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Astig (GB Sampedro, 2009) August 8, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi.


English Title: Survivors
Directed by GB Sampedro
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Sid Lucero, Arnold Reyes, Edgar Allan Guzman

Boy Abunda and his garish league of stars penetrating Cinemalaya is like Mother Lily asking John Torres to make a film with Regal with all artistic freedom. It simply doesn’t work. One way or the other there will be conflicts of interest, and there will be questions that will mock its integrity. Nonetheless I fully understand that a festival like this is also a business. Monetary issues should be taken care of to sustain its activity, but I’m sure it can be attained without sacrificing its very vision. Right now, for all it’s worth, Cinemalaya just betrays my hope for a tradition of quality. Bit by bit it is starting to shelter itself from criticism, and probably from now on I will just be the cheerful and optimistic attendee who is just glad that a festival like this is happening every year, and promises to be with it through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, from its hopeful birth to its unfortunate death.

As expected Astig rakes in the most earnings in this year’s fest, thanks in part to the numerous showbiz personalities who appear in cameo, and to its producer who, as his job, plugs the film in his daily, weekly, and primetime programs. Its commercial viability is unquestionable. Its four main actors are considerably famous in their field. It is visually pleasing, tightly narrated, and edited with intensity and right pacing. But what gives? Granted it is well-made, it is still as horrible as the idea of its producers wanting to represent us in Cannes next year. It is as horrible as the idea of turning this festival into a religion whose surface is all too calm but inside there is that human evil waiting to erupt anytime. Astig is less a film than a two-hour commercial of frenzied testosterone overflowing everywhere, in complete accordance with its producers’ idea of the role of the gay community to stupid straight men.

How lucky GB Sampedro is. He gets a grant from Cinemalaya and he receives further support from Boy Abunda, who in turn secures that his film will be immensely known to the public. Thirty seconds, twenty seconds, or even ten seconds of talk time is an absolute blessing of publicity. Does every filmmaker get that chance? No. Does he get the “euphoric feeling” of being called “independent”? Yes. For his film to have its premiere in the festival is delightlessly cruel to his contemporaries.

Sadly, Cinemalaya is not anymore standing on its feet. It had its time, and as it turned out, it’s not this year. It is still missing that important bullet to prove that immense difference between “digital” and “independent”, the proof that its means is only a way of reaching its more important goal, to make way for stories that express a unique vision, a Filipino experience that is worth telling, and not just turd copycats of overused themes. Every independent movement in music and cinema does not avoid cages; in fact they live inside them. But they know when to slip through their cages and how to do it. It spreads itself; it sets an example of freedom within freedom, and camarederie among peers that it sincerely enjoys. In its selfish claim for the rebirth of Philippine cinema through digital films, I hope its meaningful enlightenment comes near before a film like this gives it another stroke.



1. edgar p. - August 8, 2009

been noticing lately that you don’t review the films themselves but instead talk about peripheral circumstances. where’s the critique of Astig and Mangatyanan? here, you’re merely lamenting the intrusion of mainstream elements in Cinemalaya–something which was bound to happen anyway the more successful the festival becomes. in the previous post, you’re expressing disappointment at how “uncool” Mangatyanan is compared to Tarog’s 1st film.

get your act together, man. review the films, not the filmmakers.

2. Richard Bolisay - August 8, 2009

. . . which is less interesting for me, I guess. the peripheral things are often taken for granted so I find it better to blabber about them. sometimes the things outside are more important than the films themselves, not to mention the arguments they provoke. if you wish to read critique of these films, you may read other blogs for that. there’s aplenty.

3. Oggs Cruz - August 8, 2009

The Mother Lily-John Torres project is so cool, it might work.

4. Richard Bolisay - August 8, 2009

Think so? I’m sure John Torres wouldn’t mind, if “with all artistic freedom” is the contract. Calling Mother Lily.

5. sunshine - August 9, 2009

i completely hated this film. and i can’t believe it got in pusan.

btw, didn’t lav work with mother lily too for his hesus rebolusyonaryo? i remember laughing when i was still in roadrunner because lav always looked like he would skin someone alive any moment. i think john torres is too nice to work with mother lily.

6. Richard Bolisay - August 10, 2009

you’re right sunshine. hesus rebolusyonaryo was produced under Regal. haven’t seen it yet but i surely have heard lav’s frustration about the film. it’s more notorious than the film itself.

john is a calm man i believe, so maybe his way of “skinning someone alive” is also subtle. hehe. it’s funny we’re imagining these things. if in the future it happens, no one can tell we didn’t see it happening.

