Mystique of the Past

An Update to “An Intro to Chapter 16 of Marcos’ Lovie Dovey

Although undeniably a star during her brief moment in Philippine pop history, Dovie Beams will have to be counted as an abject failure in terms of her Hollywood aspirations. She started with supporting roles in two Westerns, Wild Wheels (Ken Osborne, 1969) and Guns of a Stranger (Robert Hinkle, 1973). The genre traditionally gave prominence to male heroes, with a notable exception in Nicolas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), repudiated by its director for Joan Crawford’s insistence on having more screen time than the title character; ironically JG became valued, and rightfully so, for ushering in a new stage in Western genre development, where its once-overlooked types of characters (women, Native Americans, outlaws, and people of color) could now be permitted to present their narratives from their own respective perspectives.

11011Unfortunately the Marcos affair decimated whatever potential Beams was hoping to build up. Her only Hollywood comeback consisted of a marginalized appearance in an otherwise admired comedy, John Landis’s The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). On the other hand, she was lucky her sole starring role, in Jerry Hopper’s Maharlika (1970), was little-seen because of the scandal she caused and gutsily exacerbated via her lurid tell-all press conference in 1970. Maharlika was reportedly retitled Guerrilla Strike Force and screened in Guam, presumably to recover whatever funds it could hope to generate. Upon the ouster of the Marcoses, its original title was restored and it finally had its premiere run in the Philippines in 1987.

11011Maharlika affirms for posterity that whatever talents Beams possessed, film performing could never be counted as one of them. Like her Western projects, Maharlika’s war-film material situated her character secondary to the hero (actually a stand-in for Marcos, who was out to make a definitive demonstration that he deserved to earn all the war medals he falsely claimed to have garnered from the US government). She complained of having been dismissively treated by her leading man, TV and cult-film star Paul Burke, but we can only speculate as to his motives. Her notoriety might have preceded her, although just as likely, he could have observed how she (quite literally) tackled her scenes.

Back to top

11011Every shot Beams appears in is filled with a spirited eagerness, celluloid testament to her resolve not to waste any of the opportunity that she had worked long and hard for, not least of which was the degradation of her function as the dictator-to-be’s sex object, pimped by apparently influential aides whom she knew only by their aliases. Regrettably, she lacked both expert coaching as well as the experience of tempering and matching her execution from one scene to the next, not to mention building up to a carefully modulated character presentation. Her initial appearance as a country maiden confronted by marauding Japanese soldiers and sexually assaulted by them in her backyard, displays a welter of externalized responses too hyperkinetic to be plausible; these types of inadvertently laughable renditions would have sealed her fate as performing artist, had Maharlika been more widely seen.

11011An obituary page for “Dovie Leona Osborne Boehms Beam Villagran” is maintained at Dignity Memorial; her movie surname was presumably a modification of “Boehms,” her first husband’s family name. (Greetings from people with “Marcos” and “Villagran” in their names might help dispel any doubt regarding the validity of the website post.) Her Wikipedia entry as of this moment includes a still-to-be-authenticated cause of death (lung cancer and comorbidity due to alcohol and tobacco use), and reports a recent attempt by Imelda Marcos, in a 2022 TV interview by Winnie Monsod, to deny that there ever was an affair between her late hubby and Beams – a disavowal on the same order as her family’s protestation that the Marcoses’ conjugal dictatorship was benign and untainted by record-breaking plunder.

11011A sober-sounding comment on a video upload at the Imperiya.By News Info Center, by a netizen with the initials “RD,” who claims to be a distant relative of Beams, alleges the following: that she’d abandoned her eldest child, who nevertheless subsequently managed to secure bit parts in Beams’s film projects; that she had three grandchildren and a great grandchild by the time she died; that while she spent a spell in prison for fraud, her then-husband Sergio de Villagran managed to flee the US; that a man who claimed to be her son by Marcos managed to befriend her eventually (Dovie Beams love child indeed); and that some moon rocks, officially the property of the US government, were gifted her by “Fred” and are now in her daughter’s possession. Some of these claims obviously call out for investigative reporting, but as to whether the Beams mystique will persist to that extent, all we can do is look to the future.

11011Meanwhile, the Dovie Beams entry in A Glossary of the Marcos Era (1965-1986) in the Philippines at Caroline Hau’s Ikangablog is packed with all the available essential information you could ask for, duly cited and cross-referenced. Hie on over but make sure you’ve got some extra time to spare, in case the other entries prove irresistible – because they will.

Back to top


Trauma at Length

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE
Directed & written by Lav Diaz

Waves of admiration greeted Lav Diaz’s venture into a self-styled version of long-form filmmaking – called “slow cinema” by most observers, a term that Diaz abhors. His first attempt, Batang West Side (West Side Kid, a.k.a. West Side Avenue, 2001), broke the four-hour maximum running time for commercial releases. His next long-form entry, Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), ran for about double BWS’s five-hour length, at 9 to nearly 11 hours, depending on which version is being screened. Ebolusyon bore the qualities that would mark the rest of Diaz’s long-form films: done in digital video, utilizing black-and-white cinematography, filled with long takes and long shots, completed with a small crew whose members would double as the movie’s actors, with material drawn from harrowing historical memory. To further challenge audience expectations, he announced a trilogy based on the theme of trauma.[1] Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012) is the trilogy’s last entry, and the shortest at six-plus hours. It stands out from Diaz’s other early work in that it was the first and, until recently, the only one to focus on a woman. The title character’s suffering – CTE refers to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, inflicted on her by her father – is so distressful and heartrending that only a mean-spirited viewer would attempt to look away and ponder the movie’s allegorical issues. Unlike its long-form predecessors, it also foregrounds the tranquil beauty of the countryside, with the majestic presence of the Bicol region’s Mayon Volcano overlooking the proceedings. The movie’s stately and formal perfection provides the anchor by which Florentina’s experience becomes bearable enough to witness; in fact, it is the mercifully few moments when she cannot be seen, when only her cries can be heard, that the movie comes closest to visceral horror. Diaz’s storytelling strength is in his handling of time and duration, and Florentina Hubaldo provides further evidence in its interweaving of seemingly distinct strands that, by the movie’s sad-yet-hopeful close, fully reward the patient viewer.


From the forthcoming volume tentatively titled Sine: 100+ Films That Celebrate Philippine Cinema, cowritten with Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon for Summit Media.

[1] The materials as well as the narratives in the trilogy are unrelated, and may therefore be viewed individually. For those curious about the other titles, these are the nine-hour Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos, 2007) and the 7.5-hour Melancholia (2008).

Back to top

Pop for All Seasons

Directed by Marius Talampas
Written by Greggy Gregorio & Ash Vidal

Casanova cornered in “Surprise, Surprise.”

Once in a while popular culture bestows a piece that most of us can take to heart without having to burn our wallets or spend hours to track it down and watch it. The fact that film historian and curator Paolo Cherchi Usai could include “Surprise, Surprise,” a British Airways commercial, in his list of all-time ten-best entries for Sight & Sound magazine’s 2002 survey, demonstrates how canon-formation rules about budget, running time, reception, and authorial talent don’t have to limit our capacity to recognize when a rare exception, originating from nothing but intelligent and intensive cultural assimilation and processing, comes along.

11011The whole point about “Surprise, Surprise,” as those of us who might have seen it on a streaming source have realized, is that despite its “universal” predicament of a two-timer caught in the act, it could be better appreciated by those who were situated in the theater where the reflexive event took place, if not those who could identify more closely with said audience and their culture. A recent advertising short, titled “Balot” and produced by the still-youthful Gigil Agency for the Philippine branch of Royal Crown Cola, requires even further preparation for those unfamiliar with Philippine culture; those whose encounters span decades will, needless to add, possess greater advantages.

11011Prior to “Balot,” RC Cola was in fact better known for absurdist Japanese-style ad products, always humorous but occasionally lacking in what Noypi pop-culture experts would term hugot (roughly, emo-content). Gigil itself attained some notoriety for a pandemic-themed beauty ad that had PC viewers in fits of (sanitized) hand-wringing, forcing its sponsor to pull out the presentation. “Balot” takes its own share of risks, but these pay off in various degrees of satisfaction, primarily because the creative team opted to wholeheartedly embrace the culture that its target audience presumably shares.

11011It opens with a mother calling her family together as she spreads on the dining table the treats she was able to take home (hence the title, since balot literally means wrapping up) from a neighbor’s birthday party. As she starts taking out increasingly impressive dishes from her bag, a faint breeze blowing on her family’s faces suggests that myth-making is about to take place. When an entire pot of rice is followed by a whole roast piglet, the strains of a fondly remembered movie theme song begin playing, with a somewhat familiar voice crooning the somewhat apt stanza that begins with “Balutin mo ako ng hiwaga ng iyong pagmamahal” (Wrap me up in the wonder of your love).[1]

Back to top

Eken Afuang Matsunaga as Sharon Cuneta in “Balot.”

11011The song continues as party balloons float up from the mother’s bag, followed by the birthday celebrator, a party clown, and finally the song’s singer, Sharon Cuneta. The cultural insight this revelation interplays with is that the act of taking home excess food from a gathering was made less potentially embarrassing by people euphemistically calling it “sharon” – as in “I’ll sharon some of that later.” When Cuneta herself found out, she good-naturedly hailed and celebrated the appropriation of her name in one of her recent social media posts, in the same teasing spirit that the advert performs. When the extra-large soft drink product is finally taken out and poured, its label descriptor states “Mega Litro,” once more an acknowledgment of Cuneta’s stature as the final multimedia star in Philippine pop culture, prior to its splintering into the several niches that typify millennial-era conditions.

11011In a social-media exchange, Cuneta specialist Jerrick Josue David (not a relation) further explained why the Sharon performance in “Balot” had that touch of the uncanny about it, beyond the narrative’s own marvelous turn. “Bituing Walang Ningning” (“Star without Sparkle,” from the eponymous 1985 film) may have been Cuneta’s most successful movie theme song, but neither singer nor voice in the ad was literally Sharon herself. Like the film as a whole, the impersonation – by drag artist Eken Afuang Matsunaga, with vocals by Leah Patricio – functions as a freestanding star tribute. This references another Sharonian quality claimed nearly exclusively by the country’s biggest star, Nora Aunor: only these two have on record the presence of drag queens drawn directly from their mass adulators, whose professional careers are premised on replicating their idols’ respective personas. (Sadly, Cuneta’s most famous impersonator, Ate Shawee, passed away during the pandemic.)

11011“Balot” will be capable of sustaining a few theoretical discussions for those inclined to swing in that direction. The fusion of fantastic elements with an identifiably lower-class context could be one starting point, alongside the fearless deployment of narrative elements associated with mainstream (a.k.a. “masa”) aesthetics coupled with a reflexive thrust more audacious than what “Surprise, Surprise” attempted – all packed within a shorter running time. Those who feel guilty about immersing in the manifold pleasures the ad conveys might want to track the points where their educational training made them believe that this element was unworthy of valuation. Perhaps rewatching “Balot,” now or at a later moment, might help clarify these and a few other questions.


First published April 24, 2023, as “Sharon Torch Song Used in Absurd Soda Ad” in The FilAm. Thanks to Grace Leyco, Gigil public relations officer, for providing prompt and comprehensive information. Below is an English-subtitled version.

[1] The English translation of the stanza sung in “Balot” is as follows:

Wrap me up in the wonder of your love
Let it blanket this luster that won’t last
I’d rather be a star that doesn’t sparkle
If I could win your endless devotion instead.

From “Bituing Walang Ningning”
(Willy Cruz, 1985)

Back to top

Condemned Property: Video Piracy as a Form of Nationalist Resistance

Before I proceed, I would like to state what an honor it has been for me to be invited to this event. As you can tell from my family name, Pampanga is the home province of my father’s side of the family. But because of the exigencies of surviving in the ever-expanding metropolis of Manila, which has been starting to claim portions of the neighboring province, Bulacan, for some time now, we stopped visiting our hometown of Magalang while I was still a child. This is therefore my first formal event in Pampanga since I became a professional scholar. As a consequence, the lecture I will be delivering will not be anything like the paper I submitted to the conference – which is probably also a positive thing, considering the proofreading errors I discovered when I went over it again. I would also like to plead for your indulgence in providing an alternate subtitle for my lecture, which is: “A Subjective Odyssey.” Not because I was or will be a video pirate, nor did I go or will go after one, but because the issue of video piracy has left virtually few aspects of our Third-World everyday existence untouched. The aim therefore of this lecture will be to provide the genealogy, or origin, of the paper I submitted. In effect, I will be recounting the narrative of how I came to be researching the recent and now nearly finished phenomenon of video piracy in our country.

11011When our heads of state dialog with bigwigs from our former colonizing center, the United States, regarding the matter they euphemistically term “intellectual property rights,” one would think that the situation has attained the same level of urgency as other issues such as terrorism, poverty, global warming, environmental devastation, new deadly diseases, and internet pornography. What’s subjective about this account was my personal and professional involvement in video presentation, as a teacher, researcher, and former student of film at the University of the Philippines Film Institute, which continued even after I’d left the institution. While completing my M.A. and Ph.D. in Cinema Studies during the 1990s in the US, I and my Filipino colleagues were attuned to an escalating scenario of video piracy in our home country in what was then the compact disc digital video or VCD format. Up to that point it appeared as if we overseas Pinoys would remain permanently out of sync in relation to our counterparts on the other side of the planet. Where the standard videocassette format in the US was VHS, in the Philippines it was Betamax; and where the video disc format we had was laser disc, back home it was VCD.

