well-known for her inspiring film “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”, about Filipino Youtube singer Arnel Pineda, who overnight became dynamic lead vocalist of the world-famous rock band Journey, and “Imelda”, the controversial story of the Philippines’ most celebrated First Lady.
Presenting Cinematografo Originals …and New Projects
Speakers: PJ Raval, Marty Syjuco, Marie Jamora, and Diane Paragas
During this special event, CIFF Industry Forum becomes a platform to present emerging and established Filipino and Filipino-American filmmakers, future collaborations and exciting new films set to debut in 2018. Attending talent PJ Raval and Marty Syjuco, Marie Jamora, Diane Paragas and other international filmmakers, writers and producers will take the stage to announce and show us sneak preview clips of their newest work. Through its new co-production initiative Cinematografo Originals, as well as discoveries of landmark independent films in production, join us as we light the path and blaze the trail of film-making and announce the 2018 co-production partnerships.