Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 2nd Awake! Film Festival

On 3 October 2011, the class of Political Science 167: Political Socialization and Film held the 2nd Awake! Film Festival at the University of the Philippines, Diliman campus, Palma Hall, from 9:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. In an effort to contribute to the relevance of Filipino films as part of the political socialization process, the festival theme centered upon "Integrity and Negotiation," focusing on films that explore diverse issues which are critically important in the unfolding weave of the Philippine socio-political tapestry.

The following films were programmed as part of the festival:

Film 01: Confessional, 2007, Jerrold Tarog & Ruel Dahis Antipuesto, Directors

“Two steps forward, one step back.”

Ryan Pastor can be considered an expert in his craft: video editing. His blatant disregard for his subjects’ emotions and of the scenes stems from nothing but professional necessity. But apparently, the profession that pays for the brownies in his fridge is the very thing that robs him of what he felt as the essential truths. Thus unfolds his adventurist thirst to capture the truth in an attempt to redeem himself from what he feels like a forsaken niche amongst videographers.

Confessional revolves around the personal conflict of a man, but it pounds deeper with its symbolisms as it frequently foreshadows, and at times, even directly tackles long-contested philosophical questions about the truth. What really makes the truth so appealing? Perhaps his constant manipulation of “what is” has fueled his need for the truth. Which brings us to the main point: how real is the film? Does it speak the truth? Is there such a thing as truth? What constitutes the truth? How do we know when people speak the truth? As what we have observed, the audacity of the film is evident as it faces these philosophically loaded questions head-on even just by employing the means of a simple narrative.

In Confessional, an equation out of the ordinary is derived: Lies + Lies = Truth. This is based on the property in Mathematics which states that two (2) negatives make a positive, thus, two lies when combined reinforces its truth value. But is it really the case in this thought-provoking statement? We feel this kind of analogy is very much misleading as it parallelizes the matter of lies and truths as finite objects that can be measured in the truistic sense of empirical science. Clearly, although we mean no offense by this, it is a disservice to conclude the discussion using something as value-free as Mathematics.

Another apparent element of the film is its implicit use of contrasts. Case-in-point, the nun who was defending the religious side of the Sinulog festival is quick to inject the faults of the local government for manipulating the celebration date just to accommodate tourists which, consequently, results to a more effective media packaging. The idea is that it devalues the religious significance of the festival to make way for economic progress of the city. But later on, the documentary of Ryan would disclose the background story of a nun who once aspired to be a star in her youthful days. Was that bit of information necessary? The answer is no. But does it add a gradient to the film in the form of entertainment-value? The answer is yes. And this clearly signifies Ryan’s shortcomings by still falling for a video-editor’s instinct to distort the concept of the truth.

The film, entitled “Confessional”, was only a confession up to a certain point. Toward the end of the film, the former mayor was killed just as he was about to, at least according to him, speak the truth. We say this statement with doubts in mind as the film’s operationalization of the ‘truth’ is still highly unfounded up to this point. The major cliffhanger, presented as Mayor Lito was shot in the head, only goes to show that truth is still left in the confines of doubt and uncertainty.

Towards the end of the film, the main character is plagued with several choices: acknowledge and tell the truth, or keep it.

In the spirit of being more realistic, the aim of arriving at a universal ‘truth’ is simply too grand regardless of how the film has managed to invoke a deeper level of philosophical retrospection. Perhaps the approach to dissecting the kind of ‘truth’ that Confessional wants to hammer down can be more achieved if we nuance it to the Philippine context. The essence of the story can is not in Ryan’s attempt to win a documentary price regarding Sinulog but in his diversion from it courtesy of Mayor Lito’s unexplainable decision to make him his personal confessor. Ryan knows what he’s getting himself into, and he frequently runs away from it. This is evident when he darts out of the woods and into the city proper after he is shown proof of the former mayor’s murder victim. It is apparent in his disheveled appearance that he is scared, but what makes him go back and finally agree to cover the former Mayor’s confessions? It is very Filipino to doubt anyone that occupies a governmental seat. Generally, Filipinos would rather not speak and live in silence than speak even if they are presented with the opportunity to question. As Mayor Lito has said, he is the most honest politician in the country. Because nobody dared to ask about his misdeeds, he has remained in office for quite a long time. This somehow creates a picture of a localized truth. By that, we mean the inherent curiosity of the brave hearts like Ryan to chase after the truth that our culture and society usually choses to turn a blind eye to.

