Persistence of Brief Visions: Best Filipino Short Films

Jose Ibarra Guballa's Ang Maangas, ang Marikit at ang Makata is a study of patriarchy and gender roles.
Filipino shorts are anything but short of vision and talent. For 2015, the number of short films was staggering. Sifting through the pile was laborious which was made more daunting with the need to trim choices down to 10. As with any list, it’s hardly definitive. Perhaps, in a different mood and viewing condition, some of the admirable works that were not able to creep up in this list would rank a bit higher. This list also speaks of the kind of works that I think Filipino short filmmakers should explore more – experimental works, documentaries that reach into more personal spaces and regional works that show the uniqueness and diversity of Filipino culture.

Some of the films that I really liked deserve some mention: Mike Esteves’s two short films, the experimental Ano ang Halaga ng Pangalan? and the Japanese horror-inspired Iris deserves a place as much as the others listed here; I would love to see Pam Miras’s Pusong Bato again, a silent short shot entirely on film, and would love to see more works from other filmmakers employing the same medium; Bernard Jay Mercado’s playful and brave Man in the Cinema House, a true cinephile film; and others like Petersen Vargas’s paean to heartbreak Geography Lessons, the twisted humor in Carlo Manatad’s Junilyn Has, Martika Ramirez’s Pusong Bato, Sari Estrada’s Kusina ni Clara and Bagane Fiola’s Kaon Durian, all of which excites me whenever I think of the expansion of its storytelling possibilities. 

10. Bayan ng mga Kontraktwal – King Catoy, Pinoy Media Center
The power of this short documentary lies in how the personal story/crusade blends and eventually forms part of the success stories it presents. The message is clear and the call to action is urgent. But we can carry the weight of this continued struggle.

9. The End of War – Joe Bacus
There is power to its silences and chaos, giving us an immersive and compelling experience. Its topicality, while evident, is matched by a clear vision, reminding us of the fragility of peace and the difficulty of the quest towards attaining it.

8. Sanctissima – Kenneth Dagatan
Man’s unlikely propensity for the macabre is what makes Dagatan’s short horror tale tick aside from its sumptuous production design and cinematography. The film delivers a knee-weakening terror that takes me back to the Shake Rattle and Roll of my childhood.

(tie) Operation Prutas – Ara Chawdhury
Ara Chawdhury’s caper captures the lively spirit of its Cebu origins. Poking fun at one of the most revered Catholic icons, the couple at the heart of the story ends up snared by its supernatural powers and the mischievous machinations of fate.

7. Dindo – Martika Escobar
Nostalgia is the currency that runs in both Escobar’s Pusong Bato and Dindo, but I connected most to the latter. Dindo reminds us that like in films, while remembrances of the past is painful and bittersweet, it is essential to the soul and necessary for the continuity of our present.

6. Ang Kapitbahay Ko Sa 2014 – Anya Zulueta
The film is awash in bright colors and brimming with charm thanks to its two child leads. The film’s skillful storytelling depicts the blossoming of friendship, but it also underlines what we adults sometimes lack – the need for genuine connection in our increasingly divided and distanced worlds.

5. Walay Naa Diri – Jean Claire Dy
We seem to have a lack of autobiographical/personal, essay films that Claire Dy’s short film comes as a breath of fresh air. It isn’t so much about the familiar subject matter – one’s search for identity and a sense of place – but in the longing ache of her narration and the confusion in her images that makes the search more palpable and grounded.

4. Mga Alingawngaw sa Panahon ng Pagpapasya – Hector Barretto Calma
The black and white cinematography in Calma’s period short works very well in the interior scenes, evoking the mood of the era. From carefully composed shots, the camera shifts to movement in the final third somehow capturing the spirit of unrest, ending in that powerful last shot – the answer to the indecision that pervades its first act.

3. Cyberdevil x Ahas – Timmy Harn
A red devil, a green human snake on bicycle. I imagine this playfully disturbing film as what a computer Christmas virus would look like. A virus, a hack, an assault into one’s consciousness. In less then two minutes, Timmy Harn’s yarn manages to be all that, then some punch and a laugh.

2. Tami-aw – Mary Ann Gabisan
Short films that have come out of the Nabunturan Indie Film Exhibition have captured the element of setting expertly sans tourism. Films like Tami-aw seems to suggest that stories of life in the provinces want to surmount this recurring motif of mountainous landscapes and controlled spaces. I was surprised to learn later that the film is labeled as a documentary – Gabisan’s direction seems to have blur the fictive and real elements of the story in the documentation process creating a mesmerizing portrait or marginalization, and proving once again the enormous talent and stories that abound outside the capital.

1. Ang Maangas, ang Marikit at ang Makata – Jose Ibarra Guballa
There is only one female character in this fun Western-inspired film, subservient to patriarchy and torn between traditional male attachments, but it’s this character’s desires – her wanting to dance and not her father’s rifle or her avid suitor’s endless crooning – that rings the loudest. And Guballa, in that memorable final act, made sure to remind us of that.

– Jay Rosas

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