Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The 2013 T’nalak Festival: South Cotabato Weaves Dreams and Identities into Reality

Street dancing participants from the town of T’boli paraded through the main streets of Koronadal City

The halo-halo, placed inside the shell of a young coconut, perked us up, dispelling late afternoon sleepiness after about an hour’s drive from the airport in General Santos City, the commercial hub of southwest Mindanao, to Koronadal City.
The first thing we did in the capital of South Cotabato was to have refreshments at Mang Johnny Halo-Halo sa Buko. The halo-halo, the Filipino dessert of preserved fruits, roots and beans with pinipig, crushed ice and evaporated milk, is popular here, placed inside the buko with strips of young coconut meat. There was an accompanying ball-shaped, fried pastry binangkal, studded with sesame seeds, something brought from Cebu. Chewy, it reminded me of day-old donuts. The restaurant, a rustic affair along the National Highway in the barangay of Saravia, also sells langkawas sinamak, coconut sap vinegar generously spiced with chilis and galangal, looking like sukang pinakurat of Iligan City and also of Cebuano origin with the langkawas giving it a Minadanao flavor; boneless bagoong, a legacy most likely of the Ilocano settlers; and dayok, a curious condiment of tuna intestines in vinegar.
My first night in Koronadal City was laced with the scent of rain and exotic marang at The Farm at Carpenter Hill, a sprawling resort with gardens, ponds, a plush restaurant and the most luxurious accommodations one can find in the province. Four kilometres away, a portion of Alunan Avenue at the city proper was throbbing with street parties and festivities. There were different stations, each with a stage, featuring musical acts to cater to different tastes—rock, acoustic, pop—as well as drinking and food. This temporary night strip was part of the week-long celebration of the T’nalak Festival, then on its fourth day. We were invited to drop by, but the rain did not subside and we had to leave early for the planned tour of Allah Valley, which included the picturesque town of Lake Sebu, where many T’boli live, some still retaining their traditional ways including the weaving of the t’nalak.  We would return to Koranadal City on the final and culminating day of the festival.

T’boli t’nalak weaver Lang Dulay, a Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee, in her weaving center in Tuko Lefal, Lamdalag, Lake Sebu
            In the upland town of Lake Sebu in the southwest part of the province of South Cotabato, we met Lang Dulay, best known of the t’nalak weavers, hailed for her craftsmanship that she was bestowed the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan, literally “creator of the nation award,” or the National Living Treasure award, the highest recognition by the Philippine national government to outstanding folk/traditional artists and craftsmen. 
            About 700 meters above sea level in the Daguma mountain range, Lake Sebu is South Cotabato’s tourism capital with its nippy weather, sites of interest and unique indigenous culture. Sebu, the lake, is the most prominent feature, dreamily blanketed in haze in the early morning, where residents raise tilapia, said to be the most delicious kind in the country. Several resorts nestle on its shores, but it is the T’boli culture that many come to see. Lake Sebu is one of the two South Cotabato towns with sizable indigenous T’boli population. The experience of Lake Sebu is not complete without a visit to Lang Dulay.
            About 30 minutes from the town center is the sitio of Tuko Lefal in the barangay of Lamdalag, where Lang Dulay lives. We passed by the Santa Cruz Mission School, where students were rehearsing for the T’nalak Festival street dancing and showdown competition. Also a site of interest for tourists, the Catholic school, which was established in 1961 to cater to the indigenous peoples in the area, has been influential in the preservation and promotion of T’boli culture.   
            Electrification has not reached Tuko Lefal, where most of the residents are T’boli. One of the larger structures here is the weaving center of Lang Dulay. The lower part of the house serves as a showroom, displaying products including beadworks. Tarpaulin posters tell something about the master weaver. The upper storey, mostly made of bamboo and patterned after the traditional T’boli abode with raised portions for sleeping and other activities, houses several looms with weaving in different stages of completion. This is where Lang Dulay teaches the age-old craft to the women of the community. Through the years, those interested in learning how to weave has become fewer and fewer, putting t’nalak weaving in danger of vanishing. Lang Dulay is said to be 89 years old, weak and unable now to weave, but she is still passionate about teaching the craft. She can also climb the stairs, which many visitors have a little difficulty tackling, and sit in the middle of the room, like a queen, to greet visitors and answer their questions. A translator is needed for she can also speak T’boli. The guide or one of her grandchildren usually acts as translator. She is respectfully called “bae” or “bey,” meaning “grandmother” or “old woman.”
            The day we visited her we found her already waiting for us, sitting on her chair in the middle of the room in the soft light of dusk. Dressed in a malong and a black blouse with generous and colorful cross-stitching, she was surrounded by her daughter-in-laws, grandchildren and students. The second wife of a T’boli man, Bey Lang Dulay has only two sons. Since t’nalak weaving is reserved only for women, she can only passed on the craft to her son’s several wives (The T’boli practice polygamy), female grandchildren and interested students. Bey Lang Dulay learned to weave from her mother and started weaving at the age of 12.
Hanging and arrayed behind her were several pieces of t’nalak cloth bearing her designs, a beautiful backdrop of vibrant patterns and designs that seem to pulsate. One can see the craftsmanship that sets her creations apart from the ones being sold at souvenir shops. And they are more expensive. A meter or so costs from P700 to P1,000, while others cost about P200 to P300.     
            Though unable now to weave, Bey Lang Dulay instructs the able weavers on her designs, which, like in all t’nalak cloth, are bestowed in dreams by Fu Dalu, the spirit of the abaca. T’boli weavers are often called “dream weavers.”

