Of the very few cash-granting film festivals present in the Philippines, the Cinema One Originals Movie Festival seems to be the boldest when it comes to picking up screenplays from the many aspirants vying for the now-one million peso grant for the production of their films.
While Cinemalaya does a good job producing ten feature films a year which can serve as alternatives to the mainstream, it seems as though—some Pinoy film enthusiasts would agree—it is beginning to box itself in a certain type of genre others would call “the mainstream indie,” or the “typical indie.” That is to say, realistic stories that give emphasis on humanity.
This used to be a good thing because most of the mainstream films produced back then by gigantic studios were purely imagined, ranging from formulaic romantic flicks to slapstick comedies.
Wanted: Creative Imagination
Then came the next problem—the marginalization of creative imagination. Addicted to seemingly true-to-life stories, we have forgotten that humanistic issues can also be artistically expressed in genres like science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even experimental, whatever this genre is.
My favorite “political film” for instance is not a period film or a docu-drama type of work that boasts of a true-story basis. It’s “V For Vendetta,” a cult action-thriller film. It’s social science fiction set in Britain in the year 2038 where the country has come under totalitarian rule. The lead character, V, is a seemingly superhuman anarchist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask attempting to end the fascist dictatorship.
With lines that get quoted even in my Sociology 10 class in UP Diliman, such as “We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail; he can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world,” and “...artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up,” the movie has found its way in my Favorite Movies in both Friendster and Facebook.
Enter the Gothic
It is fascinating how films like “Dilim” and “Yanggaw” have made it to the list of finalists in the past Cinema One Originals. The official synopsis of “Dilim” goes: Dilim is an enigmatic creature that roams the streets at night and does vigilante work, saving innocent victims by literally devouring the villains. Conflict ensues when a do-good policeman goes hot on his trail.
I personally haven’t watched “Dilim,” but the synopsis itself proves that it’s not your typical indie film boxed in the world of realism. Whether “Dilim” has literary and philosophical strengths or not is another issue, but Cinema One’s willingness to produce such type of film is laudable.
“Yanggaw,” a Hiligaynon word for ‘infected,’ is an Ilonggo horror film exploring the life of a family with one member, the daughter, mysteriously becoming sick—she uncontrollably transforms into an aswang crunching on random people in the village every night. Under this dark and fantastic packaging is the screenplay’s tackling of Filipino issues of kinship and community. I was able to watch “Yanggaw” weeks ago at the Cinema Rehiyon Film Festival in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and “Yanggaw” was an impressive alternative to the “mainstream indies.”
Struggle of new fantasy and sci-fi
Our ancestors used to have a lot of interesting stories to tell—from celestial gods that warred in the heavens to a mighty deity that wove the universe like a net, and from a fire-breathing monster tortoise burrowed under Mt. Pinatubo to witches that can burst into flames at will. Even “Ibong Adarna,” which was a required reading back in High School, is of the fantasy genre.
With the risen popularity of socio-realism in literature, the biggest propagator probably being Jose Rizal (although at closer look, Rizal’s novels can be categorized as social science fiction), fantastic fiction has been pushed to the kiddie world, comic books, mainstream television, and that endless series of True Philippine Ghost Stories. Queer works have even become “more mainstream” than fantastic or science fiction. Fantasy that is as praiseworthy as “Lord of the Rings,” or science fiction like “The Matrix” are lacking in bookstores and literary celebrations.
Literary fantasy is slowly being explored in the country though, albeit some have the tendency to go neo-colonial by pretending to be anime fan fiction writers instead of creating new local fantasy. But while speculative fiction is a genre slowly being popularized in certain literary circles, the annual Palanca Awards chose to remove science fiction from its categories, with reasons I am clueless of.
Literary fantasy is showing signs of penetrating movies, mostly alternative ones, as seen in some entries to the Cinema One Originals Movie Festival, but an almost impressive attempt was “Nieves, The Engkanto Slayer,” the third act in “Shake, Rattle, & Roll X.”
Currently, Pinoy science fiction and urban fantasies are rare, and I look forward to seeing films and literary pieces under these genres.
The deadline in submitting screenplays to the Cinema One Originals 2009 has been extended up until March 13. See cinemaone.tv for details.