Alben meng manyaman, boy!

February 28, 2009

Call for Entries: Cinekabalen Short Film Competition

Holy Angel University Center for Kapampangan Studies,
Kalalangan Kamaru, and
Circle of Young Angelenos


The 1st Cinekabalen Philippine Film Festival

The short film competition seeks to explore, criticize, promote, empower, and/or describe the Kapampangan experience through independent cinema.

We are looking for short narratives that tell the story and perspective of the Kapampangan people, who, since their pre-Hispanic participation in the affairs of Asia, have been leading diverse lives up to the contemporary times—from the humble rural folks of the riverbanks to the dehumanized drones of highly urban areas, from resilient survivors of the Pinatubo eruption to the aggressive players in national industries, from sun-worshipping dwellers of the mountainside to the strong devotees of Roman Catholicism, from the protesters of social inequality since ancient times to the culturally overloaded youth of the nation, from the migrants forced to live elsewhere for greener pastures to the politically maturing residents making waves in mass media, from the craftsmen who balance business and art to the brown tillers of the plains, etc....

Rules and mechanics of the short film competition:

- The contest is open to everyone, student or professional, Kapampangan or non-Kapampangan, living in the country or abroad, etc. except members of the core organizing committee

- any topic is allowed, as long as it expresses "The Kapampangan Experience"

- entry must be a narrative; no music videos or documentaries

- no limit of number of entries

- because promoting the Kapampangan language is one of the aims of the festival, the dialogues, if any, should predominantly be in Kapampangan. The occasional use of non-Kapampangan languages is allowed as long as used in proper linguistic context.

- setting of the story does not necessarily have to be in Pampanga or other Kapampangan-speaking regions like Tarlac and Bataan

- film must have readable English subtitles

- strictly 10-20 minutes in length; for animated entries, minimum of 5 minutes is allowed

- in digital format (submit final work in playable DVD)

- extreme violence and obscenity and unnecessary abuse of foul language are discouraged, but not prohibited

- use of copyrighted music is not allowed, unless permitted to by the owner of the material

- deadline of entries (final DVD, registration form) will be on July 31; they must be shipped or submitted in person to the Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, Angeles City; the registration form will be downloadable beginning mid-March

- 8 to 12 finalists will be chosen (depending on the quantity of submissions) to compete in the festival; cash prizes and trophies are at stake for the top three best short films, which will be selected by a Board of Judges consisting of experts from the industry; special awards (best male performer, best editing, best screenplay, etc.) will also be given; the competing films will be screened during the actual Cinekabalen Philippine Film Festival in August at the Holy Angel University Theater in Angeles City; an Awards Night will follow

Inquiries: text JASON @ 0918 699 2459 or email

Amateur filmmakers are welcome to consult the organizers regarding their entries

February 24, 2009

"Ding Musa Ning Minalin" documentary

Kalalangan Kamaru presents its second Kapampangan documentary titled Ding Musa Ning Minalin (The Muses of Minalin). Made in a non-traditional no-commentary format, the documentary seeks to present to the world this unique happening in the quiet town of Minalin every New Year's Day.

For Minalenyos, New Year's Day is not just about firecrackers and noise barrages. It's also about real men dressed in gowns. Watch the documentary here:

Director, Editor: Diego Marx Dobles
Exec Prod, Subtitles: Jason Paul Laxamana
Camera: Dobles, Laxamana
Prod Assts: Bevs Esguerra, Thea Lelay
Local Coordinator: Jon Juico

February 22, 2009

The Curious Case of Kapampangan Cinema

A personal account of a Cinema Rehiyon participant
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
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.

The root

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

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.

Cultural farsightedness

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.

Please email reactions to

Old photos of Kapampangan stars care of Alex Castro.

February 17, 2009

The 1st Cinekabalen Philippine Film Festival

Makiabe na ka!