            The weaving process is a tedious one, which puts off many girls. It starts with extracting the fibers from the abaca tree of the right age. When the fibers are ready, they are set taut on a bed for the mebed, the tying of portions of the threads to form the pattern before being dyed. Sometimes beeswax is applied on the tied portions to further prevent the dye from getting into them. Here, one can already make out the outline of the design. A short prayer to Fu Dalu is uttered. Then the fibers, as fine as hair, are soaked into a steaming pot of black dye, extracted from the kanalum tree. For the red color, the roots of the loko tree are used. The t’nalak basically has three colors: black, red and beige, the natural color of the abaca fiber.
            Then the weaving begins using the back-strap loom with the weaver’s weight providing tension to the threads. It can be taxing to the back, as well as the eyes. Weaving is usually done in the early morning or in late afternoon, when the fibers, sensitive to temperature, are less brittle. In between, women help out in the farm and do household chores. The newly woven cloth is then burnished with the use of a large cowrie shell. The whole weaving process usually lasts from two to four months and during that time, sex is forbidden for the weaver. One is advised not to step across a loom with the abaca threads lest one gets sick. The t’nalak cloth is considered sacred by the T’boli and was oftentimes used as a dowry.
The t’nalak design is one-of-its-kind like artwork. And like artwork, it can have titles or names like “Bubbles Rising” and “Rice Stalks in the Wind,” two of Bey Lang Dulay’s work. As we pointed at the pieces of cloth, the women recited what the designs were—a brahminy kite, wings of the Philippines eagle, wavy patterns on the sand, pineapple leaves, a Kalagan woman, etc.—gifts from the spirit of abaca.
            As the dark crept into the room, we said farewell to the august weaver.  There was soft rain outside. It usually rains in the afternoons here in Lake Sebu. The visitors, touched and impressed, bought bolts of precious t’nalak and trooped out. Bey Lang Dulay sat still among the dark and looms. Later, she may have dreamt of another t’nalak design in the cool tranquility of Lake Sebu, mostly likely oblivious to the noise and merriment in Koronadal City, 40 kilometers away in the Cotabato Valley.

Participant from Lake Sebu showed the T’boli practice of demsu in their dance
 The T’nalak Festival actually is not about the traditional T’boli hand-woven cloth. You will not readily find a profusion of t’nalak fabric or T’boli women weaving it. In the weeklong celebration, which started on July 11 and concluded on July 18, we saw instead many other things; many had become de rigueur in many festivals all over the country.
This year, the T’nalak Festival featured motorcades and parades, a motocross competition, a tricycle design competition, a fun run, a cheer dance competition, a job fair, a pop music competition, a beauty pageant, a job fair, hip-hop and ballroom dances competitions, and even a dog show. The agricultural fair along Judge Alba Street near the provincial capitol building was lush with ornamental plants. On another street there was a tiangge of ukay-ukay clothing. More interesting was the Bahay Kubo Showcase and Competition, where several municipalities set up their versions of the native hut to showcase their products. The kubo of the town of Tupi was easily the most attractive, with a wall that simulated rain falling through the windows, but was excluded from the competition, being in the Hall of Fame after winning for three consecutive years. The spacious kubo of Tantangan, which featured its terracotta products among others, was judged the first-prize winner, while Banga the second and Norala third. We found the kubo of Lake Sebu, which also featured a waterfall, live tilapia for sale and T’boli trinkets and t’nalak.
The t’nalak is taken more as a unique symbol for the province, promoting further this cultural item to become perhaps the most known among T’boli crafts. We are weaving our dreams and aspirations for South Cotabato, said its newly installed and returning governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes.
            The festival, which has been held for 14 years now, is actually in celebration of the founding of the province on July 18. South Cotabato was declared an independent province in 1966, separated from the province of Cotabato through Republic Act No. 4849. 

Street dancing contingent from the town of Tupi depicts B’laan culture and legend during the showdown of the 14th T’nalak Festival in Koronadal City
             The t’nalak was chosen as symbol of the province and the festival to represent the “three cultures” of the province— the indigenous groups, the Muslim Maguindanaoan and the Christian settlers—all woven into one multi-colored tapestry.  They are fond of saying “tri-people” or “tri-cultures” to refer to the people of South Cotabato.
            The indigenous groups, regarded as the earliest settlers of the area, comprise about 20 percent of the province’s 827,200 population and include the T’boli, the B’laan and the Obo Monobo. There are about 120,000 T’bolis in the Philippines, most of them in South Cotabato and some in the province of Sarangani, once part of South Cotabato until 1992. The next settlers are the Muslim group, particularly Maguindanaoans, which presently comprises about four percent of the population. Most of the Maguindanaoans are in the province of Maguindanao, north of South Cotabato.
            In 1913, the area was opened by the national government for homesteading. Christian settlers came in from Luzon and the Visayas, majority of which were the Hiligaynons from Panay and Negros islands, who settled mostly in Norala, Banga, Surallah, Santo Niño and Koronadal, and Ilocanos from northern Luzon. About 8,300 families were resettled by the National Land Settlement Agency from February 1939 to October 1950. Now, the province is predominantly Hiligaynon, more than half of the population. There is also a significant Cebuano population, about 14 percent, mostly found in Polomolok, while the Ilocanos form five percent of the population. I met someone with the same surname as mine, who traces her roots in Pangasinan, my father’s home province.  
The “tri-people” or “tri-cultures” of South Cotabato found representation in the T’nalak Festival’s highlight, the grand parade and street dancing showdown, on July 18. There were three categories in this showy competition—the Madal Be’lan, which requires depiction of the indigenous cultures; the Kadsagayan A Lalan, which represents the Muslim Maguindanaoan culture; and the Kasadyahan sa Kapatagan, which displays the cultures of the Christian lowlanders. 

