Dispatches from Cinemalaya’s First Online Film Festival

Aug 16, 2020

Cinemalaya 2020 - Living Things Martika Escobar

We review the ten (10) short films that comprise this year’s Cinemalaya 2020 Main Competition line-up.

It is commendable to see Cinemalaya thrive in and continue their film festival amidst the pandemic, at least in a digital setting. Streaming platform Vimeo mainly hosts the online-based festivities, alongside Facebook and Kumu supporting the other activities.

Of course, no streaming platform can replicate the feeling of rushing in the Cultural Center of the Philippines just to catch a screening of an entry. Even more, braving through the long line in a box office, constantly hoping that you can still grab a ticket to a usually sold-out screening.

What’s comforting in covering this year’s Cinemalaya, its 16th edition, is the fact that the discussions post-film viewings are still very much alive. On both Twitter and Letterboxd, you can catch a multitude of reactions and reviews from Filipino movie lovers who are willing to keep the conversations alive.

RELATED: Cinemalaya 2020 Festival Guide

Like the previous editions before it, there are also a lot of films to catch in Cinemalaya 2020. If you don’t know where to start, the Main Competition line-up, comprised of ten (10) short films are great appetizers.

ANG GASGAS NA PLAKA NI LOLO BERT by Janina Gacosta and Cheska Marfori

Ang Gasgas Na Plaka Ni Lolo Bert could work just as fine if the film only followed its lead Bert as he was forced to live through both loneliness and the stigma brought by his disease.

It was never fully discussed whether or not Bert is suffering from HIV, as the opening text reporting hard facts about the disease suggested, but we do know that he is hiding something. Fortunately, this is the least concern of the film.

Instead of painting a harrowing light on its character, Ang Gasgas Na Plaka Ni Lolo Bert showed

our tendencies to love regardless of what we are, what we’ve become, and what society tells us to

be. We are treated to the see the start of a new friendship, between Bert and the widower who owns a records shop, driven by the desire to escape their respective miseries.

It’s all sweet, and the film can extend for a few minutes more to see this relationship fully



Pabasa Kan Pasyon follows a family as they hustle through Holy Week, using faith as the common denominator (hosting a religious radio show, acting for a religious play, and going through house-to-house for rosary) to survive.

The capitalization of faith and religion is not a new theme in Philippine cinema, but a lot of them—including Pabasa Kan Pasyon—has been built on the irony that exploiting faith is another plague that a lot of us don’t want to acknowledge.

The film is intriguing, and it was able to sell its intrigue, but it could benefit more angst and a more realized play of its theme.

FATIGUED by James Robin Mayo

Fatigued positions itself as an “Interactive Film,” wherein participation from the audience is a must. It means that when a text shown on-screen encourages one to clap three times when they heard the word “Mussah” or to breathe long inhales and exhales while the eyes are closed, not doing so might take out a large chunk of the experience watching it.

I feel that this experiment is more suitable in a cinema filled with a crowd than watching it alone in the living room through a mobile phone or laptop. And even though you did not participate in any direction the film tells you to do, you can still find something very personal in its exploration of fatigue and how it disassociates each one of us from the world.

TOKWIFI by Carla Pulido Ocampo

Folklore and modernism merge in Tokwifi’s unlikely love story, between the male Igorot Limmayug and Laura, the actress (literally) trapped inside a television.

There wasn’t any form of admission and a showcase of affection in the film’s romance. Its depiction of love is leaned towards on the small details: Limmayug offering his native cloak to warm Laura and showing her his hometown, the television stand slowly touching the floor mat. With these brief yet rich instances, Tokwifi has made its sweet remark that love defies time and culture.


Quing Lalam Ning Aldo is a sweet little film about a parent longing to see the return of his son. It was assumed that it has been years since the father Budang has last seen his Janjan, so when he learned that his boy will soon be returning, he has to give his all to make sure their reunion will be memorable.

Stories like these feel even more resonant in the time of quarantine to the point that it’s hard not to feel a sense of relief when the father and son eventually reunited. 

Quing Lalam Ning Aldo didn’t even have a detailed profile of its characters, it’s just that the film touches something that hits close to home, closer to our current times.

ANG PAGPAKALMA SA UNOS by Joanna Vasquez Arong

Ang Pagpakalma Sa Unos documents the two storms that greatly alarmed the Philippines in 2013: the Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, and the pork barrel issue involving Janet Napoles that made the big headlines.

The still photographs and recorded video footage that the film has stitched are a tough watch, even more considering that the trauma faced by thousands of people never really left. The horrors of the past continue to haunt a lot of us, and as we face yet another storm in the form of a health crisis globally and other political challenges, Ang Pagpakalma Sa Unos can also be read as a story of the now.

LIVING THINGS by Martika Ramirez Escobar

Living Things questions the concept of a world set by classification, all in the eyes of a couple whose day suddenly takes a turn when one of them transforms into a cardboard standee. It begs to ask: what does a living thing mean?

Does one need to “feel” to be categorized as such? All we need to understand in the world established in Living Things is that any form of categorization doesn’t exist. We can either be a living or non-living thing. It doesn’t matter.

We can be capable of change in size, age, and form, but we are all just the same. Living Things is

my favorite entry from the Main Competition line-up, and it’s an easy recommendation for

everyone willing to plunge in its wackiness.

UTWAS by Richard Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay

Utwas wants to carry a few things on its shoulders, but never really succeeded in trying so due to its constraints. It is a father and son movie and commentary on dynamite fishing. The foundations are undeniably compelling but by the time things immediately wraps up without any alarm, when the climax did not even get resolved, the entire thing felt like it could do a lot more.

EXCUSE ME MISS, MISS, MISS by Sonny Calvento

When Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss hits hard on the still-rampant issue of contractualization, it hits hard. Its central heroine Vangie wants nothing in the world but to be promoted as a regular employee, to learn the secret of being more productive in the workplace.

The answer to her question is revealed half-way through the movie, an interesting decision from the director Sonny Calvento and writer Arden Condez since its mystery makes up the best scenes in the movie.

I wish Vangie continues to investigate to uncover more. There are a lot of issues that the film can explore deeper, but what we got is great enough.

THE SLUMS by Jan Andrei Cobey 

One of the main reasons why The Slums didn’t hold as much as it wants to, is that the mockumentary approach feels like a television sitcom ala The Office or Modern Family than an actual documentary.

The main joke is supposed to be an attack on a lot of filmmakers’ tendencies to exploit the struggles of the marginalized. But the filmmakers seem to have a young and almost naïve hypothesis of how these things should work. 

Fair enough, there are still a few elements to enjoy in The Slums, especially how it ended when the exploitation shifted to another perspective.

Cinemalaya 16 is currently streaming on Vimeo On Demand until 16 August. The festival will continue streaming on platforms such as KUMU, TFC, and iWant. For more information please visit, https://www.facebook.com/Cinemalaya/

Originally published in Art Plus Magazine


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