Most noteworthy indie films

Oct 17, 2007
This year, another indie film will represent the Philippines in the upcoming Oscars. Adolf Alix Jr.'s Donsol has been chosen to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 80th Academy Awards. Set in the province of Sorsogon, Donsol stars Sid Lucero and Angel Aquino.

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

According to indie film director Paolo Villaluna, Philippine Independent Filmmakers Cooperative board member, the year "2005 will be engraved in memory as the watershed year we entered a new chapter in Philippine cinema."

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

It was also in that year Auraeus Solito's simple tale of a pre-pubescent teen took the country and the international film community by storm. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) reaped awards for the country, and most importantly, it exposed the public to the concept of independently produced films. After the artistic and commercial success of Maximo, the country's indie film revolution was seen as the solution to a dying movie industry beset by problems of piracy and the high cost of producing 35mm films.

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According to statistics from the Film Development Council, only 199 films were produced locally in 1999. This figure took a drastic dive in 2004 when we produced only 55 films. This led many naysayers to declare that Philippine cinema was dying. But with the emergence of digital films, there is a resurgence of creativity in the local film industry.

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

That said, PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) lists the top indie films that have made their mark in both the local and international scene. This list is limited to works that were produced from 2005 onwards. We have chosen independently produced films that penetrated the public consciousness and brought honor to the country because of the awards and recognition they have received abroad.

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

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)

Director: Aureaus Solito

Maxi (Nathan Lopez) is a 12-year-old effeminate gay boy who lives in the slums with his father and brothers who are petty thieves. The story revolves around the conflict 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 Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is the first Filipino film to be nominated to the Independent Spirit Awards in the U.S. It also won the Golden Zenith Award for Best Fiction Feature Film during the 2005 Montreal World Film Festival in Quebec, Canada. Maximo is also the first Filipino film to be included in the World Dramatic Competition Films for Sundance 2006.

It was also the official entry of the Philippines to the 79th Academy Awards (Hollywood Oscar) in March 2007 but it did not make it the official list of nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

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Masahista (2005)

Director: Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

The directorial debut of Brillante "Dante" Mendoza tells the story of a young man who gives massages to homosexuals 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. Iliac assists in the preparation of his father's burial, including dressing up his dead father inside the morgue.

Masahista (international title: The Masseur) won the Golden Leopard Award in the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival in Italy. It also received the Audience Award in the Turin International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

Donsol (2006)

Director: Adolf Alix Jr.

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

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

Kubrador (2006)

Director: Jeffrey Jeturian

Who would have known that a story about jueteng would not only expose the practice of illegal gambling among Filipinos, but also make its mark in the international film community?

Kubrador (international title: The Bet Collector) chronicles three days in the life of Amelita or Aling Amy, an aging jueteng kubrador (bet collector). Despite the regular crackdown on the illegal numbers game, she clings to the job she has known for more than 20 years. She walks around the poverty-stricken squatters' neighborhood, collecting bets from her regular patrons everyday.

After making its world 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 actress Gina Pareño as the kubrador.

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Inang Yaya (2006)

Directors: Pablo Biglang-Awa and Veronica Velasco

Unitel Films' Inang Yaya 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 forced to bring along her daughter to live with her in the house of her employers. The Inang Yaya must then try to balance her attention for her true daughter and her ward Louise (Ericka).

For Maricel Soriano's commendable performance as a nanny, she won Best Actress awards from the Golden Screen and Young Critics Circle. Inang Yaya is just one of the indie films that shows the increasing 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 another Kapampangan film, Kaleldo (international title: Summer Heat). Kaleldo is a saga about a domineering father and his three grown-up daughters living in Guagua, Pampanga—a town devastated by Mt. Pinatubo's volcanic eruption ten years earlier. The movie 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.

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Kaleldo had its world premiere in the first ever Rome International Film Festival (IFF) in October 2006. It also took part in the 43rd Vienna International Film Festival and the 30th Cairo IFF (Festival of Festivals) from November-December 2006.

Manoró (2006)

Director: Brillante "Dante" Mendoza

Manoró is a digital movie about an Aeta girl who teaches adult members of her mountain tribe so they could vote in the 2004 presidential elections. Shot in cinema verite, 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 their votes.

Hailed the Best Picture of Cinemanila 2006, Manoró was 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, Foster Child had its world premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival last May 2007. It received a 10-minute standing 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 depicts the emotional struggles of Thelma (Cherry Pie), a foster mother from the slums who receives a monthly allowance of P1,500 to take care of young children awaiting adoption. This is based on true stories of foster parents of the non-profit organization Kaisang Buhay Foundation.

Foster Child shared the Special Jury award with another film in the recently concluded 4th Eurasia International Film Festival in Kazakhstan.

Pisay (2007)

Director:Aureaus Solito

Amidst the chaos of Martial Law in this Third World country in the 1980s, eight teenagers in the top high school for the sciences discover themselves as they go through the joys and pains of adolescence. They are among the top 200 students from all over the Philippines 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.

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Aureaus's entry to the 2007 Cinemalaya Film Festival was chosen to be part of the Contemporary World Cinema programme of the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival last September.

Tribu (2007)

Director: Jim Libiran

Fifty-two gangsters from six warring gangs or "tribes" from Tondo took part in Jim Libiran's violent and graphic movie Tribu. The 2007 Cinemalaya jurors lauded Tribu "for its grand and graphic depiction of contemporary Tondo, Manila, its raw passion and searing violence, its terrible social conditions and conflicting social mores, and its people's coruscating embrace of both the sacred and the profane, the filial and the tribal, the tender and the vicious."

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

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

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