The Essential Guide to This Year’s Cinemalaya

Nine new feature films compete in this year’s Cinemalaya. Here are our first impressions.

by Philbert Dy




Director: Perry Escaño

Synopsis: An illiterate farmer takes on the role of teacher for a group of kids in a small barrio in Southwestern Mindanao in an attempt to keep them away from violent influences.

Starring: Alfred Vargas, Mon Confiado, James Blanco, Miggs Cuaderno, Micko Laurente, Marc Justin Alvarez

Director’s Pedigree: This is Perry Escaño’s first feature film. He has a few shorts under his belt, including a couple of short documentaries. As an actor, he has become a mainstay of local television, and is a fixture of the theater scene.

Outlook: There’s little to go on at this point. The teaser doesn’t show a whole lot, and Escaño as a director is an unknown quantity. The setting and the subject matter are tricky, and one hopes that the film can do justice to the complexity of conflict as it tries to make its moral point.






Director: Mes de Guzman

Synopsis: A woman desperate to bring back her husband and her children seeks the aid of a family known for never weeping.

Starring: Sharon Cuneta

Director’s Pedigree: Mes de Guzman is one of the most accomplished independent film directors in the country. He already has a Cinemalaya Best Film award under his belt for 2012’s Diablo, and some of his films traveled the world even before this whole festival grant thing started.

Outlook: The trailer is making it out to be a comedy, but it’s never quite that simple with De Guzman. The most interesting factor here is Sharon Cuneta, who is making her Cinemalaya debut. De Guzman has worked with a big name before (namely, Nora Aunor), but Cuneta brings a completely different context to proceedings. We’ll see how that turns out.






Director: Joseph Israel Laban

Synopsis: A young girl tries to discover the fate of her missing father amidst some strange happenings in her village.

Starring: Elora Españo, Teri Malvar, JM Salvado, Bembol Roco

Director’s Pedigree: This is Laban’s third Cinemalaya film, and fourth feature film as a director overall. He is also the writer of Purgatoryo from last year’s QCinema. All of those films seemed intent on delivering some measure of shock value.

Outlook: Again, little to go on in the teaser. What’s most interesting is that there are magical realist elements to this story, which is a departure for the director, whose wheelhouse has to this point been grimy social realism.





Director: Zig Madamba Dulay

Synopsis: An OFW is raped by her boss. She escapes and returns home, but not before leaving behind an aborted fetus in the airplane bathroom.

Starring: Angeli Bayani, Shamaine Buencamino, Arnold Reyes

Director’s Pedigree: This is Zig Dulay’s sixth feature film as a director. He’s been part of the MMFF New Wave, Sinag Maynila, and the ToFarm Film Festival, and has garnered plenty of acclaim in those respective festivals.

Outlook: Well, it’s grim material. Based on the trailer, the movie will actually focus less on the act and more on the fallout, with the main character being investigated as she tries to go back to life with her husband. This is well within Dulay’s wheelhouse, his films tending to find potent drama in very specific legal entanglements.






Director: Thop Nazareno

Synopsis: An eleven-year-old boy grieving the recent death of his mother reconnects with his estranged father and builds a relationship through boxing training.

Starring: Ned Comia, Jr., Yayo Aguila, Yul Servo

Director’s Pedigree: This is Thop Nazareno’s first feature film as a director. As an editor, Nazareno has mainly worked with Carlo Obispo on his films Purok 7 and 1-2-3, which similarly feature children as main characters.

Outlook: If Nazareno is anyhing like his collaborator Carlo Obispo, then the movie will be sweet, but will also have harder edges. It is likely those harder edges that will make or break this film, which on first impression seems to hew closely to pretty standard formula.






Director: Sonny Calvento

Synopsis: A woman goes missing, and her American husband is accused of murdering her. He tries to leave, but gets caught up in something stranger.

Starring: Gina Alajar, JC Santos, Billy Ray Galleon

Director’s Pedigree: Sonny Calvento is a TV writer. His credits include episodes of Juana Banana, Reputasyon, and Apoy sa Dagat. This is his directorial debut.

Outlook: The two teasers are very short, but they give a pretty a good idea of what the film will look and feel like. Dark, desaturated, handheld camerawork gives the impression that the movie will be somewhat of a thriller, which isn’t typical of this particular festival.






Director: Nerissa Picadizo

Synopsis: A cyclist suffering from an ailment goes on one last trek up Mt. Pinatubo with the woman he loves.

Starring: Jake Cuenca, Anna Luna

Director’s Pedigree: This is another feature film debut. Picadizo has worked as an assistant director, most notably at this point for Ivy Baldoza in Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat.

Outlook: The teasers comes as a bit of a surprise, as it all looks a lot moodier and stranger than the premise might suggest. And the short clips shown in those teasers seem to focus more on Anna Luna’s character, which adds another wrinkle to the given synopsis.





Director: Treb Monteras II

Synopsis: A young rapper and a veteran cross paths on a violent night and end up inspiring each other’s verses.

Starring: Loonie, Abra

Director’s Pedigree: Monteras has worked on TV, but is likely better known for his music video work. That experience ought to come into play in this film.

Outlook: There isn’t a lot to go on so far. The scant footage available online looks a bit like a lower-budget 8 Mile. Monteras’ music videos are really polished pieces of work, though, and we might see more of that come into play. The other question mark hanging over this film is the acting ability of the two leads. But consider us curious.






Director: Iar Arondaing

Synopsis: A woman confesses a murder to a priest. The priest and his altar boy struggle with that knowledge.

Starring: Angel Aquino, Jake Macapagal, Jess Mendoza, Mercedes Cabral

Director’s Pedigree: This is another feature film debut. Arondaing seems to have worked on a lot of short films, though. His Vimeo page indicates a knack for pretty distinctive imagery, and an interest in experimental work.

Outlook: The movie appears to be using a 4:3 aspect ratio. Whether that turns out to be a meaningful choice remains to be seen. But overall, the impression is that the movie is willing to get a little strange, which tends to bode well for Cinemalaya films.