Cinemanila opens foreign market for local actors

by Maridol Rañoa-Bismark, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 30 2010 11:36 AM | Updated as of Nov 30 2010 07:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The tables are turned for the better. At least that’s what Tikoy Aguiluz of the 12th Cinemanila International Filmfest tells us.

Gone are the days when films with foreign themes and actors were the sole benchmarks of excellence in an industry steeped in colonial mentality. This year, Cinemanila opens (tomorrow, Dec. 1) and closes (on Sunday, Dec. 5) with foreign films telling Filipino stories and starring Filipino actors.

The big switch can only mean one thing, according to Aguiluz.

“This means Filipino talent is going global.”

Pinoy Sunday, which opens the filmfest on Wednesday at Robinsons Movieworld Galleria Cinema at Ortigas Center, has Taipei-based Wi Ding Ho as director.

The award-winning Malaysian director will be in Manila on Dec. 1, the same day Dolphy will get Cinemanila’s Lifetime Achievement Award (the same honor which Quentin Tarantino got in 2007).

The Comedy King will surely exchange notes with Wi Ding Ho, whose fascination with Pinoy OFWs started when he chanced upon them shooting the breeze in Taipei on their day off. He lost no time making a film about them.

Ho tapped Epi Quizon, Bayani Agbayani, Meryl Soriano and Alessandra de Rossi as his actors. An abandoned red couch on a Taipei sidewalk is the film’s signature look – a look which NHK, Japan found good enough to support.

Pinoy Sunday won the Industry Award for Narrative Feature at the 2010 Taipei International Film Festival. It was also shown in Toronto and Pusan.

Bayani can’t hide his excitement over the first indie film he has ever made.

“The red couch stands for the sacrifices our new heroes – the OFWs – are making,” he says.

Pinoy Sunday is not the only Cinemanila film where Filipino actors shine. The other one is Amigo, which renowned American filmmaker John Sayles directs. Critics have described the film, shot entirely in the Philippines, as `brave, provocative and insightfully funny.”

Amigo, Cinemanila’s closing film, captures the complexity of war as seen in the eyes of Filipino villagers. It has already been shown in international filmfests and stars a cast of Filipino and international actors. These include acting veterans Joel Torre, Bembol Roco, Ronnie Lazaro, Rio Locsin, Pen Medina, Bodjie Pascua, Irma Adlawan, John Arcilla, Spanky Manikan, Miguel Faustman and Joe Gruta. The international cast is made up of Academy winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Garret Dillahunt, DJ Qualls, Lucas Neff, Bill Tangradi, Yul Vasquez, Dane DeHaan, James Parks and Stephen Taylor.

Another Pinoy film in the festival is award-winning director Brillante Mendoza’s Kaleldo. The film joins other award-winning films from NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. NETPAC is recognized as a prestigious program for filmfests and NETPAC Awards have been presented at A-list festivals like Berlinale and Rotterdam.

These films will be screened with others from Italy, Canada, Bulgaria, Sweden, South Korea, Spain, the US, Australia and Taiwan.

They will be competing for a still undisclosed prize at the end of the four-day event. What that prize is, no one knows – yet. But the likes of Jim Libiran and Ato Bautista, among others, are still joining.

“Without Cinemanila,” explains Libiran, “we won’t have a platform to launch our films.”

His feature film, Happyland, tells a story about Tondo kids.

Ato Bautista, on the other hand, is fielding Di Natatapos ang Gabi in the Digital Lokal category. He, Libiran and others joined Cinemanila, not because of the prize but because they expect doors to open wide for them after Cinemanila.

Aguiluz declares, “A film shown in Cinemanila is screened in various prestigious venues.”

But he himself believes his annual filmfest needs financial support -- badly. This year, he found one in the Film Development Council of the Phiippines (FDCP). Last year it was the Taguig government. And before that, it was the city of Makati.

He knows politics is an unpredictable partner in his and any other venture for that matter film event. Freddie Tinga can’t underwrite this year’s Cinemanila anymore because he lost in the mayoralty race this year. Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, Cinemanila’s patron a few years ago, has moved on to become vice-president and is too steeped in other matters.

Aguiluz knows he can’t sit there and do nothing. So he’s appealing to top businessman Manny V. Pangilinan no less, to run to the rescue.

“We tried to contact him but perhaps this is not his priority at the moment,” states Aguiluz.

He will continue to hope, though.

“The cost of running a festival is high,” he reveals. “There’s a price to pay for logistics, freight charges, etc.”

But you don’t give up just because the price is that steep. This year’s Cinemanila came a bit late this year since Aguiluz and company had to hurdle financial challenges.

But he assures everyone it’s worth the wait.

Excellence be it in film and others is always worth the wait.