The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) presented a plaque of recognition and appreciation to the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival on its 10th anniversary as a nurturer of vibrant indie filmmaking at the festival’s opening night last August 1 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.
HFPA members Ruben V. Nepales and Janet R. Nepales presented the plaque to Antonio Cojuangco, chairman of Cinemalaya; Nestor Jardin, president; Laurice Guillen, competition director; Chris Millado, festival director; and Raul Sunico, president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the festival’s main venue.
In his remarks on behalf of HFPA, Ruben commended Cinemalaya’s role in boosting indie filmmaking, which has tremendously reinvigorated Philippine cinema. He cited previous Cinemalaya entries, including Auraeus Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni (The Blossoming of) Maximo Oliveros and Hannah Espia’s Transit, which went on to win acclaim and awards in various international film festivals and competitions.
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, one of Cinemalaya’s earliest winners, scored over 40 wins and nominations in festivals, including Berlin International Film Festival, Independent Spirit Awards, Montreal World Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Tokyo FILMeX and Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
Aside from Auraeus and Hannah, other filmmakers who earned their big breaks with Cinemalaya entries include Pepe Diokno (whose Engkwentro won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award and Venice Horizons Award in the 2009 Venice Film Festival), Adolfo Alix, Jr., Francis Pasion, Marlon Rivera, Jun Robles Lana, Loy Arcenas and Jeffrey Jeturian.
In a nod to its decade of stimulating indie film making, the festival, billed Cinemalaya X this year, has adopted the theme, “A decade of connecting dimensions.” Cinemalaya, an all-digital film festival, has grown tremendously over the past 10 years, attracting record entries, several of which go on to become the Philippines’ entries to the Oscar and Golden Globe best foreign film races.
This year, the festival ran from August 1 to 10. The competition categories are split into two. The Directors Showcase features work by established directors while the New Breed, divided into full length and short features, is for emerging filmmakers.
The opening night film, Jose Antonio Vargas’ acclaimed documentary, Documented, was screened after the ceremonies. The film about the U.S. immigration debate that Jose Antonio, the Pulitzer Prize winning Filipino-American journalist wrote and directed from his personal perspective as an undocumented immigrant, was well-received by the audience.
Cinemalaya officials presented a plaque to Jose Antonio, received on his behalf by his mother Emelie Vargas, who hasn’t seen her son since 1993.
In a statement, Jose Antonio wrote, “Every day, an estimated 1,100 immigrants are deported. The U.S. government has deported nearly 2 million immigrants in five years—a record. But not me. I am privileged to still be in America, my home, and privileged to put Documented on the screen. To me, politics is culture. I became a journalist, and later, a filmmaker, to get to know my adoptive country and my volatile place in it as a gay, undocumented, Filipino American.
“As a newcomer to America who learned to ‘speak American’ by watching movies, I firmly believe that to change the politics of immigration and citizenship, we must change culture—the way we portray undocumented people like me and our role in society. That’s why I felt compelled to take charge of my own narrative and write, produce, and direct ‘Documented.’ This film, to me, is as much an artistic statement as it is a political one: I am not the ‘illegal’ you think I am, and immigration is not what you think it is.”
Serving on Cinemalaya X’s jury are Bird Runningwater, director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program; Bina Paul, artistic director of the International Film Festival of Kerala; Emily A. Abrera, Cultural Center of the Philippines’ chairperson; Jose Javier Reyes, director; and Mario Hernando, film critic.
JANET R. NEPALES