ON June 18 the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino will once more honor two film forms that have undergone creative and radical shifts, and evolutions for the last few years.
There are documentaries now that blur the line between the real—the realities out there—and the imagination of the filmmaker. This gave rise to the so-called “creative documentary.”
Short films, while it’s still the technology where film directors try on their ideas, have become mediums to tell narratives of various themes. Amazing always are the short films and the range of topics that “short” structures can articulate.
For Gawad Urian 2019, the documentaries nominated deal with themes that one can situate in the socioeconomic status of the land—be this in terms of the local arts of particular sites or within the frames of the colonized conditions of this country.
Two documentaries are about the abject poverty prevalent in the country. Four families live in the peripheries of Manila’s busiest international port. Ships of bounty and wealth dock near their houses. Violence need not be bloody as in the case of this film, where destructive poverty is at the core of the narrative.
Another film deals with the “dead season,” when nothing happens anymore—there is no planting and no harvesting. The farmers have to find jobs elsewhere. One day they realize that the land they are tilling is to be converted into a memorial park, a real place for the dead.
Violence is at the core of a mockumentary, which chronicles the antics of an actor known for his outbursts. He displays this sense of mayhem and danger even as the story of this country unfolds in the histories of transgression manufactured by the Duterte administration. A fight that ensues at the end regales the audience, which also leaves them grasping at any line to distinguish fact from fiction.
In another documentary, a filmmaker records the life of her brother as the latter enters a college and attempts to belong in that new setting. As she follows her brother and observes more, she realizes the inability of her sibling to navigate life is also a behavior she sees in her daughter.
Two dancers have lives that do not intertwine but rather are linked by what they do. One comes from a privileged family who sees herself not following the path of her kin; another is so poor that you wonder where the approval of his parents with regards to his being a dancer emanate from. From another poor family, a young boy, for some reason, falls in love with dancing. A teacher who is not exactly well-to-do is in the middle of these dreams amid the most elite of dance traditions—the ballet.
A Filipina transwoman is murdered by a US Marine and her story once more captures the problem of justice in a land that is heavily invested in US imperialism. Three persons pursue the case and brave the wall of injustice put up by a nation still connected to her colonizer. These persons are an activist lawyer, a transgender journalist and the mother of the victim herself.
A documentary on sculpture completes the list of nominees. In this documentary, the transformation of a piece of wood into an icon that is going to be a sacred artefact happens while a town with its troupe of nonactors stage the Passion of the Christ. Rituals, iconographies and the question or admission of faith provide the colorful framework for this film.
The short films nominated for this year’s film concourse of the oldest critics group in the country range from a rhapsody built around a poem to a weaving tradition propelled by a dream; from an animation to a drama about ending, to a meditation on depression; from an animation to an animated tragicomic slice-of-life filmed using a mobile
phone; from a rite of passage to a movement from one place to another just to achieve peace; and from a childhood whose certainty is bracketed by a dangerous livelihood to a life with the most dangerous nocturnal person.
In one short film, a restaurant is doomed from the perspective of a waiter who has to deal with all kinds of people even as he contemplates the loss of his job.
The only animated film nominated this year is about an old man feeling all the guilt and recriminations. His anxieties and insecurities assume material forms even as he attempts to reconcile with his son.
A generic name for all men in the city and in the country brings us the story of a man who employs the services of a teenager to perform the role of his son in front of his macho father. Issues about acceptance and identities abound in this work.
In another short film, a young man grieving the death of his mother breaks the rules sacred to his community: he weaves a T’nalak, doing an act that is limited to women. An abaca spirit visits him in his dreams and guides him in the journey.
A filmmaker in this short film changes the voice of the poem, from female to male. The experience is ordinary—a woman rides a local motorcycle service, called habal-habal, with a driver she likes. Extraordinarily, in a man’s voice, the poetry conjures a dream world, fragmented, and fluid in an environment and the spaces it provides to poems and persons.
The spaces provided by nature is the topic of another short film. A river is the only thing that separates two brothers for their reunification. Who shall cross the river first so that we would be kin again? The river, which is of the natural, becomes that of the political in this work that serves as a metaphor for Mindanao and the rest of the regions in the country.
Children and their experiences propel the narrative of this short film: they are seen in classrooms and homes, places that should shelter and protect them. But their childhood is also found in a place where mountains have been transformed into dangerous mining areas. It seems the mines are where they eventually end in.
Shot entirely with a mobile phone, a feat perfected by this generation of young filmmakers, this short film details the conversation between an aging foreigner with his young Filipina friend who, we assume, is if not already a prospective lover. The young woman is beautiful because that is the only scenario presented by the mobile phone.
The dark and menacing creature of our lore—the aswang—bears a term of endearment in this short film. The hacienda, the peasant workers, and the loyal servants of the big house all work together to keep the aswang alive, a dark, dark tribute to the fidelity encouraged out of farm workers to their landlords.
The title in all its elliptical charm says it all: To remain is to have been left is about a woman who looks out from a ledge. She is shown about to jump off that point but a sound comes from somewhere and she looks to where it is coming from. That noise is the distraction that stops her from jumping off the building, till that noise stops and….
The nominees are:
- Patrick Alcedo, Dancing Manilenyos
- Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldo, Ang Pag-ukit sa Paniniwala
- Daniel Madrid, Pagkatapos ng Tigkiwiri
- Jewel Maranan, Sa Dantaong Palad na Kulang
- Manuel Mesina III, Beastmode: A Social Experiment
- PJ Raval, Call Her Ganda
- Wena Sanchez, All Grown Up
Best Short Film
- Shaira Advincula, Tembong (Connecting)
- Joji Villanueva Alonso, Last Order
- Mervine Aquino, Baguio Address No. 10
- Elvert Bañares, Pamati-I bala ang akon ihutik nga binalaybay (Listen to the poems I will whisper)
- Lawrence Fajardo, Inday
- Bagane Fiola, Pulangui
- Joseph Gacutan, ’Wag mo ’kong Kausapin
- Andrew Stephen Lee, Manila is Full of Men Named Boy
- Pam Miras, To Remain is To Have Been Left
- Arjanmar Rebeta, Palabas
- Jarell Serencio, Siyudad sa Bulawan (City of Gold)