BACOLOD CITY – There’s art. And then there’s commerce.
How many of you have heard of horror stories on film directors forced to change the direction of the film they are making because – gasp! – the studio does not think it will sell?
Really, how many movies – with the exception of Joker, that hybrid – have broken the $1 billion mark on the strength of pure story-telling alone? There is not a single film currently sitting in the top 10 highest-grossing flicks that do not involve light sabers, mecha, aliens, superheroes, or superheroes in mecha suits wielding light sabers and battling aliens.
It’s enough to make the starving artist starve her/himself some more.
But the harsh conditions have not dampened maverick artists in the film industry, those who want to stay true to their vision, those who refused to be pegged as hacks.
Their defiance is in their art, and their art betrays their defiance.
Such is the case of Aldrich Rosano, a young Turk all of 26 (“I’m so old!” he claims) and one of the directors featured in CineKasimanwa: The Western Visayas Film Festival. The film is made possible through the efforts of the Department of Tourism Region 6 with Regional Director Lawyer Helen J. Catalbas is Executive Producer, and Elvert Bañares as Producer which Dr. Adrian Torres as Associate Producer.
It is presented by the DOT Region VI, CineKasimanwa Film Festival, and Western Visayas Filmmakers Network.
Aldrich is not new to film festivals, his shorts having been made it as entries to regional and local screenings.
Some of his films – (Halad comes to mind) — have perplexed audiences who are out looking for straightforward narrative. But even his earlier attempts at filmmaking already showed a stubborn will of one who refuses to go with the dictates of the mainstream.
That boldness, that refusal to compromise artistic vision could crush anyone in the biz, but that concern apparently has yet not affected Aldrich as a helmer.
The Church, homophobia and the Marcos years
It’s Brocka and Lav Diaz (Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis) with the stylistic leanings of James Wan, Erik Matti, the Coen Brothers, and Robert Eggers.
That was how Aldrich described Ang Tumuluo, his film that is being featured in CineKasimanwa.
The eclectic mix might not make sense to anyone who knows their film, but once Aldrich describes what the film is about – it’s a socio-political film under the guise of a thriller – all the pieces fall into place.
Ang Tumuluo (The Devotee) tells the story of Thea, an increasingly disillusioned member of the Church and her struggle with her lover and co-devotee Seva, set against the backdrop of the waning years of Marcos’ Martial Law. Film gets ample help from the lensing of Paolo “PC” Correa as Director of Cinematography. Film also features the considerable acting chops of Megan Locsin as titular devotee Thea, Mia France Franco as her lover Seva, with veteran award-winning actor Milton Dionzon as the embodiment of oppression.
“It’s a coming of age film because my two protagonists are breaking (social) barriers in 1980s ‘Pinas,” Aldrich tells DNX.
See the Brocka-Diaz influence now? The legendary Lino Brocka, after all, brought us the seminal Insiang, and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, both films heavy with political undertones packaged as something else.
And then of course there’s THE Lav Diaz, an award-winning filmmaker now at the top of his game churning out one socially-relevant film after another.
While Ang Tumuluo has thematic influences with the social realists, the stylistic treatment is something else.
Aldrich has carefully researched genre films – specifically of the horror-thriller variety – for his artistic pegs: the dated, sepia-like tones of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, for instance, the grit of James Wan (Saw) and the bleak cynicism of the Coen Brothers.
Aldrich has been openly contemptuous about fascism and right-wing politics, thus the film for him is a vehicle to speak up about such contempt.
“There are a lot of Filipinos who view things in black-and-white,” he observes, adding that issues like authoritarianism and fanaticism – key concerns during the time of Marcos – are repeated themselves now,
Right-wing politics are thus personified in his film via Br. Arturo, the lead antagonist, who makes life miserable for the main characters that we are supposed to root for.
Politics and art
Mixing art and social message could be a tricky thing for, more often than not, the message gets diluted.
But more than that is to ensure that the audience stay glued to their seats who might not take too kindly about having their films tainted with political allegory.
“My first concern is to not bore the audience as long I get what I set out to achieve, which is sneak in Philippine history and current events,” he says.
Second concern, is to get the message across without sounding too preachy, and thus alienate a huge part of the audience.
Throwback to the masters
Aldrich sees himself as doing pretty much the same types of films in the future, his way of giving a middle finger to highly-commercialized films that do not need much digging up to do when it comes to message.
“I’m never a fan of spoon-feeding and that commercialized feel of the films. But just give me chance to make an anti-thesis of the latter and I will make one,” he says, laughing.
It is rare, after all, to have a serious student and lover of film and film styles to make movies not just because they want to but because they feel the need to inform and educate.
And it’s not just the message.
Aldrich is also reaching to follow the old masters of Expressionism – those German geniuses recognized as the first meisters of goth — and surrealism.
“Ang Tumuluo,” he says, “is a mix of cynicism of German expressionism and film noir genre much as surrealism of some of our folklore and myths.”
And that, methinks, is why the film is a must-watch during the festival.