Group from T’boli depicted Maguindaoan courtship practice during the showdown
T’boli group in Maguindaoan-inspired costumes for the Kadsagayan a Lalan category
             Starting at seven in the morning, the street dancing participants in gaudy costumes paraded through the main streets of Koronadal City ending at the South Cotabato Sports Complex for the showdown, cheered by the people and judged by the country’s leading artists and cultural workers.
Through pageantry, we were told stories and legends, seen images of ethnic groups as filtered or romanticized by another, as well as glimpsed mergings of different cultures.
This year’s Madal Be’lan category champion, the students of the Lemsnolon Elementary School of T’boli, clad in t’nalak vests and malongs, danced the T’boli legend of Desawo, a barangay of the town. The legend tells of women disappearing near the spring, but people thought they had eloped with their men. After farm work, townsfolk washed themselves at the spring and found malongs being washed away, some months or even years old.  They heard a women screaming and saw a huge snake. Warriors rushed to the big cave where the giant snake lived. With spears, they hunted down the snake and killed it.  It was an enthralling watch, the giant snake with skin of t’nalak coming out of the cave. A big celebration followed. The terror had ended but lives in the name of the village, Desawo, meaning “big snake.”
            The Santa Cruz Mission School of Lake Sebu was a runner-up this year together with the Tupi National High School of Tupi. The Lake Sebu group gave a more “sedate” performance compared to its competitors. Its “Demsu be Lemlunay” depicted the T’boli demsu ritual, which honors and gives thanks to the spirits of forest, water and earth, performed before sowing and after harvest.  The performance opened with a meton bu or shaman and eight libon bo-i or sisters asking the spirits for good harvest.  It proceeded to show different facets of T’boli life—warriors defending their community, hunters going after game, fishers catching fish and the community planting and harvesting rice. People again performed the demsu culminating into the festivity called helobung.  
On the other hand, the Tupi contingent, spectacular with crafty props showing macaques, boars and birds, depicted B’laan culture beginning with their creation myth—the supreme god Maleh breathing into a banana tree and creating the first man and woman. The goddess of water Fon Eel, the goddess of plants Fon Kayo and the goddess of animals Fon Agaf were shown to be happy about this. The couple grew into a family then into a community, happy and grateful to the gods. However, the people abused the environment resulting into natural disasters. Having suffered, the people asked for forgiveness through the to almaes, a shaman, and offered food to the gods. Their prayers were answered and they celebrated.  

Kasadyahan sa Kapatagan category champion San Vicente National High School of Banga celebrated the kasalang bayan or mass wedding and the sacredness of the family  
             In the Kasadyahan sa Kapatagan category, the San Vicente National High School of Banga emerged as champion. Theirs was a relatively unusual presentation—a bevy of girls in weddings gowns prancing on the streets. The central themes of the performance were the kasalang bayan or mass wedding, one of the most conspicuous Catholic rituals, and the sacredness of the family.   
First runner-up Tupi National High School Dance Ensemble focused on the pineapple, which is widely cultivated in the municipality of Tupi. The dancers related how the plant was brought in by the Spaniards and is now being propagated.
The T’boli National High School, the second runner-up, showed how settlers cultivated the land with banana, rice and corn; mined it for its gold; and thanked God for the rich resources and heritage. The farming life was also celebrated by another contingent, the Tampakan National High School.

A show of T’boli culture by the Santa Cruz Mission School of Lake Sebu
            The Kadsagayan a Lalan proved to be most visually scintillating—the pinks, aquas and purples of the costumes assuming an eye-catching sheen. The stories and rituals portrayed enriched the mind.
The victorious Edwards National High School of T’boli captured hearts with their story that exemplified the Maguindanaoan courtship dance kabpendulong and courtship practice dulong. A prince fell in love with a princess, their dance told. He waited for a chance to capture her with a malong. In Maguindanaon tradition, when a man is able to catch a woman with a malong, she belongs to him and is obliged to marry him even against her will. When the prince caught the princess with the malong, he danced the kabpendulong. The families of the princess and the prince were invited by the elders to reach an agreement. There was a kuyog a damak, the parade of foods. The kandulong was highlighted by pageantry, the lema-lema.

Contingent from Tantangan

             The Hamungaway Performing Arts group of the Panay National High School of the municipality of Santo Niño, the first runner-up, presented a dance drama, inspired by a Maguindanao tudtol or folk tale called “Antig at Tarabusaw.” The story followed the poor hunchback Antig, who was in love with a princess. He offered flowers to an enchanted tree and hoped for a miracle. When the princess appeared, Antig offered her flowers but was driven away. The tarabusaw, a giant monster, emerged from a cave, terrorizing the village and kidnapping the princess. Antig and the warriors went after the tarabusaw but failed to recapture the princess. The fairies of the enchanted tree, the bidadari, having heard Antig’s patient pleas, transformed Antig into a prince. With new strength, Antig was able to defeat the tarabusaw and save the princess. They were joyfully welcomed back by the villagers.

Surallah’s Purok Sison Elementary School clinched the second runner-up place with the retelling of the legend of the Tinidtiban Mountain of North Cotabato. The story began with Prince Dumaraya and his beautiful sister Princess Ulak Pagayanen, who ruled the island of Tunaw a Bulawan. The princess had many suitors but she turned them away. One of the irate suitors, a datu, created a whirlwind, which blew away the princess. She landed in the kingdom of Lumbayanagi. Prince Agial of Lumbayanagi fell in love with Princess Ulak Pagayanen upon seeing her. She transformed herself into a child to get away from the prince but the he saw through the illusion. The prince’s parents learned about his feelings and were against it. Because of this, the prince ended his own life. When Princess Ulak Pagayanen attended the mourning, she was requested by the queen to bring his son back to life. The princess set off to heaven to ask God to resurrect Prince Agial. She was given a magic egg. When the prince was about to be buried, the princess arrived and was able to bring him back to life with the magic egg. The princess returned home and found Tunaw a Bulawan terrorized by a horse possessed by an evil spirit. Prince Agial followed the princess on a big boat but had difficulty tackling a narrow passageway at the foot of a mountain on the way to Tunaw a Bulawan. With his mighty sword, he hacked off a portion of the mountain. In Tunaw a Bulawan, he was able to defeat the evil horse and was welcomed by Prince Dumaraya. Prince Agial and Princess Ulak Pagayanen were wed and peace reigned between the two kingdoms, and the mountain where Agial passed by was called Tinidtiban.

