Saturday, February 18, 2012

Indie initiation

WHAT can I endure for P10?

Quite a lot, I learned last Friday at the culmination of Mass Communication Week at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.

The icing of the activities was, for this fan of stories, the short videos made by students for the revived UPelikula and the short and feature-length movies made by indie filmmakers first shown in the Binisaya festival last year.

Years ago, UPelikula began in UP Cebu as a showcase of the shorts made by Mass Com students for course requirements. This year, the Mass Com program, Communicators of UP and the UP Cebu Student Council opened the competition to all students.

First shown at the University of San Carlos-Talamban Campus, the Binisaya movies were presented to a UP Cebu audience that missed the December viewing.

Entrance was free when all entries for UPelikula were shown on Feb. 16. A day later, I was again the first to queue up and turn over my P30 for a purple ticket that got me inside the UP Cebu conference room for the Binisaya showing.

Actually, I didn’t have to queue up. Even if I came an hour after the scheduled start, I was, for a period long enough to show a couple of shorts or one feature-length movie, the only one waiting in the dark for the movies to start. (Patience rewards: I got a P20 discount when organizers lowered the entrance fee after more interminable waiting.)

Lesson 1 for indie newbies: bring a story to read or make your own while waiting for the movie to start.

At UP, alternative classes don’t force students to troop to events, the assumption being that anyone serious about learning will go on his or her own volition. This can create headaches for organizers, but I can live happily without “captured audiences” that fill the chairs and then yak about their bleeding hearts throughout the entire event.

Realizing that young people live hard, sleep late and wake late, I brought a Stieg Larsson novel to wait for my youngers to stumble in hours after I, the first latecomer, came. Actually, all the waiting I did enabled me to finish the second novel and begin the third novel of Larsson’s trilogy about human trafficking conspiracies.

Lesson 2: no matter how small, indie audiences demand a LOT.
In contrast to big-budgeted productions that only invest in sure hits, indie movies are supposed to mirror the unique, never-before-seen vision of an as-yet-unheralded visionary auteur.

Crap. I was glad to be part of a rather cozy audience because as soon as the UPelikula and Binisaya movies were shown, nearly all of us in the audience had something to comment or gossip about the actors/director/crew/setting—all totally unrelated to the movie: rolling guffaws (mockery with a capital M) when a Junquera character compares the red light district to sleepless New York. “Oy! Di ba na Kawasan (Falls)? You remember how Ingo totally lost it there during our Humanities outing (loud whisper during a climactic scene about dying, revelation and redemption)?”

Lesson 3: Why make movies for an audience that comes chronically late, gets in for free or a pittance, and out-criticizes the critics?

Because we stay on. Because in spite of our know-it-all snickers broadcasting in the dark that we see through Maja the Consistent Scholar acting as Donna the Pick-up Artist, a number of us wait till the end to find out how your story jumps, twists, slips away as image, metaphor or memory.

Because we shut up when the story holds us in its sway and we shout and demand to finish a movie that’s cut because another group is moving inside the conference room and we gobble down a late lunch to resume the viewing hastily continued in a classroom.

Because some stories demand to be told these stories that go beyond mere good or bad stories that make waiting in the dark a point connecting to another point and so on until you walk out of the dark, thinking: I didn’t even miss the popcorn.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 18, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, February 11, 2012

When women talk

SHE said her name is Arlene. She lived and worked for a time in Manila, handling the carvings sold in the stall she handles now in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Though it was quicker and more lucrative to sell goods to tourists and locals who didn’t count the cost, city life tired her. She went home.

A short-cropped girl, Arlene hardly stood out among the other vendors in the warren of stalls our group dropped by for about 20 minutes before proceeding to the airport.

By some fortune, we espied an intriguing carving in the stall Arlene was tending. It caught our eye despite the hordes of lookalikes that jostled in every corner in the crowded agora.

The figure was in the likeness of a woman. From her pendulous naked breasts and drum-shaped torso, she resembled a woman whose body was worn out by many births and heavy manual work.

Yet, from her erect carriage, which gave those drooping nipples the dignity of having been suckled and bequeathing life, radiated a certain power that transformed that misshapen lump of a body.

It seemed that the hands carving this figure did not want to come up with just another commodity for the souvenir market. Our group earlier visited the Palawan Museum. Among the artifacts in the ethnological section of the museum are the “tawo-tawo,” hand-carved miniature figures of a couple that, by their garb and accessories, seemed to till the land or live in the uplands.

If I heard the guide correctly, the “tawo-tawo” was traditionally made by the Pala’wan tribe, one of the indigenous peoples of the province. There was no time to ask questions, but the carven images intrigued. Why were they made? They did not look like children played with them. Were they objects of worship?

Most curious was the presence of the female figure. It is unusual to see women preserved in a semi-permanent form even though they may have contributed significantly to primeval households and communities. Would primeval machos worship a worn progeny-bearing vessel?

In the souvenir arcade, the “tawo-tawo” appeared to be popular among tourists because there was a glut of copies, ranging from the small and desk-bound to spindly, meter-high decors that can dress up a boring corner of the house better than a pot of plant.

