Pinoy Indie 101

Pinoy Indie 101
by Fidel Antonio Medel

For moviegoers who are fed up of watching cheesy love stories and J-horror rip-offs mass-produced by Star Cinema and GMA Films, indie films present themselves as a welcome alternative to break the monotony. The word ‘indie’ often gets thrown around to describe the new brand of Pinoy cinema – movies that are fresh, edgy, and award winning both locally and internationally.


For starters, indie (short for independent) refers to all films made outside major studios such as Star Cinema, Regal Films, Viva Films, GMA Films, and the like. Some classify all arthouse movies that are difficult to appreciate and devoid of commercial appeal as indies. Though that may be true for some, it does not apply to all. In fact, the Eugene Domingo-starrer comedy Kimmy Dora is an indie but has achieved box office success. This proves how diversified independently produced films are. They do not follow a specific template, style, concept, or genre. Each one is a unique expression of the filmmaker’s vision and artistry.

The most significant distinction between a mainstream film (that produced by any major studio) and an indie film is that the filmmakers are given more artistic freedom since box office receipts are usually the last thing on their minds, in contrast to the primary aim of mainstream films which is to make money. To achieve this, mainstream films will lure audiences through A-list celebrities and their tried-and-tested (oftentimes worn out) formulas that are sure to tickle the fancy of the masses.


University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI)
UPFI houses a cinema called Cine Adarna and a small screening room called Videotheque. It is one of the three institutions in the Philippines that have no censorship restrictions. So even if the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) gives the film an X rating, it can still be screened here. UPFI served as host for numerous premiere nights as well as screenings of uncut versions of local films and movies deemed unfit for public viewing by the MTRCB.

Mogwai Cinematheque
Mogwai, the brainchild of directors Erik Matti and Lyle Sacris, is two-floor establishment with a restaurant and a private cinema. The 35-seater screening room called Mogwai Cinematheque occasionally shows movies that never made it to our theatres – from art films, classics, to Pinoy indies. During the early days of Mogwai Cinematheque, it screened Lav Diaz’s epic-long masterpieces (Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, Heremias, and Death in the Land of Encantos) and Ray Gibraltar’s When Timawa Meets Delgado. Lately, the focus has been on critically acclaimed international films but it still premieres indies from time to time. It is located at Cubao X (formerly Marikina Shoe Expo), Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City.

Robinsons Indie Sine
Gone are the days when indies are confined within the walls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and UPFI. More commercial establishments are recognizing the fact that these independent gems have an audience. In fact, one of the cinemas of Robinsons Galleria, dubbed as Indie Sine, has been dedicated to screen them on a regular basis.

SM Cinemas
Although SM Cinemas do not have indies as part of its weekly lineup, the retail empire has its own initiative to support the industry. Last summer, SM Cinemas became the venue for Sine Direk wherein six established directors tried their luck with independent filmmaking. Sine Direk produced the cult hit Ded Na Si Lolo by Soxy Topacio (the Philippines’ official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film of the 82nd Academy Awards, preceded by last year’s Ploning), the juvenile romance Agaton and Mindy by Peque Gallaga, and others. These Sine Direk features were later screened in other venues such as CCP, UPFI, and Robinsons Indie Sine.



Gateway Cineplex was the home of the Cinemanila International Film Festival for 2008 and 2007. This year, Cinemanila will take residence in Metro Market! Market! from October 15 to 25. Aside from the international competition, Cinemanila runs a parallel section called Digital Lokal for Filipino movies. Over the last decade, Cinemanila has honored the likes of Jeffrey Jeturian (Pila Balde, Kubrador), Lav Diaz (Batang West Side), Raya Martin (Autohystoria, Next Attraction), and Brillante Mendoza (Manoro).

The Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, organized every July, is said to have spurred the renewed interest in Pinoy cinema. In its aim to discover and cultivate up-and-coming talents, ten full length and ten short films are given a production grant of P500,000 out of thousands of submissions. Although Cinemalaya is only five years old, it has produced a gamut of international film fest darlings: from warring Tondo gangs in Jim Libiran’s Tribu to a love story set in the time of contracts in Jade Catro’s Endo. The most famous in the bunch is Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (by Aureaus Solito), the coming-of-age tale of a young gay boy living in the slums. Maximo has made the rounds in over 50 international film festivals including Sundance and Berlinale.

Cinema One Originals
The Cinema One Originals Digital Movie Festival runs in the same vein as Cinemalaya. It handpicks five films and gives P1,000,000 seed money for the production of each. The notable filmmakers who have joined Cinema One Originals are Richard Somes (Yanggaw), Adolf Alix (Tambolista), Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Antipuesto (Confessional), and Sherad Anthony Sanchez (Imburnal, Huling Balyan ng Buhi).


During the late ‘90s, Hollywood films dominated the industry as domestic ticket sales plummeted to an all time low. Since local movie viewership registered disappointing figures, the total number of films produced each year was cut down from 150 in the 1990s to less than 50 in the 2000s. During the turn of the millennium, the advent of digital filmmaking made the cost of making movies lower than ever before. This allowed filmmakers to break out of studio restrictions and make movies that daringly articulate their cinematic insights.

Mga Munting Tinig & Magnifico
In the early 2000s, we have seen Gil Portes and Maryo de los Reyes helm modern classics Mga Munting Tinig and Magnifico. Mga Munting Tinig is about an idealistic teacher who inspired her students to follow their dreams. This commentary on the country’s educational system competed in Bangkok and Palm Beach. Meanwhile, Magnifico is the heartwarming story of a young boy eager to help his impoverished parents. This family-oriented melodrama warmed the hearts of critics from Berlin to Hawaii.

Brillante Mendoza
Several films made the rounds in different international film festivals all over the world during the past decade. But that was just icing on the cake, it wasn’t long until a Filipino filmmaker reached the pinnacle. In May 2009, Brillante Mendoza made history in Cannes. He competed in the most prestigious film festival in the world for two years in a row – a feat not even the late Lino Brocka was able to achieve. Not only that, he bagged the Best Director award (Prix de la mise en scène) for Kinatay despite tough competition from auteurs Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Park Chan Wook, and Pedro Almodovar.

Accolades from around the world
This recognition opened the door for Pinoy filmmakers to take centerstage. In fact, 15 Filipino films are on their way to various film festivals all over the globe. These films are:
Lola by Brillante Mendoza
100 by Chris Martinez
Jay by Francis Xavier Pasion
Manila by Raya Martin and Adolf Alix
Independencia by Raya Martin
Bakal Boys by Ralston Jover
Dinig Sana Kita by Mike Sandejas
24K by Ana Agabin
Dukot by Joel Lamangan
Last Viewing by Ronaldo Bertubin
Imburnal by Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Adela, Kadin, and Aurora by Adolf Alix
Just recently, Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro received the Orizzonti Prize and the Luigi de Laurentiis Lion of the Future award in Venice where the oldest film festival in the world was held.

The Flipside
Since it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to make a film like it used to, it’s easier to make one. This is the boon and bane of independent filmmaking. Visionary filmmakers with little funds can now produce their masterpieces for the world to see. On the downside, filmmakers who want to cash in on the emerging trend can easily produce exploitative cinema in the guise of indie films. This comes in the form of the numerous skin flicks and pink films plaguing the multiplex and tarnishing the reputation of independent features. There’s a hefty serving of indie films available today, but be wise enough to separate the gems from the stones.

Although the earnings of mainstream films still make up the bulk of the movie industry’s total revenue, it’s good to know that indie filmmakers are finally building an audience here and abroad. They have proven time and again that cinema is more than just escapist entertainment. The country is now being considered as the new hotspot for emerging filmmakers. For indie filmmakers, the world is definitely theirs for the taking.

* published in SPOT


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