Cinemalaya 2021: Ranking all 13 short films in competition

1. "Crossing" (SET A)

Directed by: Marc Misa

Running Time: 7:45 minutes

One night of desperate need, Gabriel (Nino Mendoza) got on a bus planning to hold the passengers up for instant cash. However, fate had other things in store for him on this fateful ride. By this time, I had already watched all 13 of the short films in competition and I am declaring this one to be the best one in my book. Director Marc Misa kept the pace tight and the atmosphere tense, right up to that suspenseful final decision at the end — simple, direct, no nonsense. It also had topnotch technical work by cinematographer/editor Edsel Abesamis and sound/music by scriptwriter LC de Leon to enhance the uneasy feeling of claustrophobia.

2. "The Dust In Your Place" (SET B)

Directed by David Olson

Running Time: 20 minutes

A comic strip writer Rick (Boo Gabunada) and his illustrator Claire (Chaye Mogg) take a break from their work to discuss why none of Rick's romantic relationships ever worked. The intelligently-written script of Joem Antonio was the centerpiece of this talky but thought-provoking two-hander film about a platonic relationship between a man and woman. The actors Gabunada and Mogg really worked out the challenging emotions of their respective characters so well, imbuing the piece with their electric tension and chemistry, even if their conversations went on a bit long.

3. "Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa" (The Lost Hopes of Flavors) (SET B)

Directed by Kevin Jay Ayson

Running Time: 19:57 minutes

This documentary short introduced us to the small food entrepreneurs all over the province of Ilocos Norte, how this pandemic had affected them adversely, and how some young people are now helping to revive their businesses. How the various food items were so proudly and passionately described by their respective cooks and presented by Ayson made them all look very appetizing. As an advocacy piece, this film definitely achieves its aim to promote the unique cuisine of Ilocos Norte not only locally, but all over the world.

4. "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi" (SET A)

Directed by: Shiri De Leon

Running Time: 20 minutes

Lola Mayumi (Ruby Ruiz), famous in their small town for being a devout old maid, accepted a dare from her friends to hire a male prostitute (Julian Roxas) and finally lose her precious virginity. Ruby Ruiz was delightful playing Mayumi oh so coy and innocent, excited yet very nervous for what was going to transpire. She was also right at home also when the story took a more dramatic turn. Julian Roxas held his own beside Ruiz, playing the psychologically-attuned call boy. The cold ending was a bit of a letdown after all the interaction that went on between the two characters, but I guess that was how motel meetings like this really go.

5. "Out of Body" (SET A)

Directed by: Enrico Po

Running Time: 14:53 minutes

On the first day of her commercial shoot, the way things were going on at the warehouse location scared new model Elle Vicente (Kelley Day) out of her wits. This film had the best-looking production values of all the entries, very slick-looking. Beauty queen Kelley Day gave a good debut acting effort as Elle. The supporting cast of theater actors (Nelsito Gomez, Joel Saracho, Tarek El Tayech and Dylan Ray Talon) went full on with the creepy vibes. It was just too bad that the ending left more to be desired after all that excellent build up of suspense and tension. The subliminal commentary about the local film industry is chilling.

6. "An Sadit Na Planeta" (The Little Planet) (SET A)

Directed by Arjanmar H. Rebeta

Running Time: 12 minutes

On his birthday, a young man named Arjan found himself transported to a small planet called Planet 1, on which a disembodied voice calling himself 1 would engage him in conversations. This experimental short film was shot entirely with a 360 Camera which gave it an entirely unique look, as can be seen on its attractive poster. This was practically one-man work of art by Arjanmar Rebeta, who wore different hats in this project, as producer, director, writer, cinematographer, musical scorer, editor, sound designer and actor. It had a motivational message of self-help, but this may or may not come across clearly depending on the viewer.

