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The Blur in amBisyon 2010 April 29, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Indie Sine, Noypi, Short Cuts.

“Ayos Ka!” (Brillante Mendoza) – Perspective defines poverty

To say that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the most disgusting Filipino who ever lived is quite a world away from being exact—for disgusting is too common a word, too common to describe the things she has done and hasn’t done yet, and too common to be true that the word itself may puke in protest.

We don’t live in common times. In the past ten years, the only thing that we Filipinos have in common is unlearning. Ondoy and Pepeng came and went so as the Maguindanao massacre, and the difference between the two only becomes a measure of casualties, not their cause. Not that we don’t do enough, but the evil behind them, especially in the case of the latter, is too powerful to defend itself. Arroyo’s presidency can always claim the worst of times—the dark ages in Philippine history, if only we can deceive ourselves to call ten years ago history—and whatever good things that happen during her time can only come to alleviate—neither to overcome nor to efface—the horror she has caused and inflicted. And that she will continue to cause and inflict it is indispensably happening. The Elections in May are mere ventriloquism.

Twenty or thirty years from now, we look back and this truth remains true. Only the context becomes different. We’d feel different, think different. Our few relevant thinkers would then be dead; writers would still be underpaid; and the kin of the Aquinos and the Marcoses and the Ampatuans would still reign in some parts of the land with no intention of stepping down. Of all the things time and history can conjure uniquely, context is the most important thing. Context is the only thing honest—the only thing that would remain honest—of all possible time.

A project of the ABS-CBN News Channel, amBisyon 2010 rubs on that context. That we have to mention that it’s related to the largest TV network in the country is as pertinent as the vision that it claims to have. We don’t have to be reminded that the Lopezes of the ABS-CBN are in gratitude to the Aquinos for having their station (and power company) back after the Martial Law, or that Kris Aquino never loses a show since she moved in to the network, or that regardless of being “in the service of the Filipino”, ABS-CBN still has its own politics to deal with, allies to return favors to, foundations to project itself pro-poor, and involvement in social issues to prove its concern. It’s funny how the media always say that every national election gives power to the people—that every one has his share of participation (and blame) in shaping the country’s future—but they are not so blatant about being more powerful than we do. Their “humility” to admit that power gains them nothing but confidence—and with that confidence comes the reason to think that they are ubiquitously relevant.

For the sake of being critical, the problem with amBisyon is that there are no other projects with the same vision to compare it with. It stands alone. And standing alone, the typical—and not so interesting—reaction is thankfulness; not that it is not deserved but it is simply not the important thing to express. In the desert of the few independently produced films that get shown in local theaters outside Cinemalaya and Cinema One, here comes a project that flags its oppositional politics. It prides itself on having some of the country’s best filmmakers united by the urgency of change, people who intend to make a difference by reminding the Filipino people of the importance of their votes months before the May Elections.

Surely, we must be thankful that amBisyon gets conceived and delivered, amid all the financial and political hurdles the producers have had to face just to have a decent public screening of it. The filmmakers who take part in expressing their contempt to the Arroyo government should also be commended, whether they make a good film or not, because in the arena outside criticism, it really doesn’t matter, does it? These films aren’t made for the critics; they are made to awaken the common people, to open their minds and act upon the bigger problems of poverty and corruption. As important is to let these people know of the cancer that is making our country ill; and to let them believe that a change is possible, and that change can be achieved by making the right decision—by caring.

But what really is the right decision? And what is the change it will bring?

“Di Ako Makatulog Dahil Wala Ka Sa Tabi Ko” (Jade Castro) – Humor is not rocket science

Some of these films have the answers, but most of them warble only on presenting them. For instance, the ongoing tension between the military and the rebels in Mindanao is an issue that has long been raised—considering how unending and hopeless its case seems to be—but only a few manage to make it matter, to break away from the confines of trite and conditional storytelling. Although it is never wrong to value sentimentality in films, sometimes the emphasis on heavy crying and convoluted plots works the other way around. The use of children to represent the meaninglessness of war becomes less and less effective because of directors who only know what they want to say but don’t have any idea how to deliver them fresh.

Another strong issue is poverty; though in fact it’s no longer an issue—it’s a character. It’s a character that keeps on reproducing many things: violence, corruption, theft, murder, power, greed, death; and it is where interesting sentiments come from, from Brillante Mendoza’s “Ayos Ka!”—where Mendoza makes an uncompromising case of derision—to Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Ganito Tayo Ngayon, Paano Tayo Bukas?”—which smacks its contempt of turd right at the very face of the President. The MTRCB taking offense on the basis of “injuring the prestige of the country” and “undermining the faith and confidence of the people to the government” just proves how inane the Board can get; but talking about that is merely beating a dead horse, lest Laguardia make sensible statements to compensate at least for their shameless screening fees.

