Review: Cinemalaya 2016 Shorts A

Set ‘A’ of the Cinemalaya 2016 shorts features a few delightful entries.

Moises Magisa and Himlaya Payapa in a scene from the short film Nakauwi Na.

The short film competition section of Cinemalaya’s 12th edition did not enjoy the same top-billing it had in the previous year, with the return of the full-length category. Regardless, it remains an essential part of the festival, a nourishing ground for promising new filmmakers.

Here is a review of the five works belonging to the ‘A’ set, which, I am pleased to share, features some delightful entries.

Bugtaw (Awake)

Written and directed by Noah del Rosario.

Bugtaw (Hiligaynon for awake) is a tale about Arman and Leo, two boys who share something in common: the lack of a father at home. To pass their time, and perhaps to escape their problems, they hang out and talk about the dreams that they diligently write down after waking up. On one such meeting, however, Arman is confronted by someone who aggravates the misery of his childhood, and the boys’ dreaming takes a stranger turn.

The dreams are rendered as animated sequences, which can be jarring for some audiences. Overall the animations are simply-detailed, neither too plain nor too elaborate. While some sequences lack fluidity in the characters’ motions, others are smooth and well-composed. The child actors (John Vincent Servilla and Carlos Dala) provide convincing performances as the two kids with differing, but somewhat complementary, family problems; and the pace at which they resolve their misunderstandings reminds us of our own away-bati (love-hate) memories from childhood.

The ending of Bugtaw summons a cliché from stories involving dreams, and it serves as a weak conclusion to an otherwise interesting and affecting piece.

Ang Maangas, ang Marikit at ang Makata

Written and directed by Jose Ibarra Guballa.

Ang Maangas, ang Marikit at ang Makata (The Cool, the Fool, and the Lovely) is a crowd-pleaser. This Western piece, set in Spanish-colonial period Philippines, humorously employs many of the genre’s conventions. The short story revolves around three characters: Alfonso, an intimidating warrior seeking payment for a long-owed debt, Delfin, a hopeless-romantic of a poet, and the object of his affection, Liwliw, the Captain’s lovely daughter.

The film’s generous serving of funny moments can be construed as a parody of the genre’s worn-out narrative patterns; ironically, however, the humor only empowers the story’s emotional pull, regardless of how familiar and predictable the source of conflict is.

The three characters are inevitably entangled in a net of arrogant, foolish, and stubborn desires. Along the way, the film manages to comment on the place of women in colonial society, and skillfully reveal its characters’ vulnerabilities, contradictions and secrets—resulting in a comical short film with unusually interesting characters and a still rarer weight of meaning.

In the end, as the conflict rises to its climax, Ang Maangas restrains itself, and leaves the resolution of its satirical story to its audience’s imagination. Then it closes with the powerful, memorable image of Liwliw dancing to Delfin’s kundiman.

(In tone, spirit, and character, this short film shares much with Pusong Bato, which won the best short film prize in the 11th Cinemalaya festival. That film’s writer and director, Martika Ramirez Escobar, served as Director of Photography in Ang Maangas.)

Mansyong Papel

Written and directed by Ogos Manalo Aznar.

Mansyong Papel’s (Paper Mansion) premise is definitely intriguing: the breakdown of a Chinese business tycoon’s family after an ominous phone call reveals the cracks creeping into their home. It is anchored by the metaphor of a burning paper mansion, as seen in traditional Chinese funerals.

The film, to summarize its weaknesses and without delving into further details, would have certainly worked better as a feature-length affair. Its plot tries to include too many threads; consequently, the final product suffers from a confusingly fast pace. No amount of masterful editing can save it from its inconsistent tone, either—the film tries to be comedic, then sober, then suspenseful and thrilling, then dramatic and finally tragic. Such a wide spectrum of emotions works best given only the breathing space of a full-length feature.

These shortcomings are unfortunate, as the film recruits a handful of respected, veteran thespians to do its work: the likes of Tony Mabesa, Perla Bautista, and Odette Khan. To add salt to injury, the film suffers further from poor sound works: rough cuts, ambient noise, and poor dubbing plague the entire film.

Mansyong Papel, in short, burns down under the weight of its own opulent ambition.

Nakauwi Na

Written and directed by John Paul Relano, Patrick Baleros and Luis Hidalgo.

Nakauwi Na is a simple piece entirely composed of a dialogue between two characters, Doroteo (Moises Magisa) and his homecoming brother, Ramon (Himlay Payapa). It is a neat, yet satisfyingly edgy picture that succeeds to be touching without being heavy-handed.

With every line of dialogue, the film tantalizes the viewer, begging us to figure out what, in fact, is happening. At one point, as Ramon briefly exits the screen, Nakauwi Na teases us with a revelation that it then backs out from. By the end of the short, everything is made clear, and while the story’s trick is ultimately simple, it remains poignant and powerful. The film, despite setting out to only capture a simple moment, succeeds in encapsulating so much more.

A note on the visuals: with limited narrative material to play around with, Nakauwi Na focuses its style on its character’s costumes, which are colorfully distinct and serves to characterize them just as much as their actual dialogues do. The film’s poster and titles, on the other hand, are designed in a contemporary, graphic fashion. The overall result is a visually iconic work.


Written and directed by Isabel Maria Luz Quesada.

It is productive to profile Pektus (Spin) as a film in the tradition of director Lawrence Fajardo’s works. In context, setting, and narrative structure, this work shares much with such pictures as Amok (2011) and Imbisibol (2015). All these works revolve around parallel stories of average persons navigating the daily challenges of life on the streets—until fate crosses their paths in a life-changing incident.

(Lawrence Fajardo is credited as a creative consultant in Pektus.)

Isabel Quesada’s work, however, differs in two key elements: first, in the amount of humor permeating the story, and second, in the more positive outlook it carries, which it displays alongside sharp observations about the average Filipino’s struggles and attitudes.

The result is an immensely satisfying experience, thrilling and entertaining. Part of this is a result of engaging performances by Nonie Buencamino, Jojit Lorenzo and more (the film is attended by a surprising number of well-known, admired actors in small roles); but most of it is simply the pleasure of a story that accurately portrays the good and the bad in real life.

The featured image in this article is a screenshot from the Nakauwi Na trailer, The author claims its publication here to be within the limits of fair use.


3 thoughts on “Review: Cinemalaya 2016 Shorts A”

  1. I saw this set of short films from last year’s festival and reading your reviews makes me so nostalgic about it. I really like the way you wrote the reviews without giving much spoilers. This review made me want to see those films again 😀 Can’t wait for this year’s festival! 😀

    1. Thanks. If you take a look at the other reviews I do in this blog, most of them are actually chock-full of spoilers, but in those cases I take care to put in a warning note at the start.

      Same with me, Cinemalaya is something I’ve been looking forward to since I started watching it, many years back. But if I learned anything about the independent filmmaking scene last year, it’s that there are so many more quality festivals out there than just Cinemalaya. In fact it now feels like there are too many films to look forward to!

      1. I’m really glad that I found this blog through! I never knew that there are so many quality films just waiting to be recognized. Thank you for helping us to meet these kind of films 😀

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