7. "Beauty Queen" (SET B)

Directed by Myra Aquino

Running Time: 17:58 minutes

This Kapampangan short film was a true-to-life dramatization of the life of Remedios Gomez (Carina Febie Agustin), a local beauty queen in Pampanga who joined the Huks campaign in the mountains during World War II. She was being assigned to join the nurses to take care of the wounded in the campsite, but she longed to join the men in actual combat. This was a well-shot (cinematography by Tey Clamor, editing by Law Fajardo) tribute to a previously unheralded heroine, a woman before her time with her signature combination of femininity and valor. While Agustin gave it a neophyte's best effort, a more experienced actress could have given the character of Gomez a little more fleshing out.

8. "Ate O.G." (SET B)

Directed by Kevin Mayuga

Running Time: 16:57 minutes

This short film was about a household helper Ate (Merle Cahilig) left in the house during the pandemic to serve two lazy teenagers (Kara and Keenan Mayuga). Director Kevin Mayuga captured Ate's depressing humdrum existence very well as it built up to the moment when she found something in the boy's closet which would later elevate her mood, and the mood of the whole household. I do not like films like this that promote how certain illicit substances would seemingly make people happy, but Cahilig's portrayal of Ate's carefree feelings in the second half of the film was delightfully infectious.

9. "Kids on Fire" (SET B)

Directed by Kyle Nieva

Running Time: 19 minutes

This short film was a black comedy split into 10 "chapters." It was about a young boy J.C. (Alexis Negrite) who was on a religious retreat with his classmates along with his teachers. The story went from comical (with J.C. thinking that his fantasies about Sister Evelyn ample cleavage can cause earthquakes); to downright disturbing (when Sister Evelyn asked J.C. to act out his fantasies in front of her). Mystica was amusing as the effervescently campy Sister Evelyn, but was that uncomfortably sensitive scene of hers in chapter 9 even legal at all? Negrite looks like he is still very much a minor!

10. "Kawatan sa Salog" (A Toy in the River) (SET A)

Directed by Alphie Velasco

Running Time: 18:36 minutes

This Bicolano magical realism short film about Santi (Kyle Kaizer Almenanza) who drowned after trying to fish a toy his father (Marc Felix) threw into the river. From there, Santi was transported to an island of lost regretful souls, where he was guided by an old woman (Lui Manansala). The idea was interesting but something was lost in the execution of that ending sequence. I felt they could have taken more time to flesh that part out some more. Young Almenanza gave a good performance in the lead role of Santi, having good chemistry with veteran actress Manansala.

11. "Namnama En Lolang" (Grandmother's Hope) (SET B)

Directed by: Jonnie Lyn P. Dasalla

Running Time: 5 minutes

This very short film of just about five minutes was about a mother living in Baguio City talking to her son Landon, who was apparently away from home. Via her calming voice over in Ilocano heard over scenes of her daily routine, she talked about her current lifestyle during the pandemic while taking care of his son, her grandson Eli. The twist of where Landon and his wife Grace were revealed dramatically in the final scene. Director Jonni Lyn Dasalla's approach for that touching scene was very subtle, and her message was very timely and heartfelt.

12. "Maski Papano" (I Mask Go On) (SET A)

Directed by: Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit

Running Time: 5 minutes

This is a whimsical stop-motion animation featuring a small wooden articulated mannequin dressed up in discarded face masks. He was going around town feeling miserable about his useless life, until he met other masked figurines like him who felt the same way. The story is timely, being about mental issues experienced by many people during this pandemic. The use of animation to tell the story earned it additional points for originality and effort. However, despite this gimmicky approach, it could have been better if the storytelling could have delved a little deeper on the issues involved.

3. "Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things" (SET A)

Directed by: James Fajardo

Running Time: 20 minutes

Young boy Gubat (Reynald Raissel Santos) was ostracized in his town, being rumored to be the son of the "tikbalang" feared to be responsible for the murders of a number of townspeople. That was all I understood of the film. When Gubat met this mysterious English-speaking man Darren (Kevin Andrews), I do not know what this film was trying to say anymore. Who was this Darren guy anyway, why was he there looking for the rafflesias, and why did he behave with so much violence towards Gubat? From its title to its content, this film was pretentious with a capital P. It made absolutely no sense for me.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."

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