MANILA -- Chris Millado may have officially retired on June 10 as vice president and artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) but after a few weeks of recharging in the provinces, he’s as vibrant and creative as ever as he returns to his former home by the Manila Bay as festival director for this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
It is his eighth year as festival director and amid his busy schedules, Millado shares with ABS-CBN News five of his personal Cinemalaya highlights and unforgettable memories.
To fulfill his obligations as festival director, he won’t forget an incident when he traveled to the provinces despite the unfavorable weather conditions.
“[One would be] crossing the turbulent stormy waters to Iloilo from Bacolod with the team of ‘John Denver Trending’ to make it to the regional premiere. We would learn later that a passenger boat capsized in the same waters while we were making the crossing,” Millado told ABS-CBN News.
It happened sometime in August 2019, during the 15th year of Cinemalaya.
Shot in the town of Pandan in Antique province with mostly first-time Ilonggo actors, “John Denver Trending” tackles how social media can magnify issues and destroy people’s reputations, even their lives in general. It won Best Picture that year, among other major awards, and has since made the rounds of international film festivals.
Meeting celebrities has always been part of Millado’s job but there’s one encounter he will cherish for life.
“[Second is] handing Ms. Nora Aunor her Best Actress award. I've been a big fan of La Aunor since childhood so it was unforgettable handing the Balanghai award to her. I have a photo of that,” he said.
Millado is referring to Cinemalaya 2014, when Aunor won Best Actress for Joel Lamangan’s “Hustisya” in the Directors’ Showcase Category.
In his social media account that year, Millado posted the photo of him handing the trophy to Aunor with the caption: “If she only knew that I would spend my baon (pocket money) to buy glossy photos of her when I was a young boy growing up in Victorias, Negros Occidental.”
The third unforgettable moment for Millado was finding director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and French critic-programmer Max Tessier at the CCP front lawn after being evacuated from the Main Theater during an earthquake.
“We stumbled out in the middle of the screening of ‘Respeto,’” said Millado.
“Respeto” was the debut film of music video director Treb Monteras. It tackles the struggles of a young Pinoy rapper (played by hip hop artist Abra) and his friends in an economically challenged community near the railroad tracks and how their lives are transformed after meeting an old man in the neighborhood who introduces them to Balagtasan and the richness of Philippine literature.
It won Best Picture and Audience Choice, among other major awards, in the 2017 Cinemalaya, and has since been screened and gathered recognitions in film festivals abroad.
Number four on Millado's list of top Cinemalaya memories would be the conversations with filmmaker Mel Chionglo.
“The 'backroom' stories about directors, actors, producers and filmmakers from Mel Chionglo whose work and life straddled many generations. I wished I recorded it.”
The veteran filmmaker who started in the industry in the early 1970s was known for directing Ricky Lee-penned masterpieces like “Playgirl,” “Lagarista,” “Midnight Dancers” and “Burlesk King”.
Chionglo died in 2019 at the age of 73.
“Mel was the head of Cinemalaya's monitoring and selection committee for many years and was an active member of the organizational committee when he passed away in 2019,” said Millado.
In 2021 for Cinemalaya’s 17th year, a retrospective was dedicated to Chionglo. Since movie houses were closed due to the pandemic and Cinemalaya was making use of online screening platforms, three of Chionglo’s best films were streamed, namely, “Lauriana,” “Playgirl” and “Lagarista”.
And finally for his fifth top Cinemalaya memorable moment: “Receiving the Nikkei Asia Prize Award for Culture and Community together with [Cinemalaya Foundation] chair Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco and members of the organizational committee in Tokyo. It’s always good to feed your soul with these affirming moments.”
The award was given to Cinemalaya Foundation “in recognition of its tireless efforts to discover gifted filmmakers and invigorate the Philippine film industry by organizing a big independent film festival.”
Nikkei Asia explained how "the organization has striven to shed a new light on the country’s film industry, which had been viewed as dead following a huge decline in production."
The award was given on May 29, 2019, in Tokyo. It was also the 15th year of Cinemalaya, the same year the festival expanded its screenings in the provinces.
As a bonus question, we asked Millado to name his top 10 favorite Cinemalaya films. We got a one-word answer: “Difficult!”
Now on its 18th year, the festival happens from August 5 to 14 at the CCP Main Theater, Studio Theater and Arthouse Cinema (Tanghalang Manuel Conde).
The opening film on August 5 is “Leonor Will Never Die", directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar, a Cinemalaya 2020 and 2015 awardee.
Top-billed by veteran theater actress Sheila Francisco, the film won the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s Jury Award for Spirit of Innovation.
Like in the previous years before the pandemic, this year’s competing films will also be shown in select Ayala and SM malls nationwide from August 10 to 17, reaching as far as the cities of Baguio, Angeles (Clark Freeport), Dasmariñas, Legaspi, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro.
After that, Cinemalaya goes to the regions, with screenings in selected communities from August 22 to 29.
For some cinephiles and cineastes, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. With streaming platforms, binge watching at the comfort of one’s home has become part of the new normal.
In 2020 and 2021, Cinemalaya took advantage of the technology to continue. Since filming full-length features became an ordeal because of health protocols and had to be put on hold, Cinemalaya focused on the shorts.
Those two-year long series of lockdowns may have closed the movie houses but Cinemalaya successfully migrated to online streaming.
This format continues in this year’s festival. All films in competition will be streamed from October 17 to 31.