It is time for the Kapampangans to participate in the next wave of Philippine Cinema by holding its first ever Kapampangan Film Festival! The Cinekabalen Philippine Film Festival will be an annual event that will aim:

• To make people, especially Kapampangans, aware of the existence of Philippine Kapampangan cinema and to celebrate the capability of Kapampangans to make films
• To encourage Kapampangans, especially students, to make films that tackle the Kapampangan experience
• To promote the patronization of the Kapampangan language for aspiring filmmakers
• To hone the skills of aspiring Kapampangan student filmmakers through seminars, lectures, and workshop
• Provide a venue for aspiring competent filmmakers to showcase their work/s
• To organize a cooperative film community or network among the Kapampangans, especially universities with communication courses

The highlights of the festival will be: 1) the screening of Philippine Kapampangan full-length films, short films, music videos, and documentaries; 2) panel discussions on indie filmmaking; and 3) a short film competition.

Rules and mechanics of the short film competition:

- everyone is allowed to join (no age limit), except members of the core organizing committee

- animated entries are also allowed

- no music videos, only narratives

- no limit of number of entries

- dialogues must mainly be in Kapampangan

- setting of the story does not necessarily have to be in Pampanga or other Kapampangan-speaking regions like Tarlac and Bataan

- film must have English subtitles

- strictly 10-20 minutes in length

- in digital format (submit final work in playable DVD)

- any topic is allowed

- extreme violence and obscenity and unnecessary abuse of foul language are discouraged

- use of copyrighted music is not allowed

- deadline of entries (final DVD, registration form) will be on July 31; they must be shipped or submitted in person to the Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, Angeles City

- 8 to 10 finalists will be chosen (depending on the quantity of submissions) to compete in the festival; prizes are at stake for the top three best short films; special awards (best male performer, best editing, best screenplay, etc.) will also be given

Inquiries: text JASON @ 0918 699 2459 or email


February 16, 2009

A review of the Filipino Kapampangan film “Jay”

Exposing the Dark Side of Public Service TV Shows
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

Weeks ago, another independent film, directed by a Manila-raised Kapampangan, Francis Xavier Pasion, was screened in SM Cinemas. It can be remembered that the film “Jay” has been chosen as the best film of Cinemalaya 2008 Full-length Category for its interesting story and almost flawless execution. Recently, it has also participated in various film competitions abroad, making it one of the best Filipino films of 2008.

“Jay” tells the story of two Jays—one a high school teacher in Pampanga who was stabbed to death in Manila by a masseur (let’s call him Jay 1), and the other, played realistically by Baron Geisler, an aggressive and equally homosexual field reporter for a TV station called Channel 8 (Jay 2). Jay 2 works for a program that features people who have been slain unjustly, and in the film, that victim is the teacher Jay.

The impressive detail of the film can probably be greatly attributed to the director, who has been working in broadcast media before deciding to cross over to film. As an insider, he should know the dark side of public service TV shows.

The Kapampangan Setting

The film is set in the less progressive parts of Bacolor, Pampanga, and a few scenes in Manila, where Jay 2 resides. If one would see the film and take it as the sole representation of Pampanga in the world of Philippine cinema, we would think that the province is all throughout a poor town buried under lahar, with backward-minded people going crazy over the presence of Manila media people.

The San Guillermo Church of Bacolor makes another appearance, the first being in Brillante Mendoza’s ‘Kaleldo.’ A local school, the name of which I am not very sure of (I think it was DHVCAT), where Jay 1 was supposed to be teaching was shown as well.

There were a few main Kapampangan dialogues and ambient Kapampangan dialogues in scenes that featured public places such as the funeral. If we are to listen carefully, we would hear that the ambient Kapampangan dialogues are just being repeated over and over—which is fine. I only find it amusing because I noticed it.

Manila and Manipulation

Like ‘Masahista,’ ‘Jay’ is another film that shows how Manila does the bad “F” word to Pampanga. The catch of the film is that Jay 2, a media worker from Manila, manipulates the whole happening for it to be dramatic enough to be featured on television, in the disguise of public service.

