Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival: hoping against reason

It wants to “change the conversation,” but, at worst, it showcases unhelpful ‘inspiration porn’.

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On a rainy Independence Day evening, Leni Robredo, the vice president of the republic, delivered a speech in the theaters of the posh Glorietta mall in Makati City. It was the premiere night for her latest project, the Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival. Ten hours earlier she had led the ceremonies at Luneta Park, saluting the national flag under the rain; now, she appeared before a crowd that included a senator, celebrities, filmmakers, the press, and her countrymen from the fringes of society, that sector she had always pledged loyalty and service to. Her twenty-minute message, albeit ceremonial, was a consistent restatement of her commendable advocacy. Towards the end, she weaved together the themes of the day:

Independence is not just freedom from a foreign invader or colonizers from another nation. It is freedom to choose the meals we want to eat, the places we want to go, the schools where we want to study, the careers where we want to prove our mettle, the things we want to say—and where to say them. This is the kind of freedom I wish for every man, woman, and child in our country today.

As the second highest official of the country, she has much stature but little power, and she has turned to this, embodying moral leadership, turning her office into a beacon of positivity. With the film festival, she issues a call to “spread hope in these dark and difficult times.”

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‘Culture as History’: Nick Joaquin’s provocative essay on Filipino identity

“Unconscious anthology”—I have not encountered a more beautiful phrase to concisely describe the richness of society, and the heritage of its individuals.

Culture as History, a 1988 essay by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, employs two massive words in its brief title, only linked by a provocative conjunction. Entire lifetimes and university departments are devoted to these topics, so Joaquin must have thought his essay’s particular subject important enough to warrant a short but dense title. And it is indeed significant, at least for his target audience, Filipinos. In this essay, the author deals with popular beliefs about the birth of Filipino culture, and does so with much wit and wisdom.

It was published only about a decade before the 21st century, a circumstance that led me to think about Joaquin’s insights from a present-day perspective. But before that, a review is in order.

The essay: crucial points and select quotes

Culture as History is one continuous piece of prose, but thematically I see it as having four parts.

In the first one, relatively independent from the rest of the essay, Joaquin introduces his inspirations—the intellectuals Marshall McLuhan and Oswald Spengler—and discusses the relationship between literacy and culture. The “modern notion” of illiteracy as ignorance is debunked: if the illiterate peoples of the past were indeed ignorant, how come they were able to build magnificent churches and other cultural wonders which we, today, cherish as national treasures? (It is, after all, the toiling of the masses that actually built these structures, not the plans of the colonial masters.)

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Sketches

One

I want to live my life in saturated technicolor, until I die puking rainbows, broken emeralds and shards of sapphire. I want my reds to burn in anger; I want to drown in deep blue. I once grabbed a kid’s box of crayons and broke each one of the sixty-four sticks (and I was as cruel as I could be to the white crayon). I gave the child a set of metallic spray paints in psychedelic violets, telling him to never, ever put crayon on paper again. The colors are simply never happy enough.

Two

Before I post anything on Facebook, I think hard about it first. Actually, even before typing into the textbox, I would’ve mentally rehearsed and revised my paragraph about something totally interesting I saw on the streets in the day. I hear voices telling me, “That’s not worth it. You will get no Likes.” To which another voice, weaker but purer, would respond, “No, do it, trust in yourself. Dispel your social insecurities. Only few people ever get multitudes of Likes in every post they submit, and even then, they probably started out with a couple of unpopular status updates.” (This latter voice sounds like Obi-Wan with a hint of Yoda.) There is an all-powerful, ever-encompassing set of unwritten rules guiding what should and should not be posted in social media, that we all follow even if the rules differ from one person to another or between social circles. In this respect at least, there is a lot less differentiation between the real and the virtual—but this subject is worthy of a lengthy discussion on its own.

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