Posted March 9, 2018 by Angelo Delos Trinos in Movies/TV

Bartenders and Murder: A Glimpse at Sinag Maynila 2018

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To bring more attention to the many talented yet unrecognized filmmakers of the Philippines, Solar Entertainment CEO Wilson Tieng and renowned director Brillante Mendoza founded Sinag Maynila: a film festival dedicated to independent Filipino cinema. On the historic fourth year of this celebration of Filipino cinema, Sinag Maynila 2018 opened its doors in SM North Edsa by doing the most Filipino thing possible: showing a French movie.

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Sinag Maynila 2018 opened with Paris Prestige (Les derniers Parisiens) – a drama about two angry French brothers fighting over a bar and more – because Mendoza wouldn’t have it any other way. The movie in question won the coveted Directors’ Jury Prize in this year’s My French Film Festival, where Mendoza was one of the judges. The sibling rivalry between Nas (Reda Kateb) and Arezki (Silmane Dazi) impressed the Ma’Rosa director so much that he requested that the movie open Sinag Maynila 2018, to which the people at  – an organization that promotes French films across the world – happily agreed to.

Paris Prestige is a European film through and through, as seen in it’s deliberately slow pacing and meticulous analysis of people, their inner-workings and motivations. Because of this, Paris Prestige is not the kind of movie for everyone. Case in point, the guy behind me loudly fell asleep not even 10 minutes into the movie. As Nas’ and Arezki’s shaky relationship got more heated, people exited the theater, leaving the place half empty by the end credits. Which was a waste, since Paris Prestige was a well-acted, compelling character study that didn’t rely on melodrama to show the difficulties of brotherhood.

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Irate barkeeps and their personal baggage aside, Sinag Maynila 2018 will be dedicated to local feature-length films, shorts and documentaries that show the many different aspects of everyday Filipino life – whether through fiction or reality.  As uniFrance’s representative to South East Asia Jeremy Segay said, Sinag Maynila is meant to “curate” Filipino cinema. Segay, who was also a judge in Cinemalaya 2007, praised this year’s festival as part of the ongoing “renaissance of Filipino cinema,” and the fest’s opening night was further improved by the showing of a French film – a gesture he felt was “touching.”

Like other local film festivals, Sinag Maynila is dedicated to championing independent Filipino films, only now with organizers (i.e. Tieng, Mendoza, etc.) who are directly involved in the entries’ creation – from inception to post-production – instead of just providing the budget or a cash prizes. As explained by the festival’s founders when they opened the festival by thanking the various artists, supporters and sponsors who made the event possible and these remarks:

Wilson Tieng: “We’re all excited to exhibit all the finalists in this year’s festival because, truly, these are works that we can be proud of as Filipinos. These are masterpieces in their own rights and I’m confident these films will earn recognition and critical acclaim, not only in the Philippines, but in international film festivals as well.”

Brillante Mendoza: “Without your help, wala tayong festival…Alam ko isa lang ang ating advocacy, alam ko isa lang ang ating gusto nating pagtunguan, ang makilala ang ating mga pelikula, ang makilala ang ating mga kuwento, at ang makilala tayo bilang Pilipino sa buong mundo.” [Without your help, there wouldn’t be a festival. There is only one advocacy and goal that we’re all after: To see Filipinos be recognized for their stories and films.]

Sinag Maynila’s primary purpose is to curate Filipino cinema not just in an SM Megamall near you but to different countries as well, with the long-term goal of bringing more attention to the country’s untapped (and oftentimes ignored) cinematic talent and potential in mind. But since they’re independent productions with dark overtones intertwined in their narratives and stylistic similarities to the likes of Paris Prestige, the entries for Sinag Maynila 2018 may not be really meant for a wide audience – and that’s precisely why it’s a film festival worth checking out.

Participating films such as Abomination (Synopsis: an amnesiac woman goes on a murderous rampage) or Bomba (The Bomb) (Synopsis: a mute man goes on a murderous rampage) may not be the movie you’d watch on a romantic first date or for dumb popcorn fun, but they’re the kinds of stories rarely seen in Filipino media – ones that go the extra mile when it comes to metaphorically and literally stabbing someone in the face to get a point across. These are the kinds of films that push audiences out of their comfort zone, giving them a viewing experience that’s equal parts disturbing yet wholly insightful. Instead of sticking to what’s familiar and safe for every movie-going experience, Sinag Maynila offers a different kind of film-viewing which those who are willing to give a chance will appreciate. And who knows, maybe a new favorite filmmaker could be discovered by stepping outside of the metaphorical box of personal preference.

That, and these kinds of films don’t stand a financial chance against the latest superhero blockbuster or whatever gets hurriedly dumped on unsuspecting peoples’ faces during the annual December “film” fest.

Angelo Delos Trinos

Part-time artist and writer, full-time critic/overthinker. He believes that Samuel L.Jackson is the greatest actor on earth and he misses video stores.