A decade in Mindanao cinema

Arnel Mardoquio's Riddles of My Homecoming locates Mindanao as a source not only of stories but also ways of thinking and expression.

Like a butterfly that has emerged from its cocoon, Mindanao cinema took a shape of its own this decade and becoming an important component of the growing decentralization of Philippine cinema which was once a stronghold of Manila. What started in the first decade of the century due to advances in digital technology, feature-length film productions flourished in the regions, including Mindanao, forever reshaping the country's cinematic landscape.

2010 became a landmark year for Mindanao cinema, actually the first time the phraseology 'Mindanao cinema' was used, when Sheron Dayoc's Halaw (Ways of the Sea) emerged quite surprisingly as the winner in the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. In its citation, the jury declared that the victory of the film “heralds the coming of Mindanao cinema.”

Four feature films were made by its homegrown filmmakers – Cinemalaya finalists Halaw and Limbunan (The Bridal Quarter) by this writer, the independent production Sheika by Arnel Mardoquio and Balangay co-directed by Sherad Anthony Sanchez and Robin Färdig.

In 2011 Mardoquio directed Crossfire demonstrating the director's shift to the utility of the long take which would become more pronounced in his next succeeding films. As early as Limbunan, this writer has utilized the long take extensively in his film which Italian critic Cristiana Paterno described “[T]he slow pace of this astounding film, a serene elegy within the closed sphere of contemplative cinema.” Starting in 2006, Sanchez, in his debut feature Huling Balyan Sa Buhi (Women Stories of the Other) pioneered the same aesthetics to capture indigenous life in the mountains. For years to come, these three filmmakers will be known for the slow, contemplative nature of their oeuvres.

Also in 2011 Zurich Chan of Zamboanga directed his debut feature Teoriya, which was a Cinemalaya finalist. Meanwhile, I directed my sophomore feature Cartas dela Soledad (Letters of Solitude) which was produced by Cinema One Originals. Cartas dela Soledad would later win best Asian film at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in 2012.


The Film Development Council of the Philippines established the shortlived Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival, in 2012, which saw the production of seven Mindanao feature films namely Qiyamah by this writer, Duwaya by Najib Zacaria of Marawi, Tambara by Orvil Bantayan of Davao, Malan by Benjie Garcia of Davao, and In Banka Halit Sin Duah Sapah (The Boat Between Two Rivers) by Fyred Alfad III of Sulu which he co-directed with Sig Barros Sanchez, as well as the documentaries Taguri by Dempster Samarista and Chasing Fireflies by Sheron Dayoc. Qiyamah won best film at the Young Critics Circle Citation for Distinguished Achievement in Film, in 2013.

That same year Arnel Mardoquio directed Ang Paglalakbay Ng Mga Bituin Sa Gabing Madilim (The (Journey of the Stars Into the Dark Night), while Sherad Anthony Sanchez directed Jungle Love. I made The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan's Children which won best film in the Digital Lokal section of Cinemanila International Film Festival. Mardoquio's Ang Paglalakbay Ng Mga Bituin Sa Gabing Madilim won the Gawad Urian for best film the following year.

In 2013 Adjani Arumpac directed the documentary War Is A Tender Thing, a meditation on the armed conflict in Mindanao through the lens of memory of the filmmaker’s parents’ failed marriage. It won a Special Mention at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. Meanwhile, Mardoquio directed the kaleidoscopic Ang Mga Tigmo Sa Akong Pagpauli (Riddles of My Homecoming) garnering a Jury Prize at the Cinema One Film Festival. In a way, this Mardoquio film locates Mindanao as a source not only of stories but also ways of thinking and expression articulated in styles that are both organic and derivative, positing Mindanao's burgeoning cinema in the larger scale of Philippine and world cinema.


The Filipino film master Lav Diaz made what could arguably be his 'Mindanao film' Saan Nagmula Ang Noon (From What is Before), in 2014, which won the top prize at Locarno. Diaz was born and raised in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao and while Diaz would acknowledge that his films are inspired by personal experiences growing up in Datu Paglas and subsequently in nearby Tacurong, in Sultan Kudarat Province, Saan Nagmula Ang Noon is his only film to date with Mindanao clearly as a setting. It opened with a procession of Maguindanaon villagers who were to attend a healing ritual performed by the healer Racma.