11011Even this early it was painfully evident that Filipinos would be doomed to the low-end technological option, which provided affordability at the expense of quality. The only consolation – a significant one, as far as we were concerned – was that people would still resort to theatrical film screenings. Before Betamax gave way to VHS and VCD to DVD, the Philippines still enjoyed double-digit annual film production. The numbers were less than half of the mid-two hundred peak realized by the local industry during the nineteen-sixties and -seventies, but even then, I was still able to argue to my dissertation adviser that the output per capita was higher than that of India, which was and continues to be the world record-holder in absolute terms.

Back to top

11011It made sense for people to still troop to movie-houses even when current releases could appear on videocassette or VCD. Audiovisual resolution in these formats was too miserable to be pleasurable; moreover, and here we’re treading on speculation, the continuing saga of political and economic upheavals visited by globalizing trends on our fragile system made it imperative for the population to continue seeking solace in social gatherings, of which film screenings, at their half-dollar admission price then, would still prove irresistible as an attraction.

11011It would be relevant to mention at this point that the world’s successful prosecution of copyright violation using file-sharing software occurred only as recently as 2005, in Hong Kong (“Man Jailed in 1st Copyright Violation Case”). Not surprisingly, the most extensive and useful book-length study of video piracy, Laikwan Pang’s Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia, provides an extensive analysis of VCDs, which served as the format for the supposedly rampant piracy of Hollywood film products in Hong Kong. In a later volume, Creativity and Its Discontents, Pang built on the observation that in the contemporary era, a new system, called the creative economy, centered on the production of original creative material, has effectively supplanted the knowledge economy (Creativity and Its Discontents Introduction). Her approach is premised on Roland V. Bettig’s description of the digital-era dilemma of filmed entertainment: that the cost of reproducing creative content is virtually negligible compared to the cost of producing it (Bettig 93).

11011In the late ’nineties my roommates and I celebrated the First-World film distributors’ decision to adopt and promote the DVD format. At the same time, we wondered how such a relatively expensive system would fare in the Philippines. As it turned out, the DVD pricing scheme in the US was surprisingly competitive and, more important, rationalized enough to challenge early attempts at piracy. In concrete terms, if (and this is a big if, okay) I intended to pirate a new DVD release in the US for myself, the cost I would incur in renting a copy, buying a blank disc, reproducing the cover art and accompanying booklet, and setting up my system to rip and burn the contents would not be that far from the cost of simply walking into a store and buying a legitimate copy. What tips the balance in favor of doing the legally preferred option is a combination of the calculable advantages of enjoying a warranty on the product, as well as the incalculable delights of shopping.

11011Flash-forward to the turn-of-the-millennium, when the installation of a Republican President and the collapse of the Twin Towers indicated to me that I needed to get out of that place, that country, and back to my duties in the backwaters of Asia. As it turned out, the process of dissertation-writing had kept me from catching up on recent developments outside of what was happening to the family of HBO’s Tony Soprano. Upon my return to Manila, my faculty colleagues and students alerted me to the presence of a thriving market in pirated DVDs in Quiapo, Manila’s downscale commercial district, site of occasional populist demonstrations and acts of criminality both political and personal. Its best-known landmark is the sixteenth-century Catholic Church that enshrines the Black Nazarene, one of a few major Filipino icons that make a case for the Africanness of the historical Christ. The Black Nazarene inspires hysterical devotion among lower-class religious males, particularly during its annual procession in January, because of its reputedly miraculous properties, including the ability to completely cleanse one of her or his sins.

Back to top

11011Quiapo is known for other historical events, such as the long-controversial bombing of the opposition’s miting de avance at Plaza Miranda in 1971, attributed by the right-wing pre-martial law government of Ferdinand Marcos to the Communist Party of the Philippines and blamed by the Communists on the Marcos government. There are also the Quiapo-set films of the top action stars in Philippine movie history: Joseph Estrada starring in Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo, and Fernando Poe Jr. countering much later with his own Batang Quiapo. But one marvel that can still be empirically witnessed today is the fact that the pirated DVD stalls lie just outside the sphere of Catholicity, in the Muslim ghetto on the other side of Quezon Boulevard, the main vehicular and pedestrian artery.

11011For over a year I was unaware of the exact whereabouts of this paradise-within-an-inferno. And meanwhile – big melodramatic moment coming up – my father was rapidly deteriorating from a terminal illness, so I decided to get him a DVD player where I could screen for him some of the films I had brought over from the US. I decided to get him one of his favorites the way I would do it in the US – that is, legitimately. So I looked up one of the biggest mid-priced mall chains in the country, entered its video shop, and bought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the equivalent of thirty-six US dollars. Never mind that it was selling for under fifteen dollars at – I figured there were multiple costs involved in importing the product – and well, what do I know, really. Besides, it made my father happy, but at that rate, I figured I’d never be able to get him the classical Hollywood titles he was asking for.

11011After he died, I finally managed to find the exact whereabouts of the flea-market style “illegitimate” DVDs peddled in Quiapo. You guessed right if you thought the first title I looked up was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There it was, selling, just like everything else, at the flat rate of about one US dollar. And that was just the start of my long rude awakening to the reality of video distribution outside the First World. For starters, the vendors had all the popular mainstream titles offered by the so-called legitimate outlets – and more, much more, several times over in fact. Allow me to flash a description of the possible categories of products posted online by an even more enthusiastic consumer.

11011To provide ourselves with a handle into the availability of products in this mecca (pardon the pun), I and a few of my faculty colleagues listed the titles we thought would fit the collection of your garden-variety film enthusiast. Every other week or so, we would tally our findings and, unfortunately for the completists among us, eliminate those titles we felt would be available in most “average” households anyway. Thus, no recent Oscar winners, Tom Hanks- and/or Meg Ryan-starrers, martial-arts movies produced in countries that never gave rise to martial arts, humanist dramas unless spoken in a language other than English, TV shows that all carbon-based life forms would have seen anyway … you get the drift.

Back to top

11011The last time I looked up our list, we had over seven hundred “preferred” titles, still an impressive number, dwarfing the individual wish lists we had compiled using “legit” online sources.

11011These discoveries were not ours alone to claim. Several major personalities from media and academe, some of them foreign-based, could be seen scouring the stalls for possible additions to their collections. When a local television program sent out feelers for any of them to come forward, one of those who responded was Joey Reyes, the person who at that time was arguably the most prominent prestige filmmaker in the country. He said, in Tagalog, “I need them for my own growth as a director. Anyway, it’s the big foreign films that are killing the local movie industry. I’m just helping our people slay these giants by buying their films from video pirates” (Diones, n.p.).

11011Moreover, and this is where my subjectivity intersects with his, “The system of piracy can be considered a ‘great equalizer’ because everyone is equal when it comes to purchasing power – even the poor can afford to buy the copies” (Diones, n.p.). Reyes’s assertion jibes with our informal observations, done roughly on a weekly basis over the course of the past three years. What might have sounded incredible anytime during the past millennium – say, a lower-class consumer inquiring about widescreen, subtitling, and extra features – is now commonplace enough to appear as images in local pop culture. As a corollary, the vendors themselves have done their own upgrading. Some of the stalls are now housed in air-conditioned buildings, and the personnel are up to the challenge of helping buyers sort through the wide variety of products on display. Ronnie (not his real name), a physically disabled man who operates the biggest stall in one of the buildings, said that he had taken a film course [not in our university, or I would have recognized him] just to be able to familiarize himself with the more exotic or antique samples available (David, interview).

11011The vendors were more than aware of the historical and political implications of their situation. They had a system of alerts when raids have been scheduled by the police force. Because of their minority status, they were unafraid to stand their ground, meeting force with force when necessary. In fact, the revised guidelines controlling optical media in the country stipulate additional penalties for “violators who employ armed resistance against agents of the [Optical Media Board]” (Republic Act 9239, 4.19.b3), a reference to the exchange of gunfire reported three years ago between the vendors and the raiding team of the now-defunct Videogram Regulatory Board.

Back to top

11011The Philippine Muslim population suffers from the many contradictions brought about by postcolonial development, or the lack of it. The people, currently constituting less than seven percent of the seventy-two-million total population (Joshua Project), are credited by nationalist historians as consistent resisters of foreign colonizers, so much so that the English word “amuck” was taken directly from the Malay original “amok” and had its meaning of righteous resistance distorted, to refer instead to “murderous frenzy” (“Amuck” entry, n.p.). Filipino Muslims have also suffered some of the worst depredations of the Christian majority, including massacres, militarization, land-grabbing, and religion-based vigilantism (see Vitug and Gloria) – not to mention the unconscionable cultural stereotyping that invariably accompanies such dehumanizing treatment.

11011In initiating, controlling, and most important, succeeding in the selling and possibly in the local production of pirated DVDs, Filipino Muslims have forged for themselves a historical intervention unique in at least two significant ways, to wit:

  • Unable to afford the interconnectivity facilitated by the World Wide Web, they have instead opted to be familiar with what has been described by Aaron Barlow in The DVD Revolution as a similar access to information via the interactive features of the new format. This of course applies not just to Filipino Muslims, but to the impoverished majority as well.
  • Aware of the current trends toward scapegoating and guilt-by-association through the links of some members of their community with the al-Qaida network, they have responded with what is recognizably an entrepreneurial innovation, albeit with severe consequences for American corporations yet with profoundly gratifying benefits for the rest of the Filipino nation. During my term as founding Director of the University of the Philippines Film Institute, I openly enjoined faculty and students to defer from calling the practice “DVD piracy”; I proposed instead the term “anti-imperialist video-dubbing service,” to call attention to the positive effects of the exercise.

Curiously, such a liminal position used to be associated with another racialized local group, the Chinese-Filipinos. Suspected, accused, sometimes penalized, and at least at one point executed for an array of socioeconomic transgressions ranging from gun-running, drug-dealing, to pornography, the Chinese-Filipino community had also had to suffer a number of flagrant and rampant human-rights violations, their economic potential circumscribed by retail-trade limits, and attacks on their presence being undertaken even by left-identified authors as recently as the nineteen-sixties. Their politicization as a community arrived after they had achieved economic clout (Hau 15-62) – a trend which appears to be occurring in reverse in the case of Filipino Muslims. In relation to the issue under study, the last wave of active film production in the Philippines, from the late ’seventies to the ’nineties, was also dominated by Chinese-Filipino producers, to the point where the martial-law government felt compelled to set up its own production arm and covertly supported the founding of a Filipino-owned studio to promote wholesome icons, reactionary narratives, and Hollywood-style aesthetics (David, Wages of Cinema 70-71).

Back to top

11011In terms of relations with the regional body-politic, we can take a cue from Michel Foucault’s brief foray into racial politics, originally delivered as a series of lectures at the Collége de France. In looking at European history during the Middle Ages, he noted that what eventually became racist discourse was originally a discourse of race war, which had the useful function of operating as a counterhistory to the then-standard justification and reinforcement of the power of sovereigns (51-84). Here we note – and it goes without saying, with a lot of caution – that three groups within the same nation-state interact diachronically: the Filipinos, who identify with the West, which in this case embraces both Washington and the Vatican; the Chinese, who were regarded as outsiders because of their association with East Asian culture; and the Muslims, whose allegiance extends to the Middle East by way of the larger archipelago comprising Indonesia and Malaysia, the two major Islamic republics of Southeast Asia. From the last reformulation, we can see that the Philippines, from one possible perspective, is not just an unacknowledged component in the term “Indo-Malayan archipelago,” it is also the outsider to Islam, with Christianized Filipinos constituting the minority in the region.

11011Thus a basis for belligerence emerges: just as the West-identified Christianized Filipinos are really Westerners manqué, not white-skinned enough, not to mention wealthy enough, even in relation to East Asians, neither are they adherents of the predominant religion within the immediate region. The connection with Indonesia and Malaysia becomes more direct when we look up the alleged sources of pirated discs and find that it is these two countries that are pinpointed by vendors and administrative officials alike (Inquirer News Service, Arab News). Although as of about a year ago, the Optical Media Board claimed to have closed down DVD-burning equipment involved in “pirate” operations (Valera, n.p.), the insistence by everyone on identifying the Philippines’ neighboring countries as the primary source of illegal products resonates with the larger issue of global terrorism. It were as if our Islamic neighbors first furnished our links to the current millennium’s historical villains, and now this too.

11011But on a level playing field, one in which the voices of the racialized others can speak out, one difference stands out prominently enough to suggest a rupture. The nature of the Muslims’ transgression this time is economic. It lays bare the hypocrisy of American distributors in their desire to police the market so that it would have no choice but pay through the nose for their overpriced products. Such global-scale ironies generate numerous local ones, and I’d venture one fond example: the Filipino legislator who first argued that the US distributors’ best way to combat piracy is by reducing their prices was none other than the daughter of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the dictator installed and supported by a series of American Presidents and businesses until he proved too unpopular to be profitable for them (Villafania, “RP Lashed for Rampant Piracy,” n.p.).