The respondents of interviews, on the other hand, contribute to the dramatization of the whole crime, by exaggerating their emotions in front of the camera—a proof that Manila media have turned us into soap opera actor-wannabes feeling all sorts of pressure when a video camera is pointed at us, as if we are auditioning to another season of Pinoy Big Brother.

The film starts with a TV documentary that reminds us of shows like ‘Wish Ko Lang’ and ‘Lukso Ng Dugo.’ It tells the life and clean reputation of Jay 1 as a teacher, as a friend, as a lover, as a son, and other roles he animates in society. It also shows the painful expressions of sadness by people who hold Jay 1 dear, including a Mayor who mightily declares justice for the murderer.

After the documentary, we are actually exposed to how the documentary was produced. We are taken to scenes where Jay 2 adds and/or omits pieces of truth from the interviews in order to compose a good episode for his show.

For instance, the weeping of the mother when she first saw the dead body of her son was actually a third take. The first take—which was the genuine coverage—had some technical problems, so Jay 2 had to ask Nanay Luz to re-enact the weeping. Another omission of reality was the reason the masseur (played by JC Castro of Angeles University Foundation) stabbed Jay 1 to death—Jay 1 tried to sodomize him. We see Jay 2 telling his editor to take away that part because it’s not for general patronage.

We also see Jay 2 becoming close to his respondents, such as Nanay Luz, Jay 1’s sister, and the shy straight-acting secret lover of Jay 1, played believably by Coco Martin—only for us to realize in the long run that Jay 2’s motive is to extract more controversial pieces of information from them to sensationalize his story more.

It was shown at the end of the film that Jay 2 is not really concerned with the plight of the less fortunate—that his public servant image is just part of his profession. After work, he’s an ordinary person passive of the issues of society. Jay 2 is being begged for money by a street kid, whom he shoos away with bad temper. I believe this is a character that represents many of well-known personalities who project themselves as beacons of justice and public service on mass media, but in truth are mere self-centered laborers of society.

Pampanga Projected

‘Jay’ is another addition to the growing roster of Philippine Kapampangan films, and I am very proud that they have all been making waves in NCR and abroad. The only challenge now is for these films to make waves in their hometown: Pampanga. When I, along with two friends, watched the film at SM Clark, there were only five of us in the cinema.

Yet again, ‘Jay’ is another addition to the growing roster of Kapampangan films that project Pampanga as a hub of backwards people who have been living mundane and traditional lives ever since the 1991 Pinatubo eruption. So now, I am still waiting for the full-length Filipino Kapampangan film that would tackle the urban life of Kapampangans. It would sure diversify the collection, don’t you think?

Ferdie Lapuz, the distributor of the film (and the distributor of most of Mendoza’s films), told me that Pasion’s next film will be about the Malaya Lolas—that group of women raped in Mapaniqui during the Japanese occupation, but only came forward to tell their story recently. A Kapampangan period film—now that’s interesting!

Images care of Paolo Feliciano.

February 9, 2009

Kapampangan tries Ateneo Video Open 10

Kalalangan Kamaru tried to join in the annual Ateneo Video Open (AVO), since I am still a college undergrad. We entered four of our Kapampangan works in three categories:

Balangingi (Nosebleed) - Short Narrative category
Ing Bangkeru (The Boatman) - Short Narrative category
Sexmoan Adventures - Documentary category
Alang Anggang Sugat - Music Video category

All these are viewable on YouTube.

Out of the four entries that we submitted, only one was fortunate enough to be deemed "finalist worthy" by the Loyola Film Circle of Ateneo De Manila University: Sexmoan Adventures.

I am not quite sure of what AVO is looking for, and I sometimes scratch my head thinking why some of our entries, especially the music video, didn't make it as finalist when you take a look via YouTube the chosen finalists. Maybe we just love our works too much, or maybe beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. But sociologically speaking, since it's a contest and they're the screeners, we would have to accept their judgment—at least for the AVO. It's their contest anyway.

