Filmmaking is emerging as a dominant form of art and expression in the Philippines, and Bay Area audiences will soon have a first-hand opportunity to see for themselves just how strong and diverse it is. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) presents New Filipino Cinema, from June 7-10 and June 17. The comprehensive showcase will feature 29 films—narratives, documentaries, and experiential shorts—many of them as U.S. premieres.
“There’s an incredible resurgence of talent and energy in independent cinema in the Philippines right now that is not really known internationally,” said Joel Shepard, YBCA’s Film/Video Curator. Shepard co-curated the program with Philbert Ortiz Dy, the film critic for Clickthecity.com and writer-at-large for Esquire Philippines. “It’s an amazing renaissance that I really wanted to celebrate and bring to the U.S.” Shepard took four trips to the country in the past two years to meet with filmmakers, critics, and production staff and watched over a hundred films in preparation for this program before narrowing it down to the final titles.
New Filipino Cinema will open with Niño, a film about the image of the child Christ and its significance to religious Filipinos—particular to this film, to a fading aristocratic family. In between, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a pop culture connoisseur, you’ll enjoy Rakenrol, an exploration of the Filipino rock music scene. Love horror films, perhaps with a little bit of comedy? You’ll want to check out Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings), an interesting take on the things that curse. Are you all about social justice? Come and see Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved), a balanced and enlightening portrait of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), which consist of an estimated 11 percent of the Filipino population. The program will close with a lengthy but deep series of narratives from master filmmaker Lav Diaz, entitled Florentina Hubaldo, CTE.
One of Shepard’s personal favorites is Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, a mockumentary about “a strange B-movie actress in Manila.” The film is directed by a young woman named Antoinette Jadaone. Shepard said it was particularly important to showcase the work of women filmmakers in this program, recounting a time several years ago when a group of avant-garde filmmakers from Manila garnered international attention. “A number of major international film festivals starting showing their work. It was really exciting, but it was all men. There were no female filmmakers,” said Shepard. “Almost all the Filipino films that get international distribution are by men. It seems like women filmmakers are shortchanged in that area, so I wanted to make sure there was better representation in what we did here.” New Filipino Cinema showcases diversity not just in terms of genres and the inclusion of female filmmakers, but also by including work from outside Manila, such as from the Visayas and Mindanao.
Shepard said that he hopes the program will have a reach that extends beyond the large Filipino-American community in San Francisco. “For non-Filipino-Americans, I hope the series will break some stereotypes that I think are pretty ingrained in a lot of Western minds who haven’t been to the Philippines. Pretty much, the images we tend to see are ones of poverty or prostitution. It’s real and it’s part of the country, but it doesn’t define what the country is at all. It’s a much richer place. [With the program,] you will get an amazing education and portrait of the country, and also of a country that we as Americans have a duty to understand more about than most of us do.”
New Filipino Cinema audiences will not only watch these special films, but also have opportunities to meet the directors and producers behind selected works. Also, coinciding with this program is the Indie-Pino Underground Music Fest, an exciting afternoon showcase of live music from Filipino-American bands around the nation. This event is free, and there will be food trucks in presence to delight your palates!