Friday, December 16, 2011

Pintakasi: A Need for the Painted

The two meanings of the Tagalog word pintakasi seem paradoxical—a cockfight and a patron saint. But the two meanings are connected, even integrally—pintakasi is something done in honor of a patron saint, usually during his/her feast day and usually in the form of a cockfight—revealing the paradoxical and conflicting nature of the Philippine reality. For the new film that uses the word as its title, it is broken in two, pinta and kasi, giving birth to a new meaning—“painting (or I paint) because…” or “because of painting.”

Pintakasi merges different, usually opposing, elements—reality and romanticism, ugliness and beauty, live action and animation. It is an old and classic story told in modern ways. It is a colorful and interesting melange, incorporating animation, dancing and hip-hop culture into a live-action film that tells the story of a dreamy, young newcomer-painter who challenges the authority and effects change in a poor and troubled community.

Pintakasi is the most talked-about entry in the New Wave section of the forthcoming Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), which is a new division of the 37-year-old annual film fete, perhaps the country’s biggest but notorious for its commercialism and questionable awarding. Most likely inspired by the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, which has become an important film event, the New Wave section is dedicated to independently produced films, which are usually in digital format, and is divided into full-length and student short film categories. Pintaki’s competitors include Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Haruo, Yeng Grande’s Ritwal, Neal Tan’s HIV and Ogie Diaz and Sid Pascua’s Dyagwar.

The prominence of Pintakasi owes much to the fact that it marks the return to filmmaking of Imee Marcos, former congresswoman and now governor of Ilocos Norte. Aside from coming from the country’s most controversial political family, Marcos was a producer in the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, which came out with Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, two of the country’s greatest films, among other film classics. Her involvement in filmmaking was curtailed when her father, President Ferdinand Marcos, was ousted from power and the whole family went into exile. Upon their return, Imee entered politics but expressed a desire to return to her real passion, the arts, cinema in particular.

Recently, Imee formed the Creative Media and Film Society of the Philippines (CreaM), which not only produces film, but also animation and graphic novels. CreaM is also into music, merchandise and game development. The studio has already produced animated short films “Fly Aswang” and “Likas Ligtas: Gubat at Dagat.Pintakasi is its first full-length film, which is first a graphic novel published online. But the story of the movie is different from the comics, Marcos said.

Pintakasi took three years—two in shooting and re-shooting and one in postproduction—relatively longer than normal Filipino films. Marcos revealed the concept and story go further back.

“I had a story about the new Jose Rizal ages ago,” she related. “It has been a long, long fixation with me. What would Jose Rizal be if it (the film) were a children’s movie or show? The most difficult thing to do is to translate a story as complicated as the Philippine revolution to little children or to young people. Actually, ‘di nila ma-gegets ang mga pulitika at tsaka mga away-away, mga issues ng republicanism, pero ‘pag ginawa mong napaka-human na story na napakasimple katulad ng isang batang dayo na may sariling pangarap ay siguro maiintidihan nila. (Actually, they won’t get the politics, the arguments, the issues of republicanism, but if you make the story very human and simple such as a story about a new kid with a dream, maybe they will understand it.) So that was the story that’s been in my head for a long, long time.”

With the help of writers Judith Albano, JM Diego and Carljoe Javier, Marcos’s vision became a script. The Jose Rizal character became DJ, a young visionary from the province who loves to paint. He comes to Isla Pulo to live with his Aunt Witni when his parents died. Isla Pulo is literally an isle formed by garbage where a shantytown rises and thrives, the residents have forgotten to dream and a small-time gang leader, Tikboy, proclaims himself king of the community. There, DJ comes to teach people how to dream and hope, and meets many characters including Uncle Kernel, a traffic policeman; Apol, an intelligent cripple who moves on a makeshift skateboard, can rap brilliantly and dreams of going to school; Ella, a gang moll and Tikboy’s constant companion; Andoy, a fisherman who runs around with the Tikboy gang to augment his income; and Josie, the most beautiful girl on the island, the love interest of both DJ and Tikboy. DJ gains the respect and affection of the people as well as of Josie, enraging Tikboy who believes in dishonest means to get rich and powerful. When stealing and picking pockets prove to be not enough for Tikboy to gain more money and power, he decides to bring in drugs, but gets arrested because of DJ. Upon his release, Tikboy kills Apol, enraging DJ. The two boys finally get to face off, but their confrontation is curtailed when a fire breaks out, threatening to destroy the island and endangering Josie. As the fire and water cleanse the island through the night, the new day marks a new beginning, led by DJ, Josie and the people of the island.

