Four years of celebrating life on film

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NOW ON its fourth year, the Varsitarian’s Cinevita film fest reaffirmed its advocacy of using film as a tool for meaningful expressions of life through the screening of internationally acclaimed independent films Lola and Kinatay.

Both directed by UST advertising arts alumnus Brillante Mendoza, winner of the Best Director award in the 62nd Cannes Film Festival last May, Kinatay and Lola were shown at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex Auditorium last March 4. The event was a collaboration between the Varsitarian and Thomasian Cable TV.

Lola (2009) is the story of how two old grandmothers struggle to fulfill their filial duties to their grandsons. Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) seeks justice for the killing of her grandson, while Lola Puring (Rustica Carpio) looks for ways on how to get her grandson Mateo (Ketchup Esusebio), accused of killing Lola Sepa’s grandson, off the hook. Lola Puring raises the blood money for an amicable settlement and the two grandmothers eventually bury the hatchet.

Lola was a finalist at the 2009 Venice Film Festival and won the Best Picture Award at the 6th Dubai International Film Festival last December.

Kinatay (2009) is the story of newly wed criminology student Peping (Coco Martin) whose internship leads him to a night of violence, forcing him to face the harsh reality of the profession he has wanted so hard to belong to.

In an open forum after the screening, a student asked the director about the alarming theme of the film––law enforcers as criminal perpetrators. Mendoza replied that part of the movie’s intention was “to bother––so that the audience could realize that] the very people who are supposed to protect us, are the ones who [endanger] the lives of many of us.”

“I am glad you are bothered,” Mendoza added. “That is one of the intentions of the film because these things are really happening.”

Mendoza also explained the film, which contains shocking scenes of psychological and physical brutality, is based on a true story.

“[The film] was based on a fresh confession account by a criminology student,” he said.

For actress Maria Isabel Lopez (who played the role of Madonna, a prostitute, who was abducted, raped and later butchered to pieces by the police), the film required a tough decision not only for herself, but also for her family.

“At first I was afraid because the film was physically and psychologically demanding. But to be handled by an acclaimed director like [Mendoza], I just had to let go and trust,” Lopez said.

But the acting proved to be heaven-sent, bagging Lopez a Gawad Tanglaw award for her performance in Kinatay. She is also nominated for best supporting actress this year in the Gawad Urian, her first nomination from the critic’s prize.

‘Brillante’ style

Oriented and used to short shots and steady images, some of the audiences asked Mendoza about his narrative style and cinematic technique.

“The long and slow shots were employed to portray the struggle of the elders or to establish the idea of struggle,” he said.

Audience also inquired about the shaky and unsteady movement of the camera in Kinatay.

Mendoza said this is to give the impression that the audience are part of the film and that they are not merely viewers.

“That is part of the aesthetics. It will make the film three-dimensional; you become part of it and not just a mere viewer,” Mendoza said. “People are used to watch films in the movie houses as merely an audience.”

The director admitted that he preferred real-time style than the conventional filming technique employed by mostly filmmakers.

‘Celebration of life’

Despite the depressing theme of the Lola, Mendoza said the movie is a celebration of life.

“The water (flood) is a metaphor for life,” he said.

“When Lola Puring goes to the province, the natural sceneries symbolize life and beauty, but [then] you would see how the people [in the province] struggle to achieve small things in life.”

The movie also portrays the province as a source of life. When Lola Puring goes to the province to ask for a loan from her kin and raise money for the settlement for his grandson’s criminal case, she gets ducks and vegetables to take home and later sells which to raise the money.

Mendoza said Lola shows the Filipino virtue of hopefulness.

“When I went to Japan, one Japanese journalist found the film inspiring,” said Mendoza. “The journalist said: it’s amazing how Filipinos survive because if that would happen to the Japanese, they would commit suicide.”

Meanwhile, veteran actress Carpio, who obtained her doctorate from UST and a former UST Graduate School professor, recalled her physical difficulty in shooting the film.

“It was really difficult. I was soaked from head to toe,” she said referring to their taping amid stormy weather. “The crew had to apply Eficacent Oil on my body so I won’t get sick.”

Mendoza, however, said he intentionally waited for the bad weather conditions in filming Lola to establish a sense of gloom.

Despite this, Carpio could not deny the personal fulfillment of finishing the film.

“When you put your heart and soul in whatever you do, things will come out naturally, happily and beautifully,” she said.

Anita Linda also attended the festival.

The festival’s curtain raiser last March 3 at the Rizal Conference Hall was the international documentary, Demographic Winter, which contains interviews from experts about the implications of declining birthrates worldwide. The film was followed by a short open forum by Sr. Pilar Versoza, R.G.S. from Pro-Life Philippines.

Featured films on the first day of the festival include: Milo Sogueco’s Sanglaan (2009), the story of four individuals whose lives are linked by a pawnshop.

Veronica Velasco’s Last Supper No. 3 (2009) is about a production designer Winston Nanawa (Joey Paras) who has to contend with the ugly side of the legal system after he loses a production prop, a picture of the Last Supper.

Meanwhile, Mike Sandejas’ Dinig Sana Kita (2009) is the romantic story between two opposing worlds: Kiko, a deaf lad who loves to dance, and Nina, a troubled teenage rocker.

Also shown was Arnel Mardoqio’s Hunghong sa Yuta (2009) the story of an 11-year-old boy who grows up in the crucible of war and chaos in Mindanao. It was produced by the Catholic missionary group, Brothers of the Sacred Heart, to raise awareness about the Mindanao war and promote its peaceful solution.

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