Thanks to Chi, I got a free ticket to the 5th Mindanao Film Festival, a showcase of 15 independent films from young filmmakers in Davao. As far as the movies I saw went, the festival had more misses than hits; nevertheless, still a worthwhile endeavor, if only to see what can be done in the future.
Some kind words first, lest you think I'm being too harsh: the films let me see Davao in a different light. Viewed through the artists' lenses, the city gains focus if only because so much is left out. Well-worn Davao becomes unfamiliar territory once more, and therefore new and filled with possibilities.
Ang Gugmang Nag-alirong kay Mateo: sponsored by the Foursquare Gospel Church, the movie follows the tragic life of a wayward son as he descends into a gang life of drugs and petty crime. As can be expected, Mateo turns out quite preachy -- literally. The shaky cinematography means to evoke grittiness, but only made me dizzy. The cuts in the music I found to be quite jarring. I left the screening after 30 minutes and came in just in time to catch the predictable ending.
Sandugo: the most technically polished of the films I saw, Sandugo had me chuckling because of the very familiar filming locations -- the 5th floor of the Finster Building of Ateneo de Davao. That beside, Sandugo makes for a director's and cinematographer's showcase of techniques. The sequences cover suspense, action, and special effects, especially a very impressive fight scene. However, the poor script and hammy acting leaves it all as that: a showcase of sequences. It never really comes together.
Kadena: when I saw the movie was sponsored by Ariben health capsules, I left the screening. The poor film quality suggested the movie was shot on analog video. Not worth the headache. Sorry.
Hulagway: just when I thought no film could be preachier than the Christian-funded Mateo, along comes Hulagway to prove me wrong. Hulagway uses surreal characters, situations, and monologues and dialogues to expound on the ills of Mindanao. The supposed highlight is a predictable discourse on Christian-Muslim conflict. What I found unforgivable was the cheap ending that lifted the mystery from the surrealism.
Way to the Sunset: easily the most intriguing of the set, this full-length movie uses all-Japanese dialogue. Again, defamiliarization -- this time in the language -- lent a pleasant effect. The straight dialogue delivery of the two leads, running for several minutes without any cuts, really impressed me.
First, it's all talk, and I have a feeling the filmmakers wanted to evoke "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" (even the title suggests this). If this type of movie doesn't appeal to you, you'll end up quite bored.
Second, no buildup to the meeting of the two young people, and sadly, no chemistry between them. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy punctuated their performances with light moments; these two actors never stray from their serious delivery.
Third, for a movie that relies on dialogue, the sound editing is simply atrocious. Not that I understand Japanese, mind you, so it ought not have mattered. But the microphones picked up and amplified every honking jeepney. Considering they filmed it in the streets of Davao...well, you get the picture. The movie was loud in a wrong way, in the worst way possible. I left the screening to save my ears.
Please understand, I don't mean to be mean. I point these out to glean the lessons. If nothing else, the movies have shown me a new way of looking at Davao. This is key: in regional movies like this, Davao and Mindanao should be living and leading characters.
Barring a few rough patches here and there, these filmmakers have shown themselves to be technically capable. But technique isn't everything. First and foremost, we have to have good stories and good storytelling; sadly, these are missing in this year's crop.