On the bright side, Sexmoan Adventures, a Kapampangan documentary, made it to the finals and we are delighted. However, knowing the entry An Pasko Ni Tinyo by a fellow Iskolar Ng Bayan, I have already told my fellow Kamaru members that I am personally seceding to that fine piece of craft, which has already garnered the Best Thesis title in UP, Best Student Docu in the Catholic Mass Media Awards, and second prize in CCP's Gawad Alternatibo.

Documentary and Experimental finalists will be screened on February 13 at ADMU. We'll try to be there just to live the spirit of friendly competition. Although really, we expect to come home empty-handed (in some other year, oh sweet cash prize and trophy!).

Never mind that we spent P400 for the reg fee of the four entries (P100 each). Never mind that we had two batches of shipping to Ateneo from Pampanga worth P450 (P225 each). Not to mention the DVDs (three copies per entry, so all in all, 12 DVDs were purchased). That's a total of about P1,000 in participating in this contest (an amount which I can earn in one week, thanks to my twice-a-week journalistic stint in a local newspaper)!

Our sole fulfillment is the capability of a Kapampangan work to stand side by side with other finalists.

Good luck to all the finalists!

February 8, 2009

Brillante Mendoza’s ‘Manoro’ and the Captive Audience

Last January 31, despite the students of Holy Angel University celebrating their annual U-Days, many of them—about a thousand—were required to attend the screening of two of Brillante Mendoza’s alternative films, the first of which was ‘Manoro’ (The Aeta Teacher). I believe it is the first ever film that featured the aborigines of the Philippines and the first film to get Aytas as the main cast. Plus, the language is 95% in Ayta language (that type which is spoken in Sapang Bato, Angeles City, where the setting of the film is), 3% in Kapampangan, and 2% in English.

The story is set during the presidential election time which pitted Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against Fernando Poe, Jr. and Ping Lacson. Having graduated from elementary, a young Ayta girl named Jonalyn Ablong took the initiative to teach the elders of her tribe how to basically write the possible ballot entries—GMA, FPJ, or LACSON—to allow her people to participate in the democratic process.

In the end though, Jonalyn learned that it ain't as easy as it seems, as many of her tribesmen prefer to gather food than to “waste their time” voting. Enthusiastic ones didn’t find voting easy as well, as some of them are not in the list of registered voters, and some couldn’t recall properly how to write their ballot entries during the election itself.

I have first watched this film in Quezon City back when I was a college student year 2006. Checking out the cinemas to see what movie to watch, I came across the poster containing an Ayta girl holding out a blackboard like a teacher with elder Aytas surrounding her, listening intently like obedient grade school students. Upon seeing that it was a co-production with Holy Angel University and that it was part of the Digital Lokal competition of the Cinemanila Film Festival, I bought a ticket.

Oh, and let’s not forget that it was a Brillante Mendoza film after all, and knowing his excellence in filmmaking and impressive cultural detailing in his movies, it was impossible for me not to watch. Later on, ‘Manoro’ would win the Digital Lokal competition and the film, like Mendoza’s other films, would impress film fest audiences from around the world—from Rome to Torino.

Almost Empty Seats

There weren’t many of us inside the cinema at SM when I watched ‘Manoro,’ and we can expect this from alternative films, especially those which do not possess well-known actors in them. In my observation, the only films that can draw a relatively big audience in spite of casting unknown characters are films that have enough nudity in them—mostly male; films that objectify young and sexy studs to the delight of a rowdy gay and bisexual viewers.

The second time I watched ‘Manoro’ was in Robinson’s Indie Sine, a sanctuary for alternative film, with two friends whom I often speak with regarding culture and film as tool in empowering the marginalized. Also watching were Kidlat Tahimik—the Father of Philippine Independent Cinema—and his equally long-haired son, whom we are facially familiar with because he is an alumnus of our organization in the UP College of Mass Communication.

