The Cinema One Originals 2017 actors portfolio

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This year, a new batch of actors take on the challenge of starring in brave new films — from a 66-year-old lesbian’s search for the great perhaps played by Gloria Diaz to a nurturing aswang portrayed by Sylvia Sanchez.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — There is an issue of whether Cinema One Originals is an independent film festival.

This was a point raised during the announcement of the film festival’s lineup. Actors heaping praises on their directors and gushing about their “indie” experience might have brought up the thorny label. Questions from some reporters may have contributed to this issue as well: the mention of “indie-grade salaries,” or “what it feels like going indie,” etc. As filmmakers strive to blur the line between “commercial” and “indie,” it seems that there is much to do in narrowing the gulf in terms of the public’s perception between studio production and smaller releases.

But there lies the rub: Cinema One Originals is backed by the mammoth machinery of ABS-CBN. When asked about the difference of Cinema One Originals from other festivals, festival director Ronald Arguelles mentions giving the filmmakers “access to the talents here in ABS-CBN and the other facilities” as one of their main differences. They also dole out the largest seed budget among the local film festivals: a whopping ₱3 million, a far cry from Cinemalaya’s ₱750,000. But unlike in Cinemalaya, the rights to the film is retained by Cinema One, not the filmmaker.

When the question of whether Cinema One is “indie” was brought up by reporter Isiah Red, Arguelles responded: “Hindi po namin bino-box ang sarili namin as ‘indie’ kasi siyempre andito kami sa ABS-CBN … we’ll be correcting everyone, hindi lang ‘yung actors [in calling themselves ‘indie.’]”

“Call yourselves alternative cinema-makers because you’re not the usual cinema that we watch in commercial films,” said Red.

Ronald Arguelles In terms of the development of the lineup of Cinema One Originals through the years, festival director Ronald Arguelles says, "We still get a lot of genre films like horror and romance types. But we receive a lot of regional film concepts kasi we’re known to open doors to regional filmmakers. We’re just conscious na films should be watched by a bigger audience so ‘yung lineup namin this year, you could tell it's very audience friendly." Photo by JL JAVIER

But there’s also an argument to be made that independent producers are part of financing the films. The ₱3 million for the full length feature category is just a seed grant and it is up to the filmmakers to find the rest of the budget for their film.  

Labels notwithstanding, there’s no hiding that Cinema One Originals partly exists as content for its parent channel, similar to how Cinemalaya was initially conceived as content for then benefactor Tony Boy Cojuanco’s Dream TV/ABC5. So what happens when the festival’s films are shown on Cinema One?

“Some titles do really good,” says Arguelles. “But of course it’s overshadowed by the bigger titles kasi the cable audience [...] the Vice Gandas and FPJ movies are the ones that rate, once in a while are the Star Cinema films about adultery. Before they will watch everything but ngayon parang they’re more conservative. Maybe because the one watching on cable are older than the one watching online. The usual fare that they watch are the action films or the comedy films na more entertaining. Entertaining meaning … mindless? [Laughs].”

Comedies from Cinema One Originals do better on cable, according to Arguelles, such as “Slumber Party,” “Lorna” and “That Thing Called Tadhana.” The more arthouse fares are shown late at night, mostly because some have more adult content.

The festival, now on its 13th year, has been the breeding ground for some of the most exciting talents working in Philippine cinema today. Jerrold Tarog’s debut film “Confessional” (co-directed with Ruel Dahis Antipuesto), a mockumentary film featuring a corrupt politician’s tell-all, won best picture at the 2007 Cinema One Originals. Antoinette Jadaone debuted with “Six Degrees of Lilia Cuntapay” at the festival in 2011. Three years later, her film “That Thing Called Tadhana” would change the game for Cinema One Originals, their biggest crossover hit yet, taking home ₱134 million.

When asked about corporate pressure to produce a string of hits after “Tadhana,” Arguelles says there’s always a lookout for a successor.

“Of course there’s pressure to create another ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’ or another commercial film that will [do well],” he says. “Ang laki ng investment ng network. It’s a curse and a blessing because they want another movie like that. We’re hoping meron this year — laging may hope every year [Laughs].”

This year alone, the nine official entries total ₱24 million worth of investment for the full length and documentary competition (documentary filmmakers get a ₱1.5 seed grant), plus the investment of bringing foreign films to Manila such as “Call Me By Your Name,” “120 Beats Per Minute,” and “Let the Sunshine In” — favorites from festivals abroad such as Cannes and Sundance — but some will play to a handful of audiences.

Putting together a film festival is no walk in the park, that much is apparent. Much of what goes into play here is service to the audience who will take chances in discovering something new. When films easily leak online and it’s much more convenient to watch in the comfort of your home, film festivals carry on the legacy of the theatrical experience, the crackling energy of sitting in the dark and watching a story unravel.

“Most people are not watching in theaters, they’re just watching sa laptop nila,” says Arguelles. “We’re trying to get the big international films for them to be attracted to watching the festival. And of course, get the stars to work with us also para at least their fans will go to the theaters and watch the films during the festival period.”