Isla Pulo is a real place in Navotas, Marcos said, and incredulously a community lives there. A recent typhoon has reduced the isle to half the original size. It seems to be a “happy” place, she observed, where people gamble, drink, sing videoke and have sex all day. It is here the setting of story came to be after dismissing a rustic and rice-field-hemmed setting, a surreally Third-World one that foreigners would be interested to watch.

The music of Pintakasi is made not from conventional instruments but from everyday objects to complement the images of trash. “At naghahari sa lahat ang videoke (The videoke is king there),” Marcos laughed. “Siyempre, ‘yung talaga ang all over the squatters’ area. Anuman ang kahirapan, dapat may videoke, alam mo na.”

The film is actually suffused with music and dancing. Former child actor John Wayne Sace was picked as lead because he can dance, as well as two members of the Philippine All-Stars.

“My target audience is the youth. It’s a hip-hop movie,” Marcos declared. “We really made an effort na ang hip-hop na dati-rati puro foreigners, mga Amboy langtalagang na-localize na siya, and it really became the language of the street and the music of the street. It's the poetry of the street now. I mean rapping, freestyling and beatbox-ing. It's very much the poetry of the Filipino streets right now. It seems like the obvious thing to do. Kung buhay ang mga Katipunero sa panahong ito, sa palagay ko ay rapper na rin sila kasi magaling silang sumulat at nakakapag-communicate sila. Sa utak ko rapper sila. Magagalit siguro ang mga historians pero para sa akin para sila makapag-communicate sa audience nila kung nangyari 'yan ngayon kailangan matutunan nila ang hip-hop para ma-gets sila ng bata. (If the Katipuneros are alive today, I think they would be rappers because they write well and they can communicate. In my mind, they're rappers. The historians might get mad, but for me for them to be able to communicate to their audience they need to learn hip-hop.)”

Another notable thing about Pintakasi is the use of animation, making it perhaps the first Filipino film to combine animation and live action. Aside from the film’s director Lee Meily, a notable cinematographer and wife of multi-awarded filmmaker Mark Meily, there is an animation director Nelson Caliguia, who is a veteran in Philippine animation, coming out from the animation boom of the 1980s, and is current the creative director of Artfarm and a teacher.

Marcos said they wanted to try new ways of executing flashbacks and dream sequences, and thought of animation. She estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the film is in animation.

Marcos is no stranger to animation. Before ECP, she was host of the children’s shows Kulit Bulilit and Kaluskos Musmos, and has worked with cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo on animation projects, including Tadhana, which tells about the history of the Philippines and is the first Filipino full-length animation.

“At the end of the day, whether it’s politics or filmmaking, it’s all about communicating with the audience, and the audience is by and large young. So whether it takes animation or any other media…kailangan talaga makuha natin,” Marcos said.

Pintakasi is also a contribution to Philippine animation, which is still at its infancy despite Filipino animators contributing to the world's great animated films.

“Thirty-plus years na tayo nag-aanimation,” Marcos said. “But we never made our own. Now, we have a few. We have Dayo. May RPG… There's a real dearth of original Pinoy materials.”

According to Marcos, one thing that hinders the blossoming of original Filipino content animation is the cost. “Animation can be so costly, and it’s so time-consuming,” she said. For Pintakasi, she estimated the whole film to be around P20 million.

Another reason has to do with the kind of stories.

“I think we are a little bit confused honestly about what is Pinoy and what is universal,” she said. “We have to think of the broader audience…It can't be so Pinoy na hindi na maintindihan ng ibang lahi (that it cannot be understood by other races). It has to be Pinoy perhaps in design or other aspects, but in the end the message must be universal that any human being can relate to. And in the end, that’s where we failed. I actually think that kayang-kaya ng ating mga artists. Walang problema sa animation. Ang problema ay sa storytelling sa animation. Writing for animation is another whole ballgame. We have a lot of great screenwriters pero wala pang training sa pagsusulat sa animation. So we have no expertise in writing the story. And as you know, the most successful animation studio in the world, Pixar, puts a premium on storytelling.”

