Along a highway flowing from downtown, still within the shadows of the city but just out of reach of sober business, there is an obscure cradle of a spot. By day it is a sleepy, dark and dusty place, hardly notable, but resilient. Pass by at night, however, and you will witness its glowing signs hinting at the happening within.
Come inside. Welcome to my favorite place, a funhouse. Meet the crowd of intoxicated animals, poisoned, perhaps dying. Hold the bottles in their hands and listen to them shouting at each others’ ears. You can always share a light, too. The vices seem essential.
I admit to not knowing a lot about Andrés Bonifacio. With José Rizal as the de facto official national hero, it seems he’s always only second place, an alternative subject, for the masterpieces of our popular culture. I’m recalling Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s 1998 Rizal biopic here; thanks to that film, I grew up with an elegant idea of who Rizal was. Bonifacio’s legacy does not have that luxury.
If anyone’s so inclined as to try to piece together a cohesive idea of Bonifacio’s life through cultural products, she will have to do so using wildly contradicting sources. From what I heard, the Cinemalayà 2010 entry Ang Paglilitis ni Andrés Bonifacio by Mario O’Hara was a respectable, and respectful, portrayal of the hero’s life, although it focused on a specific era of his life. The problem was that, being an independently-produced movie, it was inaccessible. I didn’t see it myself and neither did most other Filipinos. On the other hand, the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival entry El Presidente had Bonifacio as a supporting character, and in an atrocious wielding of artistic license as could only happen in Philippine mainstream media, they turned the hero into an arrogant antagonist to the titular character. This understandably angered not a few concerned citizens, especially because, being an MMFF entry, many unconcerned citizens saw the movie and probably now think of the great Katipunero as an arrogant hothead.
On a Friday earlier this month I attended a protest rally. It was held at the heart of Makati, the country’s business capital. It was highly publicized by its organizers, and they put up quite a scene—stage, sound system, and all. The media, anticipating a momentous event, swarmed the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas. They called it the Million People March, part 2, because it was born out of the success of a similarly-motivated demonstration in Luneta. But when I arrived at Ayala corner Paseo de Roxas, I saw a crowd that could barely fill the Ped Xing-lined box on the intersection. The TV cameras started rolling, but the media, people simply doing their jobs, comprised what looked like half of the crowd present. It was barely a Thousand People March.
I admit, I myself shouldn’t be counted as a participant in that event. I didn’t participate, I was merely present. I went there, no, passed by there out of curiosity, and out of a sense that I had nothing better to do. I have met a lot of people who have witnessed Martial Law with their own eyes, even people who suffered Martial Law with their own bodies, having been imprisoned or worse for their opinions. Me, a free student who found himself in Makati with a lot of time in his hands, can do only so many things as worthwhile as participating in such a social-political movement, right?
I think it’s not really about the very issue that the people are rallying against. It’s about how they, and we, engage with issues.
You place your hand on the white skin of the ship. You admire its rough, jagged texture, a surprisingly delightful quality, although you can only infer the surface’s character from the way the sharp sunlight casts shadows upon it. You take care not to put too much pressure against the vessel, because you don’t need your advanced grasp of physics to know that doing so will push you back more than you will push the vessel away, and you will have to spend precious micro-rocket fuel to secure your proximity to the ship.
You look above you (or should that be below?) and see what others before you have lovingly described as a blue marble. You admire the clouds, white and frayed, soft and seemingly still in a layer underneath the blue fringes of the planet’s atmosphere.
From where you are, the sun is an intimidating presence. It is a violently brilliant orb, and yet, in the emptiness of all that surrounds it, you can sense the clash between its intensity and the fragility of worlds. You look at the stars, and even them, their beautiful multitude, they cause you distress, because their lights will forever be only a dream beyond your reach.
You hear nothing but your own breathing, and the occasional beeping of the systems that keep your suit a habitable space. You listen carefully to this solitary sound. This, the voice of your body, is the only thing sparing you from the silence of space.
I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.
Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.