By Mariya Lim
“TOTO, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
If there’s one “old” movie besides The Sound of Music that we can all agree we’ve seen somewhere during our childhood/teenhood/general young-hood, it’s probably The Wizard of Oz. Between those whose tastes have evolved beyond the mainstream and those that still subsist on cinematic diets exclusively of Hollywood blockbusters, they’ve at least one thing in common: both can sing a few lines of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
The 1939 film offers a wealth of one-liners, but to this writer upon skipping class to attend the last three days of the 10th annual Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival in Manila, Judy Garland couldn’t have said it better. No way could I still have been in Cebu.
The feeling of being in a kind of Oz began almost immediately upon arrival, in the way promotional banners flanked entire sides of streets. The words CINEMALAYA X flashed neon on billboard-sized television screens. And it made me think, goddamn, is something cultural a big enough deal here. Back home, the lower left page of a daily newspaper and a brief soundbite on FM would already be the sweetest steal.
I was Dorothy in a black BINISAYA hoodie as I approached the monolithic mass of concrete that is the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I kept on underestimating Manila traffic the entire three days I was there, naively assuming I would make it to all the 10 o’clock screenings with a commute time allowance of only an hour. The Wicked Witch of the North wanted me to know though: This is the capital, and if it’ll take the most riotous display of f**k-the-police driving to remind you you’re not home anymore — here, have some front-row seats to a hit-and-run in broad daylight!
It was a place where the munchkins were neither mini nor multihued. Instead they came in the form of ushers and usherettes so pinpoint-perfect at their jobs they could probably go CPR on anyone who hyperventilated from the movies. Flashlights like extensions of their arms, I looked back on my own performance as a volunteer for the smattering of film festivals in Cebu with a kind of impressed embarrassment.
When the Cinemalaya hymn (or whatever that thing is called) played and the lights dimmed and the show began, this much I realized, in a progression of no particular order:
1. Hearing the word “putangina” onscreen is somehow really hilarious, regardless of context. I guess the Manila crowd just reacts more.
2. You’d think that affixing a Santo Niño anywhere in a film would be a signifier enough for an audience to identify that it’s Cebuano. It was a little lost on my neighbors though, as they couldn’t correlate the Sinulog mascot to our city.
3. The same names make repeat appearances in different sets of credits, which could indicate these people are just so passionate or that even in Manila, it’s still a pocket industry (so what does that make ours?!)
4. Infidelity/Family/LGBT/Anything Gritty/Stray Comedy = Choose one theme or combine for maximum effect.
5. Going back to the point made in #1, theirs is just an audience that has more energy.
And it all boils down to a hunger. Hardly any of baby Cinemalaya equivalents in Cebu come with a fee for the public. Over there, not only does one pay for every screening, the shows actually get sold out.
Whereas I’m used to events with a viewership as uniform as a field of poppies, every day at the Emerald City came attendees as diverse as the usual suspects — students, vague art types, the filmmakers themselves — plus the odd senior citizen or two, a family even and middle-aged couples on date night.
In the end of The Wizard of Oz, the titular wizard turns out to be a fraud. By the time I realize this though, I’ve sunken far too deep into this article with the Oz analogy that I can’t undo the tornado, so to speak. Thus, I try to justify the loophole — at which point of my lost major film festival virginity did the disillusionment set in? I didn’t get to stick around for the Awards Night anymore, because I had to return to a reality of three absences in school. Maybe if I had stayed, I would have found the Wizard?
Either way, the yellow brick home was paved with many an insight. Admit it, we’re a regionalistic bunch. We still secretly harbor ill-will that we’re not the capital. We like to mock the northern pronunciation of the words ankle and tricycle, “po” machines as my friends and I tease. We espouse the glories of our city where beautiful beaches are a road trip away, while still being metropolitan enough after two new branches of J. Co Donuts (because that is the ultimate barometer with which one can determine a metropolis from the rest).
It isn’t that I’m selling out to the imperialistic overlords after one weekend. Manila can keep their legendary-but-actually-very-real traffic for themselves — which we just might be catching up to anyway. As for anyone who denies the quality of our local talent, they should be sent a flock of evil flying monkeys at their doorstep.
However, what good is all that if there’s hardly a reception? They say you can’t call it art unless you share it. That’s why the best Cebuano talents transplant themselves in a place far from their roots; if the disparity is as audible as a few scattered claps versus rounds upon rounds of applause, even a Scarecrow without a brain cell in his straw head can tell who’s having it infinitely better, arts-wise.
True, the three or so upcoming film fests in the city will probably not be rivaling Cinemalaya in terms of attendance just yet. But whoever said it can’t get better? Like tin men who want hearts and lions in search of their courage, we are free to dream. And we have to take it upon ourselves to create that reality, instead of just waiting for Glinda the Good Witch to hand us another cinematic Golden Age, all the while complaining until it comes.
I felt a pebble inside my one of my ruby red slippers on my final day. I knew what it meant: I had to do as Dorothy did and tap both heels together until I’m back in Cebu. Except not really, I was wearing boots. And while I looked out at all the big buildings and all the burgeoning big-city energy there was to envy, this much still remains and stays the same: There’s no place like home.
In a flash: Mariya reviews Cinemalaya X films
IN the spirit of giving you a free taste test of what you’ve missed in CINEMALAYA X, here have some one-liner “reviews” from me:
Directed by Janice O’Hara & Denise O’Hara
Lost Boys served up Oro-Plata-Mata style.
Directed by Nick Olanka
Ai-Ai ain’t your Tanging Ina this time. Not even with Carlo Aquino around.
Directed by Joselito Altarejos
Token festival gay film.
Directed by Milo Sogueco
Even the most perfect nuclear family could melt down—at one misstep, it will wear and maybe even tear like an overused pair of shoes.
Directed by Francis Xavier Pasion
Mythic and meta and mesmerizing, even with Angeli Bayani accented Bisaya.
Directed by Giancarlo Abrahan V
Are all the best years behind us? Or isn’t it that nothing is permanent—not of love, loss, bliss or strife—and that for the little eternity we have alive we get snippets of each before our own own impermanence takes over? Do I just sound pretentious?
1ST KO SI 3RD
Directed by Real Florido
A comedy, thank God!
Directed by Gino M. Santos
Poor Little Rich Boy #ConyoProblems.
Directed by Roderick Cabrido
The seedy underbelly of kid wrestlers with a quasi-Maalaala Mo Kaya treatment.
A THIEF, A KID AND A KILLER
Directed by Nathan Adolfson
Quentin Tarantino-esque, but cornier.
SHORTS A & B
I loved them more than the features, possibly because they didn’t last long enough for me to nitpick.