2/20/2013
Sloppy

I remember reading it somewhere. "The democratization of film." I know, this line sounds very high and mighty, but if you think about it, it does make sense. Gone are the days when you need a hell lot of money (or a very generous benefactor) to make a film: the expenses for buying rolls of film, and a camera, and a dark room to develop the rushes, and a place to cut and splice the reels. And, of course, paying the people involved.

Now, you can just buy a digital video camera, install editing software on your computer, and make magic happen. And it's easier to get inspired now, with most films now widely available. You can watch your schlock and the textbook legends at one go.

As a sort of film student I certainly was raised with that idea: anyone can make a film. I had the chance to watch some of the great films of our time - yes, I know this sounds a bit pretentious, so I must clarify, I did not go to film school, but I had a bunch of film classes - and I took them all in. Some of the things I learned were at the back of my head when I, along with two of my friends, produced a short film as our thesis. It wasn't the best film - by that I mean not one that shook the world's core - but on our story about a son not being able to forgive his father, we certainly did our best.

Oh, that's the one thing we were taught, albeit not explicitly: no matter what the circumstances are, make sure your film looks and feels the best that it could be. Everybody can tell a story, and not every story has an interesting hook, so making sure it looks good and feels good makes the ninety minutes (or twenty, in our case) you spend watching it worthwhile.

I thought everybody who sets out to make a film knows this. Or maybe it's because I haven't spent a lot of time watching terrible films.

Piyar (who now works for SM, I must clear) invited me to last night's press screening of Iliw at SM Megamall. (Insert obligatory mention of SM Cinemas supporting indie films, which explains this and this.) Produced almost four years ago, it centers on the relationship between a Filipina (Kaye Abad) and a Japanese general (Hiroyuki Takashima) as the Second World War ravages the Philippines. Speaking before the film began, director Bona Fajardo said that Iliw is based on real events: this relationship is why Vigan, in Ilocos Sur, was not visibly affected by the war unlike, say, Manila. Not the most unique story - a potentially clichéd one, even - but I was willing to give it a chance.

But Iliw failed in so many aspects. So many aspects, in fact, that I've done something I've never done before: walk out on a film. I only managed thirty minutes, I think. Rainy - yes, she was with me, because Piyar had two tickets and I can't go alone and she had time to kill before her training - managed to last five minutes more.

The film obviously has a small budget. I don't begrudge that; many indie films work under such circumstances. (Our thesis short's budget was, of course, smaller.) But they nonetheless tried to tackle a film so ambitious in scope that the cracks were not just showing, they were glaring. And I'm not talking about the CGI Japanese planes flying over Baguio in that could've-been-edited-better bicycle montage.

For a film that's set in wartime Vigan, more attention could've been paid towards the production design. Maybe it's because the first scenes looked too clean, too shot-in-the-now. I tried to convince both of us. "It's the American period," I whispered, over and over again. It felt like the scenes were set within artifacts rather than Vigan in 1939.

Minor crease. But the film itself - or, at least, the thirty minutes I saw before we walked out - is sloppy. The editing was meandering; they were showing off the beauty of Ilocos (it was shot on location) but I ended up getting bored by the lack of action, and I say this as a person who's been to Ilocos many times. The transitions between popped up from out of nowhere; some took forever, some just dropped on up like, well, bombs. The sound editing seemed like an afterthought; you could hear the edit points. The cinematography was static and unimaginative: watching a play on stage is one thing, but if you have the ability to zoom in to make us feel more, then by all means, use it. But I won't complain about the dialogue; it may sound clunky, but then again, it's hard to precisely capture pre-war language.

All that leads to very, very, very clunky storytelling. So Fidela (that's Abad's character) wants to break away from what's expected of her. And she can speak a little Japanese. And her dad is nabbed by the Japanese. And as she's denied a chance to visit him, she meet this military general (I didn't catch the name of Takashima's character) who seems to be smitten by her. And, years later, they cross paths again, which earns the ire of her brother, but sees the benefits of the friendship blossoming. And... suddenly they're friends. And suddenly they're almost lovers?

Too much time was spent on the first parts, but not on the friendship blossoming bit. Rainy and I were both, "what?" And that was the last straw. I mean, we could've stayed and given it another shot, but man, Iliw is a sloppy film. I never walked out on a film before, but I saw five people (I counted) leave before we did, so at least I'm not alone in my sentiments. Iliw is that moment when someone got too giddy with the idea of creating a film, so much so that he did all that he could do, without considering how it'll look. I don't call myself a film expert, but can you blame me if I call the film a bit amateur? I don't mean to boast, but we did better for our thesis.

Anyone can make a film. True. But not everyone knows how to. Perhaps I blame being exposed to all these greats, and all these well-crafted local indie films. I know there are clunkers too. I've seen some of them myself, I think. But nothing like this.

Piyar asked me for a 200-word reaction. Sorry, but this is word number 1,105.

And your responses...

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