A BEVY of brilliant filmmakers proves again that Philippine cinema is not a dying industry.

Stories of survival, dream-catching, inner battles, hauntings, reincarnation, vengeance, and social realism comprise most of the films in the 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival, which ran from Nov. 3-15 featuring 50 digital films, “shorts,” documentaries, and music videos screened simultaneously at the SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, National Center for the Culture and the Arts auditorium, and Greenbelt Ayala Cinema.

For the international film category, 10 full-length movies made it to the list, while six movies were featured in the local digital category.

After a Chinese dragon dance exhibition, the opening film was shown, Hongkong director Peter Ho Chun Sang’s Perhaps Love, about star-crossed lovers Nie Wen (Jewel in the Palace’s Ji Jin He), Sun Na, (The Little Chinese Seamstress’ Zhou Xun), and Lin Jian-Dong (The House of Flying Daggers’ Takeshi Kaneshiro). The Asian blockbuster was followed by The Science of Sleep, Michael Gondry’s film about dreams and the workings of the mind featuring Y Tu Mama Tambien’s Gael Garcia Bernal.

Digital Festival judge Raya Martin’s graduate thesis about Filipino children, Infancia En Las Islas de Filipinas, Sin Fecha, was also shown, accompanied by live music from the Radioactive Sago Project.

Korean film master Park Chan-wook had two entries in the festival. The last of his trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, reminded moviegoers of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series. Its lead actress, Lee Young-ae, took home the festival’s Best Actress award. Park’s other entry, Taking Father Home, tells the story of a revenge-driven 17-year-old and his long and winding search for his prodigal father.

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Heeding the summons of poetry

Hongkong’s Stanley Kwan received outstanding reviews for his direction of Everlasting Regret. The movie is based on Changhen Ge, a novel by Chinese writer Wang Anyi, about a woman’s turbulent life in 20th century Shanghai. It introduces the celebrated Chinese beauty Qiyao and her struggle to restore her famous pre-Revolution status amid the socio-political transitions in her city from 1947 to 1981. Kwan’s movie won the festival’s Special Jury Prize.

The Philippines was represented by internationally acclaimed Indie directors Jeffrey Jeturian and Lav Diaz. With 31 film festival appearances, Jeturian’s Kubrador bagged the Lino Brocka Grand Prize for the international film category. Diaz’ Heremias took the spotlight as the festival’s closing theme. Other Asian entries included Citizen Dog, by Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng, and It’s Only Talk, by Japanese film master Ryuichi Hiroki.

Meanwhile, tales of social reality and urban oddities dominated the local digital features festival.

Brilliante Mendoza’s Manoró follows the life of indigenous heroine Jonalyn Ablong, a young, literate Ayta girl played by the character herself, as she leads her community into literacy by teaching them the basics of reading and writing in time for the presidential election. The movie won the Best Digital Local Movie Prize and Mendoza won Best Director.

Achieving immortality through a cannibalistic ritual is the subject of the thriller Numbalikdiwa, by Roberto Bonifacio Jr. The movie is about an ancient macabre ritual of reincarnation, in which the “lamang-pugay” (flesh offer) is slayed and blessed by the deity Sasilogho. The flesh when eaten by another person completes the ritual, which transfers the soul of the flesh to the eater. For her performance in the movie, Maricel Soriano won the best digital movie actress award.

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God's adopted child

In Raket ni Nanay, an aging nude model named Mimosa (Sarsi Emmanuel) poses again for her former painter-lover in exchange for P10,000 to finance her baby’s heart operation. The movie, directed by Lawrence Fajardo, centers on the struggle of a woman who wants to redeem herself from her lowly position.

Gamot sa Pagkabagot by Ato Bautista, Shugo Praico and Jason Donato is a fully independent production shot only in three days. It is about three bored people on a journey to overcome life’s monotony.

Martial law era is re-lived in Briccio Santos’ Anino ng Setyembre. It tells the story of a young real estate broker, Sarah (Alessandra de Rossi), who unknowingly discovers her past through the ghosts captured in her video camera. The haunting story unfolds the secret behind the human rights violations of the Marcos dictatorship.

An ode to joy amid poverty, Squatterpunk, by director Khavn dela Cruz is set in the slums of Manila. It follows the lives of street children scavenging garbage beach for a living. With Philippine proverbs as title cards, the film features a frenetic soundtrack by 80’s Philippine punk icon, Bobby Balingit of the Wuds.

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