Posted by: cardcrusher | 12/09/2009

2009: The Year of the Filipino Independent Film

2009 has been a good year for Filipino independent film and filmmakers. First and foremost is the Cannes Film Festival, the planet’s premiere film festival.  Brillante Mendoza became the first Filipino filmmaker to win as best director. At the main competition, Brillante managed to beat the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Quentin Tarantino, festival favorite Lars Von Trier, Ang Lee, and Park Chan Wook. To put it simply, it is not an easy task for any filmmaker from any country to accomplish. Mendoza’s Kinatay was not the only Filipino indie that represented the country. He was joined by Raya Martin who competed in the Un Certain Regard category with his  Independencia. Adolfo Alix Jr’s  Manila did not compete, but was shown as part of the special screenings category.

France was not only the country where the under-seen Filipino indies were given a stage to shine. Next door, Italy’s premiere film festival and considered among the Big 4, La Biennale di Venezia, also became a stage for Filipino filmmakers to showcase their works. Brillante Mendoza was asked by the Venice Film Festival itself to submit a film to compete in. His Lola was  added as the second surprise film of the main competition. Mendoza would not come out with any prize at Venice, but another Filipino did. Engkwentro by Pepe Diokno won the Orrizonti Prize. Just note that both Kinatay and Engkwentro are films that divided both audience and critic not only in the Philippines and abroad.  The former made Roger Ebert rethink the term worst film shown at Cannes. He actually made an apology to Vincent Gallo for calling the Brown Bunny the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. I doubt Ebert has seen many Filipino films (he previously reviewed Mendoza’s Serbis), but what a way for his considerable readership to be introduced to Filipino cinema through one labeled as the worst film shown in competition there!

While some Filipino critics call those indies “poverty porn”, they are missing the point. The triumph of those films demonstrate that there is a viable alternative to mainstream Filipino cinema. The masses will enjoy their John Lloyd- Sarah Geronimo movies. They’ll laugh and cry at the latest Ai Ai slapstick. Nonetheless, there is enough room for quality Filipino output. Quality enough that Filipinos everywhere can now have something to boast about when friends and acquaintances ask for any “international class” film from the country to check out. As for those who criticize the indie filmmakers for only portraying the  country in a negative light, it’s time to call them out on that one. Is there only room for positive and safe subjects? What has the Mano Po franchise garnered? Did Anak make even a ripple abroad outside of the Filipino expatriate communities? The flourishing market has enough room for some challenging fare and those falsely idyllic representations of the country.



  1. after reading your post, i’m interested in watching some filipino films, any suggestions?

    • Bitter Sweet Asian

      Here are a couple of excellent ones:
      1. Kubrador (Bet Collector)
      2. Inang Yaya (Mother Nanny)
      3. Oro, Plata, Mata
      4. Magnifico
      5. The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros

      All are/ will be available to rent from Netflix (IDK about Blockbuster’s mail DVD program). I suggest you check IMDB for some reviews. If you can only watch two Filipino films ever, I highly recommend numbers 1 & 3.

      • thumbs up for Oro Plata Mata

        • It’s too bad that there aren’t more Filipino films like it.

  2. A well deserved success for your industry. I was at the Cannes Film Festival this year and was able to appreciate the diversity of films. A great year!

    Iain A

  3. I’ve seen Magnifico. Now that was film. Original and Unpredictable. I think I’ve watched Oro, Plata, Mata before but didn’t quite remember it but I’m familiar with the superstition. I’d love to see it again.

    • “Magnifico” is very good. Even some of my buddies and other Fil-Ams who don’t like foreign flicks were moved by it. I was told by a relative that “Oro, Plata, Mata” used to be shown on TV at some point in the late80s/early90s. I’m really glad that StarCinema gave it a dvd release. At 200 pesos, I’m happy a relative got me a copy. In more ways than one, it’s our “Gone With the Wind”!

      If you don’t mind me asking, did you watch “Magnifico” in the Philippines or outside of the country?

  4. I watched Magnifico on Cinema One, among the channels offered by TFC here in Riyadh. The channel features popular Tagalog films. Movie houses are actually restricted in KSA.
    I’ll Probably get a copy of Oro Plata Mata during my vacation.

    • Since you’re not in an ideal place to watch some movies, here’s a link where you could watch it.

      I hope you can get a an authentic copy when you get back.

      • I was to start on the second 10 minute segment but its no longer available, ABS-CBN was quick at it!. I must really get the real one now.
        Thanks anyway.

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