11011One vital process in the study that I still have to fully complete is a content analysis of the so-called Special 301 Reports of the International Intellectual Property Alliance. The IIPA is a US private-sector coalition (IIPA, “Milestones of the International Intellectual Property Alliance” 5). Its formation coincided with the growing concern of copyright-based industries over the emergence of technological advancements that enable consumers to appropriate, process, and reproduce pristine content that had formerly been accessible only through direct purchases from producers and their authorized distributors. As a so-far effective strategy for pursuing its objective of stringent policing of copyright-related acts, the IIPA held entire nations responsible for copyright violations within their territories, and enforced its will through the US Trade Representative. In effect, a country’s economic performance can be affected by the presence of so-called pirates, and anti-piracy measures become part of the preconditions for unimpeded trade relations with the US.

Back to top

11011The IIPA’s Special 301 Reports are annual evaluations of the state of various countries’ degrees of violation of the IP laws of the US. They openly provide no further justification for their existence other than that the US is determined to defend the IP interests of American companies and that it is willing to leverage its trading clout as a means of enforcing its policies. What makes the reports frustrating to evaluate is that they shift in tone and emphasis, not just from one country to another but also from one year to the next for the same country. They start in 1989 comprising eight mimeographed pages and continue that way for all of the 1990s. Then suddenly, during the year of the 9-11 attacks, they become book-length. The 2001 entry is in fact the shortest, at just under 630 pages, with the report on the Philippines running for ten pages – longer than the first complete report.

11011The reports’ recommendations range across a number of unstable categories, some of which get adjusted and even readjusted in later reports. From mildest to worst, these would be: Pending, presumably meaning that the IIPA is awaiting further reports or confirmations from IP companies or associations; Monitoring, which appears to indicate that the IIPA wishes to determine for itself whatever charges are being raised against a country under suspicion; Watch List, which is what most countries fall under, wherein a country has been notified via the report that it is in violation and must endeavor to prove good behavior; Priority Watch List, which applies to countries that are in serious IP rights violations requiring more intensive attention; and finally, Priority Foreign Country, which indicates that a country lacks adequate and effective protection of IP rights or fair and equitable market access to US citizens who rely on IP rights protection. Ukraine is the only country that merited this final designation during the current millennium. Other countries such as Brazil, Paraguay, China, India, Thailand, and Taiwan were declared PFCs at some time or other during the 1990s.

11011The Philippines only reached Priority Watch List status from Watch List and back. But the Special 301 Reports would be disturbing to any student of national security and surveillance. The reports mention specific shops in various areas – along Recto Avenue, for example, or even the recently burned Shopping Center at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. At some point the reports begin dropping the names of Filipino filmmakers who might be deprived of royalties, despite the fact that the so-called pirates of Quiapo avoid selling local titles. Even more awkwardly, the list of names includes artists who had long died, such as Gerardo de Leon, Ishmael Bernal, Eddie Romero, Nick Joaquin, Edith Tiempo, Antonio Molina, Jose Maceda, and Ernani Cuenco.

11011One interesting trend, however, concerns the call to violence. The Special 301 Reports focused on the Philippines tended to observe an escalating call for more raids, speedier court cases, and further legislation. True to colonialist strategy, they recommended the formation of agencies to oversee only specific problem areas and raised the specter of terrorism by echoing the late Jack Valenti’s unfounded claim that the pirates were assisting Islamic-extremist groups. Yet during the late 2000s, this type of agitational use of language suddenly died down. We may say that this reflected the triumph of the previous years’ excesses, but we can also look toward reports where shop owners began resisting raiding parties by using firearm weapons.

Back to top

11011Another development would also have occurred on the home front, from the perspective of the US. The media began criticizing the scare tactics being deployed by IP rights lawyers, mandating jail terms and million-dollar fines even for minors who downloaded files even without the intent of sharing those files with others. Events came to a head when Aaron Swartz, who helped develop RSS feed and Creative Commons and cofounded Reddit, was arrested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for allegedly using its guest account in order to download articles from the JSTOR digital library. When his plea bargain was rejected, he committed suicide and caused a backlash against IP rights prosecutions. That same year, 2013, Edward Snowden fled the US in order to leak information classified by the National Security Agency. As a result of these high-profile cases, attention turned to a non-American, Alexandra Elbakyan from Kazakhstan, whose website Sci-Hub [spell] performed the tremendous service to impoverished scholars of downloading articles from paywalled journals.

11011At this point, we find ourselves on the verge of an unprecedented opportunity in information science. Text and image files from most available periods of history are being uploaded online, at a rate that grows faster than anyone can track. Several new fields such as Digital Humanities are premised on what has been termed big-data analysis. The insistence on IP prosecution as well as unlimited copyright is being regarded as one of the final obstructions to this inevitable advance in our instant access to knowledge. So if we were to raise one final question, it may as well be: who exactly has been condemned?

Works Cited

“Amuck.” Word entry. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed Feb. 22, 2005.

Barlow, Aaron. The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Bettig, Roland V. Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property. Westview Press, 1996.

David, Joel. Interview with “Ronnie.” Quiapo, Manila. Jan. 29, 2005.

———. Wages of Cinema: Film in Philippine Perspective. Quezon City: Univ. of the Philippines Press, 1998.

De la Cruz, Julius. “Quiapo Underground.” Experiment Orange. Website publication. Accessed Feb. 21, 2005.

Diones, Allan. “‘Pirated’ Watches, Pinagkaguluhan ng mga Artista” [Actors Go Crazy Over “Pirated” Watches]. Abante Tonite. Website publication. Accessed Feb. 22, 2005.

Foucault, Michel. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collége de France, 1975-1976. Eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana. Trans. David Macey. New York: Picador, 1997.

Hau, Caroline S. On the Subject of the Nation: Filipino Writings from the Margins, 1981 to 2004. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Univ. Press, 2004.

Inquirer News Service, Arab News. “Optical Media Board Head Denies Anti-Muslim Bias.” Arab News. Website publication. Accessed Feb. 20, 2005.

International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). Special 301 Report on Copyright Protection and Enforcement. Annual. The Philippine sections per year are as follows: 2001, pp. 175-84; 2002, pp. 197-214; 2003, pp. 213-28; 2004, pp. 165-76; 2005, pp. 215-34; 2006, pp. 127-40; 2007, pp. 371-91; 2008, pp. 295-311; 2009, pp. 110-21; 2010, pp. 108-20; 2011, pp. 76-86; 2012, pp. 222-34; 2013, pp. 327-38; 2014, pp. 199-202.

———. “Milestones of the International Intellectual Property Alliance: Twenty Years of Global Copyright Reform (1984-2004).” Press release, October 2004.

Joshua Project: People Cluster Listings. Entries for “Filipino, Central” and “Filipino, Muslim.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2005.

“Man Jailed in 1st Copyright Violation Case.” BizReport, 7 Nov. 2005, Accessed 18 April 2006.

Pang, Laikwan. Creativity and Its Discontents: China’s Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses. Duke UP, 2012.

———. Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia: Copyright, Piracy, and Cinema. Kindle ed., Routledge, 2006.

Republic Act 9239. “An Act Regulating Optical Media, Reorganizing for this Purpose the Videogram Regulatory Board, Providing Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes.” Congress of the Philippines. Passed Jan. 13, 2004 and approved Feb. 10, 2004.

US Embassy Manila Public Affairs Section. “Piracy Has Become a Serious Problem in the Philippines.” Official website. Accessed Feb. 20, 2005.

Valera, Nini. “Edu Offers $5,000 Reward for Information on Pirates.” Website Publication. Accessed Feb. 20, 2005.

———. “RP Lashed for Rampant Piracy.” Metropolitan Computer Times. Website publication. Accessed Feb. 20, 2005.

Vitug, Marites Dañguilan and Glenda M. Gloria. Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Social Affairs, 2000.

Back to top

In the Beholder’s Eyes

A Foreword to Feel Beautiful

Jojo Devera and I share more than just the same pen-name initials. It was 2015, and then-President PNoy Aquino had just rejected the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’s recommendation for Nora Aunor to be one of that year’s recipients of the Order of the National Artist. The response I wrote was the most-shared post I did during the few years I spent traipsing around on social media. I organized as many of the sharers as I could gather into an online chat group, mostly in preparation for a special journal issue on media stardom that I was editing.

11011After I found that we had the same generational markers as well as some friends in common, I continued corresponding with Jojo on a regular basis. I was able to write on an auteurist project (produced, directed, written, starring, and sung by the artist we fondly called Ate Guy) even though no celluloid copies of the rough cut could be found after she abandoned the project and ordered all evidence of it destroyed. Jojo not only forwarded the only known remnant, on fast-degrading video, to me, but also secured Aunor’s permission after I concluded that the material could sustain a regular Web of Science-indexed journal article. Greatest Performance may have been exceptional, but Jojo’s support was just as remarkable. For a later project, I (and the team that solicited my assistance) managed to watch several now-rare titles from copies he provided, in order to finalize an “ultimate” list of canon-worthy Filipino films.

11011In fact, I already knew that I wasn’t the first scholar that Jojo assisted. Several other names, regarded as global authorities in areas that pertain to or focus on Philippine cinema, kept including him in their list of acknowledgments. It was therefore no surprise for Jojo and I to learn that we shared the same attitude regarding the necessity of upholding the public domain, in our function as collectors. All that this entailed was making our holdings available to everyone, if possible without even being asked to. Since my materials were primarily in printed form (alongside some knowledge gained from operating covertly during the Marcos martial-law dictatorship), I encountered less trouble. With the same brand of camp-inspired playfulness and transgressiveness, Jojo became someone I regarded as my high-profile counterpart, a lightning rod for people who mistook his attempts at selfless pastiche and appropriation for serious challenges at whatever authority they wanted to claim.

11011This would also be the same values we shared with Elwood Perez, the subject of the book he wrote. I remember speculating with some activist friends whether Elwood or his then-producer, Lily Monteverde, would wind up heavily penalized, if not worse, after Imelda Marcos made her extreme displeasure known over one of their “bold” projects, Disgrasyada (1979). Like another filmmaker, Ishmael Bernal, who had close calls with censorship officials and similarly upset the meddlesome Imelda with Manila by Night (1980), Elwood persisted and brought his craft to several peaks of achievement that still have to be matched by any of the artists who succeeded him. Unlike in Ishma’s case, however, organized film critics have been remiss in acknowledging Elwood’s record. The members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino could not bring themselves to recognize and honor Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen in 1977, but they never even acknowledged their own founding chair’s Ang Isinilang Ko Ba’y Kasalanan? and Elwood’s Masikip, Maluwang: Paraisong Parisukat; over a decade later, in 1989, they honored Ishma’s Pahiram ng Isang Umaga but not Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit; not long afterward, it was Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M.’s turn to be snubbed.

Back to top

11011Fortunately, a breakaway group of critics that I associated with provided Pacita M. with the prizes it deserved, as did most of the local award-giving bodies for that year (1991). This millennium, the installments of Elwood’s planned autobiographical trilogy on the Filipino artist’s condition (Otso in 2013 and Esoterika: Maynila in 2014) elicited gasps of wonderment from a few observers paying attention, but with nothing from self-proclaimed “credible” critical voices. But history, as one of its victims memorably uttered, will always wind up correcting anomalies and injustices in its own time (remarkably, and movingly, Gregoria de Jesus, the country’s first and fully deserving First Lady, maintained her truth despite having been grossly abused and betrayed by people who were supposed to be her comrades and protectors, and never was indemnified to the end of her life).

11011In an ideal world, everyone would be scrambling to ensconce Elwood in his rightful place as the most successful transformer of Pinas film genres, fusing edgy sociological insight with the subtle deployment of formal requisites, along with the one quality that endeared him to mass audiences as much as it encouraged know-it-alls to conclude that he had no notion of serious discourse: humor. In my defense, I need first to attend to an even more badly neglected talent from an earlier period of film practice, director-actor Gregorio Fernandez. But remember the canon project I mentioned? While I had long ago crossed the line in regarding auteurism as an ultimately futile and useless means of analysis, I agreed to participate therein in order to ensure, once and for all, that a “most definitive” list can be drawn up. The names regarded as our usual Second Golden Age suspects – Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, Mike de Leon – dominate, in quantitative terms (and I might add that after the First Golden Age’s Gerardo de Leon, next in line is Yoyong Fernandez). And Elwood Perez? Up there with next-placers Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Chito Roño – also names that might surprise local old-timers as much as it took the canon-deciders aback after watching and rewatching all of the old films we could lay our eyes on in over a decade of screenings and deliberations; feisty old Fernando Poe Jr. also snuck in, by having the Panday titles he directed honored as a series.

