A personal account of a Cinema Rehiyon participant
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Central Luzon Daily
Cinema Rehiyon was held last week at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). It is the NCCA’s (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) Cinema Committee’s event for the then-called National Arts Month, now Philippine International Arts Festival (PIAF).
Cinema Rehiyon is the first ever film festival in Manila that puts the spotlight on independent films from the regions. Since the concept of Philippine Cinema has for long been Manila-centric, it is now time to decentralize it and take note of the more politically correct perception of Philippine Cinema—a collection of films from every corner of the archipelago, may they be indie or mainstream.
No Kapampangan participation
I make this personal joke—unfunny to some, probably—about Kapampangans naturally lacking the letter H in their speech. Despite this, it is ironic that they seem to be more involved with the Hearts’ Month during February instead of the Arts Month.
When the press release for the lineup of events for the PIAF was released, along with the focused provinces and cities of Cinema Rehiyon, I felt very bad because Kapampangan had zero participation.
“This is a showcase of nascent cinema from the regions. From the highlands in and around Baguio to the heart of Bicolandia that is Naga City; across the thriving Visayas cities of Cebu, Bacolod and Iloilo; and through Mindanao between Cagayan de Oro and Davao, a new generation of artists is telling stories of their own cultures and people in cinematic form.”
Being a Kapampangan indie filmmaker, I at once called the NCCA Cinema Committee and inquired whether the Kapampangan region can be represented by one of our short films—Ing Bangkeru (The Boatman).
No solid block
After more than a month of deliberation, they decided to include our film in the lineup, albeit categorized under the ambiguous “Short Films from Various Parts of Luzon” block. Our film shared space with a Laguna short film, a Batangas short film, and a Nueva Ecija short film—all Tagalog entries.
Enviable are the regions/provinces/cities that enjoyed a more definite block: Cebu short films, Bacolod short films, Cagayan De Oro short films, Central and Western Mindanao short films, Davao short films, Bicol short films, Baguio short films, and Iloilo full-length films.
Being the only Kapampangan during the festival, I actually felt lonely, seeing Cebuanos, Dabawenyos, Bicolanos, etc. come in numbers with lots of films to offer for the festival, speaking with one another in their respective languages.
It’s really tragic because Kapampangans have always played their part in national history (two sunrays in the Philippine flag are Kapampangan provinces), even in the field of arts. The CCP, where the festival was held, even has two areas named after two Kapampangan artists: Vicente Manansala and Aurelio Tolentino. Yet during Cinema Rehiyon—a historical event in the history of Philippine Cinema, I must say—we looked like a dying cultural minority, despite being one of the major ethnolinguistic groups of the country, and being one of the most progressive provinces in the country to date.
Alive after all...
Come to think of it though, an exclusive Kapampangan block could have been made. Aside from our “Ing Bangkeru” and our numerous other works (documentaries and music videos), there’s “Pupul” (Harvest) by Nicolette Henson, which bagged best narrative in her production class under Pam Miras at St. Scholastica’s College. It also made it to the Top 10 of the Short Narrative category of the Ateneo Video Open 10.
Then of course we have Mark Dela Cruz’ “Misteryo Ng Hapis” (Sorrowful Mystery), a full Kapampangan short film which enjoys several titles under its sleeve, including Best Picture in a recent year’s PBO Digitales, Best Thesis during its time at the UP Film Institute, Finalist in Cinemalaya 2007’s short film category, and Finalist in a recent Ateneo Video Open. It also competed in Cinemanila years ago. Following the trend is UP Film student Jacqueline Nakpil’s “Ke Lual Ning Kulambu” (Outside the Mosquito Net), her production thesis in 2007
Kapampangan full-length films are also existent. We have the internationally award-winning Kapampangan films of Brillante Mendoza like “Masahista” (The Masseur; City of San Fernando), “Kaleldo” (Summer Heat; Guagua), “Manoro” (The Aeta Teacher; Sapang Bato, Angeles City), and “Serbis” (Service; Angeles City). Although Mendoza’s Center Stage Productions is Manila-based, most of his actors and staff are his kabalen when he does Pampanga-based films. I should know; I have worked for him.
