Are indies the new mainstream?

by Nickie Wang

If you had a few hundred thousand pesos, a video camera, an interesting story, struggling actors and some friends who have the skill to record the action as a professional director and a camera operator would do, then you are good to go in making your own small production.

Advances in digital technology are instrumental in the proliferation of indie movies. One thing, filmmakers can access advanced technology at a cheaper cost allowing them to shoot for several days and do the post production with minimal efforts. Hence, it is no longer surprising that local film industry, which death has been predicted decades before, still clings to its so-called last lifeline.

Independently-produced films account about 70 to 80 percent of the total film output in the country since the beginning of the new millennium. This is due to the drastic decline of movies produced by big production houses. In 2010 alone, out of 87 movie titles released commercially, 58 of which were considered as digital or indie films.

Amid its quantity, however, the market of independent films in the country remains diminutive. The movie going public still perceives films shot using a handheld camcorder as of low quality and only good for school exhibitions. True enough, even the most awarded indie films that have travelled the world over reaping numerous recognitions in different international film festivals still cannot woo the pockets of moviegoers.

Director Jon Red, the first indie filmmaker to produce a full-length indie film on digital video format, once said that directors like him are called independent because they are critics, and they remain on the side because it is the only place where they can freely do their job. But there are filmmakers who have traversed the other way, from being critics, they turned into producers of soft porn flicks that utilize extreme poverty as the backdrop of the story.

Independent films are indeed fearless, they expose stories alien to big commercial movies. But more often than not, indies revolve and talk about only the same themes—poverty, homosexuality and exploitation. There are few exemptions, but still they will never take away the fact that the general public has a bad impression about indie movies.

We still have to consider that films, apart from being works of art, are made to entertain. Audiences visit movie houses to be inspired by engaging stories, moved by high octane action scenes, mesmerized by surreal world only film studios can create, tickled by scenarios that they can easily relate to, or be touched by dramatic moments that tap their human emotions. At the end of the day, quality and the high standard of the film will still matter to the viewing public.

See the unseen 

Film events like The Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival make indie films legitimate. First, they are given proper venue, then publicity from major media networks, and finally, paying audience.

Since its inception in 2004, the Cinemalaya has become one of the most awaited events for independent filmmakers and for the actors who want to be recognized for their acting skills. More than to be seen on the big screen, it is actually the prestige of being nominated or even recognized by the festival why each year a swarm of neophyte film directors and showbiz talents (big and small) join the country’s most talked about independent film event.

Each year, the Cinemalaya Foundation, with the cooperation of Cultural Center of the Philippines, Film Development Council of the Philippines and Econolink Investments, Inc., grants P500,000 to 10 filmmakers culled from hundred of submissions from different parts of the country.

In the 7th edition of the annual festival, three films already made a big impression:  Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (a gay-themed feature that stars Jean Garcia, Paulo Avelino, and Rocco Nacino) by Alemberg Ang; Ligo na U, Lapit Na Me (a film about post modern love and relationship and top-billed Edgar Allan Guzman) by Noel Ferrer; and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (about a misguided ambition of making a movie starring Eugene Domingo, Kean Cipriano, JM de Guzman and Cherry Pie Pichache) by Marlon Rivera and Chris Martinez.

Other films chosen to compete in the Full Length or the New Breed category are: Amok (starring Mark Gil, Nonie Buencamino and Garry Lim) by Lawrence Fajardo; Bahay Bata (with Diana Zubiri playing the lead) by Eduardo W. Roy, Jr. and Jerome Zamora; Cuchera (a story about drug mules starring Maria Isabel Lopez, Simon Ibarra, CJ Ramos and Paolo Rivero) by Joseph Israel M. Laban; I-libings: Your Loss, Our Luck (with Glaiza de Castro in the lead) by Rommel Andreo Sales; Nino (featuring veteran thespians Fides Cuyugan Asensio, Shamaine Buencamino, Tony Mabesa, Raquel Villavicencio and Art Acuna) by Loy Arcenas; and Teoriya (with Alfred Vargas playing the lead role) by Alistaire Christian E. Chan.

“We have a good lineup this year,” festival director Nestor Jardin told the Standard Today, “We have more variety in terms of genre.”

According to Laurice Guillen, the head of festival organizing committee, this year’s theme is “ See the Unseen” or like how she puts it: “Indie films feature topics and exciting subject matters we don’t normally  see in the mainstream movies.”

Bigger Cinemalaya

Over the years the festival has grown in popularity, and today attracts film enthusiasts from different walks of life. The 2009 edition dubbed Cinemalaya Cinco attracted 38,000 people. It is about 10,000 more audience compared to the number of attendees in 2008. Last year, 42,000 trooped to the venues at the CCP to watch the films in competition, and this year, the festival expects at least 50,000 audiences.

According to Nestor Jardin, the Philippine media has found something substantial about the festival that is why it sees better growth each year.

“When we started in 2004, we only had four tables and a very few members of the media,” Jardin recalled.

Thirty one digital films in competition, plus more than a hundred in exhibition, new sections, and a second festival venue all make Cinemalaya bigger and better this year. The festival will be held in two venues at the same time:  its main venue at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, CCP Complex and at Greenbelt 3 in Makati City.

Two theaters at Greenbelt 3 will be dedicated to Cinemalaya on July 16 to 24.  The films to be shown at Greenbelt will be those in competition in the New Breed Full Length Feature category, the Short Feature Category, the Directors Showcase, NETPAC Philippine Premieres, and Focus Asia section, which feature eight independent works by Asian directors from Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Japan.

At the CCP, the Festival will be held in seven venues. The opening ceremony is slated on July 15 followed by the festival opening film at the CCP Main Theater. The Cinemalaya Awards Night will be held on July 24.

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