A princess also figured prominently in a story told by the Christian School of Polomolok. In this one, her newborn child was kidnapped by a former suitor and was successfully brought back. Banga’s San Vicente Elementary School also told a love story. A prince turned down a woman, who happened to be a tarabusaw from under the sea. In her anger, she kidnapped the beloved princess of the prince. The prince went after the tarabusaw and saved the princess.  On the other hand, Tantangan’s Intang Maguindanaoan Dance Troupe told the story of a village and extolled the importance of peace and unity, things many provinces in the Philippines aspire for, including South Cotabato. 
Though there were conflicts in the past, the province strives to achieve unity while celebrating its diversity. This interweaving of cultures and the dream of harmony they find symbolization in the mystical t’nalak. Another thing can also represent South Cotabato and its festival—the refreshing halo-halo, a mix of different and colorful peoples in a land as rich as milk and sugar.

The eye-catching bahay kubo of Tupi, a perennial winner, at the city proper showcased their products

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Stellar and Sensory Cinemalaya

A scene from Eduardo Roy’s Quick Change
This year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival sees many mainstream celebrities featured in a new crop of 25 competing full-length and short films. The Philippine’s biggest all-digital film festival and one of the most vibrant annual film events will run from July 26 to Aug. 4 in four cities — at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in Pasay City; at the Ayala Cinemas of Trinoma mall in Quezon City; at Greenbelt 3 mall in Makati City; and at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City.
Expected to draw additional crowds to the already well-attended event is one of the country’s biggest and finest actresses, Vilma Santos, who stars in Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra. Also noticeable is Gretchen Barretto, who is the lead in Christopher Ad. Castillo’s horror film The Diplomat Hotel. Popular and multi-awarded comedian Eugene Domingo stars in the Leo Abaya comedy Instant Mommy. It will be the first time for the former two to be in Cinemalaya films, while Domingo, who has a theater background, has starred in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank.
Other mainstream stars gracing Cinemalaya films are not strangers to independent films—Alessandra de Rossi, who stars in Gil Portes’s The Liars; Eula Valdes and Anita Linda in David F. and Angel Aquino and Yul Servo in Adolfo Alix’s Porno. Young celebrities are also lured to taken on challenging roles that Cinemalaya films offer— Sid Lucero in David F., Jake Cuenca in Nuwebe, Lovi Poe in Sana Dati, Paulo Avelino in Debosyon, Jasmine Curtis-Smith in Transit and Nadine Samonte in Nuwebe.
The presence of mainstream actors is a testament how Cinemalaya and its products have become prominent and important through the years.
“Cinemalaya is now on its ninth year. Since 2005, we all have seen how the festival has evolved into the most exciting and influential festival in the country. It has introduced new voices in filmmaking and launched their careers nationally and internationally,” festival director Chris Millado said. “Cinemalaya has enticed the commercial mainstream to crossover and redefine their art and craft. It has hosted the emergence of an in-between world which some filmmakers in last year’s forum labelled as ‘maindie’—a liminal sphere straddling and invigorating both independent and mainstream cinema.”
Aside from celebrities, among this year’s participating directors, both emerging and established, are second-generation film directors—Christopher Ad. Castillo, son of the late Celso Ad. Castillo; Mikhail Red, son of Raymond Red; and Paolo O’Hara, nephew of the late Mario O’Hara.
Millado, who is also the artistic director of the CCP, the country’s premier cultural institution and home of Cinemalaya since the beginning, added that Cinemalaya films have become distinguished because of numerous achievements including participation and recognition in foreign festivals as well as recognition by local award-winning bodies. He mentioned last year’s entries: Auraeus Solito’s Busong, Aldolfo Alix’s Kalayaan, Jun Lana’s Bwakaw, Lawrence Fajardo’s Posas, Emmanuel Palo’s Sta. Niña, Vincent Sandoval’s Aparisyon, Paul Sta. Ana’s Oros, and Julius Sotomayor’s Dayo.
This year’s Cinemalaya films tackle diverse topics and issues, and are guaranteed to stimulate the senses as well as provoke the minds.
Millado explained the theme: “Synaesthesia. A sensorial phenomenon in which one type of stimulation produces another sensation. For example, when I think of Cinemalaya, I hear alternative rock. Playing with the words cinema and synaesthesia, we came up with ‘cinaesthesia.’ Cinaesthesia—the fusion of the senses, an intense condition brought about by watching Cinemalaya films. This year’s Cinemalaya gestures towards a cinema that entertains, elucidates and educates through the senses.”
About 70 films will be shown including those in competition. Exhibition films are categorized into sections: Ani, Cinemalaya Documentaries, Cinemalaya Premieres, Retrospective: Urian’s Best (The Gawad Urian Best Films 2000-2009), and tributes to Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Celso Ad. Castillo and National Artist for film Eddie Romero.
“The films on exhibition will feature the harvest from various local festivals in the past years from Filipino and Filipino-American filmmakers and winners from regional festivals like the Sinulog Film Festival of Cebu,” Millado said.
Aside from film showings, there will be the Cinemalaya Film Congress as well as the Philippine Independent Filmmakers’ Multipurpose Cooperative’s third Manila Film Financing Forum.
“This year’s film forum shifts its attention to the filmgoers and new audiences by tackling issues of perception, appreciation and consumption through panel discussions involving filmmakers, actors and producers involved in the competition,” Millado explained.
He added: “This year, Cinemalaya partners with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board through its chairman Eugenio Villareal. Cinemalaya is entering a special memorandum of agreement with the MTRCB to allow the festival to review and classify its owns films using the guidelines for self-regulation.”
The competition films are divided into the three: the New Breed for feature-length films by new and emerging filmmakers; Directors’ Showcase for feature-length films by established directors; and Short Films. The screenplays of these films underwent screening and judging last year after which they were provided with seed grants to make them into films. Competition winners will be announced on Aug. 4 at the CCP.

