Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SFIAAFF28 2010: FILIPINO CINEMA—A Few Evening Class Questions for Richard Bolisay

"I wish Francis 'Oggs' Cruz, Richard Bolisay, and Dodo Dayao would get space in the broadsheets, because they're far more interesting than anyone writing there regularly."—Alexis Tioseco, "Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema"

When he was a boy, Richard Bolisay's father told him that he had "a peculiar pair of eyes", which no doubt accounts for his meditative gaze into the heart of dreams and—by extension—cinema. A self-described "dreamer from Manila", "Chard" Bolisay administers his own site
Lilok Pelikula / Sculpting Cinema, his alternative to a dreamt-of Philippine magazine that would focus on film criticism. Indeed, Lilok Pelikula's intelligent writing seems shaped from the discipline of dreams. In his wistful Criticine "Love Letter" to the films of Mike De Leon, he described Lino Brocka as "a dream fighter of the common people." That word—dream—thrums throughout Bolisay's writing like a bass beat. One senses that this young writer has harnessed the language of dreams to "raid the inarticulate". I am grateful for his willingness to respond to my questions.

* * *

Michael Guillén: What do you want San Francisco audiences to understand about Filipino cinema?

"Chard" Bolisay: Sometimes it's distressing that when I read foreign writers writing about Filipino cinema, the very first thing I notice is that they misspell our name. Filipino takes its shape as strangely as Philipino, Philiphino, Philipinno, or even Filiphino. So maybe I would like to make that clear first—it's Filipino. As much as we appreciate interest and admiration, annoyance can't be helped when such carelessness, whether unintentional or not, is committed. When in doubt, anyhow, one can always go for Philippine cinema.
As any national cinema, ours depicts a certain truth about our condition. Themes of poverty and violence are not surprising to see because our society is indeed poor and violent. It is something seen everyday, felt everyday, though not maybe by the filmmakers themselves but by the subjects they choose to tell. That's why local films that tackle such themes gamble on finding an audience. Why see a film of your own life? Why see a film while you can see such poorness on your own without paying for the price of a ticket? (The price which is more than enough to feed a family a day for those who live below poverty line.) There's a reason why Brillante Mendoza, like Kim Ki-duk to South Korea, is not popular in his own country.

Philippine cinema is as diverse as you can imagine: there are serious dramas, poor slapsticks, tried-and-tested romantic comedies, art house orgasms, and—once in a blue moon—interesting historical pieces. Sexually explicit films that were popular in the late '70s and '80s, and that remained steadily in the '90s through
Seiko, are being revived now through the popularity of gay films, whose unsurprising number of audience is keeping Philippine cinema a little more of its (rather fittingly) gay life.

Guillén: What do you want San Francisco audiences to understand about Lino Brocka?

Lino Brocka is a Filipino filmmaker, as Filipino as the first Filipino may be. He knows the Filipino life, speaks the Filipino language, eats Filipino shit, breathes Filipino fart, fights for Filipino freedom, tells the Filipino experience ... and that doesn't come close to exaggerating his image, or to overrating his merits. Simply put, he is the Filipino that we never feel bad about representing us, no matter how bad he chooses us to be seen. His bad, sometimes, is even far from the others' good.
I am no expert on Brocka but I must say I like his family dramas more than his political pieces that made him an icon of the movement. A matter of taste and upbringing this preference may attribute to, but as I always argue, his family dramas are as political as much as his social realist works are. For instance, Tubog sa Ginto [Dipped in Gold, 1970], which may only pass off now as "the macho man's admission of his possession of a vagina", is practically the most entertaining movie to address homosexual relationships, with all the killer dialogues and naughty framing that Brocka unrelentingly provides. That's the quality of an important filmmaker—relevance not only during his time but even several years, or decades, after.

Guillén: How do you situate yourself within Filipino cinema and Filipino film criticism?

Bolisay: I have always been a lurker, a passive moviegoer. Blogs just happen to be public—and their being public just happens to be fun and interesting, that's why I find myself in it. Other than that I'd still be writing in my journal, cursively, selectively scribbling thoughts. Allow me to share a laugh but that phrase "Filipino film criticism" is just preposterous!

Guillén: If there is one Filipino film that you don't think gets enough attention, what would it be?
Bolisay: Gerry de León's Ang Daigdig ng mga Api gets a lot of attention but only a handful have truly seen it, apparently because no print of it exists. To be honest, it wouldn't be of much help to recommend Filipino titles to foreigners considering, confronted with our own embarrassment, we don't know where to find a decent—more so, English-subtitled—copies of them. That, my dear friends, is where our history always finds itself going: disposed to disappear.

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