THE GROWING regionalization of Philippine independent cinema is very evident in the Best Picture nominees of the 34th Gawad Urian, the film critics’ prize for excellence in filmmaking, which will be handed out tomorrow at Marriott Hotel.
Most of the Best Picture nominees are productions from filmmakers based in the regions. They also tackle issues that are germane to the regions.
“Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria” (Creative Programs, Inc., Panumduman Pictures) is set on Olango Island off Mactan in Cebu province. Directed by Cebuano Remton Siega Zuasola, the movie documents the last hours of a Filipina (the Eleuteria in the title) as she prepares to leave her island hometown to get married in Germany.
Technically audacious, it unfolds its tale in one single sweeping shot; the mise en scène hardly falters, impressing the viewer with its faithful unfolding of a small life that embodies the Filipino diaspora.
“Damgo” won the Jury Prize in last year’s Cinema One Originals festival.
Another Best Picture contender is “Halaw” (Los Peliculas Linterna Studio) by Mindanao filmmaker Sheron R. Dayoc. The Cinemalaya Grand Prize winner last year, it is a fascinating film about Filipinos crossing the Malaysian border in Sabah. Dayoc captures the difficult journey through rich textural shots that grip and arrest the viewer.
Another 2010 Cinemalaya finalist is in the running for Best Picture in the Urian. Directed by Davao-based filmmaker-poet Gutierrez Mangansakan II, “Limbunan” (Bidadali House Productions) documents a young Maguindanao girl’s coming of age.
Betrothed to a man she hardly knows, she undertakes the elaborate prenuptial ritual of cleansing and preparation. Although eager to please her elders and continue their tradition, her fidelity to her people and culture comes under quiet assault as she struggles with her feelings for a soldier.
“Sheika” ( HydeOut Entertainment, Skyweaver Productions, Alchemy of Vision and Light TV and Film Productions), directed by another Mindanao-based filmmaker, Arnel Mardoquio, is a stirring story of a woman in search of peace in war-ravaged Mindanao.
Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez, the director of “Tsardyer” (Creative Programs Inc., Lasponggols Collective), is not a regional filmmaker. But “Tsardyer” is loosely based on an Inquirer article about a 10-year-old Tausug boy who was used by the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers to charge the cell phones they used in their hostage negotiations.
Dondon Santos’ “Noy” (Cinemedia Films Inc., VIP Access Media Productions, Star Cinema, ABS-CBN Film Productions) takes the viewer across the Philippines as its hero, posing as a journalist, covers the real political barnstorming of Noynoy Aquino during the 2010 presidential campaign. The result is a melding of private agony and public struggle.
Other Best Picture nominees are gritty urban dramas that are very rooted in their social environment.
“Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Yelo” (Sampaybakod Productions) tells the story of two orphans who make a living as child divers in fishing trawlers. Director Mes de Guzman, who won the Urian Best Director in 2005 for “Ang Daang Patungong Kalimugtong,” shows once again a mastery of narrative and handling of child actors.
“Chassis” (Happy Gilmore Productions) by the very prolific Adolfo Alix Jr. is an arresting black-and-white movie about a mother trying to raise a child amid the trucks and lorries of a busy dockyard. It is distinguished by a powerful performance by Jodi Sta. Maria.
Perhaps the regionalization trend is reflected paradoxically by “Amigo” (Anarchists’ Convention Films). Written, produced and directed by legendary American indie filmmaker John Sayles, “Amigo” is a highly entertaining and very provocative account of the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century.
Its dialogue is polyglot—in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Chinese and Latin. In fact, the Tagalog dialogue is translated from the original English script of Sayles by Filipino poet-journalist-editor-screenplay writer José “Pete” Lacaba, who will receive this year the Natatanging Gawad Urian for Lifetime Achievement in Film. An American and Filipino co-production, “Amigo” points the way to the melding of world, national and local cinemas. It is a striking sign of great things to come for Philippine cinema.
The 34th Gawad Urian, presented by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), the society of respected film critics, will be on May 17, 6 p.m., at the Grand Ballroom of Marriott Hotel Manila, Newport Boulevard, Newport City Complex, Pasay City.
Co-presenters of Gawad Urian are Cinema One and the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
The MPP is chaired by Rolando Tolentino, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications.
Members are National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera; former Cultural Center of the Philippines artistic director and Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chair Nicanor Tiongson; Malaya editor and MTRCB member Mario Hernando; UP Open University chancellor Gigi Javier-Alfonso; broadcast personality and Philippine Star columnist Butch Francisco; De La Salle University professor Mike Rapatan; Ateneo professors Benilda Santos and Tito Valiente; and Philippine Daily Inquirer editor and UST professor Lito Zulueta.