7. The value of art | The art of stenciling - August 11, 2009

[…] Astig (GB Sampedro, 2009) « Lilok Pelikula […]

8. monch - August 11, 2009

i agree with edgar p.. why fault the film because of its mainstream elements? u’re the one caging “independent cinema” with ur personal biases! there are no hard and fast rules in independent filmaking.. so please.. stop being a smart aleck!

don’t tell us which blog to read! if u can’t handle criticisms, then quit being a critic!

9. Richard Bolisay - August 12, 2009

i’m not telling you which blog to read. i’m telling you that there are other blogs you’d be happy reading about. and if i quit, to whom would you vent your complaint?

10. straycat - August 12, 2009

Feeling ko sumobra sa cameo appearance ng mga artista. Nakaka-distract yung sobrang dami, nakakaagaw ng atensyon. Halimbawa si Marielle biglang nurse pala.

Isa pa di dapat ASTIG yung pamagat kasi puro loser lahat ng mga bida. Mas dapat siguro yung “Mga Sisiw”. Kasi di ba di naman lumabas talagang astigin sila.

Naniniwala din ako na nasisira na yung ideology na ipinaglalaban ng Cinemalaya kapag nagpatuloy ang ganitong sistema. Sa susunod sino pa kayang maimpluwensya ang magpro-prodyus?

11. dodo dayao - August 15, 2009

I freely admit that I avoided this film because of Boy Abunda’s name. Yes it’s overly biased and possibly unfair but hey, none of us would go see a film with Carlo J.Caparas ‘ name oin it (well, actually, if I were holding a party, I probably would) and who’s to say it isn’t the same thing. But I’ve always liked Cinemalaya for the enclosed venue and how it deepens the festival atmosphere and their films in exhibition are often interesting but I’ve always felt it was a little too conservative for my taste. It’s sort of like the local version of Sundance in that most of the stuff in it are Star Cinema (i.e.mainstream) hopefuls with a lot less money and varying degrees of taste and merit. I liked quite a few of the films this year – – -just as I like quite a few every year – – -but among all the films on show at the CCP last month that I know of, Yanggaw ,Serbis and Melancholia were probably the best.

12. Richard Bolisay - August 15, 2009

I’ve always followed Cinemalaya since it started so I really have a certain affection uniquely given to it. Perhaps last year was just too high a bar that was set (with the colossal exception of Brutus) but this year was just meh. The cinema of the press strikes again; it’s rather depressing. Cinemalaya is a very significant institution. I just hope that as it stays it will continue to rethink its plans and actions in favor of diversity and “groundbreakingness”, and not just become a studio that will mold films of similar voices and political vision. But like you said, the options that the festival offers – – like the exhibition films and the netpacs – – are always wonderful to look forward to.

13. dodo dayao - August 16, 2009

Agree. The more festivals the better, I think and if there’s one for each temperament – – -Cinemalaya for so-called “commercial arthouse” (i.e. tasteful), .mov for the more experimental ,Cinemanila for everything in between- – – so be it. And personally I thought it rather brave for them to give the trophy to a comedy,one which I quite liked myself. But yeah, even so-called “commercial arthouse” should push the envelope once in awhile, if not always.

14. the bakla review - August 17, 2009

because the peripheral things are often not so peripheral. they’re usually pertinent. i agree with you, richard. just do what you have to do. film writing sometimes means you have to look at what’s invisible.

cinemalaya’s “indie” cred has been on a dangerous downward curve since year 1. the problem is structural. here you have a committee that “monitors” “quality” at every step. often that means filmmakers must align to the tastes of the elders (the same people every year) and the goals of the festival (including commercial goals). from script to casting to final cut, there’s really a lot of meddling masquerading as guidance, sometimes with threats of eviction if filmmakers don’t comply. there have been casualties. a true independent festival (such as those in other countries) focus on helping to create independent-minded filmmakers, especially in the field of producing. cinemalaya likes to shape directors instead. it’s anal about acceptability of final product. that’s the reason it’s simultaneously popular and frustrating.

15. Richard Bolisay - August 18, 2009


The thing is, we can’t do anything. Cinemalaya is too controlled, and all controlled. It’s not as if it has a letter to the editor or something or what we say is really important for them to believe. I just hate when they selfishly claim something to themselves. Even the term “indie” has become irritating to the ears these days. Before it meant good, but now i don’t know. But these things start to matter only when you think about it. But when you don’t, it’s just fun I guess, like young-hippie-happy-go-lucky-fun. Maybe that’s what Cinemalaya is for, the innocently uncritical.

The electoral reforms and Cinemalaya, what’s the difference? Everything boils down to politics.