Even though Kidlat Tahimik was very impressed with the film like my friends, I couldn’t help notice the pitiful number of viewers inside a cinema which can cater to about 300 to 500 pairs of eyes. Evidently, Filipinos are not ready for these kind of films, especially because ‘Manoro’ is shot in neorealist treatment, making it seem like a documentary even though the whole thing is scripted. In one festival abroad, Mendoza even claimed that the organizers categorized ‘Manoro’ under the documentary category, not knowing that the film was actually a fictitious narrative but strongly based on actual research.

Captive Audience

This is no surprise even for Mendoza. Before the film was screened at the auditorium of HAU, the director admitted that he was expecting the film to probably bore the students. Robby Tantingco, Director of the school’s Kapampangan Center, had the same fear. Alas, both of their expectations were right, as the viewers began sinking in their seats like siesta-taking folks, as the film proceeded to the parts that showed Jonalyn and his father taking long treks in the mountains in search for Grandpa who went out to Apo-Namalyari-knows-where to hunt.

I was even hearing the students seated close to me asking, “Maluat ya pa kaya?” Being average students, I assume, they were not interested to follow the story at all and were just waiting for the film to end. After all, they were there as captive audience, a term which I heard from Jim Libiran, director of Cinemalaya 2007’s ‘Tribu,’ who was a panelist in Marilou Diaz Abaya Film Institute’s “Mainstream Loves Indie” at Antipolo.

In harsher words, they were forced to pay fifty pesos, watch the movie, and perhaps whip up a decent reaction paper that would fulfill their partial requirements in their respective classes.

Who’s at Fault?

In such situations, who is at fault? The audience, whom intellectual snobs would brand as people who need to be smarter in order to comprehend such wonderful pieces of art like ‘Manoro,’ or the director and/or producer, who is so eager to explore his neorealist style, forgetting the psychographics of the mainstream-dazed audience?

As a director, Mendoza stands by his artwork. Even though he expects a lot of people to not understand the point of his films, he believes that as long as he can touch one or two people from his audience and cause them to think and act upon going out from the theater house, he has already achieved something. But if he shifts to producer mentality, of course, the filmmaker can be blamed, because of his failure to communicate the idea interestingly to their target viewers. The producer then is also at fault because he allowed that to happen.

But who are the target viewers of ‘Manoro’ anyway? Is it the Filipinos? Is it the cinephiles of other countries? Is it the people with the same concept of art or film as the director? The success of the producer really depends on the answer to this question.

Don’t get me wrong, however. ‘Manoro’ is one of the best Philippine films for me, as one can see in the Favorite Movies section of my Friendster account. But things become dimmer upon taking into account the reaction of the masses, the opinion of whom I value so much in the film industry. After all, that's one of the subject matters of the Ayta film—democracy.

February 2, 2009

Ima the Musical: Old Women not in Sepia

Mother’s Day in Pampanga just got earlier as last January 30 at the Holy Angel University Auditorium, Teatru Ima at Arti (Maarti) staged “Ima,” a Kapampangan musical. Lots of popular local figures—who can make up some percent of the province’s alta sociedad—were present during the show, dressed in their respective formal wear, mostly Filipiniana, along with some media coverers and cultural workers. And let’s not forget the amigos and amigas of the performers of Maarti, who come in seemingly complete families, along with English- and Tagalog-speaking children of Kapampangan descent.

It began with a Kapampangan prayer, followed by the national anthem in the Kapampangan (Lawiwing Pambansang Filipinu) and the Imnu Ning Kapampangan, both lyrics of which most of the audience really had no idea of. I myself haven’t memorized the lyrics of the national anthem in Kapampangan despite hearing it on several occasions already.

