MORE THAN moving audiences with 20 life-affirming and uplifting stories, CineVita Campus Film Festival, which was sponsored by the Varsitarian, opened an avenue for filmmakers, actors, and media experts to convey lessons, experiences, and challenges to the young Thomasian cinephile.

Reinforcing awareness on the vital role of cinema as a medium of expression and instruction, the Varsitarian invited resource persons from the film industry to shed light on issues concerning film ethics, pro-life advocacies, and artistic movie standards. Through lectures and open forums, the experts dealt with the various facets of moviemaking and the challenges they face.

Guillen’s challenge

Film actor and director Laurice Guillen formally opened CineVita with a keynote speech.

“It is such a great feeling seeing the concern of institutions such as the Varsitarian in promoting film awareness most especially among young audiences,” Guillen said.

Guillen’s acting prowess is noted in movies such as Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L., and Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Moral. The film she first directed, Kasal-kasalan, was released in 1979. Guillen also directed other notable movies such as Salome in 1981, Tanging Yaman in 2000, and American Adobo in 2001.

At present, Guillen is the vice-president of the Cinemalaya Foundation, which holds an annual festival of digital features produced through a grant of half a million pesos from the foundation.

“Film festivals such as CineVita show more than just the proliferation of movies in the Filipino society,” Guillen said. “The intermittent launching of festivals also implies the vast improvement that computer technology has brought to the local film industry and also the surge of indisputable Filipino talents in writing stories worthy of film.”

Guillen challenged mainstream film distributors and movie houses to give equal opportunities and promotions to digital filmmakers. She also posed a challenge to the organizers of CineVita.

“I challenge CineVita to inculcate to its audiences film criticism, which is very much required nowadays for the avid moviegoers,” she said.

Aesthetics and spirituality in film

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Carmelite Fr. Christian Buenafe, Titus Brandsma Media Center director, discussed how movies could cultivate spirituality in his lecture, “Spirituality through Film Dialogue.”

Buenafe showed the video Batingaw, which won the Best Documentary at the 24th Festival International du Film Independant in Brussels, Belgium. This religiously-themed video follows the journey of a young man carrying a bell while treading the awfully cluttered grounds of the Payatas dumpsite. The short video touches its audience’s soul with its sincere narration about the irony of finding happiness amid poverty.

“Films influence and affect viewers from different ages in the most direct and effective way,” Buenafe said. “Using the film’s power to instill spirituality is a must.”

Buenafe cited the various elements and characters of a movie that may influence and shape people’s views and emotions.

“From its storyline down to its special effects, every element of a movie synchronizes to form a piece of instrument that can infuse Christian values through illustration,” Buenafe said.

Meanwhile, Thomasian Indologist and aesthetics professor Dr. Josephine Acosta-Pasricha gave a critique of CineVita’s closing film, The Jeweler’s Shop, a movie based on a three-act play written by Pope John Paul II. Pasricha centered her lecture on a topic close to the heart of the late Pope, love.

“Writing with power and understanding about a love that survives the grave, that has withered and died, and that is budding out of complexes and insecurities, Pope John Paul II addresses such fundamental human concerns,” Pasricha said.

As a proponent of Indian philosophy, Pasricha cited a film element called rasa, which denotes either flavour, taste or sentiment in India. “Rasa is aesthetic relish: resultant passions elicited in audience,” Pasricha said. She said that a cinematic element should be given appropriate attention as it is within this minute details’ conglomeration of flavours, or rasas, that a movie is differentiated and becomes diverse.

Director’s dilemma

Although considered one of the prodigies of Filipino independent cinema, young filmmaker Rica Arevalo surprisingly said her career was in jeopardy. In her speech after the screening of her critically-acclaimed movie ICU Bed # 7, Arevalo revealed her own personal struggles with big-time producers and the studio system.

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“After all my attempts to sell my stories such as ICU Bed # 7, these producers boiled down my choices to three: either I make a horror flick, a romantic hit film, or a sexy movie,” Arevalo said.

Although ICU Bed # 7 and just recently, the musical comedy Saan Nagtatago Si Happiness?, flopped in the box office, the indie director still believes that values and ethics should be present in movies.

“As a filmmaker I have the immense responsibility of being given the power to influence audiences,” Arevalo said. “Any film you make is an extension of your soul, so we need to be firm with the values we believe in and stand up for them.”

Behind the scenes

The three-day CineVita Film Festival presented eight outstanding local independent films with the directors, producers, and actors holding a forum t after the screenings.

The opening film of the festival, Manoro, is a semi-documentary feature on a young Ayta who teaches literacy to her people. She is the manoro (the teacher) of the tribe. The director of Manoro, College of Fine Arts and Architecture alumnus Brillante Mendoza, gave an open forum.

“We shot this film in Sapang Bato, Angeles City, Pampanga for only six days and the graduation footage was actually the lead character’s (Jonalyn Ablong) actual graduation rites,” Mendoza said. He said that some of the scenes in the film are actual bloopers committed by the characters like Jonalyn stepping on carabao dung.

On the theme ”right to life”, indie director Anna Isabelle Matutina shared her inspiration behind her heart-pounding, 12-minute short film, Ika-Siyam na Palapag, which tells the story of a pregnant woman’s attempt to abort her unborn child as she climbs the stairs up to the ninth floor of a building, which is the metaphor for the woman’s nine months of gestation.

“I had this friend who confided to me her plans for abortion and somehow that inspired me to cook up a story that flaunts the grueling results of such an idea,” Matutina said.

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On the other hand, Faculty of Arts and Letters alumnus and former Varsitarian literary editor Milo Tolentino conveyed his vision about the devil in Orasyon, which won best short film in last year’s Cinemalaya film festival. The film tells the story of a sexagenarian widow who is seemingly at the brink of her patience after much longing for love and affection from her son. She is furthermore stressed upon the arrival of a meddlesome househelp.

“I wanted to portray the devil as someone who’s always hungry and meddling, thus the character played by Gloria Austria came into surface as the meddling, gluttonish house helper,” Tolentino said.

The celebrated movie about “jueteng,” Kubrador, was also screened to a packed Thomas Aquinas Research Center auditorium. The cast and crew, including the director Jeffrey Jeturian, writer Ralston Jover, producer Joji Alonso, and lead actress Gina Pareño spoke in a forum after the showing.

“The first time I read the story, I knew that I had to put this on film,” Alonso said. “But I also knew that same as its title’s meaning, that footing the bill for this film would be such a gamble but nevertheless I took the risk and it was worth it.”

“Kubrador mirrors a social reality,” Jover said. “I wanted audiences to see how people succumb to the most unlikely and illegal means to survive.

During the opening of the festival, Varsitarian publications adviser Lito Zulueta explained why the campus paper had organized a film festival.

“It is print that acts as a foil to the excesses of the cinema and the multimedia,” Zulueta, a member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino that hands out the Gawad Urian, said.

“As a print creation and denizen, the Varsitarian organized CineVita to create a venue not only for the screening of significant import and creative expression, but also for intelligent discussion about such films and the state of the cinema.” Andrew Isiah P. Bonifacio

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