16. dodo dayao - August 18, 2009

Cinemalaya has become a haven for a more conventional – – -maybe even classical – – -form of film, albeit one that eschews, as much as it can, the excesses and cliches of the mainstream cinema it emulates and sometimes tries to subvert – – -slthough its being anal about “acceptability” doesn’t really bode well, in my opinion – – -and from an aspiring filmmakers’ standpoint, that should be a useful guide for anyone who thinks his work is a lot more braver and more experimental than the Cinemalaya mold, for want of a better term, in that he or she should probably look for funding elsewhere. Cinemalaya makes a certain type of film so chances are your five hour silent film might not even get past the gate. Of course given the ubiquity of Cinemalaya in the public eye and how they equate it as the end-all be-all of independent film ,even if you get to make your film under the aegis of another, perhaps more progressive, festival, chances are, the profile will be very limited.

From a filmwatcher’s POV, though,it’s always good to have something to watch. Although, as usual, I miassed about 80% of it. Again.

17. Richard Bolisay - August 18, 2009

Acceptability to whom? To the audience? Or to themselves? How well do they know their audience anyway? It always has that effort to please, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It caters to a limited audience, not really very encompassing as it claims to be, so maybe that’s why we’re expecting more from it, improvements, diversity, changes, reforms, and so on and so forth. And you hit it right – – -progressive, it needs that to stay long and to stay in people’s minds not just as a memory of a dreamfest.

18. edgar p - August 18, 2009

let me just clarify: you write well. as an apparent film critic (self-proclaimed or not, doesn’t matter), you have obligations to the medium. hence, you should’ve written a review of Astig instead of an indictment of Cinemalaya and Boy Abunda (who, I admit, stunk up the festival).

but it’s your blog and you’re right. i can look elsewhere if i’m not happy here. except there are only very few insightful young critics around and it’s disappointing to see you going after the easy targets: mainstream and its invasion of the festival.

perhaps you should’ve devoted a separate blog post devoted to the festival instead? a film, whether bad or not, deserves a review. it’s your job as a critic (and i’m assuming you are) to analyze the film, not trash the people behind it.

one thing though: if you think the festival’s losing focus, how come attendance and coverage is getting bigger every year? are you disappointed because the festival is connecting with more people? is this the same kind of disappointment music snobs feel when their favorite artist has become popular?

enlighten me.

19. Richard Bolisay - August 18, 2009

whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. job? since when film writing became a job? i may be irresponsible but that’s because what i’m doing is not a job (though i’m also lousy at my real job too). it’s a pastime. and even if it’s a job, i don’t think the writer should be limited to an outlined, similarly-structured, film-centered, well-defined reviews. digressing is a fun way to tell things, even if it stinks. i think the job of the critic is not limited to analysis of films. if that’s the case then i wouldn’t be in it. it’s a mostly thankless job which i hope you understand. we can’t be nice like jesus and find the goodness in every thing.

the response of the people toward the festival is in a different plane to the quality of the festival itself. people are interested, and that doesn’t mean they like what they haven’t seen yet, right? i am not disappointed because it has become the mainstream. in fact, i am delighted. what i am disappointed at is its continued self-proclamation of ownership of the movement. i am disappointed at the unchanging tastefulness which is contrary to the vision it promotes, disappointed at its relative risklessness, disappointed at its shelteredness in terms of filmmaking, and in becoming a studio of its own that is not different from the studios it stood up against before.

i don’t mind my favorite artists selling out. i mind their works.

20. dodo dayao - August 18, 2009

Cinemalaya has the benefit of having an advertising machinery that has succeeded in positioning it and marketing it as THE independent filmfest. 8 out of 10 people on the street free-associate independent films with Cinemalaya, the other two have trouble remembering Cinemanila. In many ways, it’s  a good thing, given how it is the only filmfest that focuses entirely on domestic product but I agree with you,Chard,  

Granted, a lot of good films come out of it, and the amount of cinema that gets produced has probably outnumbered the meager,mediocre output of the studios but Cinemalaya,at this point, has become too tasteful.I think that’s where the acceptability factors in. I remember two films from last year – – -Concerto and Boses – – that were very well-made and well-received but were a little too polite, a little too reserved, a little too status quo. I enjoyed watching Concerto a lot more because it took a few risks here and there and had an exuberance to it, I thought. But it’s not entirely hopeless. I’m strill hoping a five hour anti-narrative gets greenlighted or better yet a zombie film. :)

Excuse the intrusions. Not much discourse happens in my neck of the woods. :)

21. Immunnyimpawn - September 6, 2009

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