‘Balangingi’ is ETC Best Short Film Awardee
Why are Kapampangan artworks awarded in other places but not in the province?
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Central Luzon Daily
World Trade Center, Metro Manila—our Kapampangan short film ‘Balangingi’ (Nosebleed) wins the ETC Award for Best Short Film at the First Philippine Digital (Phil Digi) Music and Short Film Awards last March 12. Competing in a certainly Tagalog-dominated category, ‘Balangingi,’ in spite of being the only regional language entry, still impressed the Board of Judges from Entertainment Central (ETC), causing them to declare it the winner.
‘Balangingi’ tells the story of Xoo, who seems to be a standard teenager who lives boringly like everyone else, but unknown to people in his surroundings is what happens in his head—philosophizing about things average people would deem mundane, down to the minutest detail. One day, he is forced to attend a blind date. To avoid turning off his date, he struggles to suppress his intellectual side. The short film gives a peek to that minority in Philippine society who are unlikely to survive socially by being themselves—the Filipino intellectuals. Thus, the negative connotation of the local word “pilosopo” when it’s supposed to mean a lover of wisdom (philosopher).
According to the official website of the Phil Digi Awards: “There have been a lot of songs composed that are worth listening to. Quality short films are created even with low budget but are amazingly filled with art, ideas and moral values. Unfortunately, because of budget constraints, tough competition in getting radio airplays and film screens, and lack of knowledge, these great songs and films are being shelved. This is why iSYS Business Solutions and Blue Fish Asia came up with first Philippine Digital Music and Short Film Festival.”
As usual, being a cultural worker seeking to empower the Kapampangan identity, I participated in the contest to “advertise” what Kapampangan can offer.
Note: I said what Kapampangan can offer, not what Kapampangans can offer. There’s a difference. It’s easy to show the world that Kapampangans (by blood) can be excellent. But oftentimes, these Kapampangans drop their being a Kapampangan—either consciously or not—to command the spotlight unto them. This, in my opinion, doesn’t empower the Kapampangan identity much. Whenever this happens, I just shake my head and whisper, “We’ve lost another one.”
In the venue of the Phil Digi Awards, there were huge tarpaulins where participants and guests can write anything—a freedom wall. Amidst the Pinoy pride slogans, individual promotions, and indie artist empowerment statements, we decided to write a message: “Kapampangan Ku, Pagmaragul Ku.”
Hours passed, and messages became more cramped in the tarpaulins. Checking out the “Kapampangan Ku, Pagmaragul Ku” again, we were surprised to see a reply written by a certain Larry, saying, “Kapampangan ku mu rin!”
Fast forward. ‘Balangingi’ was declared winner in the ETC category. I went up the stage to nervously deliver the first acceptance speech of my life—which started with “Mayap a bengi pu” and ended with a message on promoting Philippine cultural diversity—before an audience of both indie and mainstream artists, while being covered by the media.
And then we left, but not before checking out again the tarpaulin. Another reply, written by someone else, was suddenly added: “Aliwa la talaga ring Kapampangan!”
Perhaps we need more of these, as I call them, contemporary sources of Kapampangan pride—those that genuinely bring elements of Kapampangan identity to a more prestigious ground. For if we keep on drawing pride from Kapampangans who are successful but don’t carry with them elements of our identity (such as language, heritage, etc.), then we’re perpetuating the idea that the path to being successful is to drop our Kapampangan identity, when it is very possible to stick with Kapampangan (or make it the foundation of our works) and still get national or even global recognition.
The very reason I join film, music, and other competitions outside Pampanga is because Pampanga doesn’t have these. Hence, if I depended on what the province has, then I would have no means of increasing the symbolic value of my works, in spite of some of them probably being valuable to a certain degree.
There are no renowned music awards in Pampanga that would honor the best of the locally produced original songs annually; only specialized areas like those Battle of the Bands and so-so solo and choral singing contests. There are no film festivals. There are no province-wide literary contests except for municipality-level poetry tilts that produce Poet Laureates irregularly.
In result, a lot of Kapampangan artists who wish to prove something, feast their eyes on Manila and other countries, where it is actually easier to get formal acclamation than in their own homeland, just for the sole reason that the province doesn’t care much about the artistic capabilities of its residents, as seen in the scarcity of serious award-giving bodies.
An unrelenting source of funds, a board of credible judges, sincere support from the government, and media hype—these are the key ingredients in carrying out annual contests which are supposed to be looked forward to by the community, and looked up to by the people. Emerging as a first-time victor in these contests should make one feel as if he has undergone a birth of fire. He should feel several notches prouder, being aligned with the past winners who are supposed to be icons of excellence, as well.
But we have none. Probably the highest award from the province that can be bestowed to a writer, musician, visual artist, photographer, filmmaker, or actor would be the Most Outstanding Kapampangan Award for Culture and the Arts. So all your life, you have to struggle with your craft, reap awards from anywhere but your homeland, and when you have enough nice foreign awards up your sleeve, that’s when the province honors you.
But the province itself doesn’t make impressive actions in encouraging the best in the various areas of art.
Contests are often held because they serve significant purposes—to encourage the creation of excellent artworks amidst art being a financially unrewarding career path in the country (especially in the province), and to invite the participation of the community in a certain field of art.
In a seemingly robotic world where almost everyone is reduced to a mechanical being tasked to perform a dehumanizing routine to survive, sustainable development in the arts will remind people of their humanistic side. I believe that the acknowledgment and exploration of our humanistic side prevent us from being insane from routines; and permit us to choose wisely and embrace elegant world views that will guide us sensibly in our decisions in life.
I know for a fact though that fields of art like music and sculpture thrive both in rural and urban Pampanga, but as Phil Digi Awards mentioned, these are usually shelved. They are made, but not distributed. Not all of them are excellent, but I’m sure a couple are, and they deserve to be known.
Now I ask: What efforts does the province make to seek for these artworks that deserve attention? What steps does the province take to collect these pieces of consciousness, which in the far future will remind the people how the art scene—which reflects culture, too—in Pampanga used to be?
Pampanga is becoming more and more like a parent who doesn’t care much about the promising talent of his/her child. What will the child do? He will either suppress his talent out of discouragement and choose the “more practical ways of life” (read: be like everyone else, go where the flow is, don’t innovate, don’t lead, just follow); or he will seek for other people who will greatly acknowledge his skill—and stick with those people in spite of not having the same blood relation.
Or is Pampanga that poor for it to not think about these things? I thought we were boasting of economic progress for the past years. If indeed we are poor, doesn’t the Pampanga government bother to take advantage of national grants, like for example, those of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, to organize decent tilts?
If this is how lifeless the Kapampangan region will be in the realm of arts, then let me have my second thoughts on federalism and having a separate state for Kapampangans.