11011So the Elwood Perez recuperation project has only just begun, and I’m endlessly flattered and humbled to herald the very first major contribution by Jojo Devera, the Elwood Perez of Pinas film archiving. One final point that should seal the deal for any remaining doubters out there regarding this present volume’s worthiness: the only Philippine critics’ group that awarded an Elwood film was spearheaded by Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., a discontented straggler from the older award-giving organization (as I was). Mau took the matter of introducing Philippine cinema to a global audience in ways that organized critics only believed they could but never did, by founding and running the annual film festival of the Filipino Arts & Cinema International in San Francisco, California, these past several decades. In separate years, Elwood, Jojo, and I dropped by, to be recognized for our separate specializations. For obvious and admittedly selfish reasons I’ve always maintained that FACINE’s prizes trump those of our former organized colleagues, but to my pleasant surprise, the years have been consistently affirming that claim. Elwood should of course be able to demand much more than that, but every moment that he’s denied his rightful recognition begins to reflect more and more on people who’ve assumed the audacity to impose their poorly considered decisions on the rest of us. Our starting point should of course be Elwood’s entire body of work, but for a one-stop initial explainer, just Feel Beautiful.

Back to top


Anonymity & Its Discontents

The presence of a couple (so far) of unidentifiable Pinas cinema-focused film-evaluation websites on the social network, one of which has accumulated a following in the thousands, induces a strong measure of unease and disgust in me. It didn’t require any extensive Freudian cure to figure out the cause. In what now seems like a lifetime ago, right before I embarked on foreign graduate studies, I found myself on one side of a conflict with an organized band of self-identified critics. A movie reporter suspected of being a government agent provided them with an outlet – a tabloid that only a few people bothered to read – from which they launched their attacks on everyone whom they considered guilty of supporting pop-culture capitalism.

11011Obviously the most complicit sector, the mass audience, became the structuring absence in their critiques, since their supposed Marxist position was intended to benefit the “people,” presumably including pop-product consumers. Their write-ups were, I kid you not, extremely convoluted and horrendously unreadable, with fog-index ratings that would overshoot Robert Gunning’s comprehensibility charts several times over. The reason was easy to deduce even then: call yourself a progressive, then denounce the people who produce and support samples that prove to be popular, and you’ll find yourself crawling and jumping through all the bumps, hoops, and handicaps that your own logic instantly sets up on your way to the self-valorizing endpoint where you install yourself as society’s cultural messiah. Add to this an unexamined aspiration to be an alternate and superior source of literature and you wind up with attempts at obscure metaphorical flights and unnecessary syntactic complexities, closer to doggerel than to poetry.

11011No wonder nothing from that outburst of self-righteous pretension survived to the present. The only vexation that gang provided was in masculinistically identifying their perceived “enemies of the people” (while fearlessly maintaining their invisibility of course) – specifically artists who took the extra effort of investing their social and political critiques with popular appeal,[1] and critics (like me and a few others) who made sure that their troubles were rewarded with good notices, if nothing else. A cousin of mine, who was then an experienced lawyer and later became a judge but died recently from the pandemic, said he could help me file a case for libel if I wanted to; I replied that I was already on my final extension in postponing the commencement of my Fulbright grant, so I couldn’t focus on anything else until I completed the study program.

Back to top

11011Where the contemporary socnet-based reviewers and the self-declared progressive critics of that era intersected was, as I belatedly realized, in their cowardly resort to anonymity. I would even argue that their motives were similar, even if the current anonymous reviewers would, from the looks of it, deny any left sympathies. Both types attempt to draw from an association with the heroic record of freedom fighters (initially against colonialism, subsequently against fascism) evading tyrannical systems by operating underground. Both are also, ironically and hypocritically, impelled by essentially antipopular animosities – which is why you can find the same kind of logic in the current anonymous socnet reviewers: they’ll find and grasp onto any academically validated excuse to denounce successful practitioners, although they’ve made exceptions for certain auteurs.[2] This is the reason why their claim to objectivity can be easily deconstructed, if our school-trained population only knew how to go about the process; if their actual identities were known, it would be a far simpler matter of determining how they benefit from the practitioners and producers they support.

11011Best we can do for now is turn to an analogous recent situation in politics. In the wake of an extremely divisive electoral exercise that was actually more regionalistic than ideological, certain supporters on either side of conflicting party-led campaigns started adopting aliases before issuing hard-hitting social-media posts. Their aggrieved opponents would then conduct investigations to uncover who these authors were, and initiate name-and-shame blitzes once their identities were determined. It would be easy to comprehend the tendency of an avid supporter of either side to inevitably harbor and express hatred for the opposite side, inasmuch as religious fundamentalists would be encouraged to do the same, and guess where this secular tendency springs from. The resort to the concealment of identity would likewise be understandable, but morally indefensible in the same instance, whichever side happened to be benefiting from the ruckus. As in the case of the tabloid gang I mentioned, the Philippine state no longer looms as an enforcer of proper behavior with total authority over one’s existence, where one can be legally declared a menace to morality and/or national security without the benefit of a public trial and consequently openly apprehended and punished by state agents.

11011Owing to the lessons from that highly contentious political transition about a half-decade ago, political propagandists have known better since then than to attempt romantic underground-activism drama the way that we used to practice it during the martial-law era of Marcos Sr. Hence to put it bluntly, these current anonyms infesting film commentary need to be flushed out as well, their backgrounds and affiliations held up to the light, the way that the rest of us – including the very folks I have differences with today, unlike the deservingly forgotten tabloidists of yesteryear – allow ourselves. Then again, just to uphold my constant contrarianism, how else would we be able to have examples of failed criticism that needs to cower behind masked identities, if bad critics were to think twice before making their declarations and announcing their ratings?[3] They’d be ridiculed out of existence, even if they were too clueless to realize their own mediocrity.

Back to top

11011They may have a few thousand followers now, but then there will always be privileged people too miseducated to be able to appreciate anything local, much less pop-cultural. One side fulfills a pathological need in the other, and I’d venture to bring in organized critics while we’re on a search for people who ought to know the right thing to do and have the means of doing it. While I’d expect critics’ orgs to watch out for these samples and call them out for their adverse impact on critical practice, once more I can figure out why they’d rather pretend they have better things to attend to. Because who else would be invested in protecting failed practice using organizational prerogatives? That doesn’t excuse their passivity, and when one day the history of Pinas film criticism gets drafted, their inaction regarding reviewers who function as faceless terrorizers of otherwise serious practitioners (who also offer up their names for historical judgment) will definitely be listed under the category of destructive negligence.

11011The long-term game is what these pseudonymous losers will be unable to play, unless they draw on humongous self-promotional resources. Extensive (and still-growing) is the list of critics who thought their claims to fame entitled them to compile their output for posterity, and whose volumes will be forgotten as soon as they’re no longer around to hype them up themselves. Then again, how about more anonymous film reviewers joining the fray and eventually organizing their own invisible critics organization, complete with annual awards dispensing air trophies for untitled films made by hidden talents, with a secret anthology to celebrate their historical intervention? Might as well have as much imaginative fun as possible while it lasts.


[1] While I would caution against regarding awards as infallible indicators of prestige, the processes of the Order of the National Artist have been irreproachable for the most part, outside of the meddling of Philippine politicians. As of 2022, all of the artists who were singled out for attack by these state university-based know-it-alls have become recipients of the award. Not to play the game of whether or not these names deserved the recognition, but what the title of the order bestowed was exactly what they strove for – artistry made for the nation, intended to be comprehended and valued by the nation. Which is where I put an end to this line of argument.

[2] One fascinating point made by observers is that the more popular anonymous reviewer(s) seemed to prefer selected openly queer practitioners, a commendable progressive turn in and by itself. But without foregrounding the website’s familiarity or benefit (or lack of either) with its author’s or authors’ favored practitioners, this kind of bias can be described with any number of adjectives, all of them neutral or unflattering. To my mind, the worst possible descriptor for its championing of some (but not all) Others for not-all-that-exceptional accomplishments, while denigrating these Others’ rivals as lesser artists and using a strategy associated with subversive activists, is that it’s as conservatively unqueer as it’s possible to get. Anyone remember that social mechanism called the closet?

[3] Another point that must be raised, which might help explain my seeming ambivalence. In media I remain libertarian, so just as the tabloid writers of long ago were unfairly mistaken in thinking I wanted to censor criticism that I disliked, I just as strongly would insist that awful net-era authors go about their business, so long as we know who they are, and so that any potentially sensible reader could be better informed before she continues patronizing the garbage they spew. As an enthusiastic appreciator of certain achievements in “trash” cinema, I wouldn’t mind making room for trash criticism, which has always been around anyway and which serves an admittedly selfish purpose for my occasional bouts of insecurity: how else would I know that I’m not really as terrible as my hypercritical inner self often declares, if none of these lousy practitioners ever existed?

Back to top

Shout Out Film Festival citations

In line with my coverage of tiered film awards, first fully initiated by Kritika (1990-92) and currently exclusively practiced up to this point by the Filipino Arts & Cinema International (FACINE), I am providing the citations I wrote for the selected entries in the first Shout Out Film Festival of Pelikulove. The entries consisted of short films funded via subsidies from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the council of evaluators comprised me (as chair), Bibeth Orteza, and Glenn Sevilla Mas, with Pelikulove founder and chief creative producer Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil and Raffy Tejada, program director for the board of festival directors, present during deliberations to be able to answer queries that we, the evaluators, might raise. (The complete roster of filmfest directors included Ricky Lee, Rody Vera, Jeffrey Jeturian, Issa Manalo Lopez, and Cristina Juan.) At the end of this set of citations, I appended the description of the process that I read before we started announcing the entries, proceeding from the last listed selection to the first one. The highest compliment, in so far as I was concerned, was stated by the Pelikulove GM when she described the results as “the most progressive set of local awards” that she knew of.[1]

Back to top




11011• “How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad” (Indiopendente Productions, Roman Perez Jr., Mary Ann Perez, & Ferdy Lapuz) – for its compression of a social reality that functions as multi-leveled metaphor and cautionary tale in the same instance, with the several recent concerns over media, representation, and bureaucratic corruption raising the questions of who exactly are society’s prisoners, and who among us deserve to be imprisoned.

11011• “No Trespassing” (La Salle Film Society, Tanya Lopez, Julius de la Peña, & Dada Grifon) – for its ultimately moving explication of how age-old problems remain and beset people who are conveniently hidden from us because of their distant locale and several cultural and linguistic differences, and how their very existence is threatened because of our social superiors’ drive to attain wealth and prosperity at all cost.

11011• “Quarantine 5” (Sining Banwa, Reymark Boaloy, & Elmira Jasmin Broncano) – for its novel reformulation of the standard reunion scenario, friends who grew apart coming together to mourn someone who represented their past idealism, with the mediations and interventions of new-media technology.


11011• “Libro for Ransom” (Giya Productions, Ralph Morales, Khaye Medina, Arjanmar H. Rebeta, & August Espino) – for its concern for the endangered status of history in our revisionist present, without the usual grim-and-determined approach that makes progressive material difficult to approach.

11011• “When a Manananggal Loves a Man” (IPAG & Arlen Abanes) – for its formulation of a tragic situation – a mother who wishes only the best for a daughter who resists because of a love that has never succeeded before – leavened with a language and sensibility that can only be described as hip, healthy, and transgressive.

Particularly Noteworthy

11011• “Hypertext” (Maria Cristina Juan & Jovi Juan) – for its willingness to provide a slice of life far removed from the here and now of Philippine reality, in a foreign context that may soon become a reality for global citizens including overseas Filipinos.

Back to top


Characterization, Gold

11011• Paul Exequiel dela Cruz (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for the consistent and well-rounded development of a key collection of male characters from various social strata, while the central figure turns into the personification of bureaucrat corruption with a benevolent visage.

11011• Andrew Estacio (“Quarantine 5”) – for the careful delineation of former comrades with enough commonalities that signal their past experience as a tight-knit unit yet with enough indications of how they had grown apart, with the bonus of also revealing one final character, someone who will never be able to meet with them again.

Characterization, Silver

11011• Salvador Bolano (“Ilaw sa Labas ng Tahanan”) – for presenting a dialectical opposition between sisters confronting a fight-or-flight option in seeking justice for the deaths of their husbands.


11011• Paul Exequiel dela Cruz (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for the clever and ironic use of various settings as both plot device and a means of unveiling increasingly distressing scenarios for its viewpoint characters.

11011• Andrew Estacio (“Quarantine 5”) – for the nearly imperceptible buildup to mounting tension among a close-knit group of mostly ex-activists brought together by the death of their most committed member and their reckoning of how the past has shaped their understanding of the present.


11011• Raymund Barcelon (“When a Manananggal Loves a Man”) – for the humorous yet insightful combination of traditional expressions with millennial lingo in order to demonstrate the separation between generations as well as the emergence of the acceptance of differences in the younger generation.

11011• Dada Grifon and Members of the Cast (“No Trespassing”) who translated Filipino into their own language – thereby allowing Hiligaynon to function as a language of dispossessed Filipinos, articulated with the required native expertise and credibility despite the complex political crises confronting the characters.


11011• Viva Andrada O. Flynn (“Cooking with Love”) – for highlighting a loved one’s devotion to familial duties even at the expense of sacrificing personal happiness and paying tribute through continuation of her passion and good deed.

11011• Jovi Juan (“Hypertext”) – for literally transporting an overseas Filipina through her encounter with new forms of prospective relationships with posthuman entities.

