Most noteworthy indie films

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This year, another indie film will represent the Philippinesin the upcoming Oscars. Adolf Alix Jr.'s Donsol has been chosen tocompete in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 80th Academy Awards. Set in the province ofSorsogon, Donsol stars Sid Lucero and Angel Aquino.


Before the 1990s, the term "indie" film was used by only asmall group of people, mainly filmmakers and members of academe. Withthe advent of digital technology, artists found it easier to produce independent films that carry fresh story lines andprovide alternative fare for moviegoers.

According to indie film director Paolo Villaluna, PhilippineIndependent Filmmakers Cooperative board member, the year "2005 will beengraved in memory as the watershed year we entered a new chapter in Philippinecinema."

The year 2005 marks the first time that the Cultural Centerof the Philippines launched the Philippine Cinemalaya Independent FilmFestival. Like the Cinemanila International Film Festival established in 1999,Cinemalaya aims to provide another venue for filmmakers to showcase theirmasterpieces. Yet another annual film festival is the Cinema One Originals Digital Movie Festival, which was alsofounded in 2005.

It was also in that year Auraeus Solito's simpletale of a pre-pubescent teen took the country and the international filmcommunity by storm. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) reapedawards for the country, and most importantly, it exposed the public to theconcept of independently produced films. Afterthe artistic and commercial success of Maximo, the country's indiefilm revolution was seen as the solution to a dying movie industry beset byproblems of piracy and the high cost of producing 35mm films.

According tostatistics from the Film Development Council, only 199 films were producedlocally in 1999. This figure took a drastic dive in 2004 when we producedonly 55 films. This led many naysayers to declare that Philippine cinema was dying. But with theemergence of digital films, there is a resurgence of creativity in the localfilm industry.

For purposes of clarity, indie films are defined as worksthat are not produced by major film studios, and usually made on a low budget.They are artistic creations outsidethe commercial mainstream, free of the constraints of studios motivatedby capital gain.

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That said, PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) lists the top indiefilms that have made their mark in both the local and international scene. This listis limited to works that were produced from 2005 onwards. We have chosenindependently produced films that penetrated the public consciousness and broughthonor to the country because of the awards and recognition they have receivedabroad.

If you have yourown list of noteworthy indie films, feel free to write them in the comments section.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)

Director: Aureaus Solito

Maxi (NathanLopez) is a 12-year-old effeminate gay boy who lives in the slums with hisfather and brothers who are petty thieves. The story revolves around theconflict between his infatuation for the handsome young police officer Victor(J.R. Valentin), on one hand, and his family's illegal livelihood, on the other.

Ang Pagdadalagani Maximo Oliveros is the firstFilipino film to be nominated to the Independent Spirit Awards in the U.S. It also won theGolden Zenith Award for Best Fiction Feature Film during the 2005Montreal World Film Festival in Quebec, Canada. Maximo is also the first Filipino film to be includedin the World Dramatic Competition Films for Sundance 2006.

It was also the official entry of the Philippines to the79th Academy Awards (Hollywood Oscar) in March 2007 but it did not make it the official list ofnominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Masahista(2005)

Director:Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

Thedirectorial debut of Brillante "Dante" Mendoza tells the story of a young man who gives massages tohomosexuals in Manila for a living. Iliac (Coco Martin) is a young masseur who goes home to Pampanga, only to find out that his bedridden father is dead. Iliacassists in the preparation of his father's burial, including dressing up his deadfather inside the morgue.

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Masahista(internationaltitle: The Masseur) wonthe Golden Leopard Award in the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival inItaly. It also received the Audience Award in the Turin International Gay & Lesbian FilmFestival.

Donsol (2006)

Director: Adolf Alix Jr.

SidLucero and Angel Aquino star in a love story set in the picturesque province ofDonsol, Sorsogon, whichis located at the southeastern part of the Bicol Peninsula. Donsol tells the story of two people who meet andfall in love in the season when the butanding (whale sharks) visit Sorsogon. Teresa (Angel) is abreast cancer patient who becomes attracted to Daniel (Sid), a ButandingInteraction Officer who guides tourists in the province.

Adolf Alix Jr.'s film won the Independent Spirit Award during the 2006 Ft. LauderdaleInternational Film Festival, and bagged the Special Jury Prize in the AsianMarine Festival.

Kubrador (2006)

Director: Jeffrey Jeturian

Who would have known that a story about jueteng would notonly expose the practice of illegal gambling among Filipinos, but alsomake its mark in the international film community?

Kubrador (international title: The Bet Collector)chronicles three days in the life ofAmelita or Aling Amy, an agingjueteng kubrador (bet collector). Despite the regular crackdown on the illegalnumbers game, she clings to the job she has known for more than 20 years. Shewalks around the poverty-stricken squatters' neighborhood, collecting bets fromher regular patrons everyday.