The big-ticket names in the competition films have always been one of Cinema One Originals’ advantage. Some of them are Angelica Panganiban (“That Thing Called Tadhana,” “Alamat ni China Doll”), Yeng Constantino (“Shift”), Matteo Guidicelli (“Saturday Night Chills”), Sam Milby (“Third World Happy”), Erich Gonzales (“Paano Ko Sasabihin”), Enchong Dee (“Paano Ko Sasabihin,” “Nay”), Angeline Quinto (“Malinak Ya Labi”), Jericho Rosales (“Red”), and JC De Vera (“Tisay”). In every press conference for the festival, there is a mention of mainstream actors going “indie,” adding a little acting cred to their filmography, and  some, like Panganiban, have been successful in taking home acting trophies.

This year, a new batch of actors take on the challenge of starring in brave new films; all photographed during the press launch of the festival. Whether it’s in the glorious gore of “Nay,” the re-writing of national heroes in “Historiographika Errata” or a 66-year-old lesbian’s search for the great perhaps in “Si Chedeng at Si Apple,” these performances will be carving their space in Philippine cinema.

Jana Agoncillo Photo by JL JAVIER

Jana Agoncillo in “Nervous Translation”

“It’s really me ... It’s trying to get out of your shell, that’s what the film is about, how to translate … how to express yourself without losing yourself,” says director Shireen Seno of her new film “Nervous Translation.” In the film, Yael (Agoncillo) grows up shy and unsure, withheld from the world. One day, she discovers a pen that can translate her emotions, and her quest for it suspends Yael in the delicate wonders of childhood. Agoncillo mesmerizes as Yael, a performance that requires her presence in almost all of the scenes but with hardly any dialogue.

Nathalie Hart Photo by JL JAVIER

Nathalie Hart in “Historiographika Errata”

Librada (Hart) is alone in a hut in a small, unnamed town during the Japanese occupation while her husband is in jail a suspected guerilla. As she has to fend for herself, she makes ends meet by offering herself up to men in exchange for crops and livestock. Librada stays resilient, even if predatory atrocities continue to wither her womanhood. Hart imbues Librada with fateful fragility, even though it becomes clear that Librada is fated to be a puppet at the whims of men around her.

Jojit Lorenzo, Agot Isidro, Sandino Martin, Anna Luna in Changing Partners Photo by JL JAVIER

Jojit Lorenzo, Agot Isidro, Sandino Martin, and Anna Luna in “Changing Partners”

Hurt doesn’t know gender according to “Changing Partners.” In the course of the film, adapted from Vincent De Jesus’ stage play, we see Alex (Isidro and Lorenzo) and Cris (Martin and Luna) swap genders but the variations — gay or straight — still contain the same frustrations, resentments, and wounds in their tumultuous relationship. “Changing Partners” is never easy and the raw performances of Isidro, Martin, Lorenzo, and Luna form a searing portrait of a love gone wrong.

Gloria Diaz Photo by JL JAVIER

Gloria Diaz in “Si Chedeng at si Apple”

Upon the death of Chedeng’s (Diaz) husband, she decides, at 66, to finally come out of the closet and look for her long lost love. Diaz reunites with “Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa” co-star Elizabeth Oropesa in this wild romp of a road movie that takes turns in being hilarious, absurd, and tender. Directors Fatrick Tabada and Rae Red present a coming out film that shows a lighter take on the pitfalls of coming out, making light of what could be a terrifying moment in someone’s life.

Jameson Blake, Sylvia Sanchez, and Enchong Dee Photo by JL JAVIER

Jameson Blake, Sylvia Sanchez, and Enchong Dee in “Nay”

Nay Luisa (Sanchez) can’t stand to watch her young ward Martin (Dee) die of cancer, so she transforms him into her own, an aswang, so he can survive.  His cousin Francis (Blake) observes from the sidelines, never knowing he is in the midst of predators. Sanchez fiercely plays a nurturing monster unlike any other cinematic aswang: a doting husk of love that can literally hunt and kill for the one she cares about.

Dexter Doria Photo by JL JAVIER

Dexter Doria in “Paki

Doria, long languishing in the sidelines and used to making a mark with  just a few brief scenes (the newly restored “Moral” by Marilou Diaz-Abaya features a cameo by Doria who leaves some choice fighting words), shines in her biggest role to date in “Paki.” Director Gian Abrahan paints a loving portrait of what it’s like for a lola, who has seen her family grow up and have children of their own, seeking emancipation. “I find it very interesting kasi and dami namin napaglalauran, some things that people are not as willing to go to or explore mas ginagawa niya,” says Abrahan of his film’s lead actress. “Ang ganda nung tinitimpla namin kasi she wasn’t used to it, but I think it worked kasi mas nagka-shape ‘yung character.”

Carlo Aquino and Annicka Dolonius Photo by JL JAVIER

Carlo Aquino and Annicka Dolonius in “Throwback Today”

What if you can tell your younger self to change your past so you can have a better future? In Joseph Teoxon’s debut film, “Throwback Today,” Primo (Aquino) dusts up his old iMac to discover that he can talk to his 2005 self — via Bubble Chat — and proceeds to warn him about ending up with his then girlfriend, Macy (Dolonius), who presumably, ruins his life. Aquino and Dolonius play cat and mouse in this tale of overcoming regrets and lost youth.

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Cinema One Originals runs until Nov. 21 in Trinoma, Glorietta, Gateway, and Cinema '76, and will run from November 22 to 28 in Power Plant Mall and Black Maria Pictures. For schedules, tickets, and other details, visit the Cinema One Originals Facebook page.