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Babagwa
The New Breed entries
Ten full-length films will compete for the New Breed category—Babagwa (The Spider’s Lair) by Jason Paul Laxamana; David F by Emmanuel Palo; Debosyon by Alvin Yapan; Instant Mommy by Leo Abaya; Nuwebe by Joseph Israel Laban; Purok 7 by Carlo Obispo; Quick Change by Eduardo Roy Jr.; Rekorder by Mikhail Red; The Diplomat Hotel by Christopher Ad. Castillo; and Transit by Hannah Espia.
Babagwa is written and directed by 25-year-old Jason Paul Laxamana, a Broadcast Communication graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman, who hails from Angeles City, Pampanga. He has worked under directors Jeffrey Jeturian, Maryo J. Delos Reyes and Brillante Mendoza. He started by making Pampangan short films and music videos. His first feature film, AstroMayabang, was a finalist in the Cinema One Originals Film Festival 2010, where it won the Audience Choice Award and a special citation. Babagwa tells of an Internet scammer who falls in love with a wealthy spinster while trying to swindle her using a fake Facebook profile and stars Alex Vincent Medina, Joey Paras, Alma Concepcion, Kiko Matos and Nico Antonio.
David F explores the Filipino’s discrimination against dark-skinned or black people with three stories—the story of two Filipinos who want to get the reward money for capturing David Fagan, the African-American soldier who deserted the U.S. army to join the Filipino revolutionaries during the Philippine-American war in the early 20th century; the story of a Filipina who gives birth to a baby with a dark complexion during the Japanese occupation before the return of General Douglas MacArthur in 1944; and the story of a black gay impersonator in a comedy bar trying to find his father, an African-American soldier based in Clark Air Base in Angeles City. Written by Liza C. Magtoto and Palo, David F stars Eula Valdes, Sid Lucero, Art Acuña, Quester Hannah, Shamaine Buencamino, Anita Linda, Rocky Salumbides, Jess Mendoza, Mariella Castillo, Dax Martin, Will Devaughn and Mitch Valdez. This is the third feature film of Palo, who is a director in ABS-CBN 2 and a holder of a post-graduate diploma in Film and Television Production with specialization in film direction from the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. He has worked as a scriptwriter in films and drama programs on television and as an assistant director to Filipino directors. His first Cinemalaya entry is Sta. Niña.

The poster of Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon starring Paulo Avelino
 Debosyon, written and directed by Alvin Yapan, who has a doctoral degree in Philippine Studies from the University of the Philippines and currently teaches at the Ateneo de Manila University, is about Mando, a devotee of the Nuestra Señora of Peñafrancia, patroness of the Bicol Region, who falls in love with Salome, a mysterious woman living in the forest who nurses him back to health when he injures himself in the middle of the forest at the foot of the Mayon Volcano. When he invites her to come with him to the lowlands, she refuses, saying a curse prohibits her from leaving the forest. Mando relies on his devotion to the Virgin to lift the curse. Starring Paulo Avelino, Mara Lopez, Ramona Rañeses and Roy B. Dominguiano, Debosyon is Yapan’s third feature film after Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe), which won Best Picture (Digital Feature Category) at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival in 2009, and Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet), which won the Bronze Award at the 28th Festival de Cine de Bogota in 2011 and Best Picture at the Gawad Urian in 2012. 

Emmanuel Palo’s David F
Written and directed by Christopher Ad. Castillo, The Diplomat Hotel tells the experience of a crew making a documentary on the haunted Diplomat Hotel in Baguio City. The crew is headed by Victoria Lansang, played by Gretchen Barretto, a popular news reporter who mediated a hostage crisis which went wrong and wants to redeem herself with the only assignment she finds after suffering a mental breakdown. The film also stars Art Acuña, Mon Confiado, Joel Torre, Nico Antonio and Sarah Gaugler, and is the third feature film of the firstborn son of noted filmmaker Celso Ad. Castillo, who grew up on his father’s sets. Christopher was nominated in the Remy Martin Emerging Filmmaker Award for writing and directing the psychological thriller The Sky is Falling. He also directed the drama Los Angeles 7 and several music videos. 

Gretchen Barretto portrays a journalist in the horror film The Diplomat Hotel
 Instant Mommy tells the story of Bechayda, a two-month pregnant wardrobe assistant for TV commercial production who tries to keep her Japanese lover and her dreams of a better life. It stars Eugene Domingo, Yuki Matsuzaki, Luis Alandy, Rico J. Puno, Shamaine Buencamino, Tuesday Vargas and Nicco Manalo. This is Abaya’s first film as screenwriter and director. He is a visual artist but became a short filmmaker at the UP Film Center and production designer for such films as Chito Roño’s Itanong Mo Sa Buwan and Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal and Muro-ami and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Kubrador. He also designed sets for Dulaang UP, PETA and Tanghalang Pilipino, and finished his MA in Fine Arts at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom, and his second undergraduate degree at the UP College of Fine Arts in Diliman where he is currently teaching.
Inspired by a true story, Nuwebe tells the story of nine-year-old Krista, who was sexually abused by her own father and became pregnant. Krista demonstrates unusual resilience and determination to overcome the trauma but her mother is torn between her love for her and her love for her husband. It stars Barbara Miguel, Jake Cuenca, Nadine Samonte, Anita Linda, Manny Castañeda and Archie Adamos. Its writer and director, Joseph Israel Laban, who has a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and a master’s degree in Journalism from New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute on a Fulbright scholarship, first joined Cinemalaya in 2011 with his film Cuchera. He is a managing producer for GMA News and Public Affairs where he directs, writes and produces documentaries, some of which have won awards internationally.  

