The ToFarm Film Festival is just like any of the other grant giving film festivals in Metro Manila, but filmmakers are given the added requirement of telling stories about the struggles of farmers and fisher folk. The first edition was a mixed bag, but the added constraint did produce some rather unique cinema. This second edition brings another six new films, and they seem even more committed to the festival’s premise.
Byron Bryant’s Sinandomeng is very loosely built around the death of a farmer (Julio Diaz). His widow, Sinang (Sue Prado), refuses to sell her family’s land to some land developers, and commits to farming the land herself. Mild conflict comes from her siblings, who really want the windfall that selling the land might bring. And Sinang finds plenty of challenges in doing the work, which takes a huge toll on her health. But there isn’t really much sense that a whole lot could go wrong. This is a very laid-back film that’s largely content with a plain depiction of a very specific issue.
There are very few men in this movie. One dies early on. Another, played by Lou Veloso, is confined to a wheelchair. The film makes it clear that most men are now working abroad instead of farming. The movie tinkers around a bit with perceived gender roles, but it doesn’t really make a big stink about equality. Sinang gets it into her head that she’s going to do the work, and she does it. People tell her that she shouldn’t be doing it, but she does it anyway. There are a couple of scenes where a guy offers her marriage, but there is no romance to this movie. Sinang just wants to till the fields and plant her crops. The minor conflict between siblings never really builds to the kind of grand drama that one would expect, and things just sort of resolve themselves. As cinema, it isn’t particularly exciting, and the production values don’t always hold up. But there is a gentle sweetness to the film that largely keeps it charming, even when nothing is really happening.
Rogue Recommends?: With reservations. It kind of works out by the end, but people might balk at the lack of conflict and narrative structure.
High Tide, written and directed by Tara Illenberger, manages to feel pretty big. The film is about three kids—one of them orphaned by a supertyphoon, the other two the daughters of an overworked fishpond laborer—who end up going on an unexpected adventure while trying to make money to help pay for the hospital bill of the girls’ mother. In the background, the movie makes mention of the dear effect that climate change has on this community, making direct connections between the environmental catastrophes caused by global warming and the growing desperation of the characters.
This is a warm, open-hearted film that lulls the viewer into the comfort of watching good people just trying to get through tough times, before launching into a climax that is genuinely thrilling. Illenberger, whose previous directorial effort, Brutus, was also surprisingly effective at crafting peril for its characters, builds to a couple of harrowing survival sequences that wouldn’t feel out of place in a film with ten times the budget. And it does within the context of a really well constructed story that has characters taking journeys both literal and figurative on the way to find a measure of happiness in a world that seems completely indifferent to their struggles. This film is worth seeking out.
Rogue Recommends?: Yes. This is a warm, open-hearted movie that gets surprisingly thrilling.
Vic Acedillo, Jr.’s Kamunggai is a little rough around the edges. It tells the story of Peping, an old man who mainly wants to be left alone to tend to his backyard vegetable garden. Then his niece suddenly leaves her young son, Kenken, with him and runs off with her boyfriend. Interestingly, the movie doesn’t really invest a whole lot of time in developing the relationship between Peping and Kenken. The two aren’t even in that many scenes together. Peping deals with trying to raise the money to buy the land he’s staying on, while Kenken tries to get by in school.
There is an endearing sense of melancholy to the whole movie. It’s the kind of melancholy that stems from a blunt acceptance of how terrible life can be. This isn’t the warmest film, but through its coldness, it kind of earns its sentiment. The film does take a few narrative shortcuts on the way to its resolutions, but its bracing acceptance of how imperfect people can be gives it a powerful sense of verisimilitude, even when it ends a scene on a corny joke. The general coldness of the characters makes the little bits of kindness really pop, and gives teeth to the film’s rather old fashioned sense of humor. The film never really manages to feel cinematic, but there is value to be found in its smallness.
Rogue Recommends?: Mostly. This film could use some smoothing out, but it’s a rewarding picture if you get on its wavelength.