Long live Pinoy indie digi cinema!
Now on its third year, the boom of what is coming to be called Pinoy indie digi cinema continues. Cinemalaya heralded this cinema sponsoring ten films per year for production. Star Cinema’s Cinema One produced six indie films. Tied with capital sponsored by big business—Conjuangco and Lopez—the impetus for this digi cinema remains curiously a private initiative.
Indie or independent simply refers to the mode of production that deviates from mainstream studio funding. It also refers to the “spirit” or intent in filmmaking, focusing on less mainstream and even subaltern, postmodern multiple identities. These are films that mainstream cinema would never think of producing because of their propensity for art rather than their commercial viability. The films oftentimes use non-studio stars, location settings, more imaginative storytelling and use of technicals. These films have a freer reign on creativity that what mainstream cinema regiments.
Clearly, the forefathers of this movement are Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, and even Mike de Leon, more successful directors who were able to find a middle ground between their art, focusing on an aesthetics of poverty, and the studios. Along side this mainstream movement are the figures of independent cinema poised by conceptual artist Kidlat Tahimik and documentarist Nic deocampo, who introduced alternative Philippine filmmaking to the world art festival market.
The more recent predecessors of Pinoy indie digi filmmaking are composed of stalwarts who find a greater affinity with the development of what would be termed as the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema, bookended by Brocka’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (1975) and Orapronobis (1989). Mario O’Hara’s Ang Babae sa Breakwater, Jeffrey Jeturian’s Tuhog and Pila-Balde, and Mario J. Delos Reyes’ Magnifico are examples of this continuity, advancing their own film styles while drawing from Brocka and Bernal’s paradigm of Philippine national cinema. The alternative precursors of this movement, and still most active in innovation, are filmmakers Lav Diaz and Khavn de la Cruz.
Pinoy indie digi cinema uses digital technology to tell postmodern plural identities of Filipino subalternity. Examples of which are the gay pre-teen belonging to the lumpen class in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and young underclass subcontractual workers serially falling in and out of love as their contract ends in Endo. These films can no longer assume to speak about a broad mass of people but on newer and multiple identities of the disenfranchised, as their connection to the traditions of the new Philippine cinema.
Digital technology makes filmmaking more practical to shoot in a squatters’ community or a mall. Innovative directors and cinematographers work on maximizing the digital look, rather than simply enhancing digital to be the poor director’s technological recourse to celluloid. Directors who simply want to tell their story in digital, however, fall into the trap of trying to make a film using a shoestring budget. The effect of which is digital as a small film, looking more like a television melodrama than a digital film as it should be.
Pinoy indie digi films borrow from and innovate on modernist film traditions. From Italian neorealism, it is the slow-pace storytelling, using non-actors or actors plucked out from the film’s actual setting, and favoring long takes and long shots to depict a filmic reality of time passage. From the French new wave, it is the rawness of filming—tracking shots using jittery camera movement, cinema verite—that is intended to envelop the viewing. From Japanese new wave, the perverse overdramatization of sex and violence by lumpen gangs and artists are styled in film. From the Korean new wave, the successful mimicking of Hollywood classical narrative, technologically stylized and innovative, to retell gangster, teenage, underclass, and young adult’s coming-into-being through travails of love and lust. And from the most recent new Thai cinema, it is the postmodern angst of search for identity with no promise of coming into full cohesion in the film’s end.
Interestingly, the tactics-of-choice to herald this movement come in three different forms. The pink cinema of Brocka and deocampo would bear new fruits with the initial salvo offering of Pinoy indie digi cinema. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Masahista reintroduced the art audiences to the recent workings of Philippine cinema. The other tactic uses Kidlat Tahimik and even Bernal’s conceptual
art approach to tackling individual and social realities. Todo, Todo, Teros and Huling Balyan ng Buhi by directors from Ateneo de Manila University, are examples of this legacy. Both tactics, however, fall within the larger paradigm that defines older and newer translations of Philippine cinema—the aesthetics of poverty.
It is not only the audience of the global art film market that demands this of Philippine cinema but even those limited (at this time) of the growing number of local aficionados of Pinoy indie digi cinema also do so. We want our films about the absentee signifier that somehow organizes our collective lives, and this is, of course, the actual poverty experienced by the vast majority of Filipinos. How can it not be the dominant filmic representation of Philippine reality?
Thus, the recent batch of Cinemalaya output, Tribu, about gangsters and social violence in Tondo, and Endo seem to figure out and innovate on this major trope of Philippine cinema. What results are new filmic stunners both on the level of overt style, as in Tribu, and covert ethos, as in Endo. With filmmakers’ fingers dipped correctly into this pool, Pinoy indie digi cinema seems to be even headed for higher heights.
And with this development, with the rise of a new breed of actors both from legitimate theater and film and even from specific social locations, with the community cohering into a solidarity of political, cultural and economic purpose, the audience development is also forthcoming. It is expected that those in the know of this cinema—fellow filmmakers, critics, film and communication students--become the primary audience at this time. With the increasing quality of production, the audience awaits the films that they truly deserve.