I GREW up hating Filipino films.

Having been raised during the ‘90s, my first impression of the Filipino movie scene was based on the slapstick comedy movies, the supposedly action-packed , guns-and-goons motion pictures, and the “bold” soft porn films with random vegetables and other food products as titles.

At the turn of the 21st century, a new trend of filmmaking began to pervade the country, giving way to a culture composed of independent works. Most of the “indie” films focused on exposing the different social realities in the country, following the pattern of realism that writers of Philippine literature often used.

Films about the poverty and the living conditions of less fortunate Filipinos started to arise. The slums or what is more commonly knows as the squatters’ area became a common sight for viewers. The lives of Filipino sex workers were tackled by the different directors who wanted to show the unfortunate reality of people having to rent their body to survive. And the underground activities of Filipino homosexuals that were previously avoided for moral purposes became a rich source of material for filmmakers.

It’s easy to see that the film scene in the country has at least improved in terms of content and delivery during the rise of the indie culture in the early 2000’s. The problem lies in the fact that it seems to have become stuck in that “innovation.”

The first decade of the 21st century is about to come to an end and indie films nowadays still continue to focus on the same themes, plots, and topics as they did when they first started to rise to prominence. The squatters’ area is still a common setting, poor Filipinos still remain as central characters, and the Philippines is still depicted as the quintessential third-world country drowning in poverty and corruption. Because of this, I again find myself starting to have that familiar feeling I had for Pinoy films in the ‘90s.

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For example, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, directed by Auraeus Solito, has the main character living in the squatters’ area as he struggles with his homosexuality in his poor urban life.

Granted that the Philippines isn’t exactly in a state of economic alleviation. I’m denying neither the existence of the underprivileged in the country nor their respective lifestyles and struggles. But why isolate Filipino art films to these things only?

What’s worse is the story itself is compromised in some films or even done away with altogether for the sole purpose of showing and politicizing reality. Brillante Mendoza’s Tirador, for example, doesn’t really have a plot. It just shows the many circumstances of people in the slums of Manila – most especially the crime situations.

And even more disheartening is the fact that most of these films end in a tragic note, without any form of redemption for the characters. I mean, what exactly am I supposed to get from these stories? What’s the point? That the world is a hard place to live in? That people can be evil, manipulative, weak, treacherous, and narrow-minded? That despite one’s best efforts, there’s still a big chance of failing at life?
Why is it that a lot of Filipino stories dwell on the negative side of life? I’m beginning to think that a lot of indie Filipino filmmakers often mistake pure pain and suffering for actual depth. For a story to be deep and effective, it has to have conflict – I get that. But why choose to constantly have your characters lose in that conflict? Seriously, what is the lesson here?

I’m not asking for Pinoy filmmakers to come up with Transformers-like movies that would show off special effects but have no soulful value. But I believe that Philippine films have a lot more potential beyond pessimistic realism alone.

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A good example is Katski Flores’ Still Life, one of the few indie movies that explore intrapersonal conflicts. This is depicted well by the painter who is threatened by the fact that his sickness will ultimately get in the way of his craft. There are even some elements of time travel and fantasy that makes the movie fun in the end.

Besides, if I only want pure reality alone, I can look out the window and see it for myself. Inside a movie theater, however, I expect more than that.


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