We would like to commend Publio Briones III (Former Mayor Lito Caliso) for his superb acting skills. There were times when we had to remind ourselves that the film isn’t a real documentary as the circumstances were painfully familiar, mirrored even, from our conception of the Philippine experience. Simply put, Confessional is an allegory of society in general. It makes fun of people, their beliefs and practices among others while at the same time using this chance to probe deeper questions out of sheer mockery. As a blogger, Oggs Cruz, has put it, Confessional does “not only tackle the moral depletion of Philippine society through the camera of a fictional filmmaker, they also eschew the supposed journalistic role of cinema, how such is eventually inexistent in a determination of collective corruption. Recorded in front of our eyes is a man shot in the head. Death is the truest thing in the world as one is either alive or not. How should one feel about it? Shocked, scared, or alarmed? The film ends with an answer to that question and the viewer can interpret it in any way he wants.”

The unexpected animation of certain scenes contributed to the holistic appeal of the film. The amateur editing employed in the documentary should not be taken lightly as they convey equally important messages to the viewers. This documentary is made by someone who values physical attributes more than a person’s character and attitudes. Confessional is a film that is stripped off of anything pretentious. From the plot to the technical aspects of the film, one cannot help but be amazed at the craftsmanship of the whole thing. When someone confesses, that individual is stripping himself of most, if not all, of the masks he has hidden in for a period in time. Unlike other sets where theatrical and dramatic lighting are employed, Confessional uses natural lighting to stick to its “stripped” theme. The phrase “Two steps forward and one step back” encapsulates the film. How so? Ryan is on this unending quest for truth. He does whatever it takes, sometimes even skipping meals, to get to the bottom of everything. What he does when he gets the truth is utterly disappointing. Instead of moving forward and making a difference, no matter how small that may be, he keeps it to himself and remains ignorant to the very cause he started. When the truth is in your hands, what do you do with it? #


Film 02: Bagong Buwan, 2001, Marilou Diaz-Abaya , Director

Film 03: Temptation Island, 1980, Joey Gosiengfiao, Director

Temptation Island (1981) stars Dina Bonnevie, Azenith Briones, Jennifer Cortez, and Bambi Arambulo as beauty queens out of their element in this camp cult classic directed by Joey Gosiengfiao.

The sophisticated collegiala Dina Espinola (Dina Bonnevie), the thief-slash-prostitute Azenith Tobias (Azenith Briones), the spoiled brat Bambi Belisario (Bambi Arambulo) and the perpetually condescending rich girl Suzanne Reyes (Jennifer Cortez) are all contestants in the Miss Manila Sunshine Beauty Contest. A fire onboard a yacht during the pre-pageant stage shipwrecks all of them on a desert island along with Suzanne's yaya Maria (Deborah Sun), gay millionaire pageant organizer Joshua (Jonas Sebastian), his boyfriend Ricardo (Ricky Belmonte), yacht waiter Umberto (Domingo Sabado) and Dina's admirer Alfredo (Alfie Anido). On the island, the ladies come face to face with the harsh realities of living without modern comforts. The motley crew eventually establishes a system of survival in the anarchic situation, with the social order still intact. Maria continues to wait hand and foot on Suzanne, while Joshua and Suzanne remain elitists even when they barely have material possessions.

The relationship between Joshua and Ricardo deteriorates because of Bambi, Azenith and Umberto fall in love with each other, and Suzanne eventually succeeds in seducing Alfredo away from Dina, leading up to a hilarious confrontation. The scenes are peppered with memorable lines, profanity, and plenty of humor.

The tension among the characters reaches its peak when Ricardo makes out with Bambi in front of Joshua. Joshua runs away and commits suicide. Maria reaches her breaking point and attacks Suzanne, after which Suzanne sees her in a whole new light. In hunger and desperation the survivors decide to eat Joshua's remains, singing to distract themselves from what they are doing. Ironically, a helicopter rescues them a few minutes later.

Back in Manila, the four women are shown at the coronation night of the Miss Manila Sunshine Contest. Suzanne wins the crown and flies to California with Maria; Dina is on a honeymoon with Alfredo; Bambi marries Ricardo; and Azenith goes back to her original boyfriend, another self-professed criminal; Umberto watches as they drive away.

Temptation Island is of the genre "camp," which refers to intentionally exaggerated thematic or genre elements, especially in television and motion picture mediums. (Urban Dictionary, n.d.) In Temptation Island, flyers for a beauty contest drop from a helicopter and onto a sunbathing woman's lap, a gay man's white outfit remains spotless despite the harsh conditions, and instead of mirages they see electric fans and a giant fried chicken. Everything happening on screen is utterly ridiculous, and that is where most of its charm comes from. The main themes are anarchy, social class struggles, gendered division of labor, sacrifice, virginity, and the dependence on “civilized life.”