The Cinemalaya Best Picture of 2008 “Jay” (Bacolor), directed by Francis Xavier Pasion, can also be included. Even though the Manilenyos’ participation in the creation of the film was inevitable, most, if not all, actors actually hail from the province, as the auditions were held at DHVCAT in Bacolor. Even the lead actors, Baron Geisler (Angeles City) and Coco Martin (San Fernando), are Kapampangans.
But here’s the problem...
Despite the presence of these Kapampangan films, which are just as good as—or even better than—the other blocks I’ve seen during my three-day viewing of Cinema Rehiyon blocks, why have the organizers failed to detect us?
I know why. It’s because these Kapampangan films are not organized, unlike in Davao, Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, and other areas. Kapampangan productions sprout here and there, in various competitions, in various places, from Manila to Pampanga. They have all been individual efforts by various filmmakers who represent only themselves or their schools, not their homeland; filmmakers who are not yet well organized into a Kapampangan film community.
Most of the time, the people behind these Kapampangan films don’t even know the presence of other Kapampangan films, because each filmmaker is busy with his own career, flying solo either to Manila or abroad to propagate his/her own film, without thinking “I’m representing Kapampangan cinema.”
Is selfishness the root of this? I actually don’t think so.
With conviction, I believe that the root of this is the deterioration of our people’s sense of being members of the Kapampangan community. The Kapampangans’ imagination of themselves as an equally distinct group like the Warays, Ilocanos, and Cebuanos is fading away, with Kapampangans, especially the talented ones, preferring to join the so-called Filipino community, which is actually just the Manila community.
While Kapampangan Cinema is a thing yet to be born, Kapampangans are actually not newbies in the industry. Manila has always employed the skills of Kapampangans—whose homeland is very near—in developing their film industry (and other industries as well): from Rogelio Dela Rosa to Gracita Dominguez; from Gregorio Fernandez (directed “Asahar at Kabaong,” “Senorita,” and “Higit Sa Lahat,” which won for him Best Director at the 1956 Asian Film Festival and also at the FAMAS) to Lea Salonga.
From Elwood Perez to Brillante Mendoza; from Patsy to Chuck Perez; from Lito Lapid to Liza Lorena; from Sharon Cuneta to Judy Ann Santos; from Paquito Diaz to Rodolpho “Dolphy” Quizon (born to Kapampangan parents in Pampanga but raised in Tondo); from Alma Moreno to Jaclyn Jose; from Hilda Koronel to Rosita Noble.
From Melanie Marquez to Dong Puno; from Dante Rivero to Rufa Mae Quinto; from Efren Bata Reyes to Lorna Tolentino; from Rudy Fernandez to Jean Garcia; from Nanette Inventor to Donita Rose; from Glydel Mercado to Rico Puno; from Ronnie Liang to Aljur Abrenica; and many more, and still progressing in number.
These are probably things not even national historians of Kapampangan descent like Ambeth Ocampo would be interested in tracing.
Local brain drain
While it seems nice that Manila has catapulted our kabalens to “national” status in the entertainment industry, what suffered actually is the Kapampangan community in general, as these Kapampangans who have been absorbed by Manila mostly have become assimilated to Tagalog culture, stripping away their “Kapampangan-ness” and their potential to represent the Kapampangan people.
A vivid example is probably Rogelio Dela Rosa, discovered by no less than the Father of Philippine Movies Jose Nepomuceno. Dela Rosa had a problem when the era of silent films was through—he had a very strong Kapampangan accent when delivering his Tagalog lines. But Dela Rosa worked so hard to master the Tagalog language, and later on, he was given a new break in the movie “Diwata sa Karagatan,” the first Filipino feature film sold outside the country.
