(Film Fever is a special segment dedicated to the local film festivals/screenings I participated, which is my own way of celebrating the underappreciated art of homegrown cinema.)
For this debut section, students from the Colegio San Juan De Letran take center stage in the grueling yet fulfilling academic requirement of producing their own short film. The seven entries premiered last March 14 at the university’s annual event brilliantly coined as CINEMAKNIGHTS. The students were challenged to create short films that focus on the Filipino’s unique aspects of life, and it’s safe to stay that these college seniors surprise in attacking their corresponding topics in a subversive manner. Critically speaking, the plotted twists and turns either churn or choke the narrative but apart from the writing, the students pose potential in taking lead behind the camera (direction and cinematography) given the serious subject matters.
To see these students’ vision materialize onscreen is a step towards an auspicious filmmaker’s self-actualization. Cinema, in my opinion, is the most holistic form of art and rivalry has no place in this medium for sensible, creative freedom. Here are the seven short films in CINEMAKNIGHTS 2015, in order of their screening:
Ending with a startling reveal that evokes sympathy on its glib narrative, MESSAGE SENT is a well-intentioned portrayal of modern social connections that can either be deceptively sweet or queerly unfounded. The twist alone is subverting of expectations on how the student-filmmakers depicted the Filipinos’ reputation as the ‘texting capital of the world’. But the overall product would have been more impactful if the two lead characters were made more consistent and precise by their physical predicaments. The ending makes it easy to absolve MESSAGE SENT of its character loopholes but it’s also the same reason why I’m more critical about it. Rating: 2.0/4.0
LAST TWO MINUTES
A suburban look at the repercussions of gambling, LAST TWO MINUTES is a brief example of how greed makes people bleed. Titled after the crucial last minutes of basketball, the love for the sport and love for family are bonded by blood which the lead character mortally learns. The crime drama could be made visually arresting by infusing style to paint the landscape of moral degradation. The emergence of a neighborhood ‘serial killer’ was an excessive derivative of violence. But in general, the short film glimpses the brutal reality of disruption of civil peace; and how it ties poverty to the provocation of crime in the small scale shows social awareness among its young filmmakers. Rating: 3.0/4.0
The cool ambiance complements its youthful appeal but SABADO disappointingly lacks the emotional depth that detaches the viewers from the characters. The coming-of-age short film subtlety imparts the ‘suicidal’ decisiveness of its two leads but the uninspired exposition and one-dimensional character treatment don’t warrant emotional investment from the audience. Though it made privy of the teens’ self-imposed ponderings of existential crisis, SABADO is too engrossed in its own teenage ethos than validating its endgame. It’s a misdirected and incomprehensible approach on self-consciousness whose message is further lost from bland and uncharismatic characters. Rating: 1.5/4.0
Independent film star Mercedes Cabral appears to be this short film’s biggest catch but SELDA strives in its political resonance and not in its star power (a good thing since the thematic element isn’t eclipsed; but one can only speculate the production budget). The thin (and improvised) prison wall separating the rich and the poor is an understatement on how closely related their individual stories are (as ably achieved by the editing). The intersecting stories of the two criminals make them both victims and suspects of the vicious cycle called fate but the flawed justice system plays dice (in the form of bail) to determine whom it will favor. SELDA is a crude yet decent socio-political anecdote, effective but not necessarily efficient in telling its prison story. Rating: 3.0/5.0
Its troubled production doesn’t reflect on the outcome but perhaps subjectively, the lead actor is to blame. LOST PLATE is the most ambitious in the lineup, a one-man show that doesn’t captivate on its brooding night drive. The heavy traffic along EDSA is a perfect avenue for a long and fruitful rumination of one’s life choices, regrets and aspiration (shown in three splices of the actor where the editing excels). Those would at least be redolent but the lead actor’s aloofness makes his character apathetic instead of brokering intimacy with the viewer. Somewhere in the middle, the audience will ask what makes this character important and worth the watch as he floods the screen with philosophical and personal ramblings. The dialogue is well-rounded but in a claustrophobic setting where viewers are coerced to connect to a single character, an effective actor would reach the desired destination. Rating: 2.0/5.0
Weak dialogue hurts BALOTA NGA’s credibility but the drama about the trade of Philippine elections finishes stronger with the subtle parallel stories of father-and-son in a political backdrop. The subdued close focusing on Richard Quan’s rueful smile divulges a generational story of amoral beginnings. We see sons who replace their fathers in their instituted government seat and sons who follow their fathers’ footstep in administering electoral fraud. Corruption corrodes the line between right and wrong which has been the accepted way of life. The cinematic execution is imperfect but the thematic content remains intact and more profound than expected. Quan’s pitiful expressions make him an effective, reluctant conspirator of moral ambiguity. Rating: 2.5/5.0
Based on audience reaction, THE CRAMMING is a clear favorite that tickled with the recognizable student’s fury of procrastination. But the short film is nothing but superficial, more of an interlude than a body of art. They say ignorance is bliss but in a comedy born out of its characters’ ignorance, there’s nothing much to ponder. The playful editing is attention-grabbing but isn’t enough to salvage this amateur and silly glance on student life. Rating: 1.0/4.0
Movie posters grabbed from CinemaKnight’s Facebook page.
The short films were screened from March 16-20 at Colegio San Juan de Letran.
The writer has affinity with one of the student-filmmakers.