After making itsworld premiere at the Moscow International Film Festival last year, the movie traveled to over 40 film festivals worldwide, winning numerous awards.These include two FIPRESCI awards (Moscow and New Delhi), as well as three Best Actress awards (New Delhi, Brussels and Amiens) for veteran actressGina Pareño as the kubrador.

Inang Yaya (2006)

Directors: PabloBiglang-Awa and Veronica Velasco

Unitel Films' InangYaya stars Maricel Soriano and child stars Tala Santos and Ericka Oreta.Norma (Maricel) must work in the city and leave behind her daughter Ruby(Tala). However, when no one else can look after her child, the nanny is forcedto bring along her daughter to live with her in the house of her employers. TheInang Yaya must then try to balance her attention for her true daughter and herward Louise (Ericka).

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For Maricel Soriano's commendable performance as a nanny, she won Best Actress awards from the Golden Screen and Young CriticsCircle. Inang Yaya is just one of the indie films that shows theincreasing interest of mainstream stars to take part in independently produced films,even if these work on a shoestring budget, unlike the big studios.

Kaleldo (2006)

Director: Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

Brillante "Dante" Mendoza goes back to his roots in anotherKapampangan film, Kaleldo (international title: Summer Heat). Kaleldois a saga about a domineering father and his three grown-up daughters living inGuagua, Pampanga—a town devastated by Mt. Pinatubo's volcanic eruption ten years earlier. Themovie opens with the wedding between Juliana Palermo and Lauren Novero. Juliana's sisters are played by Angel Aquino and Cherry Pie Picache, who portrays a lesbian.

Kaleldo had its world premiere in the first ever RomeInternational Film Festival (IFF) in October 2006. It also took part in the43rd Vienna International Film Festival and the 30th Cairo IFF (Festival ofFestivals) from November-December 2006.

Manoró (2006)

Director: Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

Manoró is a digital movie about an Aeta girl whoteaches adult members of her mountain tribe so they could vote in the 2004presidential elections. Shot in cinemaverite, Manoró is based on the true story of Jonalyn Ablong (who portrayed herself in the movie), the Grade 6 student who patiently teaches other Aetas to read and write so that they can cast theirvotes.

Hailed the Best Picture of Cinemanila 2006, Manorówas awarded the Cinemavvenire Special Award (Youth Jury Prize) in the 24th Torino International Film Festival in Italy.

Foster Child (2007)

Director: Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

Shot documentary style by Brillante "Dante" Mendoza, FosterChild had its world premiere at theCannes International Film Festival last May 2007. It received a 10-minutestanding ovation when it was shown in the prestigious film festival in France.Cherry Pie Picache stars in this heartwarming movie along with Eugene Domingo,Jiro Manio, Alwyn Uytingco, Dan Alvaro, and child actor Kier Segundo.

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Dante's movie depictsthe emotional struggles of Thelma (Cherry Pie), a foster mother from the slumswho receives a monthly allowance of P1,500 to take care of young childrenawaiting adoption. This is based on true stories of foster parents of the non-profit organization Kaisang Buhay Foundation.

Foster Child sharedthe Special Jury award with another film in the recently concluded 4th EurasiaInternational Film Festival in Kazakhstan.

Pisay (2007)

Director:Aureaus Solito

Amidst the chaos of Martial Law in thisThird World country in the 1980s, eight teenagers in the top high school for thesciences discover themselves as they go through the joys and pains ofadolescence. They are among the top 200 students from all over thePhilippines who passed the entrance exam to the Philippine Science High School,fondly called Pisay.

The stories of these young achievers are woven around the four years and into the science and math courses that they undergo—arguably the most advanced curriculum in the country at the time—and their relationships with each other, their teachers, and ultimately, the school and its social milieu.

Aureaus's entry to the2007 Cinemalaya Film Festival was chosen to be part of theContemporary World Cinema programme of the 32nd Toronto International FilmFestival last September.

Tribu (2007)

Director: Jim Libiran

Fifty-two gangsters from six warring gangs or "tribes" fromTondo took part in Jim Libiran's violent and graphic movie Tribu. The2007 Cinemalaya jurors lauded Tribu"for its grand and graphic depiction of contemporary Tondo, Manila, itsraw passion and searing violence, its terrible social conditions andconflicting social mores, and its people's coruscating embrace of both thesacred and the profane, the filial and the tribal, the tender and thevicious."

Aside from winning Best Picture, Tribu also bagged the Best ActingEnsemble Award and Best Sound during the third edition of Cinemalaya.

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This gritty film onTondo's gangs is the only Filipino film chosen to compete in the New Currentssection of the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea.


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