A Deep Dive Into Southeast Asia’s Best Shorts – Personal Picks From the Lockdown Cinema Club6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
With the coronavirus pandemic upsetting virtually all industries, a group of Filipino filmmakers joined forces to provide support for film workers and celebrate the art of cinema. In April 2020, The Lockdown Cinema Club was born, campaigning to raise financial help for the vulnerable members of the local independent film industry. As of last week, the group has raised almost ₱5 million (approximately S$130,000), proving once again that one of the film industry’s greatest strengths is in its community.
With a total of five volumes, The Lockdown Cinema Club introduces an extensive collection of short films from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. They not only encourage people to donate money however much they want, but also highlight talents in the region. They aren’t accepting donations anymore, but the collection of short films will be available until the end of June.
There’s really a considerable number of films available, so I couldn’t watch all of them. But even just from the few that I was able to watch, I’m heartened by the energy of the Southeast Asian film community. Here’s just a few of my personal favourites.
Oda Sa Mga Mangangarap (Ode to Dreamers)
Director: Jan Michael C. Jamisola
Cast: Karl Medina, Andrea Tatad, Mailes Kanapi
Runtime: 22 minutes
Ode to Dreamers follows an unemployed comedian, Joseph (Karl Medina) whose life is slowly revealing itself to be more of a tragedy. The film opens with Joseph seeking a job, in hopes to keep his dreams of making people laugh alive, but the storytelling takes an extraordinary turn. Director Jan Jamisola intermingles several planes of reality and narratives, making us question just exactly where reality starts and ends.
I’m a sucker for metanarratives – they’re not easy to execute without muddling the work, but Ode to Dreamers tells its story thoroughly. I was hooked from the get go with the film’s strong opening, and the impressive cinematography and set design maintained undivided attention. Tragedy and comedy are combined, resulting in a quirky deadpan humour. Yet this absurd concoction of tragedy and comedy is precisely what our life is about – we have to experience the lows to ride the highs.
Director: Kenneth Lim Dagatan
Cast: Chai Fonacier, Ligaya Rabago
Runtime: 16 minutes
Sanctissima follows the story of a rural village abortionist, Marissa (Ligaya Rabago). The procedures are gruesome and morbid, but more disturbing is the fact that she gets rid of the foetuses by feeding them to a demonic creature.
Director Kenneth Dagatan builds tension slowly but surely, until it comes to a macabre crescendo of guts and gore. Yet, the elements of shock aren’t simply gratuitous. Dagatan’s kind of horror is discerning, updating familiar horror tropes to fit the locality of his film. With impressive sound design and camera work. Sanctissima isn’t for the faint of heart.
Director: JP Habac
Cast: Flora Gasser, Vangie Labalan, Peewee O’Hara
Runtime: 10 minutes
When their long-time friend apparently passes after riding a precarious amusement park ride, three old ladies bicker about who among them will be the next to go. Death is a subject that is always difficult to confront. It casts a shadow of existential gloom, as we’re faced with our mortality. That’s why Oktopus is such a remarkable watch. It deals with our tragic, yet natural, fate.
Director JP Habac reckons with human mortality by incorporating a peculiar sense of humour. Existential comedy is difficult to pull off, but Habac does it well. Complemented by the outstanding performances from the actors, Oktopus manages to be both humorous and solemn at the same time. Oktopus reveals that the celebration of life is precisely in our acceptance of mortality. The film’s last line serves as a reminder – “You’re only old once”.
Director: Carlo Ledesma
Cast: Michael Karolyi, David Kirkham
Runtime: 6 minutes
The Haircut is short and sweet, yet chock-full of absurdity. An unassuming barber is visited by a peculiar customer for a haircut, but get this – he’s bald. The customer appears to be under some kind of delusion, not batting an eye at his strange request. The barber is obviously thrown off by this, but he goes along because the customer is alway right, isn’t he?
This film encapsulates my affinity for short films, where so much is being told in such a condensed amount of time. The succinctness of this film is perfect for its comical narrative. It’s hard to put into words why The Haircut is so compelling, but that in itself is telling of how endearingly bizarre the film is. As funny as The Haircut is, it’s also a subtle commentary on vanity and self-deception, and how sometimes life is just simply absurd.
Director: Erik Matti
Cast: Gio Alvarez, Lauren Young, Rustica Carpio
Runtime: 10 minutes
The life of a seemingly unremarkable man spins out of control as he is visited by an apparition of the supposed Virgin Mary. However, it becomes increasingly clear that this phantom may be more from a sinister realm.
Director Erik Matti penetrates the psyche where he knows it’ll cut deep, as he subverts an important figure in Filipino consciousness. A malevolent energy is disguised as the likeness of an immaculate symbol, unraveling the man from within. There’s little dialogue in Vesuvius which makes it all the more spooky. Matti amps up the fear with his excellent use of sound and visual imagery, escalating the insidious erosion of sanity.
The Lockdown Cinema Club released a total of five volumes, all of which are still available online.