Mindanao filmmakers continued to make more films in the succeeding years.

In 2015 Perry Dizon premiered his first documentary Of Cats, Dogs, Farm Animals and Sashimi which would win a Special Citation at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 2017. Two narrative features were also produced namely Gukod Sa Hapak Sa Balud (Chasing Waves) by Charliebebs Gohetia and the found-footage horror Salvage by Sherad Anthony Sanchez, and a documentary Father Said, “Let’s Go Home” by Nef Luczon about the reunion of an indigenous family in Bukidnon.

Mindanao cinema dominated the country's film festivals in 2016. Daughters of the Three Tailed Banner by this writer won the Grand Jury Prize at the World Premieres Film Festival, Bagane Fiola's Baboy Halas (Wanderings In The Forest) took home the NETPAC Prize at the QCinema International Film Festival, while Women Of The Weeping River by Sheron Dayoc triumphed as QCinema best film. Forbidden Memory, a documentary also by this writer on the 1974 massacre of about 1,500 civilians in Malisbong, Sultan Kudarat Province at the height of Martial Law, won best documentary at the Cinema One Film Festival. Women Of The Weeping River sweeped top awards at Gawad Urian including best film the following year.


In 2017 Davao's Arnel Barbarona directed his debut feature Tu Pug Imatuy (Right To Kill) which won him best director honors in the 2018 Gawad Urian and FAMAS. Meanwhile, Nawruz Paguidopon of Cagayan de Oro produced his refreshing documentary God BLISS Our Home which would garner a Gawad Urian and FAMAS nomination for best documentary.

Emerging from a short hiatus, Arnel Mardoquio returned to the director's chair with Almaata in 2018. Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro produced two feature films that year – Kauyagan (Way of Life) by Julienne Ilagan which was a grant recipient and finalist of ToFarm Film Festival, and Joe Bacus' Markado (The Moon Devourer) that playfully mixed live action and doll animation sequences. Liryc dela Cruz premiered his feature documentary Notes from Unknown Maladies. I collaborated with Lav Diaz for an ode to the province of our origin that would become the basis of the film Masla A Papanok (Bird of History) which was produced by QCinema International Film Festival that year.

In 2019 Barbarona directed his second film Kaaway Sa Sulod (Enemy Within), a political thriller that reimagines the bloody career of a military general.

While premium is placed on feature films, this does not in any way diminish the contribution of the short form in the development of Mindanao cinema. Notable short films that were made through the years include Siyudad Sa Bulawan (City of Gold) by Jarell Serencio, Pulangui by Bagane Fiola, 3021 by Edmund Telmo, Tembong (Connections) by Shai Advincula, Sa Among Agwat (In Between Silences) by Don Senoc, White Flag by Najib Zacaria, and Manis Ma Pikilan by Bhas Abdulsamad, which were all produced in 2018; Astri Maka Si Tambulah by Xeph Suarez and Ikaduhang Pagbalik (Second Coming) by Jeffrie Po, in 2017; Hondo by Aedrian Araojo, in 2016; Tami-Aw by Mary ann Gabisan, in 2015; Pasuon by Bryan Jimenez and Happy Fiesta by Joe Bacus, in 2014; No Ama Conmigo (Love Me Not) by Ryanne Murcia, in 2013; Bulador de Casa by Victor Ian Covarrubias, in 2012; and Boca by Zurich Chan, in 2010.

The development of Mindanao's cinema is also stimulated by several film festivals that have been established around the region in the last several years. These festivals provide screening opportunities as well as educational initiatives through film workshops, seminars and forums that have encouraged young cinephiles to make their own films.

The rich stories of Mindanao will be told in films in the coming decade that will hopefully push the boundaries of storytelling technique and aesthetics, but more importantly to introduce a more honest depiction of the region's people, culture and realities that have been grossly misrepresented in the country's long cinematic tradition. After all it is in the owning of our stories that heralded the advent of Mindanao cinema, and by becoming true to it, it can move forward with consistent passion. 


– Gutierrez Mangansakan II

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