No Walls, No Ceilings: Cinema Rehiyon 9, an overview
Four years ago, the sleepy town of Nabunturan in the province of Compostela Valley mounted their first ever film festival. A school auditorium that has to be covered in copious stretches of cloth to minimize the sunlight’s glare became the makeshift theatre, showcasing short films that were the output of a guerilla-style filmmaking workshop. A year after, films are now projected on a 20-foot open-air projector screen that has to be aerated, and mounted at night near the town hall where the local audience from the community gathers.
There are no grand red carpets or big-named celebrities. In a landlocked region with no cinema houses, 90 kilometers from Davao City, the “stars” are the stories, told from the perspectives of their own storytellers and fellow filmmakers from all over Mindanao. The small filmmaking community grew, incubating these storytellers – from public school teachers to senior high school students – who got to experience the thrill of showing their first films to a local audience, some of whom were also their neighbors, relatives, classmates, co-workers, or first time filmgoers. The Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition also opened its doors and started inviting and screening films from other regions outside of Mindanao, and films from Nabifilmex were also exhibited in other regions through Cinema Rehiyon and regional film festivals.
This year, Compostela Valley will host Cinema Rehiyon, just a year away from celebrating its first decade. With the theme “No Walls, No Ceilings”, the festival finds itself in a community setting that represents the kind of diversity and vibrancy of our cultures, articulated through the films produced from different parts of the Philippines. Our celebration of each regional cinema also becomes an invitation to reflect on our commonalities and shared aspirations as a Filipino nation.
Rice, the staple Filipino food finds itself in this year’s logo, with the golden rice grains in the logo taking the shape of a camera lens, symbolic of this “harvest” of best films from the regions, while the open space at its center and the absence of outlines around the logo evokes a kind of openness of the screening venues as well as opportunities for collaboration and sharing. (This year, a “filmathon” will gather the participant-filmmakers in a 24-hour filmmaking challenge.)
This year’s theme articulates the borderless-ness of cinema – from strictures and structures. The festival will feature open-air screenings nightly: one in an inflatable screen near the municipal hall and a mobile cinema truck that will bring films to nearby barangays aside from school and indoor screenings.
This breaking-the-barriers attitude is reflected in the programming. Following last year, the programmers veered away from regionalizing the screening programs and instead focus on common themes shared by the films regardless of what region it comes from. Many of the short films this year bring to the fore the reality of the war against drugs and extra-judicial killings: from the love-conquers-all tale of a drug-running gay couple in “Nandito Naman Tayo Para sa Isa’t Isa, Diba?” from Pampanga, the brief and imaginative take on Rizal’s execution via extra-judicial killing called “No Seguir” from Cebu, to the unhurried, documentary-like unfolding of a summary execution of a balut (duck egg) vendor in “Balut Penoy Asin” from Cagayan de Oro.
The festival will open with one of the best Filipino films last year, Sheron Dayoc’s Women of the Weeping River, fresh from its multiple Gawad Urian wins last month. Set in Mindanao, the film focuses on lesser-known issue of blood feuds that reflect the much-bigger conflicts that we get to see in mainstream media. While peace in the region continues to be tenuous and fragile, the film offers the possibility of reconciliation, which can only be made possible through dialogue and openness, making the film a perfect opener for the festival. Full-length films featured in the program continue to defy regional-national dichotomy, tackling a wide range of national issues in regional and international settings, like the postcolonial at the margins of Petersen Vargas’ 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten and the Filipino diaspora in Babyruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen, or the plight of our marginalized indigenous peoples in the narratives of Zig Dulay’s Paglipay (Crossing), Bagane Fiola’s Baboy Halas (Wailings of the Forest), and Arnel Barbarona’s Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right to Kill). Interestingly, trans-regional nuances figure in the narratives of the full-length features from Visayas, namely Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus and Keith Deligero’s Lily.
But the growth and development of regional cinema is not measured only by the number of films produced every year – this year a staggering 98 short films and 12 full-length films. This year’s festival will discuss the socio-cultural impact of regional cinema and regional filmmaking movements through a forum called “Cinema Rehiyon: Quo Vadis?” And while it is important to look at film production and distribution aspects, which will also be discussed in one of the forums, it is hoped that this year’s festival shifts its attention to developing the local audience for regional cinemas, which is already being started in Nabunturan and other parts of Mindanao, a throwback to the festival’s theme four years ago – “nurturing cinemas of home”. While we wait for important discussion points raised from the forum and exciting next steps, the cusp of innovation and revolution in Philippine cinema might already be in our midst – in the open-air communities of Compostela Valley where the experience of cinema offers boundless possibilities.