'When you think of film as art, you think of art films, you think Lav Diaz, you don’t think Star Cinema.'

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Art Fair visitors can expect to see the recently restored 1983 drama “Misteryo sa Tuwa,” which stars Tony Santos Jr., Ronnie Lazaro, and Johnny Delgado. Screencap from ABS-CBN FILM RESTORATION/FACEBOOK

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — This 2020, for the first time in its 8-year run, Art Fair Philippines will be expanding its definition of art to include cinema. From February 21 to 23, The Link Carpark at Ayala Center, Makati will house the ArtFair/Film booth, curated by film critic Philbert Dy, film composer Erwin Romulo, and film archivist Teddy Co.

The exhibition has been in the works for a while, with Dy and Romulo having originally pitched the idea for last year’s Art Fair. Now, with Co on board, they’ve emerged with an insistently amorphous project, aptly titled “Unconfined Cinema.”

The film lineup won’t be segregated by genre or subject matter. The sequencing doesn’t follow any kind of trajectory. There won’t even be any schedules posted online. Instead, people are simply invited to walk in, check out what’s playing, and enjoy the show. The programmers had but one requirement for all the films they curated: they had to like them. As such, the exhibit seeks to represent Filipino cinema in its full breadth, from regional films to Manila-based ones, old to new, indie to mainstream. It’s glorious anarchy; a pointed statement for an oft-maligned art form.

“It felt like a coup in itself just to get a space in the Art Fair for cinema,” says Dy. “There’s this kind of perception, because cinema is so popular and so commercial, people tend to not think of it as art. But it is — it’s all art. And even when you think of film as art, you think of art films, you think Lav Diaz, you don’t think Star Cinema. All we wanted to do was create this neutral space […] It’s hard to convince art people that cinema is as vital an art form as painting. Mostly because it’s so popular. There’s this idea that when something becomes popular, it stops being art. My contention has always been, everybody that works on a film is an artist. Production designers, directors, cinematographers…when a bunch of artists work together to make something, how can that thing not be art?”

The Makati Stock Exchange is the venue for the outdoor screenings for ArtFairPH/Film. Expect films such as "That Thing Called Tadhana" and "Never Not Love You." Photo from ART FAIR PHILIPPINES

For three days, the booth will be screening almost 50 hours of Filipino cinema. “That's probably more than most movie theatres will show in a year,” Romulo writes in an e-mail. He’s referring to a sad truth about the local film industry — cinemas are hesitant about picking up Filipino movies, particularly indie ones, and when they do, they tend to get pulled out after a few days.

“Unconfined Cinema” is a reaction to that scarcity, as well as many of the prevailing prejudices in the hegemonic world of local film. In addition to the booth at The Link, there will also be outdoor film screenings from February 14 to 16 at the Ayala Triangle. Each film will be projected against the ceiling of Ayala Tower 1. The audience will lie down on carpets, enjoying the movies through earphones. The titles include “Sunday Beauty Queen,” (showing on Sunday), “That Thing Called Tadhana,” “One More Chance,” “Never Not Love You,” and last year’s QCinema shorts.

“The means of films being screened are controlled by a small cabal of people,” says Dy. “They’ll decide to scrap a film after a day. Because it’s moneyed interests, we can’t really control what kind of films will be screened. But these are outside spaces; it’s a booth in a parking lot or the ceiling of a building. [We’re] breaking out of the normal paradigm of seeing movies. Let’s take it out of the control of certain corporate interests.”

If the inclusion of more mainstream studio films raises some eyebrows, it’s the very attitude the exhibition’s curators want to challenge. The point of “Unconfined Cinema,” they say, is that all cinema is worthy of being viewed as art, whether it’s a Cannes Film Festival winner or a Star Cinema blockbuster.

“As a film critic, I am very frustrated by these distinctions,” Dy says. “There are people who dismiss everything mainstream. There are people who are into mainstream rom coms. In [the booth], those distinctions don’t matter. It’s not a cinema; we’re not charging money for tickets. It’s an art space […] If somebody gets mad that we show a rom com, I’m like, fuck you man. Go watch a painting.”

Romulo admits that his reason for pitching ArtFair/Film was a more personal one. “2019 marks a decade since Alexis Tioseco was murdered,” he writes. “He was a film critic, an advocate for our own cinema, and was vital in getting the rest of the world to pay attention to Filipino movies again. He was also a dear friend of mine. [February 11] is his birthday. He would've been 39.”

Acclaimed director Raymond Red has agreed to show a few of his works, including his debut, “Ang Magpakailanman.” Photo from WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

While much of the lineup is still under wraps, Art Fair visitors can expect to see the recently restored 1983 drama “Misteryo sa Tuwa,” which Romulo notes was one of just four films independently produced by Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, the studio behind “Oro, Plata, Mata” and “Himala.” Acclaimed director Raymond Red has agreed to show a few of his works, including his debut, “Ang Magpakailanman.” “Quite simply, he's one of the most original filmmakers the Philippines has ever produced,” says Romulo. “His films are distinctly Filipino in subject and sensibility but shot with this alien perspective that owes something to both German expressionism and surrealism.” Dy also confirms that they'll be showing an undisclosed Erik Matti film “most people haven’t seen.”

It isn’t lost on any of the curators that “Unconfined Cinema” arrives at the heels of Philippine cinema’s 100th anniversary. But it isn’t a retrospective so much as it is “an attempt to imagine the next [one hundred years],” as Romulo writes. This wide-eyed futurism finds expression in Lost Frames, an experimental collective that prefers to describe their medium as “moving images” rather than film. Roxlee, the renowned animator, will also premiere some of the works created during his children’s animation workshops, giving a platform to the next generation of Filipino filmmakers.

Some projects were commissioned specially for ArtFair/Film. At least eight experimental triptych films — video art created to be viewed on three screens simultaneously — have been made by local directors under the management of Co, and will be shown at the exhibit.

Cinematographer Lyle Sacris will also be using Art Fair’s hefty foot traffic to hasten the completion of his “Self-Portrait” exhibition, a project that combines 7,107 portraits of everyday Filipinos. Attendees will be able to have their photo taken at a booth after registration, contributing one frame to a 24-frames per second video that will be projected on the side of The Link building.

The scope of ArtFair/Film, as its curators intend, is anything but simple. Its purpose, however, is. Good film is good art, and good art deserves to be viewed and enjoyed. “Experience cinema how you want it,” Dy says. “No confinement, no limits.” When asked what he hopes audiences will take away from the exhibition, Romulo's answer is more succinct: “Magic.”


Art Fair Philippines 2020 runs from Feb. 21-23 at The Link in Ayala Center, Makati. For tickets or more details on the fair visit the official website.