CreaM is proud to have in its animation and art department Ronnie del Carmen, the Filipino head of story for Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Up, as one of its three masters in residence.

“At the end of the day, for me, the hook of the film is really that it engages. ‘Yung naalala natin ‘yung may puso (What we remember is the one with heart),” Marcos said. “Kung minsan, kahit maraming problema, maraming depekto, napakatagal, kapag may puso ang pelikula, sa palagay ko, ay ‘yun ang maalala ng tao. Hindi naman ‘yung teknikal ang naalala natin because there will be always going to be a far more superior technical film. Effects are just getting better and better. Walang katapusan ‘yan. They just get better everyday (Sometimes, even there are many problems, many defects, if there is heart, I think that's what the people remember. It’s not the technical that we remember because there will be always going to be a far more superior technical film. Effects are just getting better and better. There's no end to it.)”

She added: “But the need for technology is there, if you want to reach the young audience. You go into their media, into their platform. If you’re stuck in the same old stuff, I don’t think they're gonna listen.”

“Hopefully, Pintakasi engages the audience that in time we will be able to move to other platform. So we are doing graphic novels. We moved to the platform of online. Hopefully, [we will be able to create] games, toys, merchandise. Let's see,” Marcos said.

Like its main character, the Pintakasi hopes to, in a way, rock the status quo, introduce new ways of seeing and revolutionizes and sparks changes for the better.

Pintakasi stars John Wayne Sace, Erich Gonzales, JM De Guzman, Boots Anson-Roa, William Martinez, Giselle Sanchez, Hazel Ann Mendoza, Alwyn Uytingco, Alchris Galura, Jeremiah Carandang, Winryll Banaag and Ces Quesada. Production designer is Buboy Tagayon. Music and sound are by JM Diego. Editor is Danny Anonuevo. Directors of photography are Lee Meily and Larry Manda.

Pintakasi shows on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. (gala), Dec. 19 at 3 p.m., Dec. 20 at 9 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 11:30 a.m. at Robinson's Galleria Cinema 3.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Different Taste of Christmas in Tagaytay: Restaurant Verbena Presents a Christmas Menu of Pumpkin, Cod, Black Truffles and Wagyu Beef

The bright orange puree of pumpkin oozes out of pockets of pasta called agnolotti, sweet and rich. Then it is punctuated by something sweet, salty and aromatic—crumbs of amaretto cookies. On the other hand, the thick fillet of cod is like fleece on the tongue, countered by slices of tasty chorizo. The rice croquettes are heavenly, earthy with the black truffle flavour. Then something familiar touches the tongue—kesong puti, the local white cheese made from carabao’s milk.

Chef David Pardo de Ayala seems to have a penchant for tucking in surprises in his dishes. And in his Christmas menu for Restaurant Verbena of Discovery Country Suites, a seven-suite bed-and-breakfast place in Tagaytay City, there are a few of these. Pardo de Ayala maintains that the menu is made of “familiar ingredients prepared in a delicious way with just one or two surprises to keep the flow of the meal interesting.”

“Crushed amaretto cookies on your pasta, or a black truffle and rice croquette, a bit of kosher salt on the caramel cream sauce—all these provide an unexpected surprise that, we hope, further increases the diner’s enjoyment,” he explains the menu, which he hopes to engender “mostly comfort and satisfaction.”

The menu, which the boutique hotel yearly comes out with, does not contain the comfort foods Filipinos traditionally associate with Christmas, a season much anticipated and protracted in this part of the world. But it is something special, and special things are emphasized during Christmas, as well as creating memories. Its being different can be remembered maybe for years to come.

“Menus are always snapshots of a chef’s current inspirations,” Pardo de Ayala says. “My seasonal menus will likely feature similar ingredients that have a strong connection with a particular time of the year (pumpkin, chestnuts, eggnog, gingerbread, etc.), but they are always designed and executed on their own, according to what my chefs and I feel is the best we can offer at any given time.”

The Restaurant Verbena Christmas menu is Pardo de Ayala’s gastronomic interpretation of the season, something out-of-the-ordinary and distinctive.

