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Tungkol sa Amin

Ang Sinewaya ay isang kolektibo ng mga mahihilig manood ng pelikula at naniniwala sa makapangyarihang potensiyal ng sining na odyo-biswal. Ang Sinewaya rin ay isang online film journal na naglalathala ng mga kritikal na sanaysay hinggil sa masiglang ugnayan ng pelikula at lipunan.

Sinewaya: Contemporary Media CriticismWhy Sinewaya? And why at all?

by Kenneth Roland A. Guda

I.

MANY are often tempted to say that it was during the ’90s that the death knell of Philippine cinema was heard. Pundits usually do not look back kindly upon the period, squeaming at the recollection of Kuya Germs’ That’s Entertainment, Ruffa Gutierrez’ hairdo, or the TF (titillating films) trend. It was a time when the term “bakya” yielded other synonyms, from “baduy”to “jologs”, equally referring to the unlettered crowd who flocked to theaters to watch Tagalog flicks.

Of course, there was much to loathe from the period. But it was not entirely the film industry or the “baduy” crowd’s fault. Import liberalization ushered in the relentless flooding of Hollywood films into the theaters, taking on audience shares previously dominated by local films. The film industry began reverting to formulaic, “takilya”-tested plots for survival. It did not help, too, that by the ’90s, Bernal and Brocka were dead, Mike de Leon was in hiberation, and every serious filmmaker worth his or her salt was turning to foreign film festivals for audiences. The others, meanwhile, sought to ride the globalist tide of making films of “world class” quality (read: Hollywood production values). Clearly, the film industry was in serious trouble.

Today, five years since the ’90s, nothing much has changed. If anything, the film industry is in a much more serious crisis than ever before. Many who hoped that such a lull in our cinematic history will soon pass have now grown cynical and disillusioned. The dearth of noteworthy projects (even the dearth of projects, period) is noticeable even in local filmfests.

There is, however, is a noticeable blossoming of an “alternative” film community today. Independent filmmakers have arguably grown in number, apparently awaiting the coming of a “third golden age” in Philippine cinema. Most suspect that the advent of “relatively accessible” digital video (DV) technology may had something to do with the revived interest in filmmaking. Many were suddenly freed from the confines of celluloid films, its expensive filmmaking process, and therefore the pressures from producers and movie outfits. DV technology, in a sense, “democratized” filmmaking to the point that every idiot with a camera and computer can make his or her own “Blair Witch Project.”

The downside, of course, is that this relative freedom only pushed many filmmakers away from populist impulses. The temptation to imitate Western trends of avant-garde, postmodern cinema has further veered many away from that very raison d’être of cinema as popular medium to entertain and enlight since the days of Eisenstein and Chaplin (or Louis Lumiere, for that matter).

It is not surprising, therefore, that filmmakers, critics, or film buffs conversant with postmodernism have come to view social-realist films of the Brocka kind as quaint specimens of a begotten period in Philippine cinematic history, rather than filmic statements that mediate into our present realities. For instance, Mike de Leon, of late, belittled the value of Sister Stella L. Lacking in stylistic audacity as Itim or Batch ’81, de Leon faults Sister Stella L. for its didacticism. The film was also faulted for its directness in criticizing Martial Law labor policies, thereby limiting its “universal appeal.” If viewed today, however, Sister Stella L’s continued relevance in the light of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and other labor disputes demonstrate its universality as an article of history that repeats itself as tragedy and farce.

What we submit, therefore, is the thesis that current technological advances have so far failed to actually liberate filmmaking (and by extension, film criticism) from the chains that bound its predecessors. Technology has, in a sense, only made them more comfortable with the chains. The “abnormal” conditions (that is, Marcos being “abnormally” candid about his regime’s fascism) of the ’70s, in contrast, made filmmakers rethink their own philosophies, forcing them to be critical of conditions of film production, distribution, exhibition, and even criticism.

Which is not to say that another Martial rule is needed to revive Philippine cinema. In fact, we think that the conditions are rife for such revival. The sheer competition with a much more accessible Hollywood will force many in the film industry to rethink the direction it is taking. At the same time, filmmakers will be compelled to resist conventional methods of film production, distribution, and exhibition. Prevalence of “alternative” film festivals, albeit with a limited audience, exemplify such trend, along with the growing popularity of the use of audio-video media in political mass organizing.

This is the future of Philippine cinema as we see it.

Sinewaya: Contemporary Media CriticismII.

