Troubled relationships and shattered dreams amid the Mindanao conflict served as the plot of four competing full-length films for this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
After a two-year wait as a result of the series of COVID-19 lockdowns, Cinemalaya finally returned as a face-to-face event with a full-length feature category for 11 films, including four Mindanao-themed films: “The Baseball Player,” “Angkas,” “12 Weeks,” and “Bula sa Langit.”
“The Baseball Player” tells the story of Amir (Tommy Alejandrino), a 17-year-old Moro child with dreams of becoming a baseball player but who has to train as a soldier for Moro rebels.
Khalid (JM San Jose) is a young boy survivor of an armed conflict who is adopted by Amir’s family. The presence of Amir as his new “older brother” opened the path to healing.
Unfortunately, another all-out war against Moro rebels breaks out, and he is confronted with making a choice between pursuing his dream or fighting in the war.
In “Angkas,” Leo (Joem Bascon) is not just an ordinary “habal-habal” driver. He is the resident ambulance and delivery man in a remote village in Compostela Valley.
One day, he is hired to transport the dead down the mountain. His estranged friend Miguel (Benjamin Alves) joined in fetching the body of Ditas (Meryll Soriano), their childhood friend, who was a rebel pursued by the military.
As Leo and Miguel embark on a dangerous journey in a “habal-habal,” their fragile friendship is tested, and they encounter danger only to be saved by an unlikely hero.
In “12 Weeks,” Alice (Max Eigenmann), a single 40-year-old woman is working with a non-government organization, which is organizing a relief mission for the “bakwits” or evacuees from the Marawi siege.
She discovers she is pregnant after breaking up with her boyfriend (Vance Larena). With her age and current relationship status, her first instinct is to have the pregnancy terminated. As her body undergoes dramatic changes, Alice struggles and needs to decide whether she wants to be a mother or not.
The fetus is most vulnerable during the first 12 weeks. During this period, all the major organs and body system are forming and can be damaged if the fetus is exposed to drugs, infectious agents, radiation, certain medications, tobacco and toxic substances, in addition to emotional stress.
“Bula sa Langit” tells the story of a young soldier (Gio Gahol) who returns from the Marawi war to find himself heavily disturbed by one of his traumatic kills. Despite his excitement to come home, Wesley struggles to reconnect his present relationships with his family and girlfriend (Kate Alejandrino) while celebrating the town fiesta.
The contemporary armed conflict in Mindanao can be traced to the pre-martial law period of the late 1960s when Moro youth and their political leaders demanded an end to discrimination and oppression and the return of their ancestral homeland.
The conflict was sparked by discrimination and human rights violations under President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship.
Many armed groups fought against the government to establish an independent Muslim region on the island of Mindanao. Thousands were killed in the decades-long insurgency that ensued.
At the heart of the conflict in Mindanao lies deep-rooted prejudices against Muslims and the Indigenous population.
The conflict is seen as the result of social inequity and the skewed distribution of resources, including land grabbing, which was a main issue for the Muslims, wrong policies and corruption, and the historical prejudice against Muslims resulting further in unfulfilled aspirations.
The Marawi siege was a five-month-long armed conflict that started on May 23, 2017, between Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
It has forcibly displaced 98 percent of the population of the city, as well as residents from nearby municipalities.
The almost slice-of-life stories in these four films show how the armed conflict threatens to tear away the lives, hopes, and dreams of the characters caught in the crossfire.
Breaking these “bonds of social injustice and oppression” through a conflict that has been going on for decades is never the solution.
The films, often called “indie films,” embody Cinemalaya’s vision of creating “new cinematic works by Filipino filmmakers,” works that “boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity.”
It aims to invigorate Philippine filmmaking by developing a new breed of Filipino filmmakers.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.