Lessons From the School of Inattention has long been one of my favorite blogs to explore for commentary on national cinemas. Lawyer-critic Francis "Oggs" Cruz has been administering the site since 2006—after shifting away from his previous site Repository of Ideas—and offers a helpful index of all the Filipino films he's reviewed. I'm grateful for his swift willingness to respond by email to a batch of questions related to this year's edition of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
* * *
Michael Guillén: What do you want San Francisco audiences to understand about Filipino cinema?
Francis "Oggs" Cruz: I believe the interesting thing about Filipino cinema is that it is, to put it bluntly, undefinable. In terms of how the international community sees Philippine cinema, it seems that our nation's cinema concentrates heavily on social realism (as popularized by Lino Brocka, and continued by many of his disciples from Joel Lamangan to Brillante Mendoza) or distinctly personal visions (Lav Diaz's kilometric films, Raya Martin, John Torres, Khavn dela Cruz). However, to box a national cinema based on what essentially are stereotypes is limiting (for a period, the Philippines has been an exporter of cheap exploitation flicks and gay films: Brocka's Macho Dancer).
What I essentially want San Francisco (and the rest of the world, and quite embarrassingly, even my own countrymen) to know is that there is more to Philippine cinema than what is being shown in film festivals.
First and foremost, Filipino cinema—while it is only gaining attention very recently—is not new. I hope this newfound interest in Philippine cinema will unearth the vast history that is quickly being forgotten. There are filmmakers like Gerry de León, who is more famous in the West for his exploitation features than his home-grown films (48 Oras / 48 Hours, a taut Filipino film noir; The Moises Padilla Story, a political propaganda film that hybrids as a Jesus Christ allegory); Manuel Conde (Genghis Khan, and the Juan Tamad series); and Ricardo Abelardo (Mutya ng Pasig / Muse of Pasig). All of these directors are worth discovering. The fear here is that there is very little time to discover these directors because their films are disappearing (due to governmental lack of interest to archive these films and save them from rot).
Second, Filipino cinema is not limited to Tagalog cinema. While Manila has represented the Philippines mainly because it is the seat of government, commerce and culture, the availability of digital filmmaking has created film communities outside Manila. The result of this is a multi-faceted and probably more truthful cinema. There is definitely a difference between a Manila-made film about the Mindanao rebellion (Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Bagong Buwan) and a digital film that is made by a director who is from the area (Arnel Mordoquio's Hunghong sa Yuta or Sherad Sanchez's Huling Balyan ng Buhi).
Guillén: What do you want San Francisco audiences to understand about Lino Brocka?
Cruz: Lino Brocka is also a very commercial director. There is a danger of limiting Brocka to grim and socially relevant cinema. However, throughout his career, he has made several pleasing crowdpleasers. There's Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (My Father, My Mother, 1978), a melodrama about a gay man who is forced to inhibit his homosexuality while rearing his ex-lover's son. There's Santiago (1970), a taut action film. There's Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos (God is Still Sleeping, 1988), an extremely ludicrous melodrama that is strangely a guilty pleasure of mine. There's Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One, 1980), a revenge thriller where a woman who was raped starts murdering her rapists one by one.
If we talk about Lino Brocka, it's impossible not to talk about Ishmael Bernal, his supposed rival and arguably the better director. He directed Himala (Miracle, 1982), Pagdating sa Dulo (At the Top, 1971), and Manila After Dark (1980), supposedly an answer to Brocka's Manila in the Claws of Neon.
The beauty of this Brocka retrospective is that it would most likely arouse curiosity as to the other directors during Brocka's period who are also worthy of similar retrospectives (Mike De Leon, Mario O'Hara, etc.). The danger of this Brocka retrospective is that it might limit Philippine Cinema to a single director's work.
Guillén: How do you situate yourself within Filipino cinema and Filipino film criticism?
Cruz: The interesting thing about the current state of Filipino cinema is that there are so many new films, so many new directors, but so few critics writing about them. Filipino cinema relies too much on foreign writers and festivals to acknowledge itself. Print media is more interested in talking about gossip, actors and actresses than film. It is more interested in listing how many awards a film has won rather than analyzing why the film won such awards. One cannot blame print media too much because film criticism does not sell. Filipinos are culturally onion-skinned and courteous, and have yet to develop a critical culture.
If digital filmmaking jump started Philippine cinema, blogging—which I think I represent—will hopefully jumpstart Filipino film criticism. Filipino film enthusiasts are getting more information about films that would normally not be able to get any attention in traditional print media from the internet and film bloggers. Little events like the Fully Booked Film Series—a monthly free screening of overlooked films that is dedicated to the memory of Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc which I, Dodo and Chard curate—have become starting points for what I hope to be a revolution in film viewing.
I sincerely hope that more Filipinos would be as excited with their cinema. It's quite shameful that foreigners are more excited about our cinema than us.
Guillén: Name one Filipino film that you don't think gets enough attention and should.
Cruz: This is difficult because I have to choose one. If I had the option of being greedy, I would choose around a hundred, in the hopes that Martin Scorsese would start noticing our cinema and make a move to restore even just a few of my nation's cinematic treasures.
But if I have to choose one, it would have to be Mike De Leon's Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981). I will not say anything more in the hopes that you would try to search for it and see it for yourself.
Cross-published on Twitch.