Quick hits on the other sections of the film festival.
by Philbert Dy
QCinema is over now, but there’s still plenty to talk about. The festival really expanded this year, and the films in its other sections deserve some attention as well.
The short film section of QCinema has always been unique. Whereas every other festival takes submissions of finished films for their program, QCinema takes pitches and gives out production grants. This tends to result in a lineup that includes more veteran names, rather than the typical lineup of students submitting their thesis films. The winner of this year’s short film prize is Cebuano filmmaker Keith Deligero, best known for Iskalawags and Lily.
The short film Babylon was clearly meant to be a longer feature, its tale of time traveling assassins, corrupt mayors and talking chickens far too large to contain in a truncated runtime. But what we get is exceptional: all at once funny and dark in a signature Cebuano deadpan way. Hopefully, this short will be enough to convince producers that the concept deserves a chance at becoming a feature film.
The rest of the lineup: Kiri Dalena juxtaposes dreamlike underwater footage with little documentary scenes of rebel life in the powerful Gikan Sa Ngitngit Nga Kinailadman. The film could probably stand to do without its scenes of protest footage, but the overall effect is still pretty great.
Phyllis Grande’s Kun’ di Man tells of a love story between blind street performers. It’s a lovely little short of modest ambition with surprising depth of emotion.
Carl Joseph Papa directs the animated Love Bites, which has a stunning aesthetic, but moves a little slowly for what it ends up delivering.
Xeph Suarez’s Si Astri Maka Si Tambulah features fascinating material that studies what it means to be a trans woman in the Badjao community. The filmmaking doesn’t quite keep up, but the strength of its elements does come through.
Ice Idanan’s Anya Iti Nagan Mo? is sweet, but tells a story that seems to pop in every festival’s shorts lineup.
Mike Esteves’ Link has an intriguing premise, but never really gets going.
And Epoy Deyto’s Pixel Paranoia doesn’t really use its strangeness effectively.
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I was actually on the jury for this section. When we sat down for deliberations, we had all agreed that an argument could be made for each of these films being the best; we just had to decide what kind of jury we wanted to be. We ended giving our two prizes to films that directly tackle the plight of women, which was kind of a theme anyway for the six films in this section.
Mouly Surya’s Marlina: The Murderer in Four Acts makes subversive use of the elements of the Western genre in order to shine a spotlight on the world’s general indifference to the plight of women, particularly in marginalized communities. It takes place in some rural Indonsian area. The lead character is told plainly that some men are going to take her livestock and take turns raping her. To their surprise, she fights back. The film then becomes about her journey from her home to the police station, where she wishes to report the crime. It should probably be mentioned that she’s carrying a head. The plot is actually a little thin, but the film is consistently compelling. The film turns society at large into an antagonist for its lead character, the world just seemingly set up in a way to completely ignore what she needs. It’s a beautiful, poetic film that displays identifiable growth from Surya.
The jury prize went to Kiki Sugino for her film Snow Woman, which is basically an update on a Japanese folktale about a mountain guide who falls in love with a mysterious woman he meets on the side of the road. A series of deaths in the community cause him to suspect that his lovely wife might be something other than human. On the surface, Sugino keeps the film in the classical tradition of Japanese folklore adaptations. But she puts a distinctly feminine twist on the proceedings, shifting the horror elements into a strange parable of empowerment. It’s good stuff.
But again: arguments could be made for the other films in the lineup. Bing Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes overlays a fictional narrative on real-life surveillance footage. It gets ghoulish in its use of scenes of real life tragedy, but there is clear merit in the experiment.
Lee Dong-Eun’s In Between Seasonsstudies the perception of homosexuality in South Korea, particularly through the eyes of a mother. It takes a little too long to get to where it wants to go, but the cultural specificity gives the story compelling dimension.
Le Binh GIang’sKFC is a technically astounding low budget work that depicts acts of violence on the streets of Vietnam. Its cruelty gets a bit out of hand, but it is the kind of work that gets you excited about the filmmaker’s future project. It already displays a sense of craft combined with a willingness to take real risks.
Finally, Pop Aye from Kirsten Tan is a road movie about a burnt out real estate developer traveling to his town with an elephant in tow. This is the crowd pleaser of this lineup, much of its appeal coming from the performance of the elephant. There was actually some discussion in the jury if we could give a special citation to an elephant. The animal is just that good.
I was only able to catch three of the films from this lineup. The first was Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother, which came out in 1999. That’s recent enough that my memories of seeing it and the conversation around the film are still pretty clear. I actually got to see this film in a theater, and the experience of seeing it restored didn’t really feel all that different. Still, it’s a good movie, and I savor any chance to rewatch any of the films that helped shape my perception of cinema.
In contrast, this is the first time I’d seen Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up on the big screen, and it may as well have been a whole new film. On a basic level, having the images projected on such a scale made some details clearer, particularly when the main character is going through his enlarged photographs. But it also makes the excess of the film all the more palpable. It puts the film into a different light: on the small screen, it just felt like this small story of a jaded artist finding a semblance of passion within himself as he stumbles on to what might be a murder. On the big screen, the film’s studied emptiness becomes a little harder to take, and puts to question the intentions of the director.
And finally, the festival closed with the restored version of Mike de Leon’s Batch ’81, which was previously only screened in the Venice International Film Festival. I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in its original aspect ratio, and with the colors what they’re supposed to be. It’s a film that has never lost its power, and now, with its images restored to their former glory, the film is all the more effective. There’s word that the film is going to screened in commercial cinemas soon enough, and one hopes that people go out to see it.