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03 August 2013

Cinemalaya 2013: The Cinema of "Disconnection" (A Post-Festival Analysis)

"What is having an idea in cinema?" 
Gilles Delueuze (from "Having an Idea in Cinema")

by Rob San Miguel

The films in the New Breed category are the focus of this essay because the new directors, new writers and new producers are most likely to be the architects of a new Philippine cinema.  Let the old fogies direct themselves to classical oblivion. 

Most of the films in the New Breed category have one underlying theme, and that is “disconnection.”  The concept of “disconnection” in film comes in two forms.

The filmmaker is disconnected from his subject matter.  In effect, his work is uneven, uncommitted, and it explores only the surface of the problem. His work maybe technically superior but offers no insights.  Most specifically, the filmmaker falls prey to clichés and negative stereotypes.  The filmmaker unconsciously betrays his own subject matter. He just shoots a film without an agenda.  He wants to be a filmmaker and win an award. Period.

His disconnection is evident in his choice of actors, the way he shoots a scene, the angles he chooses to take, and even his complacency under the dictates of the organizers and the people who carry the purse.  In some extent, other film craftspeople are also disconnected.  For example, an actor is “disconnected” to his character if he does not make an effort to accurately design his role. A fair-skinned farmer is a creation of a “disconnected” thespian. 

Second, the filmmaker understands his subject matter clearly that he sees the “disconnection” taking place.  He thus creates characters that are “disconnected” from something fundamental in his being, that is, in being a complete individual. The character may be “disconnected” from his identity, his sexuality, his family, his political and religious beliefs, his nationality, and the history of his country. 

The filmmaker’s work is unified, potent, and revelatory. His point is the foreground and background of the film. His point is in the silence of the scenes and the noise of the words. He is able to do this because he has an agenda as an artist.  Even if he makes commercial films, his agenda moves his work.

It is debatable whether the directors and writers of the films in the New Breed category are aware of the concept of “disconnection” in film.  Perhaps, they have a different name for this concept.  Nevertheless, since the artist is also a product of his environment, subconsciously, he has imbibed the purveying consciousness of his time.  The milieu affects the creator and unless the artist is fully awake, his own creation will betray him. 

The Aquino administration has consistently been proud of the economic gains of the Philippines during Aquino’s reign.  However, that “idea of growth” does not trickle down to the majority of the people.  The government and the people are disconnected.  

MMDA officials impose new traffic rules but the rules are more advantageous to private vehicle owners than to common commuters who feel like sardines in public transportation.  When asked about his reaction to the complaints of Manila commuters that they had to walk far to wait for buses, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno said that it is all right to walk, “Paminsan-minsan, okay din yung pinagpapawisan.”  That is his rationale.  Obviously, most of our high government officials do not ride ordinary public vehicles. They are “disconnected” from the masses inside the comforts of their air-conditioned cars.  MMDA honchos also said that there are enough buses to accommodate commuters.  Clearly, MMDA officials have not tried commuting along EDSA during morning and evening rush hours.  We Filipinos feel we are not people. We feel like headless sardines. 

Generations have passed and the Philippines has remained the same. The poor are getting poorer and the rich, yes they are getting richer, but most frighteningly, they are becoming more powerful and amoral.  The poor keeps making the rich wealthy.  Additionally, the Catholic Church is “disconnected” from his followers and, I dare say, from Jesus. 

The progressive work of our parents in the 1960s to the 80s has been betrayed and so the new generation does not see any value in social engagement.  We have created patches of First World and Third World in our cities.  In Metro Manila, you can live in a cocoon without being invaded by poverty. You can live in the slums and not know anything beyond that.  Places like Cubao are being developed as a cosmopolitan hub but just walk a few blocks and you see sex workers waiting for customers on the overpass.  We know crime exists but we are equally afraid and suspicious of criminals and our protectors. 

The ordinary Filipino may now be fed up feeling hopeless and powerless that he creates a switch in his psyche that he can click so he can continue to move on without feeling guilty and remorseful.  The Filipino wants to act but he knows that his actions might only put him and his family in danger; his actions may only do more harm to the people he wants to assist.  Most importantly, the individual is highly suspicious of the people who need help and the institutions that are tasked to help and protect. 

All these are evident in most of the films in the New Breed category.  “Babagwa” explores exploitation in and out of the social networking phenomena. Poverty is addressed. The only flaw is the gay man remains the seedy character and this clearly shows the filmmaker’s “disconnect” from the changing gender politics of our time. A filmmaker should test his creation. Would the film have worked if the criminal were not gay? The answer is yes so “Babagwa” is guilty of peddling negative stereotypes.