11011• Ralph Morales (“Libro for Ransom”) – for demonstrating the importance of historical accuracy within the contemporary period of revisionism, ironically by revising an event dismissed in the past but using fact-based evidence to demonstrate the only acceptable way of moving forward, in effect holding up a magnifying glass both to see the past in better detail and to shine a brighter light on the present.

Back to top


Ensemble, Gold

11011• Ley Dornilla, Christine Fel Viernes, Milton Dionzon, John Arceo, Mary Jane Quilisadio, Wee Trinidad, Roem Ortiz, Ramil Satingasin Jr., Rose Fransz, Kathryn Baynosa, Jeffrey Lazaro, Kent Ontanieza, Harley Hojilla, Marion Opuan, Rodney Jarder Jr. (“No Trespassing”) – for the impressive realness of a wide array of characters in a milieu whose distance from middle-class urbanity results in difficulty for mainstream professionals to realize, with even the smallest players succeeding in maintaining a documentary-like authenticity.

Ensemble, Silver

11011• Elmira Jasmin Broncano, Jobert Grey Landeza, Breco Halum, Ma. Quency Castillo (“Quaratine 5”) – for meeting the challenge of a theatrical staging by making a collection of distinct personalities believable while also performing as entities separated yet brought together by internet media.


11011• Desiree Joy Briones (“Libro for Ransom”) – for conveying the ease and humor with which millennials deal with new-media activities while trying to solve professional and historical challenges.

11011• Elmira Jasmin Broncano (“Quarantine 5”) – for anchoring the various conflicting emotional outbursts of her comrades in a sympathetic and conciliatory acceptance of her friends’ differences with one another.

11011• Maria Cristina V. Macapagal (“When a Mananggal Loves a Man”) – for voicing the traditional argument in enforcing the separation between humans and monsters, based on an experience of heartbreak from the betrayal of a mortal lover.


11011• Soliman Cruz (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for the expert use of warmth and avuncularity in the process of revealing an unexpected depth of cynicism and depravity.

11011• John Arceo (“No Trespassing”) – for embodying the painful realization that the struggle for justice has no end in sight and exacts a tragic toll on the most helpless among us.

11011• Jobert Grey Landeza (“Quarantine 5”) – for the portrayal of a mature activist who has to own up to his youthful errors while confronting the loss of a dearly loved comrade.

Back to top



11011• Roman Perez Jr. (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for successfully depicting the conditions in a congested prison while building up to the horrific realization that criminal corruption by elected officials effectively imprisons the rest of society.

11011• Sari Saysay (“Quarantine 5”) – for the innovative arrangement of providing a singular indoor space wherein characters convey the experience of communicating via mobile devices as suggested by actors situated in close proximity with one another.

Visual Design

11011• Nathan Bringuer, DOP; Charley Sta. Maria, PD (“No Trespassing”) – for the authenticity of the depiction of the private and work spaces of disenfranchised rural citizens.

11011• Alex Espartero, DOP; JC Catigay, PD (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for the ironic use of setting, where a prison courtyard turns out to be a safer space than a privileged prisoner’s inner sanctum.

11011• PJ Tavera & Arjanmar H. Rebeta, DOP; Jeric Delos Angeles, PD (“Libro for Ransom”) – for incorporating historical and topical issues within an identifiably contemporary situation.


11011• AB Mactao (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for providing a series of unexpected transitions without losing believability by assuming the perspective of two innocents drawn into a hidden web of corruption.


11011• Jovi Juan (“Hypertext”) – for the spare use of subway sounds and announcements as well as phone keyboard haptics that contrasts with the characters’ stressful exchanges.

11011• Fatima Nerikka Salim (“How to Make an Effective Campaign Ad”) – for the subtle transformation from the camaraderie of the prison setting to the increasingly hostile domestic space where the voice of the candidate reveals a hidden monstrosity.

11011• Raymund John Sugay & Jayson Baluno (“No Trespassing”) – for the uncanny use of silence punctuated by an ominous drone that lends the proceedings a mysterious and inexplicable aura of danger.


11011• BJV Music Productions (“Quarantine 5”) – for the affective and heartfelt use of song as a means of remembering the past and commemorating the ideals it represented.

Back to top


Online Recognition Ceremony
September 24, 2012

Good evening, let me start by explaining the process we observed. It was a simple one really, because if your final results have the potential to get really complicated, it’s always best to agree on basic principles. Believe it or not, these steps were drawn from lessons that I learned from my membership in the Filipino Film Critics Circle, which hands out annual awards that many practitioners consider the most widely coveted.

11011Since I was an insider during their early years, I can tell you that a lot of the procedures we followed then are no longer being observed today. But I’ll leave you to figure out what those are. My plan was for the evaluation team to watch all the entries together and discuss each one right afterward, but since many of the workshop participants did not meet their deadlines, we had to watch individually, as each one was submitted. We also planned to convene with the filmmakers to inquire about their intentions and production difficulties, but for the same reason that did not become feasible any longer.

Back to top

11011So we set an appointment for an online deliberation session, with some Pelikulove officials attending so they could fill us in on any questions we might ask. We agreed on a basic number of groups, similar to the basic challenge that each production team would face: recognition for writing, performance, technical achievement, and overall excellence. The refinement of the recognition within each group was an innovation that I was able to introduce along with another member of the local critics group, who resigned like me, for many reasons including the highly unsatisfactory option of conducting traditional film awards.

11011What I mean by trad awards is the one you’re familiar with. Categories are fixed, and a fixed number of nominees are announced, and then during a special ceremony, the winner of each category is proclaimed. It probably works for beauty contests and presidential elections, but my former colleagues were academics like me, and that’s not how academia works. There’s a standard everyone has to meet to attain tenure and win promotion, with a non-negotiable point system to follow. So if no one in your batch of instructors makes the cut, the university replaces everyone with other candidates. If everyone makes it, that’s a headache for the administration’s budget, but on the other hand, your department gets bragging rights about having faculty who can survive in the highly competitive world of globally recognized research and publication.

11011So when Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. (FACINE’s founder) and I set up our critics orgs, we made sure that we would have this type of system. You’ll have certain basic prizes available for film and performance and tech achievements, but within those areas, you can have no winner or one winner or several winners. Also, the types of winning might differ from one another, and we gave ourselves leeway to announce that. You’ll notice that here when the writing awards get announced. In cases where two or more entries provided impressive work, but some faced greater challenges than others, we used a tiering system – gold and silver and so on.

11011We also had a few later rounds via Messenger chat, where we talked about whether we might have overlooked or misclassified some of the achievements we recognized. In those cases, we made adjustments and additions. This is why for a short film competition, we were able to come up with not just several categories, but also mostly several winners per category. Compare this to the critics’ awards for short film, where only a small number of entries are announced as nominees, and only one awardee is declared. During the awards nights that I attended, I went home angry and brokenhearted for the nominees who weren’t announced as winners, who put on a brave face and tried to strike up civil and spirited conversations. This also comes from knowing how some winners were picked – mostly from camaraderie, and sometimes in order to punish the other nominees.

11011I’m sharing this because I always believed that the artistic process can only be completed with critical thinking, and that artists should be conversant with critical ideas in film and media and cultural studies, just as critics should be informed about the artistic process, especially when they set out to write on any specific film. I always get criticized by other critics for saying this, but I’m now at the stage where I can say I don’t care and, more important, that they are seriously in error. No wonder we have so many problems not just in culture but also in politics.

11011Final words for everyone – whatever you think you’ll be going through after we announce our selections, we, all your elders, went through the same things before. If you were hoping for a specific recognition and didn’t make it, that’s actually better than winning and deluding yourself that you have nothing more to prove. (At least that’s how it worked for me.) If on the other hand you won something, just think that it’s your first work so you had it too easy. You’ll need to convince everyone and yourself that you have to keep getting better in order to have proof that you deserved the early recognition you got. This year’s National Artist winners for Film – I was able to observe how they conducted themselves after early triumphs and frustrations. For them, the recognition they got was just icing on the cake. The real prize always lay in the future achievements that they planned for themselves.

11011With that introduction, we’ll proceed to the awards for technical achievement….


[1] Update: I belatedly remembered the first and only set of Philippine film festival awards accompanied by citations. It was for the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival, whose board of jurors was chaired by Rolando S. Tinio. The awards format followed traditional practice and generated heated responses from some filmmakers associated with the losing entries, since all the available prizes went to the same film, Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, with a special prize for technical excellence for Mike de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising. The citations were distributed via the filmfest awards ceremony brochure (which I was able to read) and a now-lost publication of the Metro Manila Commission. Written in Tinio’s impeccable and dexterous prose, the citations unfortunately indulged in elitist overvaluation of the winning entry while nitpicking on the other films’ shortcomings. Aside from the easy-way-out of jurors keeping silent since then, this may have been one of the reasons for their avoidance of citations in subsequent award-giving efforts.

Back to top

From Cloud to Resistance (appendix)


Although a stand-alone post, this section should be read in conjunction with the original article, “From Cloud to Resistance.” Click here for Part 1 (“The Problem of Our Critical Approaches”) and here for Part 2 (“Toward a More Responsive Critical Practice”). Here’s a link to this section’s Note on Sources.

In the same way that I listed titles that came closest to fulfilling the highest ideal prescribed by “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” I had a separate listing of films that were arguably seen as “firmly within the ideology and to be completely under its sway, but which [turned] out to be so only in an ambiguous manner.” Not only was this group unwieldy by necessity, I also found it inadvisable to insist on elaborating on the editorial’s fifth category once I had pointed out its importance, rather than wander down the admittedly meandering and subjectively determined pathway that this appendix section explores.

11011Most of the titles in the list I mentioned were drawn from the counter-canon book project I started working on over ten years ago with a now-defunct entertainment publication. The volume is still undergoing finalization and ought to come out in a few months. The process involved the selection of films by an inhouse team of media practitioners, who voted on the titles they deemed worthy of inclusion, rewatching borderline choices as many times as necessary until they could arrive at a consensus. The coverage would be comprehensive, starting with the earliest available samples all the way to a recent end date. The target number was one hundred titles, but this was of course impossible to maintain; the final tally is closer to 120. My role as project consultant was to prepare the team for specialized instances of historical, high-art, or low-genre screenings, and write citations for the films that the team approved for inclusion.

11011The fact that several films lionized during their time could not sustain their reputation, while a larger number of overlooked works unexpectedly held up better at present, should not surprise anyone familiar with the complex and contentious canonization processeses that experts encounter in art and literature. Nevertheless, the historical implications of the team’s left-field choices impressed me enough to sound a call for political-economy studies of Philippine film production houses and policy institutions at the close of “From Cloud to Resistance.” Also, although certain already-canonized works were accommodated in the list, many of these turned out more definitely reactionary, borderline or outright fascistic even, particularly in terms of their downgrading or exclusion of Othernesses: Lamberto V. Avellana’s Anak Dalita (1956) and Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa (1959) from the First Golden Age, and several of the Filipino Film Critics Circle’s choices through the years.

Back to top

11011It would prove more rewarding, for example, to jettison the FFCC’s very first best-film winner, Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976), in favor of the same director’s The Passionate Strangers (1966), a film noir that tracks the investigation of the murder of a labor leader and uncovers neocolonial intervention and interracial liaisons in the process. The martial law-era sex films, denounced during their time for allegedly helping the regime distract the mass audience’s attention from the then-percolating anti-dictatorship movement, deserve credit for highlighting the poverty and decadence that induces the least-privileged to seek solace or resistance in carnal gratification: Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights (1985) deservingly recovered lost ground, but Elwood Perez’s Silip (1985) proved to be metatextually indispensable in functioning as a witty and transgressive answer film to the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines’s most celebrated production, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (1982), while Mel Chionglo’s lesser-known Sinner or Saint (1984) deployed naturalism to track the journey of a defiantly wayward housewife and succeeded in implicating the moralistic society that insists on judging her at every turn. An effective summation of these films’ common theme of courtly love games turning deadly when played by the underprivileged, is proffered by William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso (1986), made ostensibly for the Marcos era’s censorship-exempted Manila Film Center but released after the collapse of the regime.

11011The Pinoy sex film was an outgrowth of melodrama, much-maligned historically for its appeal to female viewers (which helps explain the grudging respect accorded sex cinema, for its orientation toward male viewers). Yet certain offbeat samples demonstrate more deconstructive intelligence in this area of practice than in, say, action or art films that tend to be dominated by males on either side of the profit-vs.-prestige divide. Armando Garces’s Sino ang Maysala? (1957), from the First Golden Age, foregrounded its production history by naming the characters after the actors who portrayed them – even calling Paraluman “Carmen” because the role was originally intended for Carmen Rosales – and thereby enabled a reel-to-real correlation when “Bobby” Vasquez was actually arrested for unruly behavior. Leroy Salvador’s Badlis sa Kinabuhi (1969) made use of a dramatic race-against-time recovered testimony of a traumatized underage witness in order to facilitate the acquittal of a woman accused of killing her abusive stepfather.