Jake Cuenca in Nuwebe
 Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7 tells about Diana and her younger brother as they strive to relieve their longing for a family. It stars Krystle Valentino, Miggs Cuaderno, Arnold Reyes, Angeli Bayani and Julian Trono. Shot in his childhood neighborhood in Camiling, Tarlac, Purok 7 is Obispo’s first full-length. He is a Philosophy, minor in Communication Arts, graduate of Saint Louis University.
Quick Change looks at the lives of transgenders. It focuses on Dorina, who has a flourishing illegal cosmetic surgery business, and plays mother to Hero and wife to Uno. She feels very fortunate until his partner falls in love with another transgender. It features non-actors Mimi Juareza, Jun-Jun Quitana, Miggs Cuaderno, Francine Garcia, Natashia Yumi, Filipe Martinez, Rolando Inocencio and Sashi Giggle. Quick Change is the second full-length film of Eduardo Roy Jr., a graduate of New Era University and Philippine School of Interior Design, Eduardo Roy, Jr. His first, Bahay Bata (Baby Factory) in 2011, garnered several recognitions. His second film was supposed to be Lola Igna, which was a Cinemalaya finalist in 2012 but was pulled out because of budget constraints. It is now being co-produced by Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum.
In Rekorder, a movie pirate, who was a cameraman in the 1980s, smuggles a digital camcorder into movie theaters to illegally record films, but one night he records something else. It stars Ronnie Quizon, Mike Lloren, Buboy Villar, Earl Ignacio, Suzette Ranillo and Belinda Mariano. This is the first feature-length film of Mikhail Red, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ian Victoriano. Son of Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or winner Raymond Red, Mikhail is the youngest director in Cinemalaya and perhaps in the whole country at 21. He worked as an apprentice to his father, and his first short film got him into an international festival at the age of 15. He has made six short films, which competed or have been screened in film festivals locally and abroad.

Mikhail Red's Rekorder
  Hannah Espia tells the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Transit, which stars Ping Medina, Irma Adlawan, Marc Justine Alvarez, Jasmine Curtis-Smith and Mercedes Cabral, and is co-written with Giancarlo Abrahan. Shot mostly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel, the film tells about how two OFWs hide their children when the Israeli government issues a new law deporting children of foreign workers. Transit is the first feature film of Espia, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Film Institute, whose thesis film “Ruweda” won the Audience Choice Award at the eighth Cinemalaya in 2012.

The Director’s Showcase entries
Five were chose to compete in the Directors’ Showcase category—Amor Y Muerte by Cesar M. Evangelista; Ekstra by Jeffrey Jeturian; Sana Dati by Jerrold Tarog; The Liars by Gil M. Portes; and Porno by Adolfo Alix Jr.
Written by Jerry B. Gracio, Amor Y Muerte is sort of a comeback film of Cesar Evangelista, who made “pito-pito” movies for Regal Films in the late 1990s. Evangelista has been a magazine editor and talent manager. He currently teaches at the Department of Fine Arts of Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology. Amor Y Muerte, which stars Althea Vega, Markki Stroem, Adrian Sebastian and Amable Quiambao, is set an erotic drama set in the 16th century upon the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines. The different notions of love, sexuality, and religion of the native and the foreigners clash.

Cultures clash in the erotic drama Amor y Muerte
 Vilma Santos is the star as well as one of the executive producers of Ekstra (The Bit Player), a socio-realist drama-comedy on the life of Loida Malabanan, a bit player in a soap opera, affording us a glimpse of the exploitation on the marginalized laborers. Ekstra is the ninth film of Jeffrey Jeturian, who collaborated on the screenplay with Zig Dulay and Antoinette Jadaone. In 2011, Bisperas won the Best Picture in the Directors’ Showcase category of the Cinemalaya. He is currently directing the TV soap opera Be Careful With My Heart.

Vilma Santos joins Cinemalaya with Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra
 Jerrold Tarog directs the screenplay of Ramon Ukit, Sana Dati, which tells about a woman “whose wedding is thrown into disarray when a mysterious person arrives and reminds her of the man she really loves.” This is the third part of Tarog’s trilogy which include Confessional (2007) and Mangatyanan (2009).
Written by Senedy Que, Gil M. Portes’s The Liars follows a journalist as she exposes the truth about a baseball team of poor boys. The film, which is inspired by a true story, stars Alessandra de Rossi, John Michael Bunapos, Jan Harley Hicana and Jim Rocky Tangco. Portes is the most veteran of the directors with three of his films becoming entries to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign-Language Film category: The Kite (1999), In the Bosom of the Enemy (2001) and Small Voices (2002). He won the first Cinemalaya Best Director award for Two Funerals.

Gil Portes’s The Liars is based on a true story about a team of young baseball players
 Written by Ralston Jover, Adolfo Alix’s Porno, about three characters linked by pornography, stars Angel Aquino, Carlo Aquino, Rosanna Roces and Yul Servo. Alix has been a prolific filmmaker with several Cinemalaya entries.

The short films
The competing short films are “Bakaw” by Ron Segismundo; “Katapusang Labok” (Last Strike) by Aiess Athina E. Alonso; “Missing” by Zig Dulay; “Onang” by Je Tiglao; “Para Kay Ama” by Relyn A. Tan; “Pukpok” by Joaquin Pantaleon, Stephan Domingo and Immanuel Canicosa; “Sa Wakas” by Nica Santiago; “Taya” by Adi Bontuyan; “The Houseband’s Wife” by Paolo O’Hara; and “Tutob” by Kissza Mari Campano.
Made by a 19-year-old graduate of Digital Filmmaking at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, “Bakaw” follows a day in the life of kid who steals at the Navotas fish port.“Katapusang Labok” (Last Strike) shows the struggles of fishermen who deal with environmental abuse and the effects of coral harvesting while “Missing” tackles enforced disappearance. “Onang” follows a 12-year-old girl in pursuit of her dreams, while “Para Kay Ama” is the story of Hannah, a young Tsinoy who discovers and meets her a half-brother at her father’s wake. “Pukpok” is about circumcision while “Sa Wakas” is about a father trying to save the life of her daughter. “Taya” follows a child in a shanty area about to be demolished. “The Houseband’s Wife” is about an OFW family, with the OFW wife as breadwinner and the husband left in the Philippines to care for the children. “Tutob” tells about a Maranao stopped at an army checkpoint after bombings in the region.

