This June, Yerba Buena presents twenty-nine films in its second year of programming for “New Filipino Cinema.” Even if one sees only a few of these works, which range from short and abstract works to serious documentaries to whimsical fabrications, a somewhat comprehensive view of contemporary cinema and culture of the Philippines may emerge. The most striking commonality throughout the series is the forthright disposition of the people who appear in them—some actors, some not. For instance, in the documentary Kano: An American and His Harem (2011), by Monster Jimenez, all the women involved speak candidly about their experiences, even at times admitting their lack of understanding of their own experiences.
Kiri Dalena’s short film Requiem for M (2010) opens with the harsh voice-over of a woman ranting about social injustice, blaming those in power and blatantly calling for revolution. This scene is followed by a funeral procession played backward, during which participants often face the camera directly, revealing their grief. Walang katapusang kwarto (An Endless Room, 2011), by Emerson Reyes, another intimate portrait, confronts the audience with continuous close-ups of two lovers in bed, arguing, kissing, and laughing.
Struggle is evident in the lives portrayed in many of the stories, whether real or fictional. The severity of rural life is treated as a given, yet a strong sense of community emerges again and again. One film that veers away from a focus on such hardship is Jade Castro’s playful Zombadings (2011), which deals with rampant homophobia and murder against drag queens in a small village. It weaves magic and folklore into the story to facilitate acceptance within the fictional community.
Each film shares the backdrop of the Philippines’ lush vegetation and the relatively simple ways of life that come from a connection to the land. Still, there are depictions of contemporary life—children at carnivals, teenagers on cell phones, women gossiping. An emphasis on women is found in many of the films, such as Biyernes Biyernes (Friday Friday, 2011), which focuses on the lives of fictional strangers as they search for different forms of comfort. What is most impressive in this program, aside from the stories themselves, is the range of styles and the apparent momentum for independent filmmaking that is building in the Philippines. Increasing interest in and support for filmmakers there suggests that this energy will expand to venues around the world in the years to come.
“New Filipino Cinema” runs June 7–17 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.