Friday, June 12, 2009

Open Letter to a Young Director

Dear Raya,

Your tita has to get these things off her chest before she risks those unhealthy things that happen when one “holds a fart in,” as the expression goes.

Yesterday morning , maybe at the hour you just arrived from Europe, I left Pasig City for Bataan on a community outreach project and made sure I could hitch a ride back to Mandaluyong City so I had enough lead time to line up for the 8 p.m. screening of your much-lauded Independencia.

I arrived at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall at a little after 4 p.m. There was a reasonably long queue already for your film for which I felt immediately happy for you. I asked a fellow to save my space for me while I ordered something to eat at a snack bar.

The long and short of it is I totally lost it at some point during those four hours that I and a couple of hundreds of others did who patiently expected we could get in because we were there bright and early.

My understanding of independent cinema—forgive me if the definitions have changed during the past months, I’ve not managed to keep up being situated most of the time in Baguio where we are not as privileged as Metro Manilans and, yeah, Europeans to catch indie films—is that it is an alternative to the kababuyan and superficiality of flicks churned out by the mainstream. What is more, indie filmmakers are supposedly respectful of their audience. And to produce and direct one, you just need a handful of committed staff and crew members, say 20 or 50 max (?), who share your vision.

Imagine my surprise when Martin Macalintal, who helped organize the French film festival still ongoing at the Shang, told us les girls seated by a coffee bar that 200 of the 290-something seats in the theater where Independencia was going to be shown were already reserved by the producer, Arleen Cuevas. And that these reservations were all confirmed. He had hoped that your producer would at least give due notice if even half of those seats would not be used so these could be freed and more people could be let in. I couldn’t help muttering aloud, “Is that producer Chinese?” No racial slur intended, but those were the first words that came out of my mouth.

Two hundred seats, Raya? She might as well have rented the entire cinema and called for a private screening. Why announce in the papers that there would be this screening of Independencia open to the public at that hour?

When finally the ticket booth opened at 6 p.m., only 20 people were allowed in. There was audible booing. Others just shrugged and called it a day. But there were still a sizable number of people who complained. The more enterprising others decided to contact whoever they felt malakas to in order to get in.

Soon there was this woman in black with shoulder-length hair accompanied by a man with a bullhorn who introduced her as “the producer.” As I quietly fumed on my seat—couldn’t get up because of tender left ankle from a slowly healing sprain and an arthritic right knee—my friends overhead her or her male companion say that sorry lang ang masasabi nila.

An angry mob was forming. Some threatened to blockade the entrance to Cinema 3. Before long, the lady in black announced that she had decided to free, perhaps from the goodness of her heart, those 200 tickets. People, who earlier dispersed, formed another queue which moved rapidly enough towards the girl at the ticket booth until again the tickets available ran out.

The lady in black, who was getting all the flack from outraged people like myself, should have seen that there was a huge hopeful crowd wanting to see a fulsomely praised film by the Philippines’ latest wunderkind. And since money at the box office is not an issue here, she should have quickly made an executive decision with approval from the Shang’s management that an extra screening be allowed.

Which apparently was what happened—another show time that same night was announced through SMS messaging with the tentative words “baka magka 2nd screening arnd 930. 1 hr 20 min lang ang film.”

I didn’t stick around anymore. That afternoon, a dear friend had just gifted me with CDs of Art Garfunkel, Julie Andrews and Carly Simon singing standards, and the rest of what looked like a wasted evening at the mall could still be redeemed. I went home and plugged in a pair of earphones.

Later, friends called up to report that there were three lines that formed outside Cinema 3 for your 8 p.m. screening: one line for those with reserved seats like family members, family friends, including a National Artist, actors like Alessandra de Rossi, etc. The second line was for those lucky to get the tickets let go by the lady in black. The third was for the waitlisted—if there were still vacant seats after the people in the first two lines were accommodated, the rest of those not privileged to be anak ng Diyos would be let in.

Again I point out a vital issue here, Raya. Are we living in a democracy, or are you or your producer condoning another permutation of elitism? This had to happen on the country's 111st Independence Day, an independence gained after the waging of a revolution whose ideals were guided by the French Revolution. But let us not even get into that.

I’m still hoping to catch Independencia at some other venue, and since I have only reviews from foreigners to guide me, I’m also hoping that it is as good as they say it is. As a friend, who’s a master of irony and sarcasm combined, said, “The film can’t be as great as a Mayakovsky poem, can it? Or even an Ishmael Bernal oevre?”

Yon lang naman.

From your concerned tita

Babeth Lolarga
June 13, 2009

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