11011Surprisingly, and unexpectedly, the filmic repudiation of the patriarchal excess fostered by Marcos’s declaration of martial law occurred in two bodies – one an individual’s and another an institution’s, both closely associated with the regime. The individual was Nora Aunor, whose full-scale attempt at critiquing her “superstar” status inhered in her post-Marcos auteurist project, Greatest Performance, which she attempted to rub out before she could finish it; the institution was Viva Films, sequestered (though subsequently cleared) by the Presidential Commission on Good Government after the fall of the Marcoses, which spearheaded a series of glossy strong-women projects and conditioned the fan base of the country’s final movie star, Sharon Cuneta, to welcome her transition from teenybopper to independent woman.

11011The Viva Films output, like that of Aunor, tended to be downgraded by the FFCC because of its association with the regime, among other reasons. This persisted even with Lino Brocka’s post-Marcos (and post-Cannes) switch to developing projects for the outfit, including a number of Cuneta films, as well as his merger of politics and commercial appeal in Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990), whose success on both fronts caught him by surprise and led to his attempts to commission a series of similar projects – all cut short by his sudden demise. The first major local artist to accept a Viva-melodrama assignment was Laurice Guillen, whose Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap (1984) not only affirmed the rich potential available in still-scorned komiks-sourced material but also signalled the audience’s readiness to accept the narrative of a woman directly confronting a patriarchally dominated system, and winning.

Back to top

11011The Viva contribution persisted beyond the Marcos era and even introduced postfeminist notions: in Eddie Garcia’s Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig? (1987), women realize a solidarity among themselves by rejecting familial arrangements, while in Chito Roño’s Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (1990), a network of women succeeds in excluding the interests of men by openly misbehaving against (though eventually reconciling with) one another. In fact, Elwood Perez’s Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit (1989), an Aunor-starrer regarded as the ultimate Filipino melodrama, can be considered an acknowledgment of the triumph of what became known then as the Viva Films house look, a successful branding strategy that relied on surface gloss and visual excess that, to be sure, was used in a number of insidious ways as well.

11011A extraordinary achievement in Philippine melodrama, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s independently produced Milagros (1997), made use of elements of sex-film intrigues in order to disclose the strength and nobility behind a “ridiculous” woman’s willingness to repay her just-deceased impoverished father’s debt by servicing an all-male household while aspiring to consummate a pilgrimage to a mystical destination; more than Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig (1976), Milagros may be espoused as the Philippines’s supreme “category e” sample, operating on several prodigious levels of authorial, generic, narratological, and cinematic aporias. From an institutional perspective, the now-historical millennial success of romantic comedies enjoyed primarily by Star Cinema (including two exemplary mature-woman texts featuring Sharon Cuneta, Olivia M. Lamasan’s Minsan Minahal Kita from 2000 and Jose Javier Reyes’s Kung Ako Na Lang Sana from 2003) can also be traced to the production traditions set by Viva Films. In fact the genre-transformative samples of the primary rom-com practitioner of the present, Irene Villamor’s Meet Me in St. Gallen (2018) and On Vodka, Beers, and Regrets (2020), were both Viva-produced.

11011The institution has dominated the Philippines’s streaming subscription services via its Vivamax arm, and has inevitably participated in the politicization of film-prod discourse mentioned in the opening of “From Cloud to Resistance.” Of the contending filmmakers, right-wing apologist Darryl Yap has in fact provided an indispensable entry, Sarap Mong Patayin (2021), which must be ascribed for now to an idiot-savantish fluke, whereas Vince Tañada’s artistic promise lies in his future attempts. Other directors with avowedly political intentions worth noting would be Joselito Altarejos (with an ongoing trilogy that expresses leftist commitment in terms of queer sexual preferences) and Joel Lamangan, who has been able to recently fulfill an early commitment to infuse entertainment with social discourse. A definite “category e” tinkerer who started out by specializing in Ishmael Bernal’s multicharacter innovations is one more Vivamax talent, Lawrence Fajardo, while long-term practitioner Jun Lana, with his recent non-Viva product Big Night (2021), has proved himself ready to confront the tricky challenge of upending conventional-seeming material with creative handling.

A Note on Sources

The right-wing content of specific entries in the First Golden Age canon was an occasional topic of online chats that I had with filmmaker Lawrence Fajardo, affirmed whenever I rewatched the titles we discussed. Andrew Leavold’s rediscovery of Silip occasioned a galvanizing reconsideration of one of the many (typically dismissed) sex films screened at the now-defunct Manila Film Center. Sino ang Maysala?’s metaradical achievement was impressed on me by the great film scholar Johven Velasco, more convincingly articulated in his posthumous volume Huwaran/Hulmahan Atbp. (University of the Philippines Press, 2009). The early left-field properties of specific Viva Films productions as well as the generic accomplishment of Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit were subjects of exchanges I had with Patrick Flores during the early 1990s. Most of my insights on Milagros derived from neither the recognition provided by the FFCC nor the few (frankly unimpressive) reviews by its members, but from discussions with Bliss Cua Lim and the late Agustin Sotto, right after the entry was screened in a Filipino film retrospective at the Lincoln Center in New York City. The text that alerted me to the eccentric merits of Sarap Mong Patayin, along with a few other recent titles, was the indispensable 2021 monograph by Epoy Deyto, titled Post-Dilawan Cinema and the Pandemic (downloadable for free at his Missing Codec blog). Jerrick Josue David cited Big Night as his preferred title for its year of release. During the historical moment when watching films has attained a level of unnecessary difficulty, the recommendation of friends has become the primary means for me to seek out which titles to track down.

Back to top

From Cloud to Resistance (2nd of 2 parts)


[Click here for the previous (opening) installment. To go to the following sections, click here: Continuities; Final Category; Filmic Implications; Notes & Works Cited. An Appendix is posted separately.]

Before concluding our consideration of the applicability of what has proved to be an effective and engaging, though admittedly difficult, set of prescriptions from an avowedly progressive Western sector, I ought to stress that the goal here is not to substitute one set of left-appropriated dogmas (either the orthodox left’s or the FFCC’s) with another. Rather, the goal is to explore a new, necessarily open-ended approach to see what destinations it might lead to, not just for Filipino critics but for local practitioners as well.

11011In the previous half, we considered the types of films that Comolli and Narboni warned against accepting wholesale – those that unironically uphold reactionary material using conventional technique. They caution that even with “political” subject matter (as well as the “realist” orientations advanced by advocates of cinéma-direct, promoted in the Philippines by the UPFI’s predecessor, the UP Film Center), the uncritical adoption of standardized narrative treatments and the assumption that the depiction of what is real is capable of presenting truth: these need to be regarded as complicit with the arsenal of tricks used by the dominant ideology to maintain the delusive goal behind acceptable capitalist entertainment, which is to lull audiences into accepting the certainties that their respective social spheres assure them as the reality they recognize and operate from within.

11011Hence the authors’ opprobrium regarding artists who identify as progressive but who fail to realize that any alternative they set up to replace the system they rail against “takes no account of the fact that any other system is bound to be a reflection of the one [they wish] to avoid.” In much the same way, they assert that “every film is political” (underscoring theirs), which makes it essential to create a category to problematize films “which have an explicitly political content … but which do not effectively criticize the ideological system in which they are embedded because they unquestioningly adopt its language and its imagery.” This categorization would suffice to apply to the general run of nearly all the movies identified as explicitly or metaphorically against the historic martial-law dictatorship, whether made during the Marcos regime or afterward, regardless of the responses of the FFCC or European film festivals. The only challenge here would be to point out how and why these texts fall short.

11011As I also strove to demonstrate previously, not all such attempts failed. But the recognition provided by local taste-mongers would prove to be inadequate barometers of these film samples’ worth: some garnered limited rewards, many more passed under the radar, so to speak, and in a few cases even endured disapprobation from people who should have known better. The case of our most avowedly political filmmaker, Lino Brocka, is instructive: his exposure to an arena of exhibition and distribution that rewarded him for conforming to its idea of what a proper Third-World artist should be, merely served to delay his own growth as practitioner. But even with his too-short persistence into the post-Marcos era, Filipino filmmakers were afforded a useful model for emulation, or even resistance.

Back to top


It is in this recognition of Brocka’s own martial law-era discourse extending beyond the first Marcos presidency that we find works like the contemporary contending releases, one favoring and the other disavowing the era of military dictatorship. (The psychosis that induces an artist to believe that any instance of tyranny can be justified deserves its own separate treatment, which this article unfortunately cannot cover satisfactorily; the forces of reaction may resolve to find ways to upgrade their own aesthetic practice, which is tantamount to an oxymoronic pursuit, but the goal for progressive players is to leave them behind, rather than match their mediocrity.)

11011A few locally produced post-Marcos-era texts may be regarded as incontrovertibly fulfilling the requirement of simultaneously challenging both ideological material and ideological form, in effect honoring the legacy of the Second Golden Age practitioners better than most academic write-ups and formal recognition mechanisms (here or in Europe – same difference) have been able to do. Once more, we need to exercise caution in going over these samples: a couple succeeded in garnering institutional honors, but the rest continue to reside in a limbo that local critics have been unable to break open because of their tendency, per Comolli and Narboni, to aim “either for speculation (commentary, interpretation, de-coding even) or for spacious raving[1] … [rather than providing] a rigidly factual analysis of what governs the production of a film (economic circumstances, ideology, demand and response) and the meanings and forms appearing in it, which are equally tangible.”

11011Hence the admittedly delimited practice of post-Marcos “martial-law cinema” will benefit from the close evaluation of works like Chito S. Roño’s Curacha: Ang Babaeng Walang Pahinga (1998), intended as a sequel of the same director’s Marcos-era debut, Private Show (1984), but opening with an unexpectedly marvelous incident that implicitly juxtaposes the Catholic establishment’s seizure of political power with military rebels’ less-successful attempts; Mario O’Hara’s Pangarap ng Puso (2000), a fabular tale that proceeds to subvert historical perception alongside its characters’ political radicalization; Jeffrey Jeturian’s Tuhog (2001), the realization of a script originally intended as a production of the Marcos film agency, which exposes the manner in which sex films bastardize their underprivileged real-life source materials for the sake of maximizing lucrative sensationalism; Khavn’s Balangiga: Howling Wilderness (2017), a dramatization of the country’s first 20th-century colonization trauma that focalizes the unbearable via the perspective of a child responding to his infernal environment with wonderment and courage and heartbreak; and Brillante Ma Mendoza’s Resbak (2021), an ostensibly standardized staging of the impact of bureaucrat-capitalist corruption on a typical slum resident that builds up to the title’s realizable vision of retributive justice in the face of the social order’s self-restoration. For a cinéma-direct sample, I can only name for now a special case, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s Indigo Child (2016), the coverage of a play on military torture wherein the psychiatrically damaged victim’s accounts are complemented by digital mediations that raise essential questions of historical credibility.

11011One may insist on a dogmatic reading of the Cahiers du Cinéma editorial in order to point out a number of other titles I overlooked. At this stage, however, it would be expedient to foreground an assumption whose ubiquity could be taken for granted in French cinema – so much so that it did not have to be articulated beside the many other words of caution specified by the authors. This would be the relative affordability of film production in the First World, coupled with the reliability of film subsidy and patronage in Europe. As a result, a wide array of film practice would be more financially viable in the specific historical context that the article addresses – a condition that the contemporary digitalization of film comes close to approximating, though still with vital differences in place.

11011Hence the added criterion that I took pains to observe, for which I consistently get denounced by apologists for the UPFI/FFCC axis: the requisite of popular appeal or, as perfectly phrased by a Pinay filmmaker, observing a non-negotiable respect for the mass audience[2] (it can never be emphasized enough that capitalists should be allowed to recover their expenses only as a strategic measure, to be able to finance more projects). Not all works that follow this principle garner commercial success, inasmuch as the elements that factor into this type of result are actually rarely perfectly conducive with one another. Yet we should insist on recognizing and respecting any instance where a filmmaker intends to ensure that her production project recover its cost, and once more, just to be clear: not as a means of enriching her investor, but for the sake of maintaining the continuation of production activity.

11011Nevertheless, in what should be regarded as an unnatural, opportunistic, yet also ultimately workable option, a privileged circle of Filipino practitioners has been able to parlay the support of the film-culture elite in Pinas (usually working in conjunction with European filmfest impresarios) into sustaining the production of a series of deliberately alienating material that purports to provide political or historical discourse. Understandably, global scholars without immediate access to Philippine popular culture will have no other choice except to work through this type of output. Filipino scholars who do the same are exercising their right to write according to their preference, but we should hesitate in accepting their claim to progressivity, regardless of the frameworks and buzzwords they trumpet. For if a Philippine practitioner has been able to convince Western (or Westernized) investors that they could assuage their postcolonial guilt by throwing money at a film project that has minimal or no chance of earning back its expense, then that may be counted as a separate though minor victory all its own, with concomitant Western acclaim as frosting on the madeleine. Critics groups might believe that some glamour rubs off on them when they mimic Western award-givers, but the only historical question that must be asked here is devastatingly simple: how authentic is a product that makes use of native elements but guarantees that only non-natives will be able to tolerate it?

Back to top

Final Category

A corollary to this concern for popular acceptance is the manner in which films that belong to the very first category mentioned by Comolli and Narboni – where they described the majority of film productions as belonging to this order of output that neither politicizes its material nor devises ways to expose, if not subvert, the mechanisms of ideology – should be treated. In the era of new media, when the possibility of comprehensive commentary has become increasingly realizable, the act of dismissing an entire group of entries should not be regarded as tantamount to ignoring them altogether. What should be cultivated by what they termed scientific criticism is discursive action, with activism always a potential ideal. A textual failure, for example, requires that film critics “look into the way the ideological system and its products merge at all levels: to study the phenomenon whereby a film being shown to an audience becomes a monologue, in which the ideology talks to itself.”