The potentially commercial “Instant Mommy” is a realistic comedy and it does subtly tackle Filipino comedy’s “disconnect” to reality.  The filmmakers of “David F,” and “Nuwebe” suffer from “disconnection” in the worst way.  The two films failed because the creators did not fully respect their subject matter.  “The Diplomat Hotel” sadly did not even warrant a scrutiny. 

Of all the entries, five films manage to decently dramatize the “disconnection” of our people.  “Purok 7” shows how poverty physically disconnects children from their parents, and children are left to fend for themselves.  “Transit” brilliantly shows our disconnect from our identity as a Filipino, and the structure of the film, among other devices, proves that the filmmaker understood her subject matter. Similarly, the creator of “Quick Change” understood his thesis. The film bravely explores the “disconnect” from sexuality, and how the male notion of the feminine further “disconnect” people from their dignity and self-worth. 

“Rekorder” shows how the police are “disconnected” from the people they are supposed to serve. The common city dwellers, including myself, have become frighteningly indifferent and so we become “disconnected” from the city.  In addition, the new generation of filmmakers is “disconnected” from the horrors of crime.  Crime is just something we capture on camera like a freak show in a circus.

“Debosyon” is probably the only film that is true to this year’s theme, “Cinesthesia: Synergy of the Senses.”  The film is a feast to the senses; still, it explores our “disconnect” to our pre-colonial pagan devotion that it is centered on preservation and protection, and how we simply transferred the pagan rituals to our Christian faith. Sadly, we lose the protective aspect of our native devotion. Faith is now a public, sometimes a commercial spectacle, and not an intimate communion with God.

The Cinema of “Disconnection” is not a trend in filmmaking similar to French New Wave or Third and Fourth Cinemas.  The Cinema of “Disconnection” does not have a unique set of film devices to push a narrative forward.  This cinema is a symptom of our milieu and the filmmaker behaves like a virus that spread the illness.  The filmmaker also manifests the symptoms of the illness but without offering a cure.  After all, the virus is a program, it does not analyze itself.  It only makes itself noticeable.

The patient, in this case the moviegoer, sees his illness, he will only say “Oh yes, I have that, and others I know as well. Well, what can I do? Anyway, I still manage.”  The Cinema of “Disconnection” does not push the patient to realize and say, “Oh my, I did not know how seriously repulsive my illness is! I’m being eaten alive!”

Only a fully awake filmmaker is not a virus.  He is the doctor who shows the symptoms but has a full understanding of the sickness and its root causes.  He does not just show you the X-ray and the lab results; he tells you how much the virus has eaten you alive, and what actions you perform daily that actually worsens your illness.  A doctor offers a cure or by showing the symptoms in a certain way, he incites repulsion, which will trigger the patient to progressively seek for a cure. 

To put this in historical context, Jose Rizal behaved like a doctor when he wrote “Noli Me Tangere.” Ordinary people during his time were fully aware of the social corruption but Rizal showed the sickness to a different audience.  He wrote his novels in Spanish because he knew that the Spanish and the aristocrat, the root cause of the corruption, would be agitated.   They would be the ones to be more repulsed, and indeed they put the doctor to death. In so doing, the ailing masses rose up. 

Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal were also doctors.  Films like “Insiang,” “Manila By Night,” “Manila sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” and “Himala” incite.  However, if you make the same films today, they may not be as effective because we have already seen many well-crafted films about poverty, corruption, and other social ills.  Sub-genres like “poverty porn” and “exploitation porn” are other mutations of the Cinema of “Disconnection.”  We love patronizing well-made movies about poverty and abuse because we feel we are sensitive creatures when we watch them.  The filmmaker may also feel comfortable knowing he is not just out to get cash or accolades.  But, after the movie ends, we wait for the next Best Picture to be made. 

Just as the virus mutates and becomes more resilient, the way to present the sickness is also crucial in inciting the patient to act and seek immediate intervention.  Unfortunately, nine years of Cinemalaya and other similar festivals, Philippine cinema is yet to thread a path that is uniquely Filipino, not aping the arts of the West. New Philipppine cinema must engage the Filipino moviegoers not  international jurors.

The audience is also part of the Cinema of “Disconnection.” If you feel that film exists merely to entertain, then you do not understand the power of film as well and its effectiveness in conditioning you to think and behave a certain way. 

Many Filipino moviegoers love horror movies, slapstick comedies, superhero movies, romantic movies and melodramas because they help us "disconnect" and go about our daily lives.  Do not be so serious, they are just movies. Chos!


  1. Ang galing mo magsulat rooted on insights and deep understanding.

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