Stream Consciousness: Nature and Existentialism in Five Short Films of Cinemalaya 16

This year, Cinemalaya goes on a virtual venture with the theme Stream Consciousness in an effort to continue the pioneering festival’s tradition of celebrating homegrown filmmaking talent amid a time of uncertainty. The event runs from Aug. 7 to 16, 2020 and you can still buy a bundle for as low as P75 at Vimeo to enjoy a vast library of new and retrospective films.

Featuring an extensive library for its Main Competition that was cut into the usual A and B sets, we review the films and understand the concept that ties it all into the festival’s theme altogether. For this part, we look into five films that explore the themes of nature and existentialism all exceptionally portrayed in stunning cinematography and profound narratives.

Quing Lalam Ning Aldo by Reeden Fajardo

A Kapampangan transwoman, Budang, prepares for her son’s homecoming from Canada. What turns out to be her surprise ricocheted back to her as her son cancelled in advance until eventually arriving unannounced.

The film is every bit straightforward from its dialogues, theme, and subject matter. However, it anchors on the sheer simplicity of its wholeness while holding a lot of heart in it. Bringing in a whole new perspective, moreso a spotlight on a non-traditional Filipino household of a transwoman and her son, the short welcomes a progressive lens in local cinema and sheds light on the normalcy of their family setting. 

Set on a house in the middle of a sampaguita farm, it pulls us back on a trip to the province while also leveraging the mundanities of rural life. These include their hunt for a native chicken on an actual farm, being ecstatic of homecomings, preparing a feast with organic ingredients, and a number of montages that capture a blissful, saturated nature.

As much as the film focuses on a mother’s love for her son, it also radiates a sense of melancholy as Budang fills the void left by her son’s departure by tending a local farm. Even though she kept herself occupied with her farm’s success, which she raised just like her son, for her anticipation to be shattered in the news of her son’s cancelled flight, only proves that no amount of success can parallel to the yearning she has for years. But she carried on with a lot of hope despite it all.

Pabasa Kan Pasyon by Hubert Tibi

A family struggles to find ways to make ends meet. The film juxtaposes the efforts of two sons who turns to faith for grace—one as a radio DJ who is at risk of losing his job, and another, who makes a living playing a role in the town senakulo.

It’s a film of contrasts; literally and figuratively. Shot in black and white, its masterful cinematography complemented by its ringing musical scoring and dramatic montages creates a  sense of eeriness and somber.

The film takes on the irony of life and religion—how both faith and hard work, separately, is never enough for a good life. Certain Catholic practices such as the pasyon, in this scenario, have always been at the center of the mass’ interest. Its sensationalization has invited more than just the faithful, but also the tourists and the non-practitioners to feed their curiosity and find entertainment in its creative dramatization of actual history. Finding monetary value in its practice, some Filipinos, particularly the poor, took on the mantle of an actor as a means for seasonal extra income.

Tibi’s creative direction leads us on two parallel ways of life to see which, either the long-sustaining one or the short but by-faith-we-survive path, will fend off their dues. The radio DJ took on a regular job but still hangs on possibly losing it due to the pressures of online platforms such as Spotify and Facebook. The other, however, relied on their faith by taking a job on the annual pasyon with the support of his mom. Ironically, as the two sons embark on their own, they still both met the same tragedy in the end.

Living Things by Martika Ramirez Escobar

In Martika Ramirez Escobar’s Living Things, we follow the story of a peculiar couple who discovers and copes up with changes in their lives.

It’s an existential film that portrays an unlikely relationship of a childish and playful couple who, in contrast, turns a generic conversation into a perplexing series of questions. The delusion of the couple turning into inanimate versions of themselves exhibits an ode to an unconditional love that blooms at the comfort and harmony of their kaleidoscopic lives.

The film evokes warm and light emotions that pull us into their journey of finding solace in each other’s presence despite the constant changes in their individual lives and in their relationship—an adage to finding the perfect soulmate.

From the cinematography shot with a phone, theme, dialogues, dramatic pastel palette, and a restraining 11 minutes duration—it sums up a full equation for a compact indie short that packs a lot of wit and humor, which works best for the short attention-spanned critics. And perhaps the biggest takeaway from it, is the lingering question of “What is a thing?” that will haunt us indefinitely in a search that can only lead to an abstract answer.

Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos by Joanna Vasquez Arong

The film is a narration of a woman and a series of recollections during the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, clinging to past memories of her grandmother and her mom.

Clad in monochromatic filters, it’s a journey that tells of the psychological effects and economic downfall left by an unprecedented natural disaster. Weaving a series of actual clips, footages, photos, and even children’s illustrations, the film holds a lot of weight and trauma that exudes a whirlwind of emotions. It puts you on the hotspot to relive the moment empathically as it shreds you with sorrow but at the same time, sheds light on the resiliency of its survivors amidst ordeals.

Starting off with the disappointment of the locals on the national government featuring tabloid features that focus on larger scandals; then telltales and local myths to give us an understanding of how these stories, in a way, reflect historical context in our culture deeming natural disasters as acts of god; the metaphorical ghosts that are more than just cries of help but also echoes of neglect; and then, the narrator’s personal story that deals with her own reality that just keeps chasing her back especially now in her current dreaded situation.

Such is the theme, which is finding the calm after the storm and reflecting on how to move forward whether in faith and in belief, in reliance for help, in introspection of the past, or into a whole new perspective despite the scar that remains in healing. It’s a great film, despite the risk of sensationalizing the trauma and terrors of victims of the disaster, which it carefully deviated from, thereby unraveling a well-thought out and sincere look into the real issues of Yolanda’s devastation and digging deeper than the rubbles it has left.

Utwas by Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay

A kid learns how to be a fisherman until he dives deeper into learning the unjust practices in the ocean.

It’s everything you expect it to be but was captured well in all its essence. The film portrays the reality of how fishermen trade their youth to learn the practice of fishing in their normal everyday lives. Everything is so raw from the stunning nature shots that span from the lush of islands to the great blue, then the chilling sounds that immerse you in the diving experience and the gasping of breaths, then the acting that seems untrained, unpolished even, which only heightens the sincerity of the piece.

The reality depicted in the film isn’t new to us but it serves exceptional cinematography that elevates the film among others tied with the same theme. Dynamite fishing still remains apparent nowadays and the dangers it poses not just for nature, but also for its practitioners, is carefully portrayed in the film. It offers a perspective on how there’s tragedy that looms behind the elegance of its nature shots that we already know, but held us on a boat as viewers waiting for a conclusion that can only lead to a sad reality. There is awareness in its film that only cries out for action instead of awe.