So coming upon the handiwork of a mentality that did not demystify the past to fit the exacting demands of modern housekeeping led to our conversing with and knowing Arlene.

The earth mother figure was half-hidden by carved wooden boats and immense masks and sun dials. Arlene pulled it out. We found it heavy, unlike the other carvings. Arlene said this one was made of nato, also known as the Philippine cherry because of its reddish tint. Ipil, pale in tone but much lighter, is a more popular choice among souvenir makers.

We wondered why the carving was covered in dust and filaments of cobweb. She said the figure was difficult to sell as a pair because its partner looked odd beside the female figure.

Arlene located the male figure. When it was placed beside the earth mother, the difference was indeed striking. The top of the man’s head barely brushed the woman’s shoulder.

Beside this pygmy, the woman seemed even more powerful. I asked Arlene in jest if the carver was female.

Arlene said the carver, a male, was bound by the material that was available. The nato pieces were found in the forest, not cut from trees felled for this purpose. Even if one has a license for its harvest, nato is now scarce since this hardwood was much used for building houses.

The August 2011 issue of the Mabuhay magazine cites Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital, as the country’s first carbon-neutral city. Verified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body monitoring climate change, this means that Puerto Princesa City removes carbon eight times more than the amount it emits.

Not content with Arlene’s sales talk, I prodded her: even if the fellow could only carve according to what was available, why did he not reserve the larger nato piece for the male and the smaller one for the female? Why the other way around?

We eyed the earth mother’s gigantic thighs, those immense breasts swinging from the thrown back shoulders. We turned our gaze at the slight male, feeling protective and somehow maternal. Arlene said:

Isn’t it that even among real couples, some women dominate their men?

Manila’s loss is Puerto Princesa’s gain.

( 0917-3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 12, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Alien life

A PERPETUAL passenger all my life, I was thrust out of the relative safety of mere observation when I found myself seated at the prow of our boat during a recent exploration of the Underground River at Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

As the outermost passenger seated at the forward part of the banca, I was to handle the lone flashlight according to the directions of the boatman-cum-guide, who steered the boat from the stern or the back.

It seemed simple to direct a beam of light to satisfy our curiosity of what then was still shortlisted as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

We left the crowd of tourists awaiting their turn on the shore of a lagoon dominated by the majestic profiles of limestone karst mountains, and drifted towards the inky depths of the jagged mouth of the cave.

Suddenly, the boatman barked “Kanan, kanan!”.

Does “kanan” mean right or left? My panic resulted in the flashlight arching from right to left to right again. In the dark of the cave, the skittering of that spidery beam was enough to jumpstart a headache.

In Cebuano, I hissed for aid from my husband seated behind me. In the high-domed cavern, my whisper caromed like the very best pontificating address delivered with cathedral-enhanced acoustics—a point that translated well to my Tagalog companions my ineptness in following directions, as well as my pained discomfort with the national tongue.

Before anyone could throw me out of the boat, though, the tots in our group of 10 found the icy cold river more entertaining than erratically spotlighted stalactites.

After much splashing and shouting—that proves adults around children make more din than children playing among themselves—we used the rest of our 45 minutes inside the cave acting like proper tourists.

When friends knew we were joining a trip to what is hailed as the “longest navigable underground river in the world,” we got a lot of well-meant horror stories.

What should scare more than the combined forces of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and vampire bat relatives of Edward and Bella are tourists and vandals.

Last Jan. 28, 2012, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) officially became part of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. It’s a cause for national pride, specially for the millions whose online voting enabled the PPUR to leapfrog from an initial list of 440 sites in 220 countries in 2007 to the top 77. This list was further whittled down to 28 finalists.

After voting for PPUR, the next logical step is to visit. At P900 for every person aged six years and older, the tour is affordable as it covers boat transfer from and to Sabang Beach in the mainland of Puerto Princesa, guide, snacks, entrance fee and a permit to explore a portion of the 8.2-km river.

What will this fame mean for Puerto Princesa? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international watchdog of climate change, Puerto Princesa is the country’s first carbon-neutral city. It means that its carbon removal is eight times more than its carbon emissions.

I see the writing on the wall, thanks to our guide, Rene Boy. In every sense of the word, he knows the cave in the dark.

It wasn’t just that even before the chamber was lit up, he already pointed out how a cluster of stalagmites resembled the Virgin Madonna on our approach but transformed into a snarling beast about to pounce as we passed it again on the way back to the cave’s maw in the lagoon.

Rene Boy also pointed out the graffiti scrawled on portions of the cave. Some vandals used non-English characters.

Seeing a boatman unload a water container from a banca full of such vessels at the side of the cave, Rene Boy explained that locals derived their supply for household use from cave fissures trickling water.

Even swarms of bats flitting in the dark and crapping copiously above our heads did not daunt us from taking photos, hailing other passengers in the underground banca traffic, and generally acting as tourists often do in places they don’t expect to go back again.

Cave formations awe because they seem to be of other worlds. In a sense, stalactites and stalagmites are truly not of our world of haste and waste: it takes about 100 years to form an inch of growth on these formations.

In the presence of those towering flowstones and dripstones, we should have acted less like theme park visitors and more like penitents and supplicants.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 5, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column