A captive of Captive

Gritty, in-your-face, a mirror of Philippine society. These are some of the words I associate with Brilliante Mendoza’s films. This director doesn’t mollycoddle the viewers that’s for sure. He paints reality as how he sees it – no more, no less – and hopes that by showing the ugly reality, his films would somehow serve as a vehicle for change.

Captive is no different from his other films. The 2 and a half hour film is based on the Dos Palmas kidnapping of missionaries and Filipinos by the Abu Sayyaf group more than a decade ago. Most of the events in the film really happened, about 25% were added for dramatic purposes and to help the story move but they’re mostly fictional characters and scenes. One of the fictional characters is Therese Bourgoine, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, whose perspective it is we watch. Bourgoine is a missionary who was abducted together with her motherly companion Anita Linda, two other foreign missionaries, and tourists of Dos Palmas Resort. The story progresses with ransoms paid, captives freed, captives killed, and even a Stockholm syndrome which was surprising but actually happened between a tourist and one of the Abu Sayyaf bandits back in 2001. Brilliante Mendoza used many of his staple actors like Ronnie Lazaro, Coco Martin, Sid Lucero, etc. The acting wasn’t stellar for some however because they were overshadowed by Huppert and the more commanding Raymond Bagatsing and Ronnie Lazaro.

The film made me squirm the whole time as Brilliante captured the harsh realities of kidnap-for-ransom, religious fanaticism, terrorism, and the government’s indifference neigh shady cooperation with the kidnappers for a share of the ransom money because these facts are hard to swallow, but in the back of the Filipinos’ collective mind, they all ring true.

What amazed me about Captive is Brilliante’s research on what really transpired that ghastly 18 months and how he was able to show as much details in the 25 days he shot the film. That’s saying a lot about how talented and organized he is. My film experiences scream that such a film is impossible to shoot in 25 days but Briliante was able to do so. Not only that, he made everything seem believable. I thought the film was shot in Basilan but he admitted to us that the locations were in Batangas and Quezon.

Captive will premiere at SM Pampanga, Brilliante Mendoza’s hometown, on September 2, 2012. There will also be a Manila gala premiere in Greenbelt 3 the next day. Regular screening at SM Cinemas and Greenbelt will begin on September 5, 2012.

Statement of the YCC Film Desk on the disqualification of Emerson Reyes’s entry from the 8th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival

We, members of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle (YCC), join the film community in condemning the recent disqualification of Emerson Reyes’s entry, MNL 143, from the 8th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

The organizing committee of Cinemalaya, composed of competition chair Laurice Guillen-Feleo, festival director Nestor Jardin, and monitoring head Robbie Tan made the move following a dispute with Reyes over his insistence on casting Allan Paule and Joy Viado as his leads in a love story—these choices, the committee claimed, “were not suitable to the material” and allegedly ran afoul of its concern with “competence, suitability to the role, and greater audience acceptability”.

Given that Tan has stated in an interview that he believes Paule and Viado to be “very competent” actors, the decision he reached with his fellow committee members registers as idiosyncratic at best and disingenuous at worst: Surely persuasive performances would garner precisely the “acceptability” sought after?

The strength of the indignation against Cinemalaya that Reyes’s disqualification has caused would seem to indicate that a number of grievous problems have been festering, unaddressed and unresolved, long before the current conflict.

Run by The Cinemalaya Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit, private entity that professes to be “committed to the development and promotion of Philippine independent film”, the annual Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival supposedly aims to stimulate the creation of “works that boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity”. The matter at hand serves to strain the credibility of such projection, illustrating as it does the sad fact that the deplorable, cynical practices of commercial cinema, exercised with an eye on the bottom line, are hardly exclusive to it, regardless of what the legion of evangelists of independent cinema would have us believe as gospel truth.

What this unfortunate incident points up is just how fraught the endeavor of “independent” filmmaking is: production outside the dominant studio system—the main, and sometimes the sole, marker of independence—does not mean production in a space of pure, absolute freedom where lofty artistic aspirations are realized. And certainly it does not mean production that is somehow exempt from being contained and disciplined by the complex matrix of funding organizations, competitions, festivals, and awards, the mechanisms of which can guarantee the makers of a film continuous, ever-increasing flows of prestige and largesse—provided, of course, that the film advances specific agendas, colludes with particular interests, or follows pernicious habits purveyed by reactionary quarters who have managed to cling to power.

In view of the foregoing, the inability of much independent cinema at present to proffer a plurality of viable visions for remaking both cinema and society may well be telling.

Lest the situation devolve into unproductive name-calling and hate-mongering, as it has already begun to in social media, the YCC is calling for thoughtful, informed, self-reflexive engagement with the issues so that the necessary and arduous process of change can begin to take place. Cinemalaya as an institution must find the will to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, integrity, and accountability if it wishes to remain relevant, but it is not indispensable to filmmaking. Neither does the responsibility of transformation belong to it alone: rather, it belongs to all of us who care about cinema and wish to cultivate an environment where emergent filmic and critical practices can flourish with vigor.

Established in 1990, YCC is composed of members of academe who, through the years, have become attentive observers of Philippine cinema.  Coming from various disciplines, they bring an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of film.  Current members are from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.