11011In fact, Comolli and Narboni prescribe a more passive response to their fifth category (out of seven – the final two were covered in the previous section): “we have absolutely no intention of joining the current witch-hunt against [these films]…. They criticize themselves, even if no such intention is written into the script, and it is irrelevant and impertinent to do so for them. All we want to do is show the process in action.” The advantage of hindsight allows us to see that the more mature a national industry has become, the more films than in any category, other than the first, wind up in this category. Unsurprisingly, these films could be mistaken by careless observers as classifiable in the first category, “at first sight [belonging] firmly within the ideology and to be completely under its sway, but which turn out to be so only in an ambiguous manner. For though they start from a non-progressive standpoint, ranging from the frankly reactionary through the conciliatory to the mildly critical, they have been worked upon, and work, in such a real way that there is a noticeable gap, a dislocation, between the starting point and the finished product.”

11011The article’s elaboration on this category, about as long as the first one, turns on an awareness and acceptance of deconstructive principles. This places young Filipino critics at a grave disadvantage, since this now-standard Western approach still has to be introduced in the country’s secondary and core university curricula. Intensive self-study in poststructural philosophies and methods should therefore be part of the basic training for aspiring critical practitioners, inasmuch as the right-wing clericalist domination of Philippine education still has to be dismantled.[3] Other historical and theoretical contexts presumed in the article will also have to be pursued more intensively in specialized film studies, starting with the film-realist concepts of André Bazin and the politique des auteurs of the New-Wave participants in Cahiers du Cinéma (already mentioned in the previous section’s historical contextualizing).[4] All of these will have to be worked through even before the study of deconstruction can be initiated, which in turn will bring the serious critic up to date on the theoretical concepts in film theory right after Bazin effectively declared an end to concerns with the specificities of the medium.

11011For these reasons I would recommend caution in the two opposed tendencies we find in politicized Philippine film criticism: either a leapfrogging from the humanist pseudo-Marxism underlying the auteurism that enables critics everywhere to imagine themselves in conversation with the global film community, to contemporary abstractions in identity or intersectional activism, usually adopted without the authors’ appreciation of how these were rooted in a now seemingly distant call to read Marxist texts anew and reconfigure these discoveries in the constantly evolving present, thereby enabling right-wing cooptation; or a return to some form of Marxist orthodoxy, usually affirmed by organizational practice, with necessarily a resolute denial of how circumstances in the specific ideas’ historical context exposed the weaknesses and inadequacies of the ideas in question, and how these had to be replaced with more useful applications. As usual in materialist cultural studies, a tracking of the circuits of pelf and power will reveal which critical institutions benefit from these twin regressive ideologies of auteurism and high-brow aestheticization of film discourse; concerned critical thinkers owe it to themselves, the mass audience, and outstanding practitioners, to identify the UPFI/FFCC and call to question its members’ claims to progressive credibility, instead of allowing the axis to trap them in an unnecessary, unproductive, and unending orbit.

Back to top

Filmic Implications

All this hemming and hawing on my end though is in fact a prelude to a final spot of brightness. Despite the editorial authors’ near-virtual dismissal of films in this fifth group (sometimes called “category e” – see Appendix), the study of these types of works and the artists who created them has constituted the largest body of film criticism in the West’s politicized journals. It provided an impetus for revaluating the earlier Cahiers batch members’ appreciation of the works of Alfred Hitchcock as well as their recuperation of B-(and lower-)film productions. The challenge is something that only genuine film connoisseurs will be able to welcome, rather than fraudsters who make a pretense at upholding outmoded political ideals and use their commitments as an excuse to spend as little time as possible in repeatedly watching entries that they admit fondness for, delving into the films’ production circumstances, inspecting how these apparatuses reconfigure themselves as transmitters of pleasure, querying how their appreciation of the films’ political achievements matches or departs from the audiences’ response, and so on.

11011One means by which these types of more definitively materialist and observational criticism can be facilitated is via a more intensive awareness of the political economy of the studios and governmental institutions responsible for film production and policy implementation. Even in the instance of “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” this lack was immediately noted, critiqued, and addressed by Western film scholars. The not-so-great news for progressively inclined Filipino critics is that these studies will also have to be undertaken, if we desire to have more solid grounding for the practice of post-canonical, anti-auteurist, genuinely politically responsive film appreciation in the Philippines.

Back to top


The idea of using the Cahiers du Cinéma editorial to critique the state of Pinas film criticism stemmed from intensive discussions with the participants of a short Pelikulove online course held during March-April 2022; thanks to enrollees Manuel A. Alindogan Jr., Ace Balbarez, Roland Cartagena, Luna Sicat Cleto, Christine Marie L. Magpile, Homer B. Novicio, Ryan Oquiza, Josh Paradeza, and Jianne Piguing, and auditors Jerrick Josue David, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, and Raffy Tejada. The article is for unaffiliated Philippine film critics, among whom Jojo Devera, Epoy Deyto, and Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. have continued to provide me with useful insights over the years. I can only keep hoping that my output becomes worthy of the high standards they maintain for themselves.

[1] This may have been a typo for “specious,” although the non-literal definition of “spacious” can also make sense, in a less useful way.

[2] This was stated in a number of interviews by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, which I recollected in the obituary I wrote on her. See “The Carnal Moral of a Brutal Miracle,” Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part II: Expanded Perspectives) (Quezon City: Amauteurish Publishing, 2019): 24-28.

[3] One of the ironies in the ongoing years-long attempt to revise the country’s education curriculum is that the participants are mostly associated with secular institutions. The members of the conservative left, having been rooted in state universities (where they once epitomized the only radical option during the latter Cold-War era, roughly coexistent with the Marcos dictatorship), now benefit too immensely from the control of perks, positions, grants, exchanges, and so on, to be able to initiate significant adjustments in their ideological positions. This resembles the “retreat” of Western leftists to the halls of academia after May ’68, with one crucial difference: those practitioners made use of a free and stable environment in order to continually develop their critique of orthodox Marxism, to make it more useful for contemporary conditions.

[4] Although acknowledging André Bazin’s contributions, the Cahiers editorial writers preferred to endorse Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary praxis. They also repudiated the phenomenological positivism of the then-fashionable Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as the mechanical materialism of orthodox Marxists and the debates on economic determinism that it generated, while acknowledging the usefulness of Louis Althusser’s critiques of both Stalinism and Marxist humanism as well as the semiotic tradition that emerged from Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic studies. I am unaware which of Mikhail Bakhtin’s texts were already available in France around this time, although Comolli and Narboni evince an awareness of dialogism. I would strongly suggest an inspection of the carnivalesque for the purpose of furthering progressivity in media practice, but this notion seems to have bypassed the authors.

Appendix: “Category E” Samples
[Posted separately]

Works Cited

Comolli, Jean-Luc, and Jean Narboni. “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism.” Editorial. Cahiers du Cinéma 216 (October 1969): 11-15. Trans. Susan Bennett. Screen 12.1 (Spring 1971): 27-36. See as well The Red Years of Cahiers du Cinéma (1968-1973), ed. Daniel Fairfax (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021), for a fuller grasp of this era. The book is in 2 volumes (1, Ideology & Politics; and 2, Aesthetics & Ontology), and may be availed in open-access formats directly from the publisher in certain locales.

David, Joel. “Pinoy Film Criticism: A Lover’s Polemic.” Manila Review 3 (August 2013): 6-8.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement Image and Cinema 2: The Time Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson, Barbara Habberjam, and Robert Galeta. New York: Athlone Press, 1983 & 1985.

“On Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines: A Roundtable Discussion.” Ed. Patrick F. Campos. Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 13.1 (June 2016): 148-87.

[Click here to return to the opening section and here to proceed to the Appendix]

Back to top

From Cloud to Resistance (1st of 2 parts)


[Click to go to the following sections: What Dreams Have Gone; Geneses; Refinements; Notes. Here are further links for the separately posted second of two parts as well as for the Appendix.]

You are so fortunate, a colleague from my long-ago activist past told me, that the debate over political ideals is now being conducted in terms of rival releases. Typically I neither assented nor demurred, since I didn’t know how to tease out the implications of the statement. For one thing, I wasn’t in the spaces where the conflicts were taking place – the cinemas of the urban capital, rather than in one or more of the streaming services available to overseas viewers. For another thing, I was familiar with the “canon” of anti-dictatorship texts, most of them films and books, with certain netizens bravely circulating links to digital files intended to showcase the most vital among the films that took a stance against the regime of Ferdinand Marcos (Sr.), some of them even while he was still in power. (A similar collection of PDFs has also been in circulation, and I enjoin readers who have the hard-drive space to download what they can, if only out of duty to liberal commitments, while taking care to continue reading.) Finally the national university’s film institute, which I was instrumental in founding, announced a number of simultaneous courses on film and martial law, which I imagine draw up screenings of works intended to highlight the most exemplary samples, possibly many of the same titles that appear in the aforementioned collection of links.

11011With the essential proviso that I have neither seen the twin battling films of the moment, nor glanced at any of the so-far unposted syllabi of the University of the Philippines Film Institute courses, I maintain that it would still be possible to draw up a critique of contemporary critical approaches to what we might term “martial-law cinema” in the Philippines. The critique necessarily has to begin with the institution that purports to provide guidance in endorsing supposedly appropriate methods for evaluating cinema: the UPFI itself, which was molded by personalities associated with the Filipino Film Critics Circle (hereafter FFCC), whose most senior member claimed critical credibility on the basis of belonging to a group that handed out incorruptible (in his words, non-purchasable) awards. This was apparently in response to a critique of Filipino film criticism that I published almost a decade ago, where I deplored the model proffered by the FFCC – a predictable series of evaluations predicated on the prospect of announcing nominees and winners on an annual basis, premised on the false assumption that a finalized organic work can be broken down and discussed according to discrete creative, histrionic, and technical elements.

11011To the FFCC’s credit, after sponsoring a UPFI “roundtable” held while I had to attend my overseas classes where my points were attacked without naming either me or the article I wrote, the group’s awards started exhibiting a concern for ideological discourse, which their elder members insisted on announcing especially during instances when their choices of winners raised more issues than they resolved. All that this served to do, however, was paper over the larger issue that I raised: that in so far as film criticism should be concerned, award-giving can only be a secondary concern at least, or at best should be of zero concern whatsoever. To make matters worse, the FFCC’s guiding lights appeared to take the cue from their supposedly most highly qualified member, who outlined a prescription for evaluating the worthiness of films. The best ones, he asserted, should deal explicitly with poverty while using high-art principles; works that refuse to eschew what he derided as mainstream aesthetics should be condemned as essentially reactionary.

Back to top

What Dreams Have Gone

One can and should date the source of these progressive-sounding notions. A Western school of Marxism refused the orthodox (Soviet) reduction of artworks and literature to the nature of the economic systems that generated them – which is to say, successful socialist works can only be produced in a socialist system. The positive contribution of this new school – which at one point did call itself New School – was to allow authors to operate within pre-socialist systems, following the orthodox teleology of capitalism eventually succumbing to socialism. You can imagine how such a rejection of orthodox prescriptions could induce guilt in Christianized (especially Catholicized) practitioners, including critics, despite the fact that they were finally permitted to indulge in pop-culture commentary. This is why this school insisted on upholding the “highest” aesthetic standards formulated by modernism, which was after all the ultimate goal of post-capital development. This is the reason why this school’s acolytes in the Philippines could think it only appropriate to select their most-awarded filmmaker as their youngest life-achievement winner; the reality that the mass audience (not just in the Philippines) will never be persuaded to attend the screening of black-and-white movies dominated by extremely long shots with running times reaching up to 11 hours didn’t seem to be an issue whatsoever with these trophy-givers.

11011Hence Filipino movie-goers can be occasionally interested in politicized discourses in films, as they are at the moment and as they had been in the past. But in the general course of film history, they will turn to whatever available fare of “reactionary” material happens to be on offer, whether these be sex, violence, toilet-humor comedy, feel-good fantasies, melodramas on the rich and powerful, regurgitations of the latest global film trend, and so on. Within this scenario, critics and professors will feel justified in their uppity disdain for mass culture and continue insisting on so-called progressive material infused with the exclusivist aesthetics that they presumably studied and assimilated, pointing to mass rejection as proof that they deserve to latch onto their institutional perks while they patiently seek to disseminate their ideals via awards, courses, books, articles, and reviews.

11011This would be the kind of scenario we should all settle for if there weren’t any other option available. But I would not be writing this if this were so. The failure of the UPFI/FFCC axis is in insistently overlooking the aforementioned option, actually a once-new though now long-established progressive tradition, for the sake of maintaining their claims to credibility, premised on handing out recognition to the practitioners they favor (and withholding the same to practitioners they wish to punish, but that’s an entire other can of worms). From this point it should be evident that a bit of overseas historical contextualizing will be necessary, and most of it was overlooked by Noypi progressives – mainly because it didn’t directly involve the then-flourishing socialist bloc and it bypassed the country’s neocolonial centers (specifically the US and Vatican State); its impact on Western film studies, though, was immediate and overwhelming and still persistent, but one would not be able to appreciate its prevalence if one remained ignorant of its origin.