Arnold Reyes stars in Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7 depicting a rural neighborhood in Camiling, Tarlac
 The Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival is a project of the Cinemalaya Foundation, CCP, Econolink Investments and Film Development Council of the Philippines. For more information, call CCP Film Office at telephone number 832-1125 local 1704 or 1705 or the CCP box office at 832-3704 or visit www.culturalcenter.gov.ph.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hail the Messengers: Tanghalang Pilipino Spotlights Bringers of Heroism in its 27th Season

The Bikol epic Ibalong is transformed into a visual spectacle
Heroism takes on many forms. With this in mind, it can be said that there are many kinds of heroes. While heroism is an act that can be rare in real life, it is a constant as aspiration of humankind as can be gleaned in popular and artistic works. In these, there are always heroes, and their acts of heroism aim to inspire and uplift us. The well of edification and inspiration is replenished anew with the new season of Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), the resident theater company of the country’s premier cultural institution, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
The 27th season of TP has theme “Mensaheros,” meaning messengers with the word “hero” highlighted within the word. 
“Through this season’s offerings, we desire to inspire, to educate, to entertain and to encourage thoughts of selfless heroism. We invite everyone to join us in becoming messengers of hope, goodwill, truth, justice and heroism,” declared Nanding Josef, TP’s indefatigable artistic director.
Josef said that they are emphasizing the other heroes — the messengers.
“Heroism can refer to playwrights, all artists, messengers of heroism,” he explained. “Artists have a role in the formation of heroism… They are the new heroes.”
Well, TP’s efforts themselves are not short of being heroic, mounting excellent productions year after year despite the indifference and the dearth of funding and massive support that popular and often vacuous and insipid forms of entertainment enjoy. Year after year, they constantly look for funding, but they never wane in terms of quality. In fact, TP was a big winner in the last Philstage Gawad Buhay, which honors achievements in the field of theater.
At the helm of TP is a new board of officers, taking on the challenge of continuing this tradition. The new president is Jolly Gomez, grandson of Aling Asyang, the founder of The Aristocrat restaurant. He expressed his desire to take TP plays to the provinces because “it is shame that these quality productions are not seen by larger audiences.” This is of course a perennial desire of all artistic productions. Filipinos are not the kind to flock to these kinds of productions, thus artists and cultural workers have no option but to bring these to them. And this is one of their heroic acts.
Anyway, the new season presents an exciting and impressive line-up — a children’s musical, an original opera, a Shakespeare play in Filipino, an epic made into a musical and a straight drama by a revered National Artist.

Susie and the shoes in Sandosenang Sapatos

Sandosenang Sapatos
The season will be opened lightly with a children’s musical, Sandosenang Sapatos, an adaptation of Dr. Luis Gatmaitan’s Palanca award-winning and now classic children’s book. Gatmaitan wrote it during a scholarship training in Tokyo, Japan, where he explored writings that deals with motifs of love, respect and concern society can give to disabled people. Josef said that they felt a need to create a new children’s musical aside from their perennial Pinocchio.
The protagonist, Susie, a child bound to a wheelchair, meets the Shoe Fairy in her dreams, and demands for a pair of feet the night before the birthday of her father, a shoemaker who dreams of her becoming a ballerina. But the shoes in Susie’s dream maintain that she can only talk to the Shoe Fairy the night before her own birthday.  Every year, the Shoe Fairy gives her a pair of shoes and for a night Susie is able to dance. After Susie’s father dies, she finds herself in dreamland the night before her 12th birthday, where the Shoe Fairy reveals where the shoes she has been giving Susie really comes. Susie’s father appears with a pair of shoes, and for the first time, she is able to dance with her father. In the real world, Susie discovers a huge box containing 12 pairs of shoes, each of different sizes and comes with a note, her father’s letter for her, testaments of his great love.

Ralph Mateo as Bluey in Sandosenang Sapatos
Socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdez debuts on stage in Sandosenang Sapatos
This moving children’s story was adapted by playwright Layeta Bucoy, who won the Philstage Gawad Buhay for best original script for Doc Resureccion: Gagamutinang Bayan. The play focuses more on the “psyche of the child rather than the relationship between the father and the daughter,” revealed its director Tuxqs Rutaquio, who watched Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pan’s Labyrinth to study its transition technique from reality to fantasy and vice versa.
“This production is… a milestone for Tanghalang Pilipino because it is their first sung-through children’s musical. Layeta Bucoy, who I’m working with for the first time, wrote a libretto that was poetic enough so that even the parts that are supposed to be dialogs can be turned into songs. Meanwhile director Tuxqs Rutaquio embraced the sing-through challenge with eagle’s wings,” related Jed Balsamo, the play’s co-composer, co-arranger and musical director.

