What to expect in this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival

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As the second Cinemalaya during the pandemic, the film festival looks at a hybrid model involving online streaming and drive-in screenings. In photo: Glenn Barit and Che Tagyamon's "Maski Papano." Photo from CINEMALAYA

Though the pandemic is still raging on (with various variants running around) and the cinemas are still closed, we’ll be experiencing this year's Cinemalaya as a hybrid film festival with online screenings through and a drive-in cinema, called “Cinema Under the Stars” at Liwasang Ullalim, CCP Complex.

The 17th year of the film fest features 13 short films plus films in the Cinemalaya Retrospective (a lineup of past Cinemalaya films), IndieNation (Filipino shorts and full length films produced in the past year, Visions of Asia (award-winning films from all over Asia), and Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video, the longest-running independent film and video competition in Asia. The lineup of the other categories have yet to be announced.

There will also be a tribute to the late director Mel Chionglo (“Midnight Dancers,” “Lagarista”), who also served as Cinemalaya’s former head of the Competition and Monitoring Committee.

In a surprising move, the committee will also launch the Cinemalaya Film Lab, a three-month-long film-laboratory mentorship program from September to November 2021 to address the predictable formula of the feature films submitted to the main competition of Cinemalaya, with recurring themes “such as gender, poverty, and social inequalities.” The film lab aims to “unearth new cinematic voices and develop a growing audience for independent cinema for [the film festival's] 2023 edition.”

Get to know the short films competing this year.


“An Sadit na Planeta” (“The Little Planet”)

Arjan (Arjanmar H. Rebeta, who is also the film’s director) wakes up to find himself alone on a small planet. The film chronicles Arjan exploring the planet for 40 days. According to Rebeta, the film tackles how our world got smaller because of the lockdowns and quarantines during the pandemic.

Rebeta, who is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop, says in his director’s statement: “Nakulong hindi lamang ang ating katawan kundi pati ang mga emosyon at isipan. Nagsimula tayong makaramdam ng pagdududa maging sa katuturan ng sarili. Natagpuan ang sariling mag-isa sa pagkahulog sa ‘maliit na mundo’ ng pagkalito at pagkawala kung saan nakulong ang sarili. Subalit sinubukan muling hanapin, kausapin at hilahin ng ‘Sarili’ ang sarili.”


“Ang mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa”

Small food establishments are one of the most hard-hit by the pandemic. This short documentary by award-winning filmmaker Kevin Jay Ayson follows the struggles of Ilokano food entrepreneurs and how they are facing the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.


“Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi”

An old virgin (Ruby Ruiz) decides to hire a young callboy (Julian Roxas) and they unexpectedly form a connection. This is the first short film of Shiri De Leon and “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Mayumi” is a way for her to tackle taboo topics that have long hounded her as a woman.

“I was heavily exposed to the Filipino culture of how they treat sex as a ‘taboo’ topic because of the influence of religion," she says. “I also have witnessed and know firsthand the effect of it being a taboo topic, it limits sex education, and a lot of people fall into its abuse, not knowing if it’s normal or not.”


“Ate O.G.”

Kevin Mayuga’s “Ate O.G.” is about a household helper who finds herself struggling while stuck at home with her two teenage employers in the middle of the lockdown. Mayuga says that the film was borne out of the “guilt of privilege” that the filmmaker felt at the height of the pandemic.

Mayuga says, “My film walks along that tall wall of social class difference and the line of employee and employer in the same home, and how I tried to blur those lines with small gestures of kindness and natural medication.”


“Beauty Queen”

Myra Aquino’s film follows the titular character during the Japanese occupation. After her father is tortured and killed by the Japanese, Remedios and her brother Oscar join the Hukbalahap. Once in the mountains, Remedios faces the grief over her father’s death and the struggle to fight for the freedom of her country.

“Beauty Queen” is a way for Aquino to tell the story of an inspiring Filipino woman, something which she had limited exposure to growing up. “Making this film was important to me because it is a reminder that we all have grace and courage within ourselves that we can express without ever giving up who we are.”



