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Philippines Rising

1.  A Short Film about the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) / Raya Martin, Philippines
2.  Adela / Adolfo Alix Jr., Philippines
3.  Butterflies Have No Memories / Lav Diaz, Philippines-South Korea
4.  Engkwentro / Pepe Diokno, Philippines
5.  Independencia / Raya Martin, Philippines-France-Germany-The Netherlands
6.  Kinatay / Brillante Mendoza, France-Philippines
7.  Lola / Brillante Mendoza, France-Philippines
8.  Manila / Raya Martin, Adolfo Alix Jr., Philippines
9.  Melancholia / Lav Diaz, Philippines
10.  Sewer / Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Philippines
11.  Slingshot / Brillante Mendoza, Philippines
12.  The Muzzled Horse of an Engineer in Search of Mechanical Saddles / Khavn De La Cruz, Philippines
13.  Todo Todo Teros / John Torres, Philippines
14.  Tribe / Jim Libiran, Philippines

As early as its first year, “Independence Days” had the good fortune to discover the tip of the iceberg of what is known as contemporary Filipino cinema in the face of Brillante Mendoza, then a newcomer, whowas attending the Festival with his debut feature Masseur (Masahista). Four years later, Mendoza walked away from Cannes with the Best Director Prize for Kinatay and, just a few months after that, he sent his latest film, Lola, as a “surprise entry” to the Venice Film Festival. Of course, by the same token, I must admit that in the interim we have proved rather conservative, managing to include in our selections only 4-5 films from the Philippines, a country which, nonetheless, was always on our radar screen. The time is finally right, and this year’s “Independence Days” program is featuring an in-depth, comprehensive portrait of a remarkable national cinema, a force to be reckoned with.
A total of fourteen films (besides Bakal Boys in the Festival’s International Competition segment) from 2006 to the present, adequately cover – we hope – a diverse cinematic landscape whose sole common denominator is a low budget and the close collaboration between the names involved – just check out the credits. What else could link Lav Diaz’s epic – both in scope and duration – narrative contemplations, which literally redefine the film viewing experience, with the DIY punk aesthetic of the indefatigable Khavn De La Cruz, who insists on shooting blasphemous, urgent, “filmless films”, in which the only rule is that anything goes? How can you connect the ingenious stylistic anachronisms of Raya Martin, who goes back to the origins of cinema in order to speak about today, with John Torres’s personal, essayistic, digital cinema? Or the delicate balance between verité écriture and poetry achieved by Sherad Anthony Sanchez with Jim Libiran’s frenetic, hip-hop beat and twenty-two-year-old Pepe Diokno’s student (!) debut Engwentro that won two major awards at this year’s Venice Film Festival?
Not that chameleon Adolfo Alix Jr.’s totally different filmic language stopped the director of the moving Adela from working with Raya Martin on the Manila diptych, a tribute to their great teachers, Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka. For, let us not forget that this new generation hasn’t come out of nowhere; it constitutes the glorious continuation of these fine auteurs into the digital age. Perhaps the most typical example of this continuation is the deeply human cinema of Brillante Mendoza, a fine exponent of the realist tradition who, in his film Kinatay, did not hesitate to plumb its deepest limits.
Though many may try to restrict it within the confines of “poor” or “exotic”, Filipino cinema is transmitting on many different wavelengths and promises a bright and, above all, a very exciting future. Simply consider the birth dates of the filmmakers featured in this tribute; the already substantial body of work by Mendoza and Diaz that has gone down in cinematic history; and the reports of an equally impressive crop of films waiting to make their debut next year.

Lefteris Adamidis

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