The settings of the stories seem to be all in dreamlike state. The narratives appear to float above the realities that we know. A pervading air of premonition hovers over the horizon selected to frame the experience being told. Even in plots that reek of fun and humor, the undercurrent of sadness can never be ignored. It is as if the narrators and storytellers are catching their breath, hastening towards the end of a life, which is the end of the tale they are telling.
I am talking of the short shorts, the 1-minute film submitted to us to in response to the Cinemalaya Film Festival 1-minute short film competition. To celebrate the arrival of this most important independent film festival in Bikol, Western Visayas, and Davao, a group called the Film Producers’ Society (FPS) came up with the idea of this film concourse.
The competition was open to students. Young filmmakers with no experience at all about making films joined. Their advantage: an openness to any technology and a keen knowledge about mobile phones and the Internet.
I have only access to what the Bikolano filmmakers submitted. One member of the jury admitted the entries blew his mind away. That old cliché of a word – awesome – became highly appropriate to the pieces we viewed. With no themes to imprison them, the filmmakers allowed us into their young worlds, and demanded modifiers from us, cineastes and critics.
One film shows a young man on a hill. It is a lovely day. Wind blows in all directions. He looks up and asks Bathala how long is a minute in the divine hand? And how much is one cent? This conversation goes on until it hits the punch line: one’s notions of wealth and time is never really equal to those of the mighty creator. The single cent we ask from Him can be a million but to ask that it be given in a minute, is to wait for a million years. The joke is old but in the hands of the filmmaker, it has become a pun on the transcendental, a trick on how we are naturally deceptive as humans.
What do young people say about environmental degradation and social inequalities?
One entry from a public high scho0l is about the lake that is near the filmmakers’ home. A man stands on the shore, smokes and throws the empty pack into the water. The same man goes into his boat to fish. He throws the line with the bait into the lake and fishes out…the empty cigarette pack.
In a commentary of structured inequalities, a filmmaker splits the screen to dramatize the polarities in our societies. A man in slippers goes up the stairs; a person in a nice pair of shoes walks up the ramp. A hand is stretched, with all the veins and roughness of labor; another hand is smooth, bejeweled. The differences go on and on until in the end, Death enters to level things up.
Titles of the films either give away the tone of the yarn or provide counterpoint to the saga or narration. In one film, a woman stands alone on the street. People pass by oblivious of her dark, gray, dirty presence. Towards the end, we see another person driving her away, out into the street, the gesture indicating what the title, “Labas,” claims.
When I went around campaigning for participation, many were surprised and incredulous about a competition asking for a film that is not even compressed but good within a minute. Tell us your story in sixty seconds, was what I was telling them.
Do not shorten the story. It is short because it is short. Tell me something that is good within 6o seconds.
Not a few said it would be a difficult contest. Not a few expressed doubts regarding the task at hand.
When the deadline came, we were swamped with more than seventy entries. Each entry was a statement, an advocacy, a work of art.
An animation entry is a poignant remembrance of a pet dog. Another animation confuses the situation in a charming, tragicomic way: he puts on a pair of pants and finds out it does not fit him. Or, he does not fit in it. The title of the film – “Misfit.”
There are entries that look like they are crying for help. These films are about bullying, depression and suicide.
One of the entries begins with a young, ordinary-looking girl putting on make-up. The surrounding is quiet. She is dressed in a fine clothing. She takes something and lies down in bed. The film says it all: Farewell.
Pauline Kael, my favorite film critic, talks about how “Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again.”
In one minute each, our young filmmakers share with us possibilities as they see them happening or being offered to them, or denied.
Some of the films look raw; some are like trailers and teasers to longer discourses.
Eugene Ionesco, the dramatist noted for his Theatre of the Absurd, said: “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.”
The short shorts – all of sixty seconds – entered in the very first Cinemalaya competition for this category, bear all kinds of ideologies and dreams and anguish. We are being asked to watch them, and listen to them – the joys, the discoveries, the lessons, the fears and visions of young minds, with only the cameras, the mobile phones and their imagination urging them to converse with the universe within and without.