The 16th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival kicked off with online screenings and two exhibitions. “Cinemalaya: Stream Consciousness” features posters, documentation and clips of the entries in the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2020, while “Gawad Alt 2.0” features entries from the CCP Gawad Alternatibo para sa Pelikula at Video.
This year marks a major shift as Cinemalaya takes place, like much else, online. Both exhibits are mounted on Kunstmatrix, which hosts virtual 3D exhibition spaces that users can navigate through on their laptops. With its marble floors, evenly arranged lighting, it’s presented as a simulation of a white cube. But the room itself has no doors, and moving out of bounds has you hovering over a blank void.
Under pandemic-less circumstances, Peque Gallaga would have had a grand memorial. For an artist who has traversed the depths of the human psyche, I wonder if he ever imagined he’d be poignantly honored in an online gallery.
Aside from stills and behind the scenes images, the exhibition also displays video clips drawn from the entries. I could still hum the ultra-saccharine jingle Trendysitas, which sharply jabs at the contractualization that holds up the plasticine commercial center that Excuse Me, Miss Miss Miss (2020) is set in. The footage is treated to look old and faded, in contrast to the futuristic, quasi-utopian space in which it is exhibited. It’s about time, I believe, for us to embrace this jarring contrast, and to bypass the false binary between what’s virtual and what’s physical.
Therein lies the rub of the term “virtual exhibition,” which implies that it exists in relation to an intended physical exhibition — as though the latter is more real and valid than the former. An exhibition is an exhibition, whether in code or in the flesh.
The questions of tactility and tangibility — always an issue when comparing online art to its real-life counterpart — shouldn’t necessarily apply to the moving image. Cinema itself, in both production and distribution, has been intertwined with the progress of technology. Filmmakers were quick to adapt even to the circumstances of filmmaking at present by integrating the language of social media, such as Petersen Vargas’ 2020 web series Hello Stranger, and Antoinette Jadaone’s “Love Team” (2020) where Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz rekindled an old flame on Instagram live.
The advent of sound, the transition to digital mediums, and the rise of online streaming platforms have all been met with their forms of resistance at the time they emerged. However, Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) would still stand as masterpiece, whether viewed on mobile as a digital restoration, projected from a decaying film reel, or played as a scratched yet well-loved VCD from Video 48.
The launch of a category for Emergent Media in Gawad Alternatibo is particularly exciting, and it was about time, too. Mediums such as video games have a lot in common with cinema not just in terms of using audiovisual mediums, but even when it comes to rapid developments in technology which inform and influence how these are produced. While there are also massive corporations producing games, there are many independent game developers who are also pushing narrative-making in their own ways.
Take “Political Animals,” developed by Squeaky Wheel and distributed by Positech Games, which is an idiosyncratic election campaign simulation populated by anthropomorphic animals. “In a political contest where corruption is always around the corner,” its tag says, “can you win without getting your paws dirty?” The exhibition also contains a hyperlink to Steam pages where you can download or play the games for yourself. Video games, contrary to the misconception that they are purely hollow products of mass consumption (sounds familiar?) can also be sharp, incisive and compelling.
Fittingly, the exhibition itself is navigated in a manner familiar to digital natives who play video games, myself included. I concede that it presents a learning curve to folks unfamiliar with these controls. Frankly, considering that sitting in a dark room surrounded by strangers all fixated on a singular screen is out of the question for the foreseeable future, we have no choice but to adapt to the present. Considering the rapid and relentless pace of technology, there’s plenty of room for art and cinema to adapt, reinvent and sweetly subvert.
While online streaming has certainly opened Cinemalaya up to audiences outside of Metro Manila, the digital divide remains and has certainly been made more apparent in the past few months. Exhibition design now has to consider matters of user interface, hosting, and computer science, along with the social realities of the internet in the Philippines. Each decision may open a work up to one audience, while perhaps shutting off another.
Technology won’t wait for us, and it’s up to the audience to catch up with it. It’s hard to predict where exhibition and cinema itself are going — though that mystery is one I’m looking forward to unraveling as we collectively work towards a cinema that is liberating, an industry that is fair, and an independent film community with a future to look forward to.
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“Cinemalaya: Stream Consciousness” and “Gawad Alt 2.0” can be viewed online until Oct. 30. (https://www.culturalcenter.gov.ph/events/visual-arts/cinemalaya-virtual-exhibits/details)