Dispatches From Cebu – Checking In On One of The Country’s Most Exciting Film Scenes

In its seventh year, Binisaya continues to prove that Southern cinema is a force to be reckoned with.

by Philbert Dy

 

Ara Chawdhury, the director of 2015’s Miss Bulalacao, admits that this edition of Binisaya has not gone smoothly. The schedule had to be reconfigured completely because of some problems with the MTRCB permits. Their venue this year, SM City Cebu, isn’t allowing them to screen the films without the physical, certified true copies of the permits. “We’ve never had this problem before,” she says.

 

But Cebuano filmmakers are a resourceful bunch, and their festival rolls on anyway. Chawdhury says that it kind of turned out to be a boon for opening night. They were forced to turn it into a free public screening, and they ended up getting audiences that might not have turned up if things had gone as planned. And she was surprised to find how accepting this audience was of some of the more daring works in the lineup.

 

“There might be a future for experimental films, after all,” she says.

 

Anyone who’s kept up with the rise of regional cinema in the last decade will tell you that Cebuano film is ascendant. They’ve produced some of the most memorable films of this era of digital filmmaking: Chawdhury’s Miss Bulalacao, Remton Siega Zuasola’s Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, Keith Deligero’s Iskalawags, and Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus, just to name a few. This edition of the festival is meant to be a celebration of ten years of Cebuano digital filmmaking, and they’re showing it all. Or they plan to, at least. Those permits can be a pain.

 

Binisaya’s short film program is a great showcase of Southern talent. It presents a great variety of works that really highlight just how vibrant and exciting the cinema down here is.

 

Two of the shorts in this year’s program have already been screened in Manila: P.R. Patindol’s Hilom and Jarell M. Serencio’s Mga Bitoon sa Siyudad. Both are still very good. Interestingly, the projection here in Cebu for the festival seems to be a little better than in Manila, and both of these shorts benefitted from just being shown brighter.

 

 

My favorite from this lineup is a film titled Mga Bitin from Cebuano filmmaker Archie Manayon. It is not the most technically accomplished short in this lineup, but it is the funniest. In it, the director talks directly to us from behind his camera, detailing his process for breeding his fish. He shows us his fishtank, and the lucky toothpick that turns out to be his most valuable tool for brooding his cichlids. And oh, he’s talking to us in French. Description does this short no justice. It uses aesthetics fit for a YouTube video, but turns it around into something approaching art. It’s great.

 

 

Ang Ikaduhang Pagbalik, by Cagayan de Oro’s Jeffrie Po, begins with a handheld shot following a man in a barong out in a park inviting people to some sort of religious gathering. And then it becomes something else entirely, before transforming into something else later on as well. This is a weird work that is confident in its weirdness, with shades of Lav Diaz mixed with a deadpan sense of humor. It’s a strong work that makes me curious to see what else this filmmaker has up his sleeve.

 

 

Sierra Madre is an animated film from Cebuano Jovanni Tinapay, and is about a young girl who goes in search of her grandfather, who went missing at sea. What the film lacks in smoothness and in detail, it more than makes up for in style and expressiveness. And there’s more than a hint of something really dark and interesting behind the film’s bright colors and simple figures. I’d like to see what this team can do with more resources.

 

 

A couple of short little sketches from Cebuano filmmakers make up the middle of the shorts program. Niño Tecson’s No Segur mashes up Filipino history with the current era of Operation Tokhang in a rather obvious but altogether valid way. Bugz Saavedra’s Pleasant Words is basically three short comedic riffs featuring current political figures conversing about all manner of things. It feels like the sort of thing that would work on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

 

 

Pagrara Sang Patipuron, from Iloilo’s Jean Claire Dy and Manuel Domes, is a short documentary about Aeta women in sitio Nagpana, who have found a new audience for their traditional woven crafts. It’s a very interesting subject, though one can feel the film struggle to keep itself from just being a succession of talking heads. It keeps cutting away to an unrelated b-roll, seemingly conscious of the lack of a narrative throughline. But there is plenty of value in what is already in the film: women empowered by their craft, and indigenous work given the attention it deserves.

 

 

Cebuano filmmaker Ronnie Gamboa, Jr. bills himself as “Ron Gagamboy” in the credits of his film Sa Laing Kalibutan, Adunay Kita Karong Gabhiona. That irreverence doesn’t really reveal itself in his film until the end, when the credits are rolling. For the most part, it’s a short you’ve seen before: a long shot of two friends talking about some vague thing. But when the music starts playing and the main character starts walking, one gets a sense that there’s much more to the filmmaker than the story he just told.

 

 

Leonara Kilat, directed by Mariya Lim, closes out the program. It tells the story of a young woman who makes it her mission to screen her grandmother’s legendary film in a soon-to-be-demolished movie theater. This film doesn’t quite work out, but one really gets a sense of the ambition at play. Part noir, part Edgar Wright, part filmed zarzuela. It feels uneven at best, but there’s merit to what it attempts to do.

 

There was supposed to be a Q&A after the screening of the shorts, but the festival couldn’t find the lectern. It was fine. Q&As for shorts programs tend to be a mess. It’s enough that these hungry young filmmakers have put their works out there, mysterious as they are, giving audiences a taste of what the future of our cinema might look like.