Tales from the edge: New short films from CDO and SUPERPSYCHOCEBU

PASALIDAHAY’S first screening for the year featured new short films from budding filmmakers in Cagayan de Oro City. Pasalidahay, a film screening series, which I co-organize and program, features mostly recent short films from filmmakers from Mindanao and the regions. It was the first time for a full CDO lineup with films coming from the Cinemagis Festival.

While his Happy Fiesta offered to us the filmmaker’s taste for the macabre and unusual, Joe Bacus takes experimentation to a whole different level with his new film Tanya. Briefly described as a love story, and a tragic one, Bacus distorts his film with images that looked like they have been damaged. The colors bleed and assault our vision, but in it we see a man wandering in a German street (obviously shot during his visit in the country) and a faint image of a woman in bed. This distortion, or discoloration, is deliberate, as with seemingly random images of water which opens the film, fall into place ultimately bringing us to the tragedy – the death of the couple during Typhoon Sendong, one of the worst natural disasters experienced by the region. The images, abstractions of the aftermath, point to the tragedy as much as the eventual loss of these memories captured by technology in its various forms.

The reality of the storm, a relatively new experience for Mindanao, is resonant in two other short films featured in the lineup: Maki Calo’s Para sa mga Nibiya (For the Dearly Departed) and Jeffrie Po’s Ang Ikaduhang Pagbalik (The Second Coming). Calo’s film is basically a ghost story: a couple rides a motorcycle and throughout the ride they talk about summer plans until it is revealed that they are apparitions, ghosts of those who perished in the deluge. The narrative is built upon this twist, with some details during the couple’s conversation providing vague hints. But this belated revelation works, because the film works as a memory, and the memory is as fresh and relentless as the tragedy that befell them.

On the other hand, Po’s film does not directly tackle the storm. There is no clarity to the narrative; it’s partly documentary featuring performance artist Nicholas Aca as a pastor marauding CDO streets looking for patrons to his “First Friendship Church”. The film concludes with what appears to be, well, the second coming. The scene was shot in a river in Cagayan, which overflowed and inundated nearby villages (the setting of Po’s Sendong documentary The Soil of Dreams). Despite its loose structure, Po has managed to build an unsettling piece, that recalls cautionary, superstitious tales of a “second coming”, which is characterized by natural disasters, and how this is closely tied with our fascination over such tales, as much as we cling to our belief systems, religious and fatalistic.

—ooOoo–

While efforts are underway to mine what’s left of Cebuano cinema’s heritage and preserve it, Cebuano filmmakers carry the tradition of Cebu’s distinct storytelling, one that is a testimony to the diversity of the Filipino experience, carrying with them the Bisaya sense of humor and chutzpah.

Christian Linaban’s Superpsychocebu is one such film. On the surface, the story is simply about one man’s search for this strain of cannabis which may be the holy grail of all marijuana. Throughout this quest, he meets a host of characters – a narcissistic bodybuilder, a mysterious woman, a crazy philosopher in a banca named Beauregard, and what might be Jesus Christ lost in the forest – each one leading our protagonist to the mythical and powerful Superpsychocebu. But just like what Beauregard said, that “reality is just an agreement between people”, so is the film’s contract with the audience – you either jump on its trippy bandwagon or not.

Visually, Linaban has suffused a portion of the film with an otherworldly blue palette, directly contrasting its warm “real-world” hues, as if to delineate states of consciousness. But as the plot thickens, our awareness of the film’s portrayal of reality becomes muddled. One can argue that all of the distraction and abstraction amounts to nothing at all. While our cannabis-addled protagonist finally gets his fix, the film is not about addiction but the specter of fanaticism that underlies our existence in a spectacle-filled world where we are in constant search for meaning and significance.  (Would like to hear from you! Email comments at jayclops@gmail.com)

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