Balsamo is joined by Noel Cabangon as composer and arranger. TJ Ramos is the sound director while Gerald Mercado is the choreographer and John Batalla the lighting designer. Thirteen Artists awardee Leeroy New and emerging fashion designer James Reyes were tapped to design the costumes.
Trixie Esteban will play Susie while May Bayot will play her mother. Interior designer and prominent socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdes will debut on stage as the Shoe Fairy (Diwata) alternating with Hazel Maranan. They will be joined by the actors of the TP Actors Company, namely, Jonathan Tadioan (Tatay), Regina de Vera (Ate), Marco Viaña (Red), Remus Villanueva (Maong), Jovanni Cadag (Yellowy), Ralph Mateo (Bluey), Doray Dayao (Whitey), Raquel Pareño (Diwata understudy), JV Ibesate (Sandals), Antonette Go (Pinky), Lhorvie Nuevo (Sequins) and Aldo Vencilao (Bluey).
Sandosenang Sapatos will be staged at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of CCP on July 13, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and July 14, 18, 19, 20 and 21, 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Handyong and Oryol in Ibalong
Because of popular demand, TP is bringing back last season’s acclaimed Ibalong, the epic of the Bicol Region, adapted by veteran playwright Rody Vera into an “ethno-rock” musical featuring the musical direction and composition of Carol Bello, and musical arrangement of Rizalino Reyes and Inkantada.
Vera explained that the Ibalong, which exists in fragments, has been controversial because of its authenticity. Some doubted if the epic fragment was really transcribed by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras, from which Fray Jose Castaño published a short fragment. Sixty stanzas, of the said 400, are only what is known today of the Ibalong, which is celebrated today by the Bicolanos and inspired several other artistic works.
“As playwright, I focused not on the fragment’s authenticity. What I found more interesting and ennobling is how the people of the Bikol region appropriated this fragment and claimed it as part of the enrichment of their culture. And as literary and dramatic works have begun to pile up to contribute to the deepening and layering of Ibalong, I believe we may be witnessing the continuing story of how epics can remain alive and resonant to the very people who claim it,” Vera averred.
The Ibalong is about the fight between darkness and light during the early stages of creation with three heroes — Baltog, Handiong and Bantong — battling monsters, restoring peace, inspiring great inventions and leading the people with just laws. This version of the Ibalong fragment is told from the point of view of the perceived villain Oryol, a serpentine monster and daughter of Asuwang, the main deity of the underworld.
Ibalong was syaged at the Adamson University in Manila, and in the Bicol Region, particularly in Legaspi City where the epic traces its origins. The play will be part of the Ibalong Festival of Legaspi City. It will be restaged at the CCP’s Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater), with direction by Tuxqs Rutaquio, choreography by Alden Lugnasin, lights and sounds design by KatschCatoy, and costume and puppet design by Leeroy New, on Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m.; Aug. 31 and Sept. 7 and 14 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sept. 1, 8 and 15 at 3 p.m.

Der Kaufmann
Written between 1596 and 1598, The Merchant of Venice is one of the popular plays of iconic English poet and playwright William Shakespeare about a bitter and hated Jewish moneylender who seeks revenge against a Christian merchant who faulted him. Rody Vera adapts the translation of the late National Artist for theater and literature Rolando Tinio and tells it as play within a play set during the Holocaust, with Nazis directing the Jewish “actors,” stressing the dehumanizing effect of racism and intolerance.
Der Kaufmann will be staged on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4 and 11 at 8 p.m.; Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 and 12 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 and 13 at 3 p.m. at the CCP’s Tanghalang Huseng Batute.

San Andres B.
As a contribution to the nationwide celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, one of the Philippines’ most popular heroes, TP will bring to life an opera based on his life, San Andres B., by National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario. His libretto is based on his earlier novel on Bonifacio. A live orchestra and professional opera singers and actors will be tapped to join the production as well as the Philippine Madrigal Singers, which is being invited to be the chorus. San Andres B. will be directed by Floy Quintos with Chino Toledo’s musical composition and arrangement and Paul Morales and Alden Lugnasin’s choreography, Eric Cruz’s production design, Jay Aranda’s light design and Rards Corpuz’s sound direction. It will be staged on Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Dec. 1 and 8 at 3 p.m. at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino.

Mga Ama, Mga Anak
TP will close the season with Mga Ama, Mga Anak (Fathers and Sons), a play originally in English by National Artist for literature Nick Joaquin, written in 1976, based on his short story “Three Generations.” This will be adapted into Filipino Virgilio Almario and Pete Lacaba. It tells the conflicts between the once poweful Zacarias Monzon, now ill, wheelchair bound and harsh, and his sons. The play will be directed by film, television and theater director  Joel Lamangan, who hopes to tap celebrities Eddie Garcia, Richard Gomez and Coco Martin to star.
Mga Ama, Mga Anak will be staged at the CCP’s Tanghalang AurelioTolentino on Feb. 21, 28 and March 7 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 22, March 1 and 8 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Feb. 23 and 28, and March 2 and 9, at 3 p.m.

For more information and updates, visit Tanghalang Pilipino’s official Web site http://tanghalangpilipino.org.ph/main/ or like them on Facebook (Tanghalang Pilipino Foundation Inc.). All shows will offer a 20 percent discount on regular ticket price for senior citizens, government employees, military employees and PWDs. Present a valid ID. For inquiries on ticket reservations, group sales, sponsorships, special performances, e-mail Cherry Bong Edralin, TP’s marketing manager, at cherry_edralin888@yahoo.com or contact mobile phone numbers 0917-7500107 or 0918-9593949.
The Tanghalang Pilipino board of trustees
The local arts and community mourns several deaths of artists and cultural workers. The latest one is the death of National Artist for music Andrea Veneracion on the night of July 9. The 84-year-old founder and former choirmaster of the acclaimed Philippine Madrigal Singers had been bedridden for years. She has been influential in the development of Philippine choral music. Her remains lie at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral Grottos. CCP is preparing a necrological service for her set for July 14.
Earlier, cultural worker and writer Elmar Beltran Ingles died on the morning of July 9 at the age of 49 from complications from diabetes. He was the Philstage Gawad Buhay! executive director and jury coordinator, Organisasyon ng mga Pilipinong Mang-aawit executive director, former commissioner of the Subcommission on Cultural Dissemination of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and director of the Philippine Cultural Education Program of the NCCA.
Veteran actress Amable “Ama” Quiambao passed away on the night of July 5 at the age of 66. She suffered a heart attack upon the conclusion of a play, “Pamamanhikan,” she acted in, part of the Virgin Labfest 9, a festival of new plays, at the CCP. She bagged her first best actress award last year at the 8th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival for her work in Diablo of Mes de Guzman.
Their works have inspired and uplifted us. They were all heroes.