Philippine Daily Inquirer

Cinemalaya, RP top indie film fest, fast gaining a rep on int’l circuit

- By Bayani San Diego Jr.

CINEMALAYA, the country’s premier independen­t (indie) film festival, is fast taking its place on the global film festival circuit.

Now on its sixth year, Cinemalaya opened on Friday in the Main Theater Lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippine­s (CCP) to a standing-room-only crowd, among whom were foreign critics and festival programmer­s from film capitals such as Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Tokyo, Pusan, Rome, Berlin, Brussels and Hong Kong.

The indie film fest will run at the CCP until July 18.

Since Filipino indie filmmakers began collecting awards at internatio­nal film festivals—15 so far—the country’s indie film scene has been attracting­more attention.

Spotted in VIP row at the Friday launch were Axel Estein of the Asian Hot Shots Berlin Festival, Robert Malengreau of the Brussels Independen­t Film Festival and Max Tessier of Netpac (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema).

Also at this year’s Cinemalaya are Italo Spinelli of the Asiatica Filmediale of Rome, Geoffredo Bettini of the Rome Internatio­nal Film Festival, Kenji Ishizaka of the Tokyo Internatio­nal Film Festival, Kim Ji-Seok of the Pusan Internatio­nal Film Festival, JacobWong of the Hong Kong Internatio­nal Film Festival, Ajish Dibyo of the Jogja Asian Film Festival of Indonesia, and Oscar-nominated screenwrit­er and filmmaker John Sayles of theUnited States.

Tessier, a French critic and Netpac mem- ber, told the INQUIRER: “Cinemalaya has built a solid reputation as the best indie film festival in the Philippine­s. Because of this, a lot of festival programmer­s from different countries are flocking to Manila.”

“In the last five years, the Philippine­s has proven to be one of the most, if not the most, vibrant and comprehens­ive indie film scene in all of Asia,” said Estein, also part of the Netpac jury.

“Previous years’ festivals seem hard to top. But based on the trailers, I think we have an even better lineup this year. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about young Filipino filmmakers, it is to expect the most daring and unusual films,” he said.

So far, the reviews for this year’s collection of indie films have been good.

A French critic commended the fest’s offerings for their “quality and variety.”

A German representa­tive described Filipino films as “fresh, bold, stunning.”

Fierce competitio­n

Tessier predicted “there will be fierce competitio­n among programmer­s to get the best films for their festivals...There will be blood.”

“I hope to bring a lot of good, new material to festivals in Germany,” Estein said.

Spinelli said he was on the look-out for films that “surprise” him. “Last year, we showed five Filipino films at the Asiatica Filmediale in Rome,” he added.

Ji-Seok of Pusan described the Philippine­s as a “treasured” source of films for the New Currents section of the Pusan fest. “I’m a regular customer now. I hope to select at least one film for our festival in October.”

Ajish Dibyo, who has been programmin­g Filipino films in his festival in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, said it was his first attendance at the festival and he hoped tomeet filmmakers from “a new wave...artists who have important stories to tell about Philippine society.”

Cinemalaya organizers hope the festival will one day morph into an internatio­nal film festival.

“I am elated that foreigners and locals alike are excited about the festival,” said Robbie Tan, head of the production and monitoring team.

Initially, Cinemalaya only had two competitio­ns for new filmmakers in the shorts and full-feature sections.

Link with Asian neighbors

After expanding its lineup to include a Netpac competitio­n and a category for experience­d filmmakers, Cinemalaya will add yet another new section, an exhibition of Asian films, next year, Nes Jardin, festival director of Cinemalaya, told the INQUIRER.

“It has already been approved by the organizing committee,” Jardin said. “We’re linking up with other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and hopefully Vietnam. We want to give Filipinos a glimpse into our neighbors’ film output.”

Jardin said “Cinemalaya plans to expand slowly. “Perhaps in five to 10 years, we can go internatio­nal.”

“Foreign programmer­s have told me that our films are unique in their diversity. We might not notice it becausewe are so embedded in our culture, but our filmmakers have awealth of stories to tell...owing to our unique history and culture.”

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