It’s time for Cinekabalen
We have served the Manila film industry well and became instrumental in the propagation of Tagalog culture and language through cinema. Now, I guess it’s time to look back, even just a little, to our dear Kapampangan homeland and try to keep up with the rest of the country in producing local films—even just indie—that genuinely depict our native culture (both rural and urban) and imagination, using our own “de-Manila-tized” perspective. Because if Kapampangans won’t do this, no other region will do it for us.
This August, the first Cinekabalen Philippine Film Festival will be organized. It will not only exhibit existing Kapampangan works but also place in competition fresh Kapampangan works from participants, may they be students, professionals, mere enthusiasts, or ex-patriates. The mechanics can be found at http://cinekabalen.multiply.com.
To expose the Kapampangan audiences—most of whom believe that being assimilated to Manila’s pop culture is the way to go—to the impressive indie filmmaking efforts of other regions, Cinekabalen will also screen selected films from other regions in the Philippines, like Cebu, Davao, Bicol, Iloilo, Kalinga, Eastern Visayas, Bacolod, and Muslim Mindanao.
Actually, student short film competitions have been held in key colleges for the past years already, such as the Holy Angel University and Systems Plus College Foundation. Some have been technically competent. A major problem however is their “cultural confusion.” Their stories are not rooted to their homeland. They echo the stories of Manila, the way they see them on Manila and foreign TV shows and movies. The writers imagine too much melodramatic things and fail to see the beautiful local stories unfolding around the neighborhood.
All their characters speak Tagalog and English, and deliberately eliminate Kapampangan out of the picture because subconsciously Kapampangan is not as prestigious as the two official languages for them. Language is important in any cultural product that involves language. This is especially true for Kapampangan; anthropologist John Larkin mentioned in his book “The Pampangans” that Kapampangans share a lot of common culture with nearby ethnic groups, and their distinct language is one of the things that strongly sets them apart from the others.
I was chatting once with a college IT student, asking him to participate in the Cinekabalen short film competition this August. He said he would love to join, but told me he is not a good writer and does not know how to make stories.
So I chatted with him about life in general, until he casually revealed to me that he is a Muslim, converted from Christianity back when he was young. Within the Muslim community, however, “Muslims since birth” tend to regard themselves higher than “converted ones” or the so-called “Balik Islam.” Also, even though he was Muslim, he attended Catholic schools.
Then I told him—“There’s your story! You don’t have to imagine a lot of things in order to come up with a beautiful work.” I sounded sensible to him, and he got all excited about the concept (which came from him anyway), and told me that he WILL be participating. He got even more excited when I told him that the Muslims of Pampanga have never been tackled in any Kapampangan film.
This “cultural farsightedness” by budding writers and filmmakers is shared by many Kapampangans. For example, in the school paper of one university in Angeles City, a writer came up with the major highlights of the Year 2008. He cited the victory of Obama, the release of this Hollywood movie (“Twilight”), the end of season two of that TV show, the new album of this artist, the Eraserheads concert, Pacquiao’s victory over Dela Hoya, etc.
He didn’t consider the major happenings in Pampanga as highlights of 2008—the recall move against Governor Eddie Panlilio which has been getting national attention, the celebration of the first ever province-wide “Aldo Ning Amanung Sisuan” or Kapampangan language day, the release of the first ever Kapampangan rock album, the rise of Ara Muna (“O Jo, Kaluguran Da Ka”) to national fame, the production of the first ever Kapampangan TV drama (“Kalam”), the Cannes Film Festival participation of the Angeles City film “Serbis,” and the winning of “Jay” in Cinemalaya 2008, to name a few.
A reward-system shift
The question now is: how do we cure this illness? I believe it will take the introduction of a Kapampangan-glorifying trend to Kapampangans themselves for this to happen. Hopefully, Cinekabalen will contribute to the propagation of this trend.
Also, it would be highly appreciated if our public officials, academes, and successful entrepreneurs financially aid indie filmmakers who would knock on their doors for the production of their respective Kapampangan works. I believe part of the impressive output of Davao indie filmmaking community is due to the support of the more financially-blessed citizens of their place, like Mayors and businessmen.
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Old photos of Kapampangan stars care of Alex Castro.