“I wanted to feature dishes that have a strong holiday feel, as well as a sense of special occasion,” the acclaimed chef says. “Arugula with figs, brown butter sauce for pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, black truffles…all these ingredients speak to me of this special time of the year, while at the same time they are easy to approach, identify with and enjoy.”

We brave the traffic out of Metro Manila on a busy weekday and ascend to the cooler clime of Tagaytay City, 56 kilometers south of the capital, to lunch on the new offering. Restaurant Verbena, which serves “contemporary country cuisine” with a unique flair, is a dining destination, being listed in The Miele Guide among the best restaurants in Asia. The Singapore-published guide ranks the restaurant at number two among the top five Philippine restaurants in 2010 and 2011. This achievement is credited to Pardo de Ayala, who, since 2005, has been the corporate chef of the Discovery hotel group that includes Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center and Discovery Shores in Boracay Island. The restaurant of Discovery Suites, 22 Prime, is also in The Miele Guide.

The 38-year-old Colombian chef, who has been in the country since 1997, holds a special place for Discovery Country Suites and Tagaytay City in his heart.

“The charm of Tagaytay is very unique,” he shares. “We are often asked, why don’t we open Verbena in Makati or somewhere in Manila? Our answer to that is that our restaurant belongs in Tagaytay and in Tagaytay only because we can’t bring to the city the view of the volcano or the cool fresh breeze, or the December fog, or the ultra-fresh herbs, lettuces, tomatoes and peppers. Just getting to Tagaytay is part of its charm. That is why my team and I work so hard at making Verbena’s restaurant experience worth our diners’ special journey.”

Many people think Tagaytay is special, too. The city in Cavite is perched on a mountain ridge, 600 meters above sea level, with a spectacular view of the Taal lake and volcano. The weather here is pleasantly cool, which is very attractive to residents of the hot and humid Metro Manila. From December to January, it can get misty and nippy in the morning. Thus, Tagaytay is a favorite weekend and holiday getaway. Many resorts are lined along the main road, as well as several good restaurants, including Discovery Country Suites, which is formerly a vacation house of the Tiu family, owner of the hotel group as well as several magazine titles. The boutique hotel is said to have “the distinct country manor ambiance…reminiscent of the stately summer homes in Baguio City with oak and stone foundations blending gracefully with fine furniture and art pieces of the interiors.” The much cooler Baguio is another favorite getaway but is much father out in the north.

This time of the year, the homey bed-and-breakfast place in the barangay of San Jose is richly bedecked with glittery Christmas trimmings, as well as with Tagaytay harvest of big red and yellow capsicums and tomatoes, the colors of Western autumn. Watercolor paintings of Edgar Doctor, which are for sale, further add colors to the interiors. Restaurant Verbena occupies part of the lobby, the mezzanine and the former veranda that looks out to the picturesque countryside, lake and volcano. Pardo de Ayala has the tables in the veranda adorned with chestnuts and flowers in pots made out of red-painted squash for our lunch.

Starter is a simple one—organic arugula salad with fig chutney and Parmesan cheese—but a medley of flavors—the nuttiness of arugula, the fruity sweetness of the chutney and the pleasant tanginess of the cheese. This is paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate 2008 Riesling.

This is followed up with the roasted pumpkin and amaretto agnolotti with brown butter, mushrooms and sage. Agnolotti is a kind of ravioli and usually stuffed with meats. This one is light with pumpkin but heady in flavor. The little pouch-like pasta sits on slices of mushroom and topped with amaretto cookie crumbs and sage.

Agnolotti is not a terribly common pasta shape in the Philippines,” Pardo de Ayala explains, “but quite normal in northern Italy. I am big fan of pumpkin, and I have been hoping to feature it in this menu in combination with amaretto and fresh local sage. In our Christmas menu, the pasta takes the place normally occupied by soup, and we hope this dish makes a lasting impression on diners. Many have commented that they find it delicious.”

For the entrée, the chorizo codfish fillet with white bean ragout and chives, which is best paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate 2009 pinot noir, presents three flavors on the plate. The stronger-flavored chorizo complements the fish.

