For Cinemata Visions’ second showcase, we spotlight recently-produced student films from the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) programmed by documentarist and UPFI assistant professor Adjani Arumpac. The films were produced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines and explore challenges posed by one of the longest lockdowns in the world.
The playlist title, “Lived Lives in the Present Struggle“, comes from Alice Guillermo’s Social Realism in the Philippines (1987). The video playlist will be available until April 2023.
Below is the concept note written by Adjani Arumpac, presented with minor edits.
The University of the Philippines Film Institute traces its origins to the UP Film Center established in 1974 in the midst of a brewing unrest under Martial Law, and the founding of the College of Mass Communication Film and Audio-Visual Communications Department in 1986. Mandated to pioneer education on the art of cinema in the country, it has since amassed a wealth of AV materials—from film to digital—the bulk of which is comprised of its students’ works. UPFI student films are formed by and likewise feed into this cinematic tradition of creative exploration and critical pedagogy.
The program presents nine UPFI short films made during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2023. The works addressed challenges to filmmaking posed by one of the longest lockdowns in the world enforced through militarisation. These are introspective video essays and documentaries visualised through animations and found footage, and scaled-down short narrative and experimental productions with barebones cast and crew.
The most recent works in the set peek into the creeping anxiety of a society tentatively moving forward. Four Years After and Naghihintay ng Bayan (Willing to Wait) pose existential dilemmas on the value of the lives of common Filipinos denied basic rights to job security and transportation. Pondering this interregnum, the program goes beyond individual struggles to outline the larger forces inhibiting people’s freedom.
Imposed extended social distancing has certainly heightened perceptions of the body and the social. In Sukat (Borders), the body is subjected to the mythic time of the pandemic when the unimaginable suddenly became a lived life. The feared mystical dwendes are said to be everywhere in Si Gloria at si Juan (Gloria and Juan) while raging typhoon floods repeatedly drown a home in A Portrait of Resilience as Filipino. In their own ways, these films are a coming to terms with nature’s sublime supernatural and uncontrollable power. They are also reflections on humanity enduring disasters of its own doing.
The pandemic has highlighted how human actions can cause societal change in either atrocious or affirmative ways. The case for the latter can be seen in fear and rage converging in the collaborative short As Seen by the Unseen, where radical youth from the Philippines, Nigeria, and Yangon virtually unite against the police, an enemy deadlier than the virus. Panubadtubad intimates that, in telling these stories of defiance, filmmakers already become part of the struggle towards a better future.
One of the female political inmates in Brigada Nueve (Cell No. 9) shares that in choosing to put their lives on the line to protest doubly oppressive conditions under the pandemic and a fascist regime, death has become a survival instinct. Indeed, in death one simultaneously discovers the finiteness of life and the unbounded human capacity to love. In Consuelo, love is the struggle to remember. “I’m still here and yet you are already mourning me”, a grandmother lovingly chides her granddaughter painstakingly trying to capture her presence. To remember and not forget—the former recalls memories of living, the latter an imprinting of what must be learned from living. Traversing memory and fresh history, this program bears witness to the richness of pathos carried by youth coming of age during a time of death, worlding in a world in transition and yet unchanging.
1. Si Gloria at si Juan (Gloria and Juan)
Director: Gilliano L. Salvador
Genre: Short Documentary, animation
Sometime in the early 70s, Gloria went through several sleepless nights because of the frequent pestering of a creature often only regarded as myth, a duwende, which stalked her wherever she went.
Director: Miko Peralta
Genre: Short video essay
Living in flood-prone Marikina City, a young filmmaker sifts through smudged memories taken over the past 12 years to cope with the repetitive cycle of typhoon onslaughts and evacuations. Through mythology, literature, and autobiography, this creative documentary narrates a reflexive inquiry of resilience and accountability, while attempting to salvage what was lost to water and time.
Producers: Tamani The Photographer, Eyeing, Rebel Riot Band, David Saveliev, Miggy Arnonobal, Tin Conanan, Marianne Orduña, H Manalo
Genre: Short Documentary
In this short documentary, documentary filmmakers and photographers worldwide reflect on the mass movements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Brigada Nueve (Cell No. 9)
Director: Maricon C. Montajes
Genre: Short Documentary
Brigada Nueve (Cell No. 9) is a film about the collective experiences of former female political prisoners in the Philippines, who share their struggles, the truth of living inside the prison walls, and how they fought for their freedom.
5. Panubadtubad (The Sunrise Ritual)
Director: Alexis Noelle R. Obedencio
Genre: Short Animation, Documentary
The film follows a Catholic Manobo teacher from Surigao del Sur who walks viewers through her fondest memories and dreams for the future of the ALCADEV Lumad School and her students. She also recounts her experience of the 2015 Lianga massacre, the darkest night of her life. The film aims to shed light on the plight of the Manobos of Surigao del Sur at the hands of the military, and their ongoing struggle to make their way back home safely.
6. Sukat (Borders)
Director: Jemina Chan
Genre: Short narrative
Confined and isolated within the four corners of her room, a woman’s confusion grows as her room becomes smaller, with marks appearing after every alarm she hears. Progressively disoriented as the marks further impinge upon her already limited personal space, she navigates through different physical, mental, social, and embodied spaces. She positions and grounds herself against the overwhelming invasive tensions, reclaiming her sense of space with others.
Director: Maki Makilan
Genre: Short narrative
In fantasising about their future and basking in their illusions of success, two college freshmen wrangle with the problems of the present as they are haunted by the ghosts of the future.
8. Naghihintay ng Bayan (Willing to Wait)
Director: Jamie Imperial
Genre: Video essay
The city streets are roads to opportunity for the everyday working person. In transit, one is often left stuck for hours in painful traffic. At some point, it becomes hard to ignore the suffering inflicted upon daily travellers through the negligence of those who decided the path’s design. The daily commute is crucial to the everyday life of the common Filipino, yet why is it that the road ahead always feels so stifling?
Director: Bane Vicente
Genre: Short narrative
After hearing about her grandmother’s diagnosis, a young woman sets out to capture the former’s image through her camera, hoping to record as much as possible before the inevitable. Filmed at a time when death hangs more heavily upon our shoulders, Consuelo is a film about human grief, and the desperate ways people try to hold onto things already lost to time.
About Cinemata Visions
Cinemata Visions spotlights notable works from film schools and learning institutions dedicated to cinema in the Asia-Pacific. The initiative highlights video endeavours such as workshops and competitions initiated by advocacy groups dedicated to the youth. It aims to harness creative film outputs and encourage young filmmakers to produce more social issue works by providing a free, independent, and secure video hosting platform beyond the usual corporate platforms.
In 2022, EngageMedia partnered with the FEU Department of Communication to kick off the initiative by screening the Likhang Mulat Film Movements Festival. Learn more about the partnership in this post.