That some filmmakers have resorted to metaphors is a curious addition to amBisyon; that while there seems to be an agreement on how “realism” can be so powerful to incite change, some also think that imagination can go a long albeit different way. The good ones that come out are laid with humor, from deadpan to laugh-out-loud. Erik Matti’s “Da More, Da Meniyer” entertains as much as it makes its point clear, that it can almost pass as something Matti made outside the project. Henry Frejas creates a perfect narrative in “Hanapbuhay”, particularly how simple it needs to be to achieve something complex, and how its humor is distinctly Filipino. And speaking of simple, Jerrold Tarog is making some of the most striking shorts in the past few years. He is somewhat reminiscent of a young Raymond Red, brave and clever, only Tarog is more confrontational, his intentions are as clear as his dialogues that hit the bull’s eye. “Faculty” raises concern on activism, but there’s more to social involvement that Tarog argues than neglecting one’s education. He eyes on spur-of-the-moment realizations, changes brought by the most typical of conversations, or in this case, farewells.

Filmmakers that show and maintain a certain type of personality will always be known even without their name in the credits. John Torres represents this the most. While his short “Wala akong Pakialam sa Demokrasya” seems to find itself out of place in terms of convention, it is one of the few that brings the profound out of the ordinary. Its marital conversation becomes a diagram of fidelity, Torres too distant to reveal but also too near to choke the audience on ambiguity. But the goodness of short films is that they end soon; and coming after Torres’ limbo is Jade Castro’s warmness. “Di Ako Makatulog Dahil Wala Ka Sa Tabi Ko” is like a scene from a high school movie that becomes everyone’s favorite, the way it makes fun of colloquial text-speak and reflects one’s “kakornihan”. What some people would call dumb is actually cute, and Castro is able to weld that humor with his personal memories of his grandma, turning the unhappy situation of healthcare in the country into an amusing private fare.

These efforts are truly good, but collectively good is what amBisyon is trying to be ambitious about; and there, as much as criticism wills itself to concede, comes the sad thing. What exactly should we do? Whom exactly should we vote for? And more importantly, what exactly should we expect after the Elections? Political situations are not a black-and-white thing; it’s not as if we elect GOODNESS or TRANSPARENCY or COMPETITIVENESS to office—we elect people. And people, not by virtue of cynicism, are unreliable beasts. True, these films open our eyes on the reality of our situations—hope, possibility, and truth—but what’s next after awakening? Among our choices, is there really someone out there who can lead us to such dream of change? Come to think of it, the reality of the future seems more alarming than the reality of the present.

“Real art has the capacity to make us nervous,” Susan Sontag once said. And if that real art is Ditsi Carolino’s “Lupang Hinarang sa Sumilao”—a massively emotional account of farmers who walked all the way from Bukidnon to Manila to fight ownership of their land, that very representation of poverty that the common Filipino must go through just to live, that slow and sure way to have one’s hope extinguished—then we must really be nervous. Very, very nervous. #



1. limewire - April 30, 2010

shoot cool info bro.

2. carpediem - June 5, 2010

i commend your critical writing here. — “These efforts are truly good, but collectively good is what amBisyon is trying to be ambitious about; and there, as much as criticism wills itself to concede, comes the sad thing. What exactly should we do? Whom exactly should we vote for? And more importantly, what exactly should we expect after the Elections? Political situations are not a black-and-white thing; it’s not as if we elect GOODNESS or TRANSPARENCY or COMPETITIVENESS to office—we elect people. And people, not by virtue of cynicism, are unreliable beasts. “

3. krangsquared - June 8, 2010


Is there any way to get copies of these movies? I just found out about them because I’ve been reading up on Brillante Mendoza (watched “Lola” last night here in the Sydney Film Festival).

Btw, brilliant writing! Great blog.

4. Richard Bolisay - June 9, 2010

hi carpediem, krangsquared, thank you for the kind words.

copies, i’m not sure but some of these videos are uploaded on the internet, on youtube, vimeo, etc. you may want to check them out.

by the way, what do you think of Lola?

5. drlightbearer - June 11, 2010

I saw Ditsi Carolino’s and Jerrold Tarog’s works uploaded on their vimeo accounts.

6. Tony Joaquin - January 11, 2012

It certainly is interesting to read your serious and emotional analysis of the project known as Ambisyon 2010 especially because it was supposed to have been a group of documentaty films with candid messages done by young and talented Filipino filmmakers that could influence the voting Filipino public. I wonder if one can read the reports or feedback messages from some film makers who were involved and how they felt about their contribution to the total effort? Although I am based in the U.S. as a Filipino interested in hard hitting documentaries, this Ambisyon 2010 got me to sit up and take notice. I would appreciate if one or more of the young directors could be reached for me to engage them in some kind of dialogue on this matter.

7. Richard Bolisay - January 11, 2012

Hi Tony,

I have always believed that there’s more to these films than being simple documentaries with candid messages, and they all serve as personal and political statements on the state of the country today. Also, there are videos available on the ANC Web site that provide a background of the project, interviewing filmmakers about their stand on the issue. You can probably get in touch with most of them online through their blogs or Facebook/Twitter.

Best regards.

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