“Seafood and chorizo is a traditional Portuguese/Spanish combination,” says the rubicund chef. “I love chorizo, with the savory punch it brings to everything it accompanies, and I especially like the flavor of Spanish pimenton, the primary seasoning in a good chorizo. Codfish is a fairly mild fish, which Filipinos are used to eating in its salted bacalao presentation. I chose to feature it because, while it is easy to recognize and enjoy, it is not a fish you often find in restaurant menus.”

Another entrée choice is the luxurious United States Wagyu bistro steak with black truffle rice croquettes, roasted carrot puree and Brussels sprouts. The Beringer Founders’ Estate 2009 cabernet sauvignon is recommended with this. The very tender slices of grilled steak has a very likable smoky taste, which is unusually light to contrast the rich carrot puree, generously spread at one side and decorated with a few leaves from the Brussels sprouts. The oval croquette of long-grain rice sits temptingly at the corner of the plate, waiting to surprise with a strong truffle flavor and hints of kesong puti. The chef presents a bonus: pan-seared Rougie French foie gras. The plate is now a giddy symphony of flavors.

For dessert, a contemporary twist gives new life to an Escoffier classic—the pears “Belle Heléné.” A slice of poached pear is topped with homemade chocolate-macadamia ice cream and served with salted caramel crème sauce.

“Don’t be surprised if there is a burst of saltiness,” says Pardo de Ayala. “A good dessert should have an amount of seasoning by way of salt…Salt goes well with caramel. It makes it more ‘caramel-ly’.”

The inventor of the saltwater taffy must have thought likewise.

The intriguing lunch is ended with a Tagaytay herbal infusion tea, very comforting and very apt.

“Christmas while I was growing up was the time of the year for my grandmother to feature all her typical recipes—dozens, as in literally 12 or more desserts made from scratch, fried cheese puffs called buñuelos and our version of maja blanca called natilla,” recalls Pardo de Ayala. “Christmas still has a strong religious tone in Colombia, and while I was growing up we always looked forward to the Novenas de Aguinaldo, a nightly series of gatherings around at neighborhood homes, to pray beside the Belen, sing villancicos (Colombian Christmas carols) and just have a terrific time. I hope this tradition doesn’t get lost with time.”

These memories and his heritage are not infused into the Christmas menu though. “I always leave the Colombian cooking to my mother and grandmother,” he smiles.

Pardo de Ayala is creating new memories with new dishes, made in Tagaytay, with touches of Tagaytay. He says that the Tagaytay elements are “several but not as obvious as with other menus we often feature.”

“Our arugula, all fresh herbs and vegetables come from Tagaytay. Instead of offering the traditional hot tea at the end of the meal, we prepare a special Tagaytay herbal infusion that features several herbs and local dalandan. And the truffle rice croquettes, to many people’s surprise, have local kesong puti as one of its ingredients. So no matter what cuisine, special ocassion or time of the year, the harvest of Tagaytay is always present in our menus,” he says.

The lovely, diminutive Taal Volcano—and Tagaytay has the best view of it—seems to float. Now, it wears the lightest veil of mist, so pensive, so faraway. I take a sip of the tea and close my eyes, savoring the flavors of the herbs it helped fertilize and bringing the volcano closer.

The Restaurant Verbena Holiday menu is offered for the whole month of December, starting at P1,150+ per person, with several options according to budget or inclination. Diners have a choice of main course between fish and meat. One can also exclude the dessert. The taste menu, the highest option, includes all dishes. It offers a supplementary addition of pan-seared Rougie French foie gras, as well as wine pairings by the glass featuring the chef’s California varietals from Beringer wines.

Discovery Country Suites also offer special room packages for the month of December, inclusive of country breakfast for two persons, complimentary wine and Cheese buffet at sundown and special turndown amenities. Room rates start at P8,000++ for a deluxe suite on weekdays and P9,500++ on weekends.

For inquiries and reservations, call Discovery Country Suites at (02) 529-8172 or (046) 413-4567 or e-mail Visit

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Apulit Island, Taytay, and Miniloc and Lagen Islands in El Nido: An Album

In July, I brought Babe (Bob Jerezo) to one of my favorite places in the Philippines, El Nido. This my second time, another resort was thrown in, Apulit Island Resort, which was formerly Club Noah Isabelle, in Taytay.