LIST: 10 streaming picks for your Filipino film fix
MANILA, Philippines – When talking about local film distribution, I’ve always noted how I’ve seen more Filipino films in New York than in Manila. This was true for two reasons:
At least for indies, Filipino films regularly screened at the MOMA or Lincoln Center – where Lav Diaz’s portrait hangs on a wall.
I co-organized the Philippine Consulate’s annual film festival, exposing me to classics like Biyaya ng Lupa (1959) and Manila by Night (1980).
In Manila, you just couldn’t catch Lav Diaz’s four-hour epics, or Mikhail Red's provocative thrillers outside of limited festival screenings.
Within the first weeks of lockdown, a unified Filipino film industry launched an expanding library of films for us to enjoy at home. Sifting between studio hits and arthouse gems, I’ve handpicked 10 titles you won’t want to miss:
John Denver Trending (2019)
Directed by Arden Rod Condez
Almost a year since it swept the last Cinemalaya, Arden Rod Condez’s debut feature is finally available for all to stream on iWant.
Set in Pandan, Antique, with a mostly non-professional cast, this tragic story follows a schoolboy who becomes ostracized due to cyberbullying. A modern parable, John Denver Trending cleverly turns a single incident into a lantern, exposing the true colors of a ruthless society.
Directed by Mikhail Red
One of the lesser-seen works of Filipino wunderkind Mikhail Red, 2017’s Neomanila is now up on TBA Studios’s YouTube channel.
The drug war thriller about a hitwoman (Eula Valdez) and her protegé swept local award circles before embarking on its global festival circuit. Neomanila is the latest YouTube release from TBA, whose channel offers other indie hits like I’m Drunk I Love You and Jerrold Tarog’s Bliss.
That Thing Called Tadhana (2014)
Directed by Antoinette Jadaone
Cinema One features a wide selection on YouTube, from independent to studio films. With plenty to choose from, I decided to go with Antoinette Jadaone’s career-defining That Thing Called Tadhana.
Despite breaking box office records, the film is a modest and unpretentious romance fueled by fan favorites Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman. Other free titles on Cinema One’s channel include Dwein Baltazar’s Mamay Umeng and Raymond Red’s Palme d’Or-winning short, Anino.
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Among the most accomplished working directors today, Ramona S. Diaz has charmed the world with intimate portraits of the Philippines’s most charismatic characters. Choosing those words carefully, I highly recommend her career-defining Sundance darling, Imelda.
This is one of Ramona’s many gifts to the global quarantine population, streaming for free on her Vimeo channel. There you can catch her other titles, including the Tribeca 2012 hit, Don’t Stop Believin’, about Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda.
GOLDEN AGE CLASSICS
Biyaya ng Lupa (1959)
Directed by Manuel Silos
Mike de Leon is a national cinema treasure. Directorial legacy aside, his Vimeo channel (named “Citizen Jake”) is a goldmine of Filipino classics from famed film studio, LVN.
My first pick of the bunch is Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa, a melodrama spanning the collective struggles of a provincial family. The film stars Rosa Rosal and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival.
Anak Dalita (1956)
Directed by Lamberto Avellana
From another acclaimed LVN director Lamberto Avellana, Anak Dalita is a tragedy set in the slums of Manila. Also starring Rosa Rosal (this time with Tony Santos) and selected as our entry for the 29th Academy Awards, the film follows a prostitute and a war veteran who, together, confront the stark realities of urban poverty.
If you enjoy the Golden Age, I highly advise browsing the rest of the channel for more restored classics, including those directed by LVN’s third musketeer, Gregorio Fernandez.
FILMS FOR A CAUSE
I saved our last slots to highlight an important movement at the helm of the online wave, Lockdown Cinema Club. With an advocacy to aid the most at-risk film workers, the initiative has so far raised nearly P4 million for over 1,500 workers.
Thanks to overwhelming support, anyone can access their growing library of films. Here are their 4 hottest picks:
Directed by Keith Sicat
This futuristic, interplanetary indie from 2018’s TOFARM Film Festival is ambitious to say the least. In an industry void of hard sci-fi, director Keith Sicat answers with a spinoff on his own comic series, OFW: Outerspace Filipino Workers.
The story of a terraforming expert in search of her long-lost sister is, like many dystopian fiction, an allegory for the state of our agricultural and overseas industries. Plus, the novelty of seeing Filipinos in space makes Alimuom a worthy watch.
Directed by Pam Miras
A slightly more grounded story on missing family members, writer-director Pam Miras' second film premiered in 2017’s QCinema Film Festival.
This chilling tale follows a documentarian who loses her only son while investigating child disappearances on a remote island. The perfect storm of family drama and occult mystery, Medusae comes to show that the independent landscape is vast and full of dark corners.
Ex Press (2012)
Directed by Jet Leyco
The feature debut of director Jet Leyco, Ex Press made its overseas premiere at the 2012 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Blending documentary train footage with scripted sequences, the experimental narrative takes viewers on a spiritual journey through the country's history with railways.
Elehiya Sa Dumalaw Mula Sa Himagsikan (2011)
Directed by Lav Diaz
I mentioned Lav Diaz so there was no way I was going to leave him out. A slightly older but extremely rare title, Elehiya clocks in at just 80 minutes – basically, a short film for slow cinema legend Lav Diaz.
Like many of his works (Norte, the End of History comes to mind), the narrative is a meditative triptych between a prostitute, a musician, and a “visitor from the revolution.” If you’re yearning for an easy intro to a world cinema icon, look no further.
With each week passing in quarantine, it seems more and more Filipino films are finally seeing light. And with our SMs and Ayala Cinemas, ours has otherwise been an industry tethered to the box office. It seems, as in similar fields, the current pandemic presents us with much to contemplate for the future of Filipino filmmaking.
Noting the substantial view count on most of these titles, there’s no question – we are watching more Filipino films than ever. Regardless of the paradigm shifts promised by a post-pandemic future, I do hope this downtime sparks a renewed hunger for local cinema.
Greats like Lav Diaz, Ramona S. Diaz, and the unlisted Brillante Mendoza have already proven that Filipino films are worthy of the world stage. So why not in our homes? – Rappler.com
Outside of Rappler, Pawi is an independent filmmaker and founder of Manila Movie Nights, a weekly film club hosted at Borough, Bonifacio Global City. As both a New York-trained cinephile and Marvel fanboy, Pawi promotes movies that overlap mainstream and arthouse circles in the hopes of cultivating a more inclusive film community.