“Bacolod isn’t Bacollywood. Not yet,” says Director Lore Reyes as he lines up a digital shot of Dennis Trillo against the imposing Gaston mansion in Manapla. “For one thing, the money isn’t there. Neither are the studios, the equipment nor the labs. But they’ve got everything else and that’s what matters.”
What is everything else? For one thing, the cinematographer is from Bacolod. The gaffer is from Bacolod. The script, the production designer, the costume designer, the sound man, the make-up artists, the art department staff, the crew…are all from Negros. The only imported entity is Dennis Trillo of Mulawin fame. Even the actors… all Negrosanons. That include the three beauties who make up the different romantic characters. The teenaged-boy lead was discovered having merienda at Uma over at the ANP Showroom. He has never been in a movie before but he holds his own against the veteran Trillo. On one side of the shoot is a respected ophthalmologist and religious leader playing a stigmatic holy man and is trading lines with his film brother played by the General Manager of one of the sugar mills in the south. From Negros. Not to mention the generous cast of characters that is composed of a dozen children, high society matrons, houseboys and maids and wounded guerillas. All from Negros.
They are shooting a teaser-trailer for an epic movie entitled Ligawan sa Panahon ng Tagsibol at Digmaan. “It’s quite a mouthful,” admits Reyes, “we’ve changed it to Olympia. It might be more producer-friendly.” Reyes has shot three full-length feature films in Negros for major studios, Viva and Regal, all in one year; more than 90 per cent of the staff, creative talent and crew coming from Bacolod.
There is a cinema movement in this island. It is young and it is dynamic and the movie industry in Manila is already aware of this phenomenon. This can be traced back to the Negros Summer Workshops that brought in professional talents to teach different aspects of cinema in 1991. The University of St. La Salle was instrumental in housing and organizing this venture, blocking off four to six hour daily courses for four weeks that added up to three academic units and processing more than three hundred students each summer and it’s been going on for seventeen solid years. This can create quite an impact which is environmental in nature.
Added to this, the Piaya Awards was created almost a decade ago that admittedly raised the bar in terms of project quality and the degree of ambition it required. Jo Macasa, one of its inceptors, remembers, “We didn’t want it to be self-conscious or take ourselves too seriously. The idea of awards was more to get artists to come together and really see what the other filmmakers were coming up with. The stress wasn’t on the competition. It was more the bringing together of the artistic community as a family. That’s why we chose something as friendly as “piaya”. We wanted to underline the fact that we were dealing with something home-grown.”
Jo Macasa adds: “At the same time, going through the award ceremonies, we were training the kids to deal with failure and with success… to be able to express their thanks and their disappointments. It was like social training in Showbiz 101 bala…”
Gabby Fernandez, one of the faculty and also a filmmaker (his Diin na si Francis?, which was nationally released by Unitel, featured Paolo Conti, Christopher De Leon, Epi Quizon and Rico Blanco of the Rivermaya) adds: “The idea of the top prize being called the Crystal Piaya was a joke… it was kind of ridiculous matching something as prosaic as piaya with something as refined as crystal… we didn’t want to take things too seriously.” What happened, however, is the actual opposite. Artists in Bacolod took the whole thing really seriously.
Right from the start, Jay Abello came from nowhere with a black-and-white film called 7 Cut, shot in a small barber shop in Silay. It basically involved just two people– a guy going after a haircut and a barber. Within the confines of a barber’s chair and the use of newspaper headlines and a radio soap opera dealing with a serial killer as its score, the film explored a world of paranoia that actually involved the audience who ends up, like the lead character, investing the barber with a personality and a back story that is not warranted by what Abello presents in the picture.
Much of it went to the fact that the casting of the barber was excellent – his eyes were haunting (or haunted depending on how you looked at it) and made you wonder if he was capable of butchery. The other factor was that the whole film was done in Ilonggo, although the main characters do not exchange a single word. 7-Cut won the Crystal Piaya that first year of its inception and raised the bar extremely high. It made it almost impossible for others to work below that standard.
Since then, Abello won still another Crystal Piaya award with his 27, about a young artist, his family and friends dealing with suicide. Aside from the impact of the film, Bacolod audiences were agreeably shocked to see acclaimed actors Rio Locsin and Mark Gil working in Ilonggo in an Ilonggo film.
Abello, whose films deal with people who come dangerously and physically close as they reach out to each other and in the end fail to connect, comments on why he makes films: “The camera is my way of extending myself and connecting to the world. These are stories I want to share but cannot by dealing with just words or pictures. Movies give me that avenue.”
Paolo Lindaya, who won this year’s Crystal Piaya for Panganod, a visually arresting film that takes a peek into different aspects of the afterlife, is known for his deft and delicate touch. He is both at home with theater and with cinema. For him, “Shooting movies is like being in a playground. You are always in a state of discovery while having fun at the same time. That’s why I enjoy it so much. And it’s a different playground each time.”
Like all of the other directors mentioned here, RJ Lacson applies his craft to professional projects that embraces documentaries, AVPs and commercials. He has a photographic eye and a stylish, metropolitan sensibility. He is the man to go to in movie projects where his instinct for design and visual metaphors are required.
