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Notes from Bacolod and Other Places

We are in a cafe, one of the numerous eating places in Bacolod where cakes, cookies and pastries are bountiful. As usual, I request for sugar-free things, or “anything less sweet.” The first time I mentioned this, Tanya Lopez, Executive Director of the Negros Museum, had a classic response: “Sir Tito, you are in the wrong place.”

Of course, I was in the wrong place. I was in Sugarlandia, a land where large tracts of land are devoted to sugarcane, where huge houses are in compounds as large as one block. The plant and the social relations that proceed from it are part of the cultural landscape. Where cinemas eventually would have them as the beginning of tales or the center of conflicts among people - the workers and the owners of the land.

I am in Bacolod once more to resume a face-to-face seminar-workshop on film criticism and film education. This is a homecoming. During the pandemic, we continued to work together with Tanya Lopez and her team on the first Cinema Rehiyon, a festival of regional filmmakers. Interestingly enough, the last celebration of this festival was in Naga City, in February of 2020, a few days before this government locked down the entire Luzon.

This trip is therefore a reunion. The hugs are real and not virtual and the conversation warm, as if we never said goodbye. On my part, it is always a privilege working with this team of efficient and professional colleagues - Gloven, Venise, Doza, Doc Adrian. There is also a dear friend, filmmaker Elvert Bañares, visiting Bacolod after more than two years of being isolated from his own family across the pond, as they say, in Iloilo.

After the first module, which is on Film Education, Tanya indulged me with our request to travel outside Bacolod. I planned to go to Sagay, some 79 kilometers to the north of where we are. Sagay is important to me because that was where I conducted a fruitful film workshop with them. It was there in that coastal city where I was days before the lockdown, I had prayed that all of those I had worked with would survive the pandemic and here was the opportunity to see that we all were leaving the world of virus intact - and secure.

Kristian Sendon Cordero (he was one of the resource speakers in the module on Film Education), who joined me also to Sagay had one purpose: to meet Nunelucio Alvarado whose paintings in the Negros Museum struck him as original. A social realist, Alvarado is known for having found the Black Artists in Asia, one of the more well organized artists’ groups in the region.

Nune, as Alvarado is fondly known by those who admire and love him, now maintains a residence in Sagay. He has built massive bamboo structures for his home and atelier. Beside it is another house for his Cafe Albarako. It faces the black sand of Sagay where seven poles representing the Seven Arts stand as sentinel and inspiration for the community. The painter true to his nature of being an artist of the collective has organized the community, with homes painted in bright colors and many of the inhabitants aware of ecological issues. A huge mangrove plantation is not only well preserved; people are conscious also of their significance. In fact, on our arrival, Helen Arguelles, information and tourism officer, arranged a fitting welcome. This was a guided tour to their community by way of sikad drivers (tricycle drivers) who offered us bougainvillea blooms, a common flowering plant abundant in their area and which also gave the name of the place.

The sikad drivers prove to be articulate and gregarious. Mine had committed to the memory the names of the mangrove species in the community. He was also candid about the social realities, which is that people needed to be educated and re-educated about ecological preservation and the maintenance of the integrity of the surroundings.

Cordero’s mission proved to be sheer magic. He was buying an art work by Nune Alvarado but the old man gave him two for the amount he gave. He also discovered another fact: the painter is half-Bicolano, with a mother from Libon, Albay.

From the seaside community, we proceeded to the plaza of the city, which we saw on our way in. There was nothing fancy about the place but whoever planned the park they knew the most important thing about it: spaces and trees and the symmetry that Nature has plenty of. Tall palm trees lined up around the plaza. A stage with walls made of stones graced the center of the park, its contours and shape natural and not artificial. Decorative lamps made of thin strips of steel even when unlighted fulfilled their names, tree of life. Set against the wall were eating places with the most minimal designs and clean, comfortable seating areas. From any vantage point, one saw a rectangle of ease, a place where one could sit on the grassy lawn, with the road going on with its soft traffic. At the other end of the plaza was an old train that used to carry huge timbers for the global market. A souvenir shop punctuated that part of the plaza. This city has good taste, I told myself.

I remember the first time I attended their film festival. The opening was at the beach. It was a stormy afternoon but that did not stop the organizers, mostly young people, from pushing into the sea a makeshift stage on which the flag was displayed for the national anthem. Dancers with the confidence of artists swayed and stretched their hands, a tribute to the arts that will continue to live so long as the sea was there and the humans are not afraid of the horizon stretching into eternity.


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