Gabriel, a desperate security guard, decides to rob a bus. But just before he could commit the crime, two actual robbers board the bus. Gabriel must decide whether he should become a hero or a victim.

“The film reveals our own narrow-mindedness as we oversimplify our definition of morality into those two basic categories: hero and villain, or good and evil,” says “Crossing” director Marc Misa.


“Kawatan sa Salog” (“A Toy in the River”)

Santi (Kyle Kaizer Almenanza) is a mischievous boy who accidentally drowns in a river after running away from home. He wakes up on a mysterious island where he has the chance to redeem himself from his past deeds.

Director Alphie Velasco says about his film, “I made a story based on my experience, yearning for the days I'm blissfully living with my late grandmother. I also mixed in some personal thoughts on how I view the cycle of life and religion.”


“Kids on Fire”

Mystica stars in this film where a prepubescent boy is confused between divine calling and his emerging sexuality.

The film premiered at the 25th Busan International Film Festival and at the 47th Film Fest Gent. “Inspired by Christian doctrines and eschatological concepts that horrify and confuse children at times, the film explores how faith can be driven by fear and how we use our religious beliefs — or a lack thereof — to make sense of life’s greatest mysteries,” says director Kyle Nieva.


“Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things”

Director and screenwriter James Fajardo dissects the weaponization of folklore in this short film where a tikbalang transforms into a teenage boy to disprove rumors that tikbalangs are killing civilians.

Fajardo aims to tackle how folklore has been used to “serve the interest of the state and the ruling class” and “to introduce the process of queering mythological creatures that challenges its previous heterosexist influences.”


“Maski Papano”

Filmmakers Glenn Barit and Che Tagyamon present this comedic short film about a face mask that turns into a humanoid figure and looks for its previous owner.

Barit is the director behind the highly acclaimed film “Cleaners” and Tagyamon is an alumna of the Berlinale Talents 2019, SGIFF Southeast Asian Film Lab 2018, and Busan Film Commission’s FLY Film Lab 2019.

According to the filmmakers, the film is brought about by the many things they’ve experienced during the pandemic. “COVID brought about lots of things — from revealing government incompetence to contain the virus, to isolation and massive unemployment (which we've experienced firsthand as filmmakers.) We wanted to highlight this feeling of being disposable as workers and at the same time showing our need to find a community while still being playful and comedic.”


“Namnama En Lolang” (“Grandmother’s Hope”)

Shot entirely using a mobile phone, “Namnama En Lolang” is about life during quarantine and how we find hope and reasons to live in our loved ones.

Jonnie Lyn Dasalla’s film was conceived as a documentation of society in quarantine and as a way to preserve experiences in crisis, especially for frontliners who are risking their lives for the people.

“The film also brings a message of hope that despite everything that’s happening around us, we still keep the faith and continue to live for our loved ones,” says Dasalla.


“Out of Body”

“Out of Body” is a suspense film concerning a young model new to the industry who is roped into a macabre commercial shoot. The film draws from the experience of director Enrico Po while in film school where he was working on a project and had elements of BDSM and the young actress involved wasn’t aware of it.

“When I showed her some reference images, her face dropped,” Po recalls. “I asked her if she was ok, and she choked out ‘Uhm...yeah...sure…’ It was clear she had been blindsided, and after our meeting, I sent a long email clearing things up. It was my fault as I had not properly briefed the producer. Thankfully we were able to clear things up, came to some compromises and both had a great time working on the project, which turned out well. But I will never forget how easy it was to not notice and simply let things be.”


“The Dust in your Place”

David Olson’s “The Dust in your Place” revolves around the complications involving our relationships, be it platonic or romantic. “This project is a love letter to films that excel at the art of conversation, delivering cinematic entertainment with long and rich dialogue,” says Olson.

In the film, two longtime friends find themselves in a bind as unresolved issues pin them down. Olson says, “You may go from siding with a character to hating them in a blink of an eye or the turn of a sentence. Are some friendships worth it? Or is it worth taking the risk?”


The films will be divided into two bundles priced at ₱150 each. Visit the Cinemalaya website or social media pages for updates.