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Filipino Film Festival at UCLA a Big Success

Filipino Film Festival at UCLA a Big Success

Five classic films provide Los Angeles restrospective of the best of Filipino filmaking from the early 1960s to the end of the 1980s.

By Barbara Gaerlan

UCLA’s Filipino Film Festival – "Classics of the Filipino Film" recently screened to an enthusiastic reception.

Viewers were treated to five rare, classic films, as well as a documentary overview of Filipino film history. The four films in Filipino language all had English subtitles, making them accessible to a non-Filipino speaking audience.

The film festival was also notable for the comprehensive lectures and stimulating after-film discussion provided by Professor Nicanor G. Tiongson, noted author and professor of film at the University of the Philippines and movie, television classification and rating board chief. He is also the former artistic director of the cultural center of the Philippines.
The rare subtitled videos of the films were made available by the cultural center.
The Festival, sponsored by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Asian American Studies Center and Department of Film, Television and Digital Media was noted as a big success by viewers.

The diverse audience reflected the varying interests of the sponsors, but everyone emerged raving about the festival.

Two Filipino American filmmakers traveled all the way to Los Angeles from Seattle to immerse themselves in classic Filipino films they otherwise could not see. Local L.A.-area filmmakers appreciated the technical and stylistic aspects of the films. Students of Philippine history and culture commented on the richness of the films’ ability to evoke Filipino society. Everyone emerged with a new appreciation of filmmaking in the Philippines.

Tiongson organized the festival to showcase the best directors of Filipino films.
In his vision statement for the festival, Tiongson said, “In the United States, Filipino Americans and Filipinos have easy access to the film genre of the Filipino cinema, which are churned out by Filipino producers for mass entertainment and box-office appeal. Constituting more than 90 percent of the film industry output in any given year, these action films, dramas, comedies, and fantasies are created by directors who are not really concerned with making any serious statements about the Filipinos and the world they live in.

“Not surprisingly, the crassness and mediocrity of most of these films have raised questions in many minds as to whether Filipinos have ever created or are even capable of creating films that do not escape from but rather grapple with, the deeper issues in Philippine society.

“To the credit of a few visionary producers, a handful of good Filipino films have in fact succeeded in transcending the economic and social conditions of the industry which have made many a producer stick to the tried-and-tested film formulas. Created by intrepid directors who are able to negotiate the difficult balance between art and commerce, these films of the ‘New Cinema’ offer valuable insights into Filipino psychology and society, which are communicated effectively because of the successful orchestration of all elements of cinema (direction, script, acting, production design, cinematography, editing, sound, and music). It is films such as these that this series focuses on.”

“Noli Me Tangere” (1961), directed by Gerardo de Leon, was the first feature film shown. Produced in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Jose Rizal’s birth, this major film won the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) awards for best picture, director, supporting actor (Oscar Keesee) and supporting actress (Lina Carino).

National Artist Gerardo de Leon is revered as the master filmmaker of the 1950s and 1960s. Among his best films are: “Sisa,” 1951; “Ifugao,” 1954; “El Filibusterismo” (Subversion), 1962 and “Ang Daigdig Mga Api” (The World of the Oppressed), 1965.

The second film shown was “Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” (1965), directed by Lamberto V. Avellana.

This is the film version of the most important and best-known play of National Artist Nick Joaquin, whose premiere on stage Avellana himself directed in 1955.
National Artist Lamberto V. Avellana was known both as the stage director of the Barangay Theater Guild and as a film director, mainly for LVN Studios.
His best works have won both local and international recognition. Among these are: “Korea,” 1952; and “Kundiman ng Lahi” (Song of the Race), 1959.

The third film shown was “Orapronobis” (1989), directed by Lino Brocka. Of Brocka’s films, “Orapronobis” was the best received at the Cannes Film Festival. This film about the abuses perpetrated on the people by a cultist paramilitary unit was adjudged one of the ten best films of the 1980s by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. National Artist Lino Brocka worked as an actor and director for the Philippine Educational Theater Association before he went full time into film.

The fourth film was “Himala” [Miracle] (1982), directed by Ishmael Bernal. This film shows how a miracle of the Virgin Mary, which turns out to be a hoax, brings out the worst in the inhabitants of a small and poor barrio. It garnered nine major awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival and was selected as the official Philippine entry to the 1983 Berlin international Film Festival. National artist Ishmael Bernal is known for films characterized by wit and irony, which question the premises of traditional values and morality, especially in the issues of divorce, adultery, and abortion. Among his best films are: “Pagdating sa Dulo” (At the Top), 1971; “Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon” (Two Nests, One Bird) 1977; “Ikaw ay Akin” (You Are Mine), 1978; “Aliw” (Pleasure), 1979; City After Dark, 1980; Relasyon (Affair), 1982; Broken Marriage, 1983; Working Girls, 1984.

The final film was “Sister Stella L.” 1984, directed by Mike de Leon. Produced and shown during the Martial Law period of Ferdinand Marcos, this film is the story of a nun who is conscienticized and begins to identify wit the cause of the striking laborers. It won ten Urian awards and was chosen as one of the ten best films of the 1980s by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Younger than Brocka and Bernal by 10 years, Mike de Leon has directed only about ten films, but all of them are well made and significant. Among his most important films are: “Itim” (Black), 1976; “Kakahakaha Ka Ba?” (Thrilled?), 1980; “Kisapmata” (Split-second), 1981; “Batch ‘81”, 1982; “Aliwan Paradise” (a part of Southern Winds), 1993; and “Bayaning 3rd World” (Third World Hero), 2000.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies