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Cinestudyante 2019: Thomasian Filmmakers’ Triumph In the Local Film Industry

This first ever Filipino all-student film festival, Cinestudyante, features forty-three short films by high school and undergraduate students alike—three of which were created by Thomasians.

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Photo from Santolan Town Plaza Facebook page

Filipino cinema has been noteworthy insomuch as the popularity of film festivals boomed within the last few years. This is evident in the ever-increasing volume in queues in local theatres, the demand for better if not quality films in contest to mainstream entertainment, and the emergence of new film festivals. 

Last August was Cinemalaya season, an independent film festival celebrating its fifteenth year. September’s  Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), founded just three years ago, promotes locally produced films. These festivals have inspired hundreds of film aspirants. Thus, birthing Cinestudyante. 

From the partnership of Santolan Town Plaza and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), the first permission was held from September 25 until October 1. This first ever Filipino all-student film festival, Cinestudyante, features forty-three short films by high school and undergraduate students alike—three of which were created by Thomasians.

 

Heist School, directed by Julius Renomeron Jr.

Photo from Cinemalaya Facebook page

Producer: Last Minute Films, Writers: Julius Renomeron Jr., Johmar Damiles, John Paolo Barrameda, Editors: Julius Renomeron Jr., Johmar Damiles, John Paolo Barrameda, Assistant Director: Alvin Jamora, Keanu Managuas, Production Manager: Klaire Ellise Dulay, Production Designer: Ezren Caneda, Casting Director: Pauline Carlos, Zhino Koe

Heist School, a film that debuted in the 2019 Cinemalaya Film Festival under the Short Feature category, was also featured in Cinestudyante.  A film about friendship and the role that a school holds in our development as a person, it’s told through the story of a ragtag group of students who tries to steal the answers to their math exam inside the faculty room.

“It was also a critique on the educational system in the country and how students’ moral uprightness are shaped early by their environment, especially in school,” director Julius Renomeron Jr. said.

In an online interview with TomasinoWeb, Renomeron, the director, shared how the idea for Heist School came about, “It was actually a joke when we pitched it and I wasn’t really that serious about the details of the film itself. […] We’ve had other film ideas for our film production class but Heist School stood out for us. Throughout the development of the script we molded the story from our experiences and struggles in college of passing the exams with my co-writers, Johmar Damiles and John Paolo Barrameda. […] It is also inspired by our friendship since back in college we were always having petty fights because we are dormmates, classmates, and orgmates.”

According to Renomeron, prior to the creation of Heist School, he and his friends, who are part of the production team, have been creating short films ever since. Consequently, they lacked funding in the post production process so they had to do everything by themselves. “Malaking pera rin kasi ang kailangan for the production so we had to sell stuff and rumaket ng mga video editing jobs. […] The filmmaking process was complicated but I guess being members of TomasinoWeb helped us in the production process because we were doing video production in the org before we started the project.”

On the subject of those struggling with the creative process, Renomeron shared that young creative should have the attitude of always wanting to learn new things. “Wala na kasing original na idea ngayon. What matters is how well you execute your ideas and how much of “you” can you put in your work.”

In retrospect, the whole process in creating Heist School was grueling, to say the least, but they were able to pull it off because everyone in the group was passionate about making the film and they took the time to exchange ideas and take into account every single idea that was pitched, no matter how foolish, because it could be valuable to the filmmaking process later on. Renomeron added, “The friendship bled through our script and that’s what made the characters feel more grounded.”

 

Garing, directed by Dan Pablo

Photo from Garing ng 1PM Films Facebook page

Producer: Emery Principe, Assistant Director: Charlaine Mutia, Emery Principe, Associate Producer: Ynna Dizon, Screenplay: Georgie Cerbolles, Production Manager: Katarina Mendoza, Production Designer: Cally Calleja, Director of Photography: Dan Pablo, Casting Director: Charlaine Mutia, Alex Garcia, Location Manager: Alex Garcia, Art Director: Barbara San Diego,

Another film featured in Cinestudyante, Garing, was the brainchild of a group of friends who shared the same vision for a short film, initially conceptualized by assistant director Charlaine Mutia. According to Screenwriter Georgie Cerbolles, “It is a story of a mother with a love for her child so strong that she loses her judgment to do what is right. It shows the struggles of being powerless while holding on to something as trivial as faith.”

Although the film was just a requirement for their film production class, they took the initial concept for the film and from there, they developed it to what it is now. “The first drafts of the screenplay were miles apart from the final script, but we ultimately wanted to keep the religious and motherly elements of the story,” Cerbolles shared.

Deciding which direction to go was one of the most troubling parts in the process, secondary to the tight budget and the lack of time. “It was our first time to do a short film with a budget and we knew that it wasn’t going to be perfect. Decision making was a hit or miss since we lacked the experience,” director, editor, and director of photography Dan Pablo added.

There was also an instance where they almost gave up and considered taking on a different story. “But in the end, we knew we had to go with Concha’s story, no matter how challenging it was,” assistant director Emery Principe said.

No easy step was found in the making of Garing: pre-production required the group to be confident in what they were about to do, and where they failed to do right by the story, they made up for it during post-production. “Every stage of production felt different. […] But it was fulfilling to finally witness the result of what your team has been working on in the last three months,” said Dan Pablo.

One of the film’s challenges was the fact that ideas could come anywhere and from anyone, so it was equally important for the group to collaborate, and in turn, move to create their vision for the film. The important takeaway for the group during the filmmaking process was that hard work alone isn’t enough to craft a good story—it takes collective effort.

“It takes time. It will always take so much time and energy to do something as impactful and wonderful as a film. If you’re given great material and happen to be around the right people to work with, it will all come together in the end,” said Cerbolles.

 

Beyond the Mats, directed by Dan Angelo Eligado

Photo from UST Tiger TV Facebook page

Executive Producer: Gwen Segarra, Supervising Producers: Pauline Linsangan, Jomari Hernandez, Writer: Oscar David Poblete, Editor: Ma. Lynette Pamintuan, Dan Angelo Eligado, Director of Photography: Dan Angelo Eligado, Production Assistants: Mivel Ambas, Charlene Jaranilla, Clarissa Sulit

Beyond the Mats is a documentary about the University of Santo Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe—their journey and remarkable legacy in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition. The film started off as just an idea, but the group found that Salinggawi had a promising story to tell, especially since the dance troupe has went through a great deal of experiences. “Noong una, it was Ma’am Faye’s vision to create a documentary for Salinggawi. Since ako ‘yung Sports Unit Head that time ako ‘yung tinap niya for this project,” said Jomari Hernandez, one of the supervising producers.

The team for the production of the film was the sports unit under Hernandez. He shared, “Nagtulungan kami in producing this film kahit na we’re bombarded with lots of deadlines and requirements. Nag-outsource rin kami ng mga tao from the operations and we tapped our Junior Producers para pag-graduate naming, alam nila ang galawan sa paggawa ng documentary.”

Before the production of the actual film, Beyond the Mats was actually a part of a larger series called Routine to Redemption, but because Salinggawi didn’t make it to the podium, it was discontinued. As a result, Beyond the Mats was created to show Salinggawi as they truly are, warts and all, as they enter UAAP Season 81.

Kaya in the end, we made sure to highlight Salinggawi’s value na they are more than cheerleaders, they have the passion to serve for UST,” Hernandez added.

According to the group, the most troubling part about the creation of the film was when Salinggawi lost because the vision for them and for the film was that they would win and they would get to do their podium finish. Although this led to the difficulty of redirecting the film to a different angle, they believed it told the story of Salinggawi as it should be, and that the process towards that goal justified it.

Because the documentary was about Salinggawi, the group had to immerse themselves in their lives—their training, their life outside the dance troupe. “Feel nga namin Salinggawi na kami eh,” Hernandez remarked.

Other than the Salinggawi Dance Troupe, the group was inspired by all the other student-athletes in the university—they believed that all of them had a story worth telling, that they are so much more than student-athletes. There were so many opportunities to tell a different story, but they chose to tell this one—one that hasn’t been told yet.

“Always be resilient and put your heart in your story,” Hernandez stated, “Kailangan mong mahalin para maging matagumpay sa isang bagay.”

 

These films are a telltale that the Filipino youth have the ability to amplify their own stories. The ways in which they communicate their brilliant ideas transform into something greater. Cinestudyante, even on its first year, has become another platform to champion the local film industry.

 

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Sila-Sila in its spectrum

Being under the constant waves of change, companionship paves through distances and personal struggles. The movie emphasizes that ‘ghosting’ also happens between friends and rekindling episodes are a challenge.

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Screengrab from Sila-Sila movie trailer

Giancarlo Abrahan’s entry for Cinema One Originals Film Festival Sila-Sila is a groundbreaking film that sprouts a queer narrative molded by queer people. Anchored to the intimate stories of real people, this ghosting film pierces through the lens of post-breakup experiences.

Its lead actors, Gio Gahol and Topper Fabregas had a harmonious rhythm as Gabriel and Jared inside one frame. With Gab being helplessly displaced and Jared as someone who craves settlement, they were in an endless loop of push-and-pull, making every scene burst in different colors of expectations.  

The film revolves around the story of Gab (Gahol), as he tries to reconcile with his friends (Phi Palmos and Dwein Baltazar) and his ex-boyfriend, Jared (Fabregas) after ‘ghosting’ them for almost a year. Fueled by guilt and regret, the old lovers find themselves igniting a fire that once burned the bridges that connected their lives.

Five minutes in and the sensual relationship between Gab and Topper will cuff the audience with its bare exposure of same-sex actualities. These characters played by both theater artists allow the scenes to flourish with remarkable nuance.

The scenarios in the film allow you to peek at realities that manifest through Gab’s life as a person who fails to find his roots being settled in one place. As his portrayal walks you through the story of uncertainties, the progress of the film lets you trace into a deep contemplation whether or not you may be the Gab or Jared in your own story.

Despite having fragments of scenarios that lowers the momentum of the film, it serves as a breath of fresh air as Gab undergoes the phase of vacillation. Gab’s journey of finding a home in people he once felt was is a cycle anyone can relate to. His doubts linger in trust issues and the feeling of not belonging. It soon uncovers that the quest of settling in places, people, and experiences will be unending unless one finds their sense of home.

Phi Palmos and Dwein Baltazar’s characters are spices to the story as they portray a decade-long friendship of overcoming tendencies. Being under the constant waves of change, companionship paves through distances and personal struggles. The movie emphasizes that ‘ghosting’ also happens between friends and rekindling episodes are a challenge.

Sila Sila won the Best Picture Award. Its undeniably well-plated palette satisfies the eye of the audience. A lot of scenes will tickle one’s humor especially if you are used to friendships that blatantly roast each other as a way of showing one’s love language.

Alongside its award-winning cinematography, Sila Sila also received the Audience Choice Award and Best Screenplay by scriptwriter Daniel Saniana. Also, Fabregas was recognized as Best Supporting Actor for his role.

“We’ll always love each other, however it manifests, it’s just always going to be there.”, this line by Jared carves through the hearts of those who had to let go of a person but never the love that they have for them. Gab’s relationship with Jared shows that there is never just one way of loving someone. Every day, with every version of themselves, love prevails. 

Distance can never make things small. It only deceives you from thinking that you’ve escaped your troubles. One way or another, you will find yourself crawling back because time never lets anyone off its claws—Sila-Sila teaches this. Furthermore, sometimes, having no closure is not the closure.

The character of Gab serves as an example that a person will remain trapped in the past unless they find closure from people and from themselves. People are bound to face the naked truth that we need to find our sense of home in this world that is full of broken fragments of imperfect individuals.

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Metamorphosis, a film that challenges the conventional

Tiglao tells this story through the never-before-seen character of a Filipino intersex teenager, and he tells it almost flawlessly, with the scenes that make you nostalgic, like you’ve been there before—a sort of déjà vu.

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Screengrab from Metamorphosis Trailer

As a coming-of-age film that probes more extensively into the adolescent psychosexual conflict, J.E. Tiglao’s Metamorphosis is dangerously daring. The film stirred a wave of controversy when the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) classified it as X-rated for exploring intersexuality, later on, it was reclassified into R-16, permitting its screening in local cinemas. 

It opens with a scene at a waterfall in a 1:1 aspect ratio and ends in the same setting, where we find the protagonist, Adam, exceptionally portrayed by Gold Azeron, no longer irresolute. Supporting actress Iana Bernardez, who plays Angel, complements Azaron almost naturally—Adam isn’t without Angel, vice versa. However, the gorgeous visuals of Metamorphosis overshadow the disarray that’s often ignored in the film.

Tiglao tells this story through the never-before-seen character of a Filipino intersex teenager, and he tells it almost flawlessly, with the scenes that make you nostalgic, like you’ve been there before—a sort of déjà vu. Apart from the brilliant footwork of Tey Clamor, the film’s cinematographer, the musical score by Divino Dayacap, from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, gave the film its oomph: as if the music understood the complexity of emotions portrayed, and the aesthetics with it.

Tiglao almost easily got away with poor writing by compensating for the other elements in the film. Instead of sustaining its relaxed delicateness, it lost its momentum when Adam’s exploration into his intersexuality was hastily overturned by uncalled-for predatory themes, and sexual awakening was realized by means of harassment.

The film relied heavily on aesthetics while leaving the plot unsustained and undernourished. It undermined the audience’s capacity to understand beyond the script because there was very little depth to it—the metaphors were surface-level and revealed themselves too easily. Some scenes appeared to over-explain themselves because expository writing was brought to an excess. Nevertheless, the film communicated what it sought to: the magnitude of embracing your own uniqueness in pursuit of self-acceptance.

Perhaps one of the most moving scenes in the film was when Adam’s father, a conservative Catholic and a pastor with a strongly-held vision for Adam to reverse his intersexuality – an “Ok, boomer” moment – abandons his unyielding bigoted principles at long last, giving Adam the autonomy to decide on and for his own. Here, the conservative adult matures with the troubled adolescent—and it is this shared acceptance that is unique to Metamorphosis.

Although the film suffers from tacky dialogue and some questionable subplots, it does exactly what a coming-of-age film is supposed to: the audience becomes an echo chamber, where we feel for the protagonist while accompanying him into growth and resolution. 

Metamorphosis, along with its stillness and vulgarity, makes for an ample directorial debut. The “I” in LGBTQIA+ rarely gets talked about, but Tiglao changed that by giving us Metamorphosis: it contests machismo without overemphasizing the feminine, it astounds without unnerving, and most of all it is unrestrained. Metamorphosis, even with its sloppy writing, is sufficiently beautiful—it questions and challenges the conventional, and it does it without fear.

 

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Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo: An Endless Cycle

Falling in love in this generation is like using a trial and error method that gets you nowhere. In the emergence of dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble and websites like Omegle, finding a prospective partner has become fairly easy but also quick to lose.

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Screengrab from Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo official trailer

Labels. There is a silent debate going on about whether labels are important or a factor for complications. Though there is a need to define relationships to know where to draw the line between friends and lovers, it is often terrifying to know what the truth really is. The word ‘commitment’ may seem an intimidating word for some, but it is also loved by many. 

Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo is one of the entries for the Cinema One Originals 2019. Written and directed by Denise O’Hara, who won an award for Best Director in this year’s Gawad Urian for a movie called Mamang, a film about dementia and the struggles of remembering one’s life. 

The film festival ran from November 7 until November 17 in selected malls and microcinemas. Starring Jane Oineza and JC Santos as Alex and Carlo, the story portrays the characters’ struggle in the process of falling in love, falling out, being confused, and being sure at the same time. 

Falling in love in this generation is like using a trial and error method that gets you nowhere. In the emergence of dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble and websites like Omegle, finding a prospective partner has become fairly easy but also quick to lose. 

Alex, played by Jane Oineza, is a woman with big dreams and ambitions, eager to prove to the world that she is more than just a pretty face. Carlo, played by JC Santos, on the other hand, is your typical go-with-the-flow kind of guy who works in the field of graphic design and freelance work. The story progresses as the two create something that neither of them knows what is and what to call. 

By slowly cracking her shell and breaking down her walls, Carlo manages to see the parts of Alex that no one really sees. Underneath her cold gazes and intimidating aura, lies a sappy and marupok girl. One night, after planning and talking about the design for Alex’s upcoming project, a cockroach scare prompts a rush to the bedroom; ensuing a somewhat emotional conversation that turns the atmosphere into purple and red hazes. 

After that night, awkwardness sits between them in the office. Alex, trying to figure out what happened, asks Carlo directly; as to his reply, along with the words “Masaya pa rin naman ‘diba?” creates a questionable feeling both to the characters and the audience. 

Stemming from the title itself, the movie—from start to finish—draws a problematic and complicated cycle that reflects dating and almost-dating. The dialogues lacked a bit of emotional appeal and the concreteness of thought cannot be easily grasped. The movie has a back and forth sequence, showing the past and the present, how the moments came to be, what arguments were thrown out to get to the scene where they chase each other in the sidewalk with pain and hesitation in their eyes. 

Cinematography-wise, the color palette of the film shifts along with the emotion that is being presented on the screen, making up for the lack of substance in the exchange of dialogues. It is a mess, paralleling to Alex and Carlos’ relationship, the shaky camera angles and the abrupt shift from one scene to another provides support in pulling off the movie’s complicated narrative. It could have had more backstory and fewer gaps in the storyline but it somehow works as it leaves you hanging and still questioning what happened. It keeps you in the cycle even though you have stepped out of the cinema already. 

Filled with contradictions and trouble waiting to happen, O’Hara’s work garners attention from those who are in the same position. The film dwells on complex-minded characters, pretty much like our generation, and their decisions on whether they should leave or keep fighting for something that is vague. It is a ticking time bomb of tears and regret or maybe, just maybe, something magical and worthwhile. 

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