Cebu’s festival of docu films
Yesterday ended the second Cebu International Documentary Film Festival (CIDFF), probably the country’s only non-thematic documentary film festival that is open to entries from all over the world.
This year’s program consists of 38 long and short documentary films from the Philippines and countries like Austria, Cambodia, East Timor, Ecuador, France, Haiti, Italy, Japan, Myanmar, and, of course, those of our independent filmmakers in the Philippines.
The CIDFF had for its curtain raiser during the opening last August 21 at Ayala Center Onstage Theater, Donald Plata’s “Forgotten Soldiers,” a documentary about the Philippine Scouts who bravely fought against Japanese invaders side-by-side with Americans and Filipino guerrillas during World War II.
An aviator by profession and a self-confessed “hobbyist” of cinema, Donald Plata is based in Washington D.C., where he met most of the veterans from whose accounts the film was made. The Filipino director collaborated with American author Chris Schaefer and the Fil-am Hollywood actor Lou Diamond Philips (of “La Bamba” fame), who became the narrator of the award-winning film.
Closing the film last night at the Cultural Center of Cebu was Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial yet critically acclaimed “The Act of Killing,” a documentary about members of a death squad who were responsible for genocidal killings in Sumatra, Indonesia during Suharto’s time.
In the film, the director made his subjects, the perpetrators themselves, reenact their crimes complete with prosthetics they themselves made. As such, the film becomes very telling about how the murderers feel about their acts of violence, years after it happened.
By making them retell their version of the story by acting it out, the film transgresses genre and ethical conventions based on distinctions between subjectivity and objectivity, fact or fiction. Of course, the murderers exaggerate and embellish their own stories, obvious “lies that make us see the truth”, as Picasso once said about art in general.
This year’s overall winner is Octavio Guerra’s “Holy Water,” a film about how residents in a remote and poverty-stricken village in Costa Rica prepare for a community theater about the effects of river pollution in their lives. Using a mix of scripted scenes and direct cinema while filming a play, the director thus makes it hard for us to distinguish between what is filmed as real, as dramatization, or “stage” drama itself.
The same reflexivity and blurring of line between art and life is also noted in Andy Wolff’s “A Captain and his Pirate,” a documentary that parallels the accounts of the captain of a German ship held by pirates in Somalia and that of one of his captors.
Aside from going on a very risky journey to the hideouts of pirates in order to extract a rare confession of one of the perpetrators , the director also forces the victim to simulate some conditions that led to his trauma, thus making the documentary part of the process of healing. The film won best in long feature documentary category but, as one of the jurors, this is my personal favorite in the selection.
Winning the best short documentary is “Natpwe,” an experimental travel documentary about a religious rite in Myanmar by Tiane Doan na Champassak and Jean Dubrel. Filmed in what looks like a combination of Super 8 and 16 millimeter, the use of black and white and sound collage creates a solid unifying base for a spectacle that is at once meditative and hypnotic.
Winning the best in cinematography is “A Handful of Salt,” a film about the decline and revival of Japan’s traditional art of salt making directed by Kaori Ishii who came to the screening in a kimono.
A special award for content went to Ed Moschitz’s “Mama Illegal,” which follows through about 10 years of filming the lives of Moldavian women illegally working in Austria and Italy. In so many ways, this film strangely resembles the experience of Filipino workers illegally working abroad as well as the ephemera of poverty in their country.
No Filipino or Cebuano film made it in the competition, which only goes to show that the all-Filipino jury focused on merit in this film.
This early confidence and common belief in the universality of art as well as concern for human values is what makes this fledgling film festival truly international.
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