By Ara Chawdhury
CHRISTIAN Linaban’s second feature film premiered last Sept. 24 at SM Seaside City sponsored by Goldmine residences as closing film for the Binisaya film festival. It’s the first time in the history of Cebuano New Wave Cinema that a Cebuano film would have its world premiere in its hometown. Starring a cast of fresh grads who all live in one house we fondly call House Gwapo, this collaboration between Panumduman Pictures and Retaso Media is a stoner comedy in the time of Tokhang. A joke whispered among the scared. An experiment that unintentionally became relevant to today’s drug war, Superpsychocebu started out as word vomit between Chris and his friend Nicolo Manreal when they were college slackers.
In Cebu, people often wax poetic about the glory days of Cebuano Cinema — when our industry competed with Manila. But the glory days are over, and for decades, Cebuano Cinema ceased to prevail.
In 2007, Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Antipuesto’s Confessional gave rise to a new wave of Cebuano Cinema, far removed from the old films. At the time, Christian was fresh out of college and bursting with ideas. The seed of Superpsychocebu had taken root at a TV Arts class and after binge-watching films from the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater. He initially pitched his film, then titled “Bilar,” to Antipuesto, who looked at his initial footage and gave professional advice. Christian blames inexperience and the diffidence that comes with youth as reasons for the project folding initially.
Plenty has happened since. Christian decided to level his expectations and experiment with shorter films. The short films became learning experiences for him. He often tells me he doesn’t like repeating himself when it comes to storytelling because every new experience is a chance to expand his knowledge. His attempts so far have garnered awards and critical acclaim. I saw “Di Na Lagi Mausab,” his first short film, at a school screening when I was in college and was pleasantly surprised. It was well thought out overall — and except for the boom operator’s feet being barely visible under the gate in the last scene, was superior to any student project video I’d seen before, and I’d seen plenty as a member of a student org interested in film and theater. Cebu is small.
As is the tendency with most casual viewers, I didn’t even pay attention to who was responsible for the short. But I guess it stuck with me because at a random audition, I spouted lines from the film and Christian Linaban (after casting me in his film) asked if I was kissing ass. He’d written those lines after all.
Fast forward to a handful of short film collaborations between us and co-writing his debut feature, as well as a band and a baby, we decided to find funding for a horror — fantasy film, “Mga Buwak Para ni Maria.”
The struggle of looking for funding from within the city provided its own set of challenges and revealed a host of problems. We couldn’t speak for distributors because the existing distributors weren’t interested in Cebuano language films. One of our sources told us the VisMin market has not been viable financially for independent filipino films, and the amusement tax in Cebu still remains at 30 percent as opposed to the nationwide 10 percent, obviously a huge deterrent for experimentation.
But roadblocks such as taxes and unfriendly distributors weren’t enough to dim the spirit of entrepreneurship. Maybe it wasn’t so much ambition as desperation — we were building a family and had already spent the best of a decade in filmmaking. Might as well figure out how to solve these problems via going where few have gone before — independent production and distribution.
We turned what used to be a philosophical art film into a comedy — all it took was to not take ourselves too seriously. Our funding came from friends and family, and our own pockets. Fortunately business was good that year and we happened to have clients who paid us well and on time.
We also received prize money from a short film we entered at the Sinulog competition — Operation Prutas — that helped finished production. We made deals based on sweat equity and paid professionals who could not compromise fees. We shot on weekends when people were available. We shot in guerilla and turned our house into a set. We workshopped actors and won free lectures on paperwork and contracts from people we’d worked with in the past.
We are admittedly far from finished. We recognize the real work and real experiment happens now, after the premiere. We have some experience with wide-scale marketing and distribution, thanks to our experience working with Cinema One and the Active Vista film festival. We are also taking tips from the tradition of the Arong Brothers who brought projectors and set up screenings of their film “Ang Manok ni San Pedro,” continued by Keith Deligero and the Binisaya film festival with its guerilla screenings. We’re glad for the establishment of Cinematheques and small screening spaces all over the provinces and have reached out for screenings in Davao, Dumaguete, and General Santos, for example. We are also open to bookings and screening requests.
But of course this is all still a huge gamble. We may have the perfect marketing and distribution plans, but all of this is subject to whether audiences like our brand of humor. Will they recommend it to friends? Will they ask for second servings? Is Superpsychocebu going to be a bad trip or one hell of a ride? I’m not here to answer that question. I liked the film. Preference is subjective. What I am here to answer though is how do you make Superpsychocebu? With glitter, glue, dried oregano, and plenty of guts.