Cinemalaya 2013: Challenging the viewer and the indie mold

Cinemalaya 2013's theme, "Cinesthesia: Synergy of the Senses." Patricia Denise ChiuThe stage was set, and the audience sat with bated breath.

Then, darkness.

First came the music, then images.

This is Cinemalaya 2013's "Cinesthesia: Synergy of the Senses," the 9th edition of the all-digital independent film festival and competition that has its roots at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Trippy, one might call it.

Cinemalaya 2013 formally opened Friday night at the CCP lobby, with a vision and sound scape by multimedia artist Tad Ermitaño setting the stage for a week-long exhibit of new independent films fresh for the picking.

Chris Millado, festival director and artistic director of the CCP, explained the year’s theme as a homage to the senses and to cinema.

Derived from synesthesia, a neurological condition where one experiences mixed sensations, as when one stimulated sense elicits a sensation in another, this year’s Cinemalaya theme is meant to evoke feelings other than the mundane.

“Cinemalaya has changed the way the international community has looked at Philippine Cinema, through the lens of independent filmmaking. This synesthesia is the feeling you get after watching a Cinemalaya film,” Millado said.

This year, Millado challenged the film watching public to put a new spin to how they view Philippine Cinema.

"Cinemalaya is never boring, never predictable. This defines the Cinesthetic Cinemalaya. You can chart your way through numerous films with a whole new retrospective," he said.

Other than the call for viewers to pick up something more from the festival, Millado also acknowledged the big names involved in this year’s festival. Any newcomer to the world of Cinemalaya will be greeted by familiar mainstream faces, as many of the films star actors that have made names for themselves in mainstream cinema.

"We’re evolving into what I like to call 'maindie,'" Millado explained, noting how the previous successes of Cinemalaya has paved the way for mainstream names to try a hand at the fearless story telling characteristic of Philippine indie cinema.

Not a tourism ad

Acknowledging that this year’s Cinemalaya (and indeed those that have come before) does not shy away from sensitive topics like sex, drugs and abuse, former Cultural Center of the Philippines President Nestor Jardin noted that the film festival is not a Department of Tourism (DOT) fest.

Rather, Jardin lauded the courage that indie filmmakers have to tell the stories that ring true for those who watch them.

"Indie has gained popularity, in that it truthfully and boldly proclaims what is true in our society. Some people tell me, they think indie is so negative. I always say that [Cinemalaya] is not a DOT film fest. It shows both sides [of the country and of our society,]" Jardin said.

Learn more about this year’s films in competition.

‘Jazz in Love’

After the opening ceremonies, the audience was treated to a bittersweet film. For the first time, the Cinemalaya film fest was ushered in by a documentary called "Jazz in Love".

Directed by Baby Ruth Villarama, the documentary, "Jazz in Love", features Ernesto, called Jazz, an engaging young Mindanao man studying German in preparation for his marriage to his German fiancé.

A visibly moved Villarama introduced the film before it was shown, calling on the audience to look past conventions when thinking about love and acceptance. She also acknowledged the victory of documentaries, which rarely see wide-scale public screenings in the Philippines.

"Tonight we celebrate documentaries. I hope it serves as a small contribution to the LGBT community, I hope it shows people acceptance. And if [my film] can do that, I'll be the happiest storyteller," she said.

A total of 70 films, including the 25 in competition categories, will be shown in various sections of the festival—"Ani," Cinemalaya Documentaries, Cinemalaya Premieres, Retrospective: Urian’s Best, and tributes to the late directors Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Celso Ad. Castillo, and National Artist Eddie Romero.

Cinemalaya runs from July 27-August 4, with screenings at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt 3 (Cinemas 3 and 5), Trinoma (Cinemas 1 and 2), and Alabang Town Center (Cinema 4).

As Millado said in his opening speech, "In the spirit of Cinemalaya, happy trip!"

Full schedule on the Cinemalaya Facebook page. — VC, GMA News

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