THE IDEA of creating SINEWAYA all started while most of us who now compose this group were making our tour-of-duty in that college newspaper, Philippine Collegian. Many of us were activist writers and propagandists who liked to watch movies at the UP Film Center and SM North, but could not exactly reconcile this rather costly interest (P30 in 1994; P71-P81 today) with the spartan lifestyle activists were assumed to live. And while the occasional free film showings at FC satiated our cinematic palates while conforming with our tight budgets, many of us were yet to fully grasp the significance of cinema to our activist values and aspirations.

Sure there was Mao’s Yenan Forum speech instructing us on the liberative value of the arts. There was also the occasional reference to the activism of Lino Brocka or Ishmael Bernal, two filmmakers with wildly divergent cinematic styles but were ideological kindreds. There was also the social-realist tradition in Philippine movies.

But of all the genres, cinema was the most maligned, even feared. And rightly so, for among the artistic disciplines, it is the film industry that is most vulnerable to corruption by commercial interests. It is also the most expensive of media. Activists have been churning out progressive poetry and fiction books and compilations for decades. Theater has likewise been the more popular form of political expression and agitation since the days of Gintong Silahis and Kamanyang. But the politicization of cinema – that bastard cousin of theater – came much, much later. Even with the advent of social-realist cinema in the ’70s (so-called “second golden age of Philippine cinema”), activists remained in the margins, many opting to penetrate the industry (think Ricky Lee or Pete Lacaba) rather than developing their own alternative filmic practices attuned to the demands of a broad social movement.

Which is not to assign fault to Lee or Lacaba, but to the very capability and preparedness of such a social movement (i.e., anti-dictatorship front) to fashion its own cinematic practice at that time. The First Quarter Storm of 1970 – like the student revolts in Paris in 1968 – heralded the arrival of radical activism into mainstream politics. But unlike its French counterpart, FQS did not have its François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard marching on the streets and being clubbed by riot police.

Of course, the comparison in both societies is but superficial. Nevertheless, it says something about what kind of societies France and the Philippines are. The latter, after all, is a country of overwhelming poverty, destitution and oppression. Cinema came to us only through colonialism, through Hollywood. It is to the credit of various incarnations of social movements (from the Huk rebellion to today’s radical practices) that even in the margins it can significantly influence the film industry. In today’s age of the DV camera, Adobe Premiere and pirated VCDs, filmmakers who look upon the medium as a powerful political weapon now find themselves enough latitude to create alternative practices.

It is in these context that we find the need for a rigorous criticism of films to be most pressing. Most of us who used to watch and enjoy films with guilty pleasure (I know I did) now would view film criticism as an intricate aspect of an emerging cinematic movement. Of course, we will not abandon our love for films of any shape or tendency or allow our political allegiances from delimiting the scope of our criticism.

For SINEWAYA, every filmmaking work, as long as it is publicly viewed and can potentially shape people’s minds, is important and must be appraised.

Sinewaya: Contemporary Media CriticismIII.

SINEWAYA is a product, not only of the few people who currently compose the group, but of a lot of people’s ideas; people who would have wanted to be part of it but for their own reasons were not able to contribute to our website’s very first issue. Nevertheless, it is but fitting for us to thank them, even mention them in passing.

The idea came about mostly from exchanges with fellow writers in the Collegian. VJ, Joms, Reagan, X and Hilda once envisioned forming a filmmakers’ group named Sinewaya, a contraction of “sine” and “waywaya”, which is Ilocano for “to struggle.” The idea eventually fizzled out, but the spirit of the project remained. A few years ago, meanwhile, former Collegian editors and writers, headed by Cyrus and Seymour, hatched a plan to come out with a magazine along the lines of Rolling Stone-meets-New Left Review. Others thought it was too ambitious a plan (it turned out they were right) and suggested we come out with an online magazine instead.

Years after both ideas fizzled out, many of its proponents (like Seymour, VJ and X) became directly involved with filmmaking, or at least writing for/about films or television. Many of us, now veterans of Jo Abaya-sponsored film orgies, the annual film festivals, and regular “suki” at our friendly neighboorhood VCD/DVD sellers, thought about forming a sort of “film appreciation group.” It was a few months ago that Tom, Eleyn, Jayson, Joms, and I formally committed ourselves to creating SINEWAYA. Tom provided the technical know-how on website construction, while the rest of us and some more recruits pledged to contribute essays regularly on a monthly basis. We agreed to make regular monthly issues of one theme, such as this month’s, which is, “Documentary Filmmaking.”

A lot more friends, relatives, and lovers deserve mention here, but their names escape me now. And for that, we apologize. Nevertheless, we ought to give special mention to our parents, siblings, and close relatives, who bankrolled, intentionally or not, our passion for watching films. #

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