By the afternoon of the 24th of February, Villa Caceres was a world of cinema. Its lobby was crammed with young filmmakers, film scholars, and teachers from different parts of the country. Some of them arrived the day before; others had barely arrived in time for the opening ceremonies of the 12th edition of Cinema Rehiyon.
There were other guests in the person of Max Tessier, a film curator for many international film festivals in Europe, and Axel Estein, a film programmer from Germany. For the second time in the country, the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival was bringing a film criticism workshop. Chris Fujiwara, a noted film critic, headed the team.
Some months back, Chris Fujiwara coordinated with the National Committee on Cinema about the workshop. I was tasked to join as the other film critic who would mentor two Japanese and two other Asian film critics. Four other Filipino critics would be with this group selected through a process, which required that they submit a short film criticism to be vetted by us.
I have always told many that the celebration of Cinema Rehiyon coming to Bikol for the first time began with a dance and ended with a dance.
Indeed, the local government of Naga City welcomed the delegates and participants with dancers tirelessly performing at the entrance of the People’s Hall. Region after region the filmmakers, many in their early twenties but aged beyond age with their imagination entered and occupied the table set for them.
Vice-Mayor Nene de Asis impressed the visitors with a welcome speech that did not sound token but sincere about the place of arts in this city. With her was Councilor Elmer Baldemoro. As the early dinner was served, more folk dances came.
No one knew, at that point, that from the exit in the hotel, RoxLee, the pioneering experimental filmmaker, was already dancing with abandon. Brandishing rolls of films, the returning son of the city, lived to the title “Wild Man of Philippine Independent Cinema.”
RoxLee, of course, was always, wild. In college, he was the favored poster designer for the many school events of then Ateneo de Naga College. For a kite-flying contest organized for Ignatiana – the feast day of St. Ignatius – he created a huge design with a text that flew across the full white cartolina. It announced: “Parakiting!” For the uninitiated it sounded as “Parakayting.” As the day went on, the poster was attracting more attention. Perhaps, some uptight college student leader betrayed the poster because later, Fr. Agustin Natividad, SJ, took the announcement from the bulletin board.
RoxLee, was home for this Cinema Rehiyon because two of his films were selected to open the celebration. He was not the only Bikolano filmmaker to be honored in this gathering of independent filmmakers. Jay Altarejos who traces his roots to the town of San Fernando in Ticao Island, brought with him his Pink Halo-Halo, a coming-of-age film shot some ten years ago in Ticao Island, with the dialogue in Tigaonon, the language of the island.
Unexpectedly, Jay Altarejos became the director of the moment because by the time he arrived in Naga, the news about his film being pulled out of competition in Sinag Maynila Film Festival of Brillante Mendoza was all over the national broadsheet, tabloid, and newscast. The film, Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan (The Revolution Knows No Gender) was seen as critical of Duterte.
On the last day of the Cinema Rehiyon, Jay Altarejos conducted a focused-group discussion using the said film. It was a fitting ending to days of screening of full-length feature films, short films and documentary attended by the respective directors of the pieces.
The evenings of the festival saw the participants motor to Pili for the Governor’s welcome dinner or explore the bars and café along Magsaysay. Savage Mind, which offered huge discounts on books and even offered free “sili” beer did reruns of some films and documentaries. One of these was the award-winning Walang Rape sa Bontoc by Lester Valle and Clara Ocampo. Discussions and conversations with filmmakers took place in Savage Mind, which became the de-facto points of convergence for the participants.
On the morning of the 28th of February, many of the participants joined in a city tour, which included a tree-planting activity at the base of Mt. Isarog. RoxLee with his mask did a performance art with UP academic and actress, Ligaya Rabago.
RoxLee who had been inviting everyone to do a nude workshop in the future then stood near the hot spring with nothing on except his memories of the mountain. Fortunately or unfortunately, no one was bothered by the act. This was after all the concourse of artists ever ready to bare their soul, body and politics anytime.
Cinema Rehiyon is a flagship project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, with generous endowment from the Film Development Council of the Philippines. The local government of Naga City under Mayor Nelson Legacion, who attended the closing ceremonies contributed significant funding to the gathering. The Provincial government of Camarines Sur provided resources. Ateneo de Naga University was the official school host as represented by Fr. Roberto EN Rivera, SJ, University President ; Dr. Noel Volante was the Festival Director. The closing keynote address was given by Kristian Sendon Cordero in his capacity as the SEAWRITE laureate. Cordero also coordinated the launch of the first issue of Bikol Studies Journal that focused on the genius and art of Nora Aunor.