His movies are the opposite of his persona which is quirky and tense with a kind of anxious energy, “Everything else that I do makes me nervous but making a movie gives me a confidence that I don’t understand. It’s the one thing I want to do because I know I can. My love for music, for telling stories and sharing my thoughts goes back to when I was a kid. I realize the power of movies. I love it and I don’t think my life would be complete without it.”
All these people are young and have a strong sense of music. To watch Lacson’s piece on unrequited love played against Wagner’s Liebestod is an amazing thing. MTV becomes opera and opera becomes MTV in one go. He understands the music so that you will be able to.
Lawrence Fajardo is from Murcia and is also a two-time winner of the Crystal Piaya. More significantly, he has garnered several trophies: the Philippine Star Special Jury Prize; the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival; the Urian Award for Best short film. He is a finalist for the 8th CINEMANILA International Film Festival Digital Lokal; the CINEMALAYA Philippine Independent Film Festival and the 3rd CINEMA ONE Originals. He also produced Ballad of Mimyong’s Minions, which won the Grand Crystal Crystal Piaya and the Ishmael Bernal Award for Young Cinema; and Rotonda, which won best director and acting awards at the 30th Urian both in 2006. Quite an impressive resume.
Fajardo covers a lot of territory. His films deal with the Tenyente Guimo of aswang legend in Dueñas in Panay all the way to an avant garde excursion that dealt with a Christ-like figure inside a prison cell entirely surrounded by convicts (the 12 disciples?) who simply snap their fingers instead of offering any dialogue. His most recent Cinemalaya entry was Ang Racket Ni Nanay with Sarsi Emmanuelle, who takes up posing in the nude for artists as a sideline. He is now shooting Prinsesa, a film that deals with Overseas Workers and bulimia from a script by Jade Snow Calderon who also wrote Jay Abello’s Cinemalaya entry.
This wide range of subjects is probably a reflection of Fajardo’s reasons for filmmaking in the first place, “I like to create and dramatize emotions as I perceive them. And I enjoy creating a world that can only exist in your story, be it fictional or not.”
An example of this “other” world is evident in the film he produced directed by Jobin Ballesteros, The Ballad of Mimyong’s Minions. It is a movie about a down-and-out singer who learns his art and awakens his inspiration when he is “adopted” by an old blind beggar who takes him back to his provincial roots and puts him in touch with a farming community. It is a magical, lyrical piece shot in and around Murcia. The cinematography is gorgeous and its heart firmly rooted in Ilonggo sensibility. It earned an audience ovation.
These filmmakers-as-producers are evidence of a generosity of spirit that typifies the Ilonggo film community. This role-crossing has much to do with the secret of their success. There is a lot of mystique that goes with being a director, but these guys think nothing of dropping their directorial status in order to design somebody else’s project, to act in, to light the set and operate the camera or actually finance somebody else’s dream.
The most powerful godfather of them all is Manny Montelibano who started Tramontina, which is a production outfit that actually finances, produces and outfits projects that have been pitched successfully. This is a big help to young “virgin” directors who are out to make their first film and are unsure about their resources.
Montelibano, who is also an installation artist who has exhibited all over the Visayas, from Cebu, Panay and Bohol and at the Metropolitan Museum of the CCP and even had his work presented at the Luneta during last year’s Arts Month, won the Crystal Piaya for A.M. but his My Way is regarded to be his most audacious and inspired work so far. He took the minus one of the song My Way, which in most respects is considered the National Anthem of Pinoy Karaoke, and gave it the traditional karaoke treatment, complete with the lyrics appearing at the appropriate time.
The twist is that he showed an actual embalming procedure complete with all the gory details, which added a grisly and ironic resonance to the saccharine, self-serving lyrics and turned it into a frightening and particularly Filipino indictment of people who use this song as self-justification for their mid-life crises and failures in life. This film was given a citation by an international panel of judges at the Eksperimento Festival and was shown at the Anti-Matter Underground Film & Video Festival in Victoria, Canada.
Aware that movies create a separate but an accepted actual reality, Montelibano says, “Making movies is like creating another world. What makes me continue doing it is the fact that some people react to what they see on the screen. And what they see is the world that I partly created.”
So it’s not Bollywood, much less Hollywood, but the temptation to stamp the label Bacollywood is both unresistable and valid. The hills are alive with the sound of shooting and the joke goes that during summer it is hard to throw a stone in Bacolod without hitting some movie being shot.
During the Bacolod premiere of Ligaw Liham, a Cinemalaya finalist by Jay Abello, Karylle who played one of the leads in this practically all-Ilonggo production shot in La Carlota, Pulupandan and Silay, recognized this energy in her speech at a Robinson theater when she praised, “… the Ilonggo filmmakers are creative, committed and passionate.” She hit it right on the head.
Borgy Torre who comes from a cinematic lineage and whose films have won the Piaya Director’s Apprenticeship Best Film and the DLSU Best Thesis Film this year counts the ways why he directs films: “I shoot movies because if I don’t, I’m gonna die lonely. Because its the only way people can see what’s in my head. Because it’s a good way to make the things I want to happen, happen. Because I’m really good at it!” And then he gives out a huge belly laugh. He’s so piaya.