The seemingly unruly technical aspects of the film contributed a lot to its anarchical theme. These may turn off critics who are very particular of the technicalities, but it may be the film’s way to express how chaotic the context of the film was that time. Of course, living in a desert island with no governing rules and institutions can be very anarchical to the survivors of a shipwreck. As there is no tall order for everyone to follow procedures, everyone does his/her own wants and needs without being coerced to conform to a uniform standard of existence. Still, we can see that the survivors ended up organizing themselves in accordance to their gender and social classes.

In the film, social class struggles and elitism are main themes. There is a rift between the social climber Azenith, and the rich girl Suzanne; they fought each other on the barren island about the simplest of things. A memorable line delivered by Suzanne is “I have no time for middle class sentiments.” The characters are all unapologetic for their thoughts, words and actions. Every character goes beyond embracing his or herself and into practically rubbing it into each other’s faces. In the anarchic situation, their true nature was evident. However, it was not the human nature philosophized by Locke, and not even that philosophized by Rousseau. They maintained who they were before being shipwrecked and continued to operate as if the social hierarchy was still in place. The break comes from Suzanne’s personal assistant, Maria.

Suzanne called her all kinds of labels—“walang pinag-aralan”, “bobo”, “taga-bundok”, “utak-kamote.” She also frequently hurt the ever-loyal helper. Yet, in the end, Maria became enraged, and she fought back and almost killed Suzanne in a duel. It was the only time when Suzanne realized how important Maria was, and she tried to win back Maria’s loyalty by treating her in a more humane manner. Maria was Suzanne’s only “friend,” a consequence of her brashness and condescension.

Sex and sexuality-related themes are imbibed in Temptation Island. Obviously, there are dialogues and scenes pertaining to the ‘strength’ men possess vis-à-vis the ‘weak’ nature of women, thus the need by men to protect and to render service to women. Men were assigned to do ‘heavy’ tasks such as building a house and hunting for food; women were expected to tend the house and prepare things to be used by men. This is the intersection of gender and labor: the gendered division of labor is said to be characteristic of “primitive” societies.

The sex scenes may also symbolize how men dominate over women in society—women were ‘commodities’ used by men to satisfy sexual and material lust. But at the same time, the women also took control of their sexuality.

Homosexual politics is also touched upon in the movie. Joshua was being disregarded by his boyfriend, Ricardo, after the latter getting infatuated with Bambi. Bambi, by virtue perhaps of her biological capacities, was chosen by Ricardo over Joshua. He was also deemed by the people he was with as ‘useless’ and ‘helpless,’ stemming from his background and uneasiness towards manual labor. The gay man’s life became tragic after he saw his partner make love with Bambi. He ran away and committed suicide. It can be a reference to members of third sex being discriminated and dominated by the ruling gender in society.

Temptation Island showcases many instances of sacrifice among the characters. First, Dina sacrificed her comforts of being overprotected and became adventurous in joining the contest; Azenith gave up her “reputation as a decent woman” just to climb up the social ladder; Bambi forwent her own will for the sake of her family’s status in society. Of course, there were even more sacrifices that took place in the wilderness. Each one compromised his/her status and took measures just to ensure survival in the desolate place. But the greatest sacrifice can be seen in Joshua, who was eventually eaten by the survivors. In the film, sacrifices are necessary to get an anticipated result in a contest, or in the desert, survival.

The film can also be interpreted as an attack on putting a premium on virginity. Dina, who did not give in to the urges of Alfredo, became a ‘loser’ when Suzanne seduced her lover. The three contestants enjoyed the pleasures of sex in the desert, while Dina maintained her virginity. Dina’s value judgments regarding sex and virginity were shaped by the society where she belongs, and the three other contestants may represent the more liberal people ready to accept modern ideas. It can be said that Dina is a more conservative type of person, while the other three ladies, liberal. The battle between the two groups can be identified in the time when the film was made—in the ‘80s.

Civilization has given each one the comfort of living at peace without worrying what to eat or to wear the next day. However, when people are taken out “civilized life” and are placed in a context such as being shipwrecked on a desert island, they will realize that they’ve become too dependent of the comfort and luxuries that society offers, as Alfredo mentioned in the last scene of the movie. Hence, the survivors of the shipwreck could not become accustomed to their harsh environment, where there is no technology and source of food. But beyond this, we must also ask: what does “civilization” mean in the first place? As one character remarks, even in the cities people engage in less than civilized behavior.

Ultimately, the characters negotiated their existence with the context of the desert and they managed themselves to do tasks that they would probably never want nor need do. Were integrities compromised? We believe not. Each character held on to his or her ideas of him or herself, leading up to a wonderfully entertaining and insightful film forever on the roster of the best films of the ‘80s.


Campy. (n.d.) Retrieved on 3 October 2011 from

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