Members of the Film Desk include Eloisa May P. Hernandez (President), Tessa Maria Guazon (Vice President),  Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Flaudette May V. Datuin, Noel D. Ferrer, Patrick D. Flores, Eulalio Guieb III, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Skilty Labastilla, Nonoy L. Lauzon, Eileen C. Legaspi-Ramirez, Gerard R. A. Lico, JPaul Manzanilla, Jema Pamintuan, Choy Pangilinan, Jerry C. Respeto, Jaime Oscar M. Salazar, Neil Martial R. Santillan, and Galileo S. Zafra.

Ran: The Death of God

The theme of the death of God has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with humans and what happens to them on earth. It is not a religious assertion, but a declaration of a mood—the mood of modernity, which we also find in other lines from other writings, including William Butler Yeats’ “Things fall apart” or Karl Marx’s “All that is solid melts into air“. It heralds the coming of nihilism. Fernando Pessoa said that we are slaves to the gods whether or not they exist. This is how Nietzsche’s “God is dead” ought to be received: not as a question of belief about the reality of the deity, but as an articulation of the human condition in modernity. This is not the time to debate about Aquinas’ theological proofs. God, whether or not you believe in him, is an issue we have to deal with. But the philosophical dimension of this issue is essentially un-theological and anthropocentric—it is predominantly a human issue. Insofar as the idea of God is a projection of human wishes, as the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach tell us, our relation to God (or to the idea of a God or gods) mirrors the state of human reality. Hence, the philosophy of the “death of God” is also an exercise in self-consciousness.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

Philippines’ first football film features “futkaleros” of Tondo

In a country that is totally, inexplicably obsessed with basketball and with dreams of slam-dunking a hoop that is too high for the ordinary Filipino, it took a team named after mongrels to finally make people realize that maybe, just maybe, they were meant for another sport altogether. After the Azkals’ stunning victory over Vietnam at the Suzuki Cup semis in December 2010, Filipinos started embracing football—finally catching up with the rest of the world and understanding why this sport inspires devotion.

Happyland the Movie (official movie poster)

Before all that, however—before “Fil-fors” became a buzz word and before Younghusband became a brand name—a group of young men from Tondo were already immersed in the sport, playing football (or, more accurately, futkal as in futbol sa kalye or “street soccer”) as if their lives depended on it. Many of these players would not have had access to sports centre amenities, or even the ability to play online games, such as website or the popular soccer-based game, Football Manager. Yet many of them have still be drawn towards this sport, using what facilities they were able to get their hands on. In many ways, such was the case. For the mentors of these young footballers, it was a way to get the boys away from a life of vice, and crime; for the boys themselves, football was a way out of desperation and a way closer to hope.

This is the backdrop of filmmaker Jim Libran’s second feature film, Happyland. Set amidst Tondo’s garbage dumps, shanties, rugby sniffers, gangs, and thieves, the movie tells the story of how a group of young men discovered the value of their lives and dreams through football, under the wings of Father Jose, a Spanish missionary priest inspired by the life of Filipino football legend Paulino Alcantara (who scored 357 goals in 357 games), and Brother Pedro, played by real-life Futkaleros founder, Peter Amores.

A brotherhood with a mission

For Libiran, Amores, and everyone who made the movie possible, Happyland was more than a film: it was a brotherhood with a mission. When asked how long it took to train the young Tondo residents in the science and art of football, Amores revealed that it took two and a half years to turn the boys from a ragtag team of kids into a proper football team that was competing and winning in tournaments. Libiran shares that the project is greater than the movie itself: it is an integrated social program aimed at giving young children hope through football. For him, the Futkaleros component of the program was just as important as the movie itself. So while Libiran and his team were sourcing funds and support for the film, they were also teaching football and building a community.

At last night’s premiere of Happyland’s final version, Libiran disclosed that there were plans to bring the movie—and the program—to other parts of the country that were in need of such a program. He appealed to the audience for continued support for Happyland—“Otherwise,” he says, “this will be our last time to show it.” The film cost around Php12 million, and as of press time Libiran’s team is still sourcing funding and support to finish paying for the movie.

Beyond Happyland

The movie is based on true events, and as Libiran’s cast shared after the screening, the boys on whose lives the movie was based have moved on to better lives. One of them has finished school and is now employed and with a house of his own. A number have gotten scholarships. Beyond the movie, this is the effect that Libiran wants Happyland and the Futkaleros program to have on many more Filipinos who need it.

To those who want to support Happyland, please refer to the information below:

At a time when the Philippines is finally embracing football, it is also time to embrace its message and to show that from the dumps and mud can rise legends that the country can be truly proud of.

And this year's Oscar nominees are…

– “Black Swan”
– “The Fighter”
– “Inception”
– “The Kids Are All Right”
– “The King’s Speech”
– “127 Hours”
– “The Social Network”
– “Toy Story 3”
– “True Grit”
– “Winter’s Bone”

– Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan”
– David O. Russell for “The Fighter”
– Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech”
– David Fincher for “The Social Network”
– Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for “True Grit”

– Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
– Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
– Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
– Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
– James Franco in “127 Hours”

– Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
– Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
– Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
– Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
– Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

– Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
– John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
– Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
– Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
– Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

– Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
– Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
– Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
– Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
– Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

– “How to Train Your Dragon”
– “The Illusionist”
– “Toy Story 3”

– “Biutiful” (Mexico)
– “Dogtooth” (Greece)
– “In a Better World” (Denmark)
– “Incendies” (Canada)
– “Outside the Law” (Algeria)