Nabunturan and films from the valley

tito-genova-valienteIT was a place far off. You sensed the distance when mountains and hills appeared so close, they felt like they were hugging the road. The name of the place where we were going—Nabunturan —to meant that, a place bounded by mountains.

That morning of the 18th of September, we flew from Manila to Davao upon the invitation of the Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition (Nabifilmex) through its festival director, lawyer Karen Santiago-Malaki.

The festival is on its third year and is supported by the Municipal Tourism Council of Nabunturan. Arts and culture, two fields that are not usually priorities of local government units, are the central concern of the town and this festival, that brings independent films to the masses.

When we arrived that Friday, the sky was overcast and soon the rains came. The weather had been the problem of the organizers but the people, we were informed, came and stayed with their umbrellas. An open-air cinema is the main feature of the festival, with the inflatable screen enabling images in good resolutions.

We saw this interest in films, indie films and not mainstream films, by the people of Nabunturan during the awards night. The rain started to fall in the late afternoon, and we were hoping it would stop by 7  in the evening. But the rain became even stronger. We were about to give up having the awarding in the town plaza, but Karen was not keen about transferring the event to another venue. At about 8 in the evening, the rain was reduced to trickles, and we all proceeded to the plaza. Tents were hoisted near the stage and people were huddling under them. When the rain stopped, more people standing around the park joined the throng.

Honored that night were films from Calabarzon and films earlier shown in the Cinema Rehiyon held in Cebu in  August this year. One film is titled Wawa, and is directed by Anj Macalanda. The film abstracts the landscape that serves as backdrop for a boy’s journey to bring his father to his final resting place. The river, the forest and the mountains are captured by Arnel Barbarona, cinematographer, and renders the rhythm of the film. Poetic, but not sentimental, the film seems to breathe its own music, the images are measured to move from one feeling to another, each atmosphere shading the plot into an end that is not an end, but a tremor about how we humans are guided by the quiet of our heart.

Two short films from Nabifilmex took my breath away. One is called Supot and the other Tamiaw. The filmmakers are Department of Education teachers from the neighboring town of Monkayo. They are, according to Karen, products of the Sine Indie Film Workshop conducted before.

The short film Supot shows a young man doing something in a bathroom.  Whatever it was, it was not making him comfortable. The scene shows the man going out of the room to welcome the children to the classroom. He would conduct the class. But he would go to the bathroom again and fix something with his body. Finally, the camera goes down and shows what it was that gave him pain. He was fitting into a tube a plastic sheet that would collect his bodily waste. Months back, the man was knifed and this was the result. In that final scene, he grimaces and squirms. But as soon as he is able to arrange his shirt, he goes out. With a huge, warm smile on his face, he welcomes the children back to the classroom, like any regular teacher.

The other film, Tamiaw, which, following the multiawarded filmmaker Arnel Mardoquio, means “absolute serenity,” is the story of a lumad mother and her little boy experiencing government aid. The mother goes to an automated teller machine and faces up to how the literate people will treat her. Even the tricycle driver charges her too much. The final scene shows her paying her debt to the sari-sari store owner.

Both films are winners for their candor and sincerity, which makes their politics gripping. These two films do not have the pretension of many filmmakers based in big cities. Do not call these films raw and crude; that is the bias of Western critics who always claim sophistication as benchmark for their own, while films from the periphery always owe their charms to their unfinished appearance.

There are other winners in Nabunturan. These are the people who have the mind to try other new “art” forms, like indie films. Reel and real are not dichotomized in Nabunturan. Art remains long but not exotic, because even the rain could not stop the townsmen from being film viewers. There are the other winners, the young men and women who run the event. Karen is helped by her husband, Rocky Malaki, who is a lawyer-filmmaker. Bryan Gimenez played a crucial role in the festival. Mardoquio served as mentor to many filmmakers, even as he continues to document the Mindanao that, I always say, we do not know and, perhaps, will never know.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts provided a significant fund to enable Nabunturan to be a major film festival while remaining at the periphery and serve as the lesson for the triumph of the local.

E-mail: titovaliente@yahoo.com

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