Fearless filmmaking: The Cinema One Originals Festival 2017
MANILA, Philippines — With the rallying cry of Walang Takot, the 2017 Cinema One Originals Festival was ushered in at the Trinoma last Sunday evening with a presentation of the directors of the Films in Competition and the Short Films, topped by a one-time screening of the much-acclaimed new work of Martin McDonagh — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. If ever a film was tailor-fit to give support to this notion of fearless filmmaking, Three Billboards took a rightful bow as it highlighted Frances McDormand in a spunky, woman-empowered role that has critics talking Oscar Best Actress nomination.
In this year’s edition, Walang Takot took on several possible meanings — whether in terms of film structure and narrative, tackling social issues or reworking cinematic tropes and/or genres — this year’s crop was about being fearless and creating new possibilities. Leave it to Cinema One head Ronald Arguelles to even find one more meaning to the slogan as he quipped, “Walang Takot; as haharapin natin ang Justice League!” — referring to how the festival runs up against the opening later in the week of the big budget DC superhero adventure.
As for Three Billboards, it’s a hard-hitting black comedy that stars McDormand as Mildred Hayes, mother of a young girl who was raped and murdered in the small Midwest town of Ebbing. When seven months have passed with no progress of any kind on the case, Mildred utilizes three local billboards to taunt and hopefully spur the local police department into action. With Woody Harrelson playing the much-loved local sheriff, it isn’t long before Mildred’s incendiary act stirs an angry beehive of reactions from the community.
The great thing about McDonagh’s writing and directing is how almost every character is given a surprising arc; and how there are no perfect heroes or villains in the film. Each one has his or her flaws and imperfections, or their moments of redemption. Beyond McDormand’s tour de force performance, there is also Sam Rockwell as the “redneck” bigoted police officer who astounds us with his multi-layered attack on the role. Sparks of humor and intense violence punctuate the film; and given that McDonagh’s filmography includes In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, this is to be expected. What does surprise here is how there are no small roles, and how each member of the ensemble cast is given a turn in the spotlight, revealing depth or texture. This masterful control over the material, narrative, acting and tone is such a rarity.
For the nine films in competition, seven are film narratives, and two are documentaries; and they are marked by wonderful diversity. Changing Partners is the film adaptation of a musical that examines modern relationships, while Si Chedeng At Si Apple is a black comedy that deals with friendship via “coming out” when a senior citizen and decapitating your husband. Nervous Translation is an experimental rumination on the world of children, and Paki is a family drama that examines the notion of “starting over” when you’re 80!
Historiographika Errata is historical revisionism seen through a tarnished, cracked mirror, while Throwback Today is a time-jumping sci-fi dramedy treatment of the existential question of “What would we do differently in our past if given the chance?” Nay is motherhood with a supernatural, horror twist. The two full-length documentaries study the role of the supernatural and bizarre in our everyday lives; one examining a mystical mountain, the other a haunted house.
There’s a Restored Classics section, a look back at the best of Cinema One Originals, and an impressively curated World Cinema section. In the latter, I am especially excited to view Call Me By Your Name, Good Time, A Fantastic Woman and Beats Per Minute.
On this 13th year of Cinema One Originals, it’s great to observe how the festival has evolved through the years, and become such a stirring showcase of the best Cinema today can offer. If there is any justice in this world, we’ll throw our support behind the two-week film extravaganza, and give these everyday “superheroes” their due.