Sunday, August 29, 2010

14th TSF&VF review: Each Film ... An Island?

Each Film ... An Island? is a compilation of shorts and documentaries by the Philippines' Kidlat Tahimik, director of the 1977 cult indie film The Perfumed Nightmare.

Kidlat offered Each Film to the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival when programmers went to him seeking something they could show as a tribute to the late film experts, Alexis Tioseco, the Canadian-Filipino writer, teacher and critic who programmed the festival's annual S-Express Philippines package and founded the Criticine website, and Slovenian festival programmer Nika Bohinc. They were slain last September 1 in their home in the Philippines.

As Kidlat explains in the festival catalog, Each Film is a cathartic and philosophical effort made after a 2004 house fire in which he lost the VHS masters of his films. A subsequent inquiry with the Tokyo Video Festival unsurfaced a treasure trove of digital copies of many of his and his sons' films, and memories he thought were lost in a pile of melted plastic came flooding back. The result is an "unfinished" feature that is as fun and rewarding is it is rambling and repetitive.

A heartfelt celebration of cinema, filmmaking and culture, as well as an observation on the impermanence of life, Each Film ... An Island? proved to be a fitting tribute to Alexis and Nika.

Like the The Perfumed Nightmare, which gave voice to Kidlat's fantasies of the first Filipino in space and the first Filipino to fly supersonic, one segment of Each Film, likely from around the same time as Perfumed Nightmare, deals with the first Filipino to circumnavigate the globe – Enrique, the slave of Ferdinand Magellan. Kidlat portrays Enrique. He charms a sad autistic Spanish princess into laughing for the first time and is by Magellan's side when the Portuguese-Spanish explorer is killed with a spear in the Battle of Mactan.

Another major theme is indigenous culture, which the filmmaker born Eric de Guia takes great pride in promoting. For much of the film, Kidlat is clad in the Filipino loincloth, the bahag. It's a revealing garment, but as is pointed out, members of the tribe could often tell each other apart from the shape of their buttocks.

A hilarious segment is "tales of excess baggage", which chronicles the series of cultural-exchange trips Kidlat and his sons made to Japan in 1988, 1992 and 1994, each time taking an unwieldy, large and weighty item of Pinoy culture with them. One time, they brought an entire bamboo hut, broken down into pre-fabricated sections for reassembly. Next, they brought a dug-out canoe. And finally, they brought a 100-kg church bell that had been fashioned from the business end of an unexploded World War II bomb fished out of a river.

On one of their trips, the Kidlat clan visited a rice-growing region of Japan, which led him to wax philosophically on the Unesco World Heritage Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines and the important role of rice farmers. His thoughts are intermingled with footage from The Seven Samurai, in which he pleads in an open letter to the director, "please Mr. Kurowsawa ..." think again about how you view the rice farmers in your film.

I teared up a bit when the elderly Japanese farmer Kidlat met revealed he had cancer, and the crop they were looking at would probably be his last.

Other footage comes from Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, and it's intermingled with the Magellan-Enrique scenes to great effect, as comment I suppose on Western colonialism.

It's also a chance for Kidlat to show off his yo-yo tricks.

To see this film is a gift and a blessing. Fleeting images that were thought to have been lost are found again. But were they ever lost to begin with? I suppose that's the idea of Kidlat's bamboo camera. Turn on the bamboo camera of your own mind and let your ideas run wild.

Kidlat talks more about his film in an interview for the Yamagita International Documentary Film Festival. (5/5)

Festival notes

  • For the first time since moving into its new home at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, the Thai Short Film & Video Festival has two screens – the fifth-floor auditorium and an additional space on weekends in the fourth-floor activity room. This new space is not particularly well-suited for watching films. It's more casual, and the drifting in-and-out of audiences tends to be more noticeable. The floor is flat and heads get in the way. But most of the chairs are of the wheeled, swiveling office variety, and if you're sitting in the back, you can adjust the height for what's perhaps a better view. It's free, so I can't really complain. So far, all the films I've seen have been in this space. I feel like I'm sitting at the kiddie table on Thanksgiving and have yet to get to the "adult table" back up on the fifth floor.
  • Indeed, the first program I watched yesterday was Shorts for Kids, and I don't recall there being any kids there. Among the selection of mostly animated, dialogue-free films was a Thai live-action film, Kerp (เกิบ) by Nattapong Pimchan (ณัฐพงศ์ พิมพ์จันทร์). It's about a little boy who wants new shoes to play soccer.
  • I nodded off while watching the S-Express Singapore package. Sorry! I caught the first film, Nelson Yeo's Nobody's Home, which shows that all you need to make an existential western is cowboy hats. The backdrop of Singapore's government housing blocks stands in for John Ford's Monument Valley and the setting is surprisingly quite apt.
  • I stayed awake for the S-Express Malaysia program. Among them was You and Me Put the 'You' and 'Me' in 'You and Me' by Chi Too. It's a three-part work, consisting of two photo montage segments and then experimental video footage taken in Bangkok of passengers boarding the Chao Phraya River Express tourist boat. There was also the hilarious 007 parody Petra Bond by Chin Yew and The Colour of Ideas by Low Weiyan, which was a stop-motion animation of colored candies. Blue and red (and sometimes yellow) candies clash. The action was commenting on violent rallies in Kuala Lumpur, but the colors had resonance to the Thai situation. Focal Point by Alireza Khatami and Ali Seiffouri is an Iranian co-production about a photographer who has a magical camera in his studio. The boys' boarding school hazing tale Kiamu! was shown twice, the second time in the Each Film ... An Island? session because on the first run-through the English subtitles hadn't been selected.
  • The Best of Clermont-Ferrand shorts are uniformly polished with high production values. Some have marquee names. The British animated short Lost and Found by Philip Hunt, about a boy who befriend a penguin, is narrated by Jim Broadbent. There's also the Australian live-action comedy Glenn Owen Dodds by Frazer Bailey, and starring David Wenham in a comic turn that surprised me. Previously, I'd only seen Wenham in a dramatic role in the Lord of the Rings. There's also the slick animated short Pigeon: Impossible. Today's Clermont-Ferrand program has Logorama, which won this year's Oscar for best animated short.
  • The Thai films in competition this weekend are the White Elephant student shorts and the documentaries up for the Duke Award. Only a handful have English subtitles. I think it's awkward and disruptive to try and enter and leave the screening sessions just to catch the ones with subtitles, and it's probably mostly pointless for me to try and watch the ones without subtitles. But more subtitles will be on offer next weekend in the films by the "general individual" filmmakers who are up for the R.D. Pestonji Award, so maybe next weekend I'll graduate to the adult table.

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