Back to top


The event that marked this turning point in Western film discourse was the May 1968 unrest in Paris. It’s considered the closest instance that a Western country ever came to a Marxist revolution; the fact that it failed became the starting point for reconsidering the principles and strategies behind socialist ideals, with the then-existent systems increasingly labeled as “orthodox” or “vulgar” in their misreadings and misappropriations of progressive thinkers starting with good old Karl. The full-scale collapse of this bloc around two decades later, in a series of mostly peaceful upheavals, led to a renewal of debates and expressions of mourning, with Communism returning to the spectral position that it had earlier assumed in The Communist Manifesto (1848).

11011Progressive cultural scholars did not look on helplessly during all this time; neither were they content to rely on prescriptions that preceded May 1968 (which groups like the FFCC apparently regard as sufficient for their purposes). The male critics who advocated for a dubious filmic revolution, who converged in the early editions of Cahiers du Cinéma, had moved on to flourishing careers as the guiding lights of the French New Wave. If you want to look into the aspiration of film institutions, including the UPFI, to train young people to become film critics who could later succeed as directors, it all derives from an attempt to replicate a cultural phenomenon that should have occurred only once, in a developed society primed for this kind of intervention, with standard film language still straining to break free of Classical Hollywood strictures. To see it being reconfigured as a model worthy of emulation in cultural contexts far removed from Cold War tensions and late-European modernity, is to find parodic elements emerging in the mix; to insist that it can be productively applied to a postcolonial culture necessarily positioned against Euro-American traditions, is to find parody slipping into pathos.

11011By the time the late 1960s rolled around, the original French New-Wave batch was sufficiently ensconced in their country’s film establishment while a new generation of Cahiers critics, politicized yet wary of a wholesale rejection of historical lessons, found its approaches challenged by a more trad-left publication, Cinéthique. In late 1969, Cahiers published its groundbreaking editorial titled “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” initially a short dozen pages that ventured to explain its stance toward what constituted films that were worthy of critical attention (a translated copy of which is uploaded here). The article listed seven categories under which films may be classified, with the first three describing the types of films that may be regarded without reservation. The first category, comprising films that should be dismissed (though see my later qualifier), would be works that “are imbued through and through with the dominant ideology in pure and unadulterated form, and give no indication that their makers were even aware of the fact.” Significantly, this covers the majority of productions, “even those whose discourse is explicitly political” (another category covers this seeming contradiction more definitively). The next two categories, comprising works that the publication welcomed as its objects of study, would be “those [films] which attack their ideological assimilation … by direct political action, on the level of the ‘signified,’ … [and by formal innovation, when they] challenge the concept of ‘depiction’ and mark a break with the tradition embodying it” in one category; and in another, those films which operate like the second case, “whose content is not explicitly political, but in some way becomes so through the criticism practiced on it through its form.”

11011With this enumeration of categories, the editorial authors, Jean-Luc Comolli and Paul Narboni, not only signalled their acceptance of long-standing progressive ideals in aesthetic evaluation; they also engaged in what was even then a problematic reduction of a collaborative product into elements that could be more clearly distinguished before the entire process of production has been completed. The separation of content from form could prove tricky enough in the fine arts and literature, as anyone who attempts to compare, say, a ratty volume of a Sergei Eisenstein collection on stained newsprint with barely stable binding, with one of the FFCC’s ultra-elegant and generously illustrated coffee-table anthologies, will realize. One ought to cost more than the other, but then the FFCC’s, may we say, uncritical acquiescence to the values of (among other things) bourgeois comfort, Western institutional validation, and ideological stagnation – should no longer render surprising their conviction that their decisions are beyond assailment. I would pay more for the Eisenstein, and so should you, but we may have to wait for too long before an FFCC anthology sells at the price it deserves to be pegged at.

Back to top


The last two items listed by Comolli and Narboni concern a larger category of a once-flourishing venture called cinéma direct (actually a specialized approach to documentary film practice), so we may mention them next for representing just as small a proportion of output as the favored initial categories. The first, more typical sample would be those that “suffer under the primary and fundamental illusion that if they once break off the ideological filter of narrative traditions … reality will then yield itself up in its true form,” a flawed assumption since “reality holds within itself no hidden kernel of self-understanding, of theory, of truth,” where “ideology goes on display to prevent itself from being shown up for what it really is, contemplates itself but does not criticize itself.” In the second type of “‘live cinema,’ [the] director is not satisfied with the idea of the camera ‘seeing through appearances,’ but attacks the basic problem of depiction by giving an active role to the concrete stuff of his film, [thus making it] productive of meaning and not just a passive receptacle for meaning produced outside it (in the ideology).” The final category, per the authors, deserves the same treatment as the second and third groups mentioned previously, where evaluators are tasked to demonstrate “how the films operate critically on the level of signified and signifiers” – or in so many words, how they succeed as progressive texts.

11011In the case of Philippine films, overt political discourse is extremely rare since an atmosphere of a special type of real-life anxiety (most obviously, political campaigns) first has to be fostered in order to convince viewers to attend to works that purport to deal with provisory issues, just as other films get produced according to certain pop-culture markers: sports or beauty-contest victories, dramatic (preferably bloody) combat stories, rags-to-riches narratives, lurid sex crimes, bedroom-to-boardroom scandals of the rich and powerful, and so on. Hence one has to be prepared to accept a certain degree of awkward, sometimes inadequate technical competence if one were to scout for passable samples, with critical responses sometimes on the mark, more often way off. From the First Golden Age of the 1950s studio system, Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa (1958) presents a large impoverished family, frontlined by their youngest daughter, struggling against a callous and indomitable patriarchal system, while the post-studio system’s Sa Atin ang Daigdig (dir. Cesar J. Amigo, 1965) reworks a similar situation of a poor woman confronting challenges to her social mobility using the unexpected framework of a romantic comedy.

11011The martial-law period (1972-86) of Ferdinand E. Marcos ironically led to a flowering of filmic expressions, primarily because the dictatorship regarded cinema as an ideal showcase for its claims to benevolence, with the country’s artists concomitantly finding in the medium an opportunity to practice their respective professions while being able to earn a decent living. Before Lino Brocka or Ishmael Bernal came up with genuinely progressive texts using Cahiers du Cinéma’s prescription of transforming form alongside content (which, to be clear, Brocka’s 1975 Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag fails on several levels at attempting), Celso Ad. Castillo stepped up with Daluyong at Habagat in 1976, and Elwood Perez countered the next year with Masikip, Maluwang: Paraisong Parisukat (alongside Castillo’s far-less-vital Burlesk Queen). Perez’s work was resolutely ignored by most local observers, while Daluyong at Habagat was bafflingly excoriated by both conservative and progressive members of the FFCC.[1] As a result, several of the aforementioned films, except for Malvarosa and Maynila, are either extremely rare or lost.

11011What tends to trip up local evaluators is the relationship of progressive film discourse with genre. The FFCC and its ilk adheres to a Marxian prescription tethered to the mid-20th-century celebration of the revolutionization of film technique via the innovations introduced by the French New Wave. From the perspective of US-dominated global distribution, these products were initially arthouse material, particularly in contexts (including the US’s) that required specialized handling, including exemptions from censorship. The keyword here is “initially”: once any innovation becomes viable in the sense of being both affordable and profitable, it inevitably gets cannibalized and plugged into a system of blanket commodification. What was posited as the challenge to the hegemony of Classical Hollywood posed by the transmogrification of New-Wave principles to a just-as-hegemonic European art cinema (unfortunately accepted as a progressive standard by an over-eager but surprisingly inadequately prepared Gilles Deleuze in his Cinema books) eventually devolved into a generic formularization that can be deduced from the Brocka “triumphs” at Cannes Film Festival: observant of Classical Hollywood narrative unities, tackling realist subject matter reflective of the country’s Third-World condition, with a nihilistic or defeatist resolution that signals the decadence and/or desperation that a neocolonial dictatorship levies on its population.

11011The reduction of Euro art-film practice to increasingly remunerative generic practice should not be surprising to long-term observers of global film trends. But rather than point out how deplorable this way of all flesh, or celluloid, has turned out, I prefer to point back to the remaining categories in the Cahiers editorial, after this admittedly subjective recollection of what our progressive-film achievements have been. What should not surprise us is how the filmmakers under discussion regarded it as their prerogative to deploy whatever genre happened to lend itself to commercial exploitation at their specific moment of production. The question of worthiness among genres has of course been a constant stumbling block in narrative criticism, preceding film analyses by several centuries of literary practice. Even Comolli and Narboni were experienced enough to describe the “ideological filter” of narrative in no uncertain terms as “not the most important one.”[2]

11011Not surprisingly, it would take Brocka’s breakaway from his Cannes contacts for him to embark on what was an auspicious start in progressive film production, with his multigeneric metatextual Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990). Certain gestures toward this achievement were made earlier, in Gregorio Fernandez’s trailblazing Hukom Roldan (1957) as well as Mike de Leon’s shift from metaphorical treatments to the more openly (though timidly) metonymic Sister Stella L. (1984). Prior to these achievements by the country’s globally recognized auteurs, Bernal carved out a vigorous social critique while developing a distinctly homegrown genre, the multicharacter film format, with two films that should more properly be regarded as an originator text and its sequel: Aliw (1979) and Manila by Night (1980).[3] Further studies will need to be done to answer the question of why such a productive individual was never able to attain the several future peaks that these mid-career concoctions promised. Meanwhile we need to move on to the crux of our argument on Philippine political cinema, proceeding from the rest of the categories brought up in the Cahiers editorial.


Acknowledgments and list of works cited appear in the Notes section of the second (concluding) part of this article.

[1] The deeply weird reversals of fortune of Celso Ad. Castillo’s standing with the critics’ group will require more intensive research into the dynamics of the organization. All I can attempt for now is a sketch of the occurrences and the possible reasons that lie behind them, based on one observable premise and another speculative one. The group, despite its claim, has been unable to resist its preference for personalities associated with a geopolitical designation that we may provisionally call Dilimanian – i.e., nominees associated with the primary scholastic consortium comprising the national university, Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle (in decreasing order of preference), as well as their non-Manila campuses, will have a stronger chance of winning their annual competitions. Castillo, Elwood Perez, and a long list of other talents, on the other hand, hail from the University Belt of Manila, if not elsewhere.

11011The other, more insidious, form of discrimination can only be inferred circumstantially. The year the group was founded and Castillo released Daluyong at Habagat, a national university member had a similarly overtly political entry, Sakada. D&H tackled labor unrest but set itself in a past era, while Sakada’s depiction of rural turmoil was more identifiably contemporary (though ideologically problematic and occasionally laughably incompetent in execution). Said faculty filmmaker was supposed to have resigned, in observance of a rule that industry figures should no longer participate in award-giving activities. During the next year’s deliberations, where Castillo’s Burlesk Queen was far and away the strongest entry, he attended meetings to openly denounce the film using words never heard before or since in such gatherings, resulting in zero wins for BQ – a turnout that caught media observers by surprise.

11011The next year, with an overly romanticized epic on peasant rebellion, Castillo finally managed to win his first and only critics’ prize. Although this third entry, like the earlier two, was period in scope, the critics’ reviews interpreted it as if it were an ongoing contemporary concern (which, in a sense, it was). My reading of these developments, pending plausible confirmation or repudiation by expert observers, is that the members’ Dilimanian partiality was compounded by political partisanship: the erstwhile revolutionaries referenced in Castillo’s material would have been affiliated with the pro-Soviet Communist party, whose leadership had unilaterally capitulated to the government’s inducements to surrender in exchange for estates in Mindanao. Nevertheless Castillo’s cinematic treatments never wavered in upholding his rebel characters’ opposition to the establishment. Only with the addition of members more inclined to acknowledge his talent and daring was he able to finally win favor with the organization.

[2] See Barbara Klinger’s “‘Cinema/Ideology/Criticism’ Revisited” in the Film Genre Reader (ed. Barry Keith Grant, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986, pp. 74-90) for a provocative – though necessarily dated – formulation of what might constitute a progressive genre film. In a contemporaneous volume titled Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner enact a similar enumeration of properties to identify a progressive film text beyond generic requisites, but include the useful admonition that “the criterion for judging such matters should be pragmatic, one that measures the progressive character of a text according to how well it accomplishes its task in specific contexts of reception. What counts as progressive varies with time and situation, and what works in one era or context might fail in another. Moreover, the notion of progressive is always differentially or relationally determined” (268). The Cahiers du Cinéma editorial may be problematized within these terms, although we can maintain for now that its focus on content and form furnishes it with transhistorical value.

[3] I elaborated on the multicharacter narrative mode, including a discussion of its radical potential as well as its impact on Philippine cinema, in my book on Bernal’s 1980 film, Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017). Also see “This Genre Which Is Not One: The Philippine Multicharacter Film,” UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 95.2 (July 2022): 315-47,

[Click here for the concluding section and here for the Appendix]

Back to top