And then the show began with Kapampangan women aged 50 and above showcasing their thespian skills. They didn’t need much acting experience because they were acting as themselves—old Kapampangan women, albeit scattered in different roles: from wet market vendors to tailors and from elites to senile homemakers. Some lines namedrop pop culture icons during olden times, which the youth will not surely be able to relate to, but the show is a nice way to get to know a bit about our elders’ idols when they were young.

No Men on Stage

All throughout the musical, one will not see a phallic creature on stage—let’s call this creature a man. Names of husbands and male relatives are dropped in several occasions, but we do not see these guys. Why? Probably because most scenes are set at home, where the woman reigns supreme, and is exactly one of the goals of the musical: to explore the traditional world of old women.

The show could also delight some feminists, as some acts touch lightly on women’s issues such as unpaid home labor, the woman’s contested ability to earn money even while working at home, the disregard for elders, and the treatment of women as sex objects.

Ageism, the type that discriminates aged people, is also tackled in the musical. The matriarch of the group is all grumpy and disappointed with how life has been as an aging woman, because she feels as though she is being forgotten by her family, but she didn’t know that they were organizing a surprise birthday party for her—something rarely done nowadays.

Lastly, the musical emphatically asserts the honorable role of mothers in society and how their love for their children is distinct and seemingly unbreakable. With the tickets sold out, I have been informed that a re-staging is called for, and probably, it would fall on May, on Mother’s Day.

Arti Liberated

One thing different about “Ima” compared to the other musicals directed by Andy Alviz is its liberation from “ruralism” and linguistic purism, which could raise some eyebrows among cultural workers, but to me is just dandy and fine.

Even though the musical is said to be in Kapampangan, it was actually in three languages, as it had portions of Tagalog, English, and Taglish song numbers. Contemporary expressions like “you want,” “excuse me,” and “okay” also find their way in the Kapampangan dialogues, which in previous works like “Siwala the Musical,” weren’t welcome.

A new thing with “Ima” too is the exploration of other settings other than Pampanga, as in the second half of the musical, we see the group of old (but strong) Kapampangan women taking a trip to downtown Manila—well-emphasized in a cute song which I assume is titled “Downtown”—unaccompanied by any man, while wearing colorful, exquisite clothes that remind me of Carmi Martin in high social class roles. In the story, they get naughty whistles from Manilenyo men (unseen on stage) and complain how ‘bastus’ they are. One of the characters, funnily played by the President of Maarti, challenges the whistlers to a sparring using hilarious Kapampanganized Tagalog, but retreats anyway. She is, for me, the best performer of the night.

For a cause

The finest thing about the musical is that the proceeds are bound to go to foundations that aid society in educational, cultural, spiritual, and women-related development. Aside from adding more color to the lives of the performers who are in their golden years, it is also good to know that the movement towards Kapampangan cultural development has made use of our senior citizens. This makes it a proof that everyone, regardless of class, age, religion, or town, can contribute to Kapampangan empowerment.

Congratulations to the director, staff, and of course, the beautiful cast: Ma. Frieda O. Hizon, Ma. Theresa “Tess” Laus, Marita “Rita” G. Villanueva, Agnes “Anette” Romero, Lina Francisco Velez, Roxanne Flor “Roxie” Gorospe, Macaria Teresita “Siobe” Co, Maria Amio “Maygold” Guintu, Theng Villaluna, Marilou “Malou” Bianzon Garbes, Agnes “Bondee” M. Dinio, Dita Dayrit Patawaran, Bess Tranquilino, Beth Masangcay, Josephine Gozun, Ma Czarina “Rina” O. Alarcon, Doren Tayag, Victoria “Vicky” C. Segundo, Ma. Lourdes “Des” Deang, Carmen “Meng” Mc Tavish, Leonor “Nor” S. Pineda, Maritess Ramos Punsalan, Germinia “Germie” C. Villanueva, Divina “Vina” O. Tayag, Corito Rose O. Tayag, Caridad Tanciangco, Marsha Nepomuceno, Cleofe Umlas, Evelyn “Leny” dela Cruz, and Let Panganiban.