Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival’s fifth edition continued a tradition of meticulously curated, bold programming, championing cinematic voices far from the apparatus of the national capital that expanded Festival goers’ experience of cinema and Asian identity.
The Festival opened with the director’s cut of Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug 1931 (Ghosts and Ashes of Tayug 1931) by Christopher Gozum. Reimagining the story of rebel leader Pedro Calosa and the infamous Tayug Colorum Uprising in Pangasinan, the film won the NETPAC Prize in the 2017 QCinema International Film Festival.
Starting 2017, running time-based categories in the Asian competition section was dissolved paving the way for a single Asian section that is open to films of different genres and running time. Cultural interaction took the spotlight in the Asian programming with films like The Troubled Troubadour, a film made by non-Asian directors Sebastian Simon and Forest Ian Etsler, depicting two middle-aged Japanese men, a hubristic musician and his stoic companion, who travel aboard a wheeled canoe on abandoned train tracks along the Southern coast of Korea.
In Between Pudukkottai & Singapore: Poems by N Rengarajan, the subject of loss, distance, and home in three poems by N Rengarajan, served as the narrative backbone of Vishal Daryanomel’s documentary. Originally from Pudukkottai, a town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, N Rengarajan works in Singapore’s construction sector and continues to write poetry. Kan Lume and Djenar Maesa Ayu teamed up for the mockumentary hUsh, exploring the story of a troubled musician with a dark past. The directors come from Singapore and Indonesia, respectively.
Adilkhan Yerzhanov, whose film Constructors won the Golden Durian Prize at the inaugural Salamindanaw in 2013, returned to the Festival with The Plague at the Karatas Village, an indictment of the political wrongs in Kazakhstan that is told in a very surrealist fashion. Listen, another film with a strong political tone, was presented by Min Min Hein. A portrait of revolutionary artist Chaw Ei Thein who is exiled from Myanmar, it is striking in its imagery rending the performance art and artwork in the film with immense power and emotion.
Sorayos Prapapan, who is known for his dark wit and humor, returned to Salamindanaw for the third time with Death of The Sound Man which represented Thailand in the Orizzonti section of Venice Film Festival in 2017. The somber Woodpeckers of Rotha from Nepal, a poetic exploration of memory by Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung which also competed in Orizzonti, in 2016, also joined the competition. Meanwhile, the relationship of space and memory took the spotlight in Suruchi Sharma’s Utsav.
Manuel Alberto Maia’s Nokas delved on the difficult tradition of raising a dowry in order to marry in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. In Love and Goodbye and Hawaii, Japanese writer-director Shingo Matsumura probed into the cycle of romance – from falling in love, breaking up, and the choice to remain friends with an ex. The ultra refreshing Turn Left Turn Right by Douglas Seok, a marriage of sound and image that rightfully captured the ethos of Cambodia by observing Kanitha, a young, carefree woman who lives in modern-day Phnom Penh. Unconscious recollection of events in Allan Balberona’s Alaalang Walang Malay (Unconscious Memory) playfully experimented with the notion of time and memory that reveals truth harsher than they seem.
The Asian competition also featured two films from the regions in the Philippines. In Paul Patindol’s Hilom, the aftermath of a typhoon in Samar ravaged not only the town but also created psychological wounds between twin brothers. In God BLISS Our Home, filmmaker Nawruz Paguidopon, a native of Cagayan de Oro who lives in the Marcos housing project in Quezon City, pondered on the theme of home and distance in a very fascinating visual way –the selfie documentary.
Chor (Bicycle) by Khanjan Kishore Nath heralded a pioneering cinematic work in the Assamese language in India. It discussed class relations as told through the relationship of two boys and a bicycle.
Salamindanaw has been nurturing promising filmmakers in Mindanao whose lens can become instrumental not only in the enrichment of the region’s cinematic landscape, but more so in the crafting of films with technical strength, inventiveness, as well as mature and questioning observation that is requisite of every important film. This was evident in a dance film, Walay Nidanguynguy (No One Came To Weep) by Glorypearl Dy. Or Si Astri Maka Si Tambulah (Astri and Tambulah), an exploration of gender in traditional Bajau society by the queer film director Xeph Suarez of Zamboanga. In Some Nights I Feel Like Walking, Trishtan Perez experiments with the concept of intimacy in an artificial space.
Space and territory, both psychological and physical, was occupied by the questions of the filmmaker Ligaya in Jean Claire Dy’s Paglubad (Unravel), who travels to Iloilo to seek answers and understand why her family in Cotabato resists her plan to marry her Muslim boyfriend Malik.
Meanwhile, Northern Mindanao was proving to be a haven of cinematic promise with Simulacrum by Arjay Toring, Lobo by Kissza Campano and Lance Maravillas, both from Iligan; and Sore by Rodiell Veloso of Cagayan de Oro. On the other hand, family and morality were tackled in Redempsyon (Redemption) by Edmund Telmo of Ozamiz, a film about a young couple’s moral and economic predicament, and in Biday by Jemimah Faith Ramos, about the fragility of a young mother who was born with mental limitations.
The Mindanao section also presented brave documentaries on the lure and dangers of mining and coal plants, with Mairum by Marga Mangao and Gintong Butil (A Grain of Gold) by Nhia Halcon.
Short films that tackled LGBT concerns, human rights and forced disappearances, extra judicial killings, alienation, and devotion dominated Salamindanaw’s fifth edition Philippine shorts competition.
Carmina Cruz’s Recurrencia summoned the horrors of history and memory, while Jarell Serencio’s Mga Bitoon Sa Syudad (Stars in the City) examined the effects of violence. Under the present government in the Philippines, when Extrajudicial Killings (EJKs) claiming more than 7,000 lives have become a norm, the filmmaker utilized his medium to hold up a mirror to society. It was manifested in Nakaw by Arvin Belarmino and Noel Escondo, as well as In the Middle of the Night by Bryan Kristoffer Brazil, and the metaphoric Touch Move by Frances Louise Giner.
Visual experimentation were marked qualities of Sa Aming Katahimikan (In Our Silence) by Alyssa Suico, Glenn Barit’s Aliens Ata (Aliens, Perhaps), a film shot entirely using a drone, and the dance film Juana and The Sacred Shores by Antonne Santiago. Alienation was tackled in Mon Garilao’s Fish Out of Water, while acceptance and an unlikely friendship was the theme of Contestant #4 by Jared Joven and Kaj Palanca. The sacred and the profane met in Tim Rone Villanueva’s Santa Nena, while the myth of the mermaid alive in Daluhong (Onslaught) by Don Senoc. The ethos of this generation was captured in Processions by Steven Paul Evangelio.
A fitting farewell to a cultural icon closed Salamindanaw with Tsukiji Wonderland by Naotaro Endo, a documentary that looked back at the Tsukiji Market, in Tokyo, which has been for generations an important hub of commerce and culture before it closes this November and move to a new location. The film was significant to the Festival because thousands of the host city’s residents earn their living by fishing tuna.