IN his introduction to the book, Ang Mahaba’t Kagyat na Buhay ng Indie Sinema (which I freely translated as The Long and Urgent Life of Indie Cinema), Aristotle J. Atienza asks us to treat the said phenomenon as a problematique. Within that label of being a cinema and at the same time bearing independence is the ideological aspect of what the book is attempting to define.
How does a cinema with the processes it undergoes and the machineries to which it is systematically subjected become independent, “indie”?
The book, which Villanueva co-edited with Rolando B. Tolentino, asks these and more. It posts an inquiry through the lens of a journey, a multi-brachiated compendium of many travels not by those who reviewed the indies but by the films—as they were screened, presented in competitions, shown hastily in some badly organized forums, viewed/re-viewed over and over, re-edited or mangled for classroom presentations. Composed of essays written by filmmakers and academics, the collection does not discriminate from the thin albeit distinctly confessional, and therefore precious, to the thick description of cinema as cultural artifacts or political economy.
Speaking about the organization of the content of this long life of indie cinema, the introduction recognizes how the complexity of the subject matter per se results in the division escaping or defying categories or classifications (“anumang dibisyon ay laging humuhulagpus upang mapabilang din sa ibang dibisyon…”). The anthology appears to ready itself to make the essays available for many purposes and functions. It says, for example, and as an act of recovery, let us include here the said thoughts in the original language the book’s editors opted it to be: “…ang kabuuang antolohiya ay tinangkang organisahin sa mga suliraning sinusubukan nitong sangkutin at maaaring pag-usapan lalo na sa konteksto ng pag-aaral na isinagawa hindi lamang sa pelikula kundi sa kaugnayan nito sa lipunan, kasaysayan, kultura at kapaligiran.” The entire anthology attempted to organize the issues it aimed to involve and possibly discuss especially in the context of the studies made not only about the film but its connection with society, history, culture and the environment.
There is however another “anyo” or form to contend with in this anthology. Villanueva articulates this other half of the collection in the papers written by the filmmakers themselves again clarified to say that the filmmakers are not necessarily the wellspring of ideas of their own works; rather, we are afforded a look into the process of creating a different kind of film in particular, specific periods given their varied locations and positions within and outside the industry. Well, even that notion of “industry” ultimately becomes problematic in the ruminations that follow within the book.
The fact is the grace of Tolentino and Villanueva in their decision to anthologize essays as disparate as they are divergent brings us to the fundamental inquiry about indie cinema—that in its many manifestations it escapes at the moment, a taming. No symmetry yet can be reached and, perhaps, that is good because, as Villanueva put it anyway, and we agree, no scholarship or research is ever complete and final about anything.
And so from the opening essay of choy pangilinan (all in lowercase) who reminds us like an angry prophet how criticism is never separated from the politics and poverty of the land to Francis Gealogo’s depiction of crime and punishment in selected cinemas and the “jail time” in our colonial mind, we see a sampling of how the regular form of an essay can taunt us, entice us even as we are seduced to wait for more ideas in isolation.
The ruminations abound in the anthology from the musings of Raymond Red to the color separation in Jay Altarejos’s “Ang Pink Cinema ni Jay Altarejos.”
Reflections, memoirs, dispatches, insights—these are the forms of the contributions from Baby Ruth Villarama (documentarian and wondrous storyteller); Ed Lejano (festival director and film scholar admitting being a “film junkie”); Adjani Arumpac (documentarian posting from her memories as a film student in UK); and, Brillante Mendoza telling us “art is one of the main channels of culture.”
The regions are well represented: Robby Tantingco celebrates alliteratively the three works from their land, namely Ari, Area, Aria. Arnel Mardoquio revisits his Mindanao in his career both as a filmmaker and a cultural worker. Christopher Gozum is strong with his agenda as he talks of the “Wikang Pangasinan sa Pelikulang Pangasinense. Gutierrez Mangansakan goes monumental with his memories as he posits the most vital questions to himself both as a filmmaker and a critic. From Bikol, Kristian Sendon Cordero, this time as a writer, obsesses with what obsesses artists from that region—religions and the icons that appear and disappear, and believers who know more than their high priests.
Epilogues are usually quiet passages, as if the editors or writers are bidding goodbyes to audiences that have been remarkably polite or kind to them. Not the epilogue of Rolando Tolentino, which is filled with questions that could not be answered if one especially moves in circles with festival directors and middlemen and middlewomen (for there are those in the “cottage industry of indie cinema,” more or less, the words of Tolentino.)
Films from the regions, alternative cinemas, indie cinemas—the book implies the definition is unfinished. It asks us to disabuse ourselves from the thought that these cinematic forms are now dominant. Let us, like the metaphor in Tolentino’s epilogue, be the frog in a well looking up to its piece of sky, contemplating how the indie has become a king in a small site and moment.
Ang Mahaba’t Kagyat na Buhay ng Indie Cinema is a publication of QCinema International Film Festival and the University of the Philippines Press.