When profit and politics interfere with creativity

National artist and City resident BenCab is the creative mind behind the logo to commemorate Baguio City as a UNESCO Creative City for Folk Arts and Native Crafts. Rappler reports that:

BenCab based the logo on a traditional Cordillera design for mountains. There are 3 mountain ranges: 5 on top, 3 in the middle, and two at the bottom. The colors of the middle mountain range were based on the Philippine flag.

The top and the middle ranges depict the 7 traditional arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dance, and performing arts. The CCN under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also has 7 fields: folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

However, methinks that, upon seeing the logo following the weekend opening of the Creative City exhibit at People’s Park, it’s not among the artist’ best works. It felt like the work was rushed and lacked the magic of inspiration. Go see his works at his BenCab Museum and you’ll know what I mean. To BenCab’s credit, City Hall has shown itself unprepared for the UNESCO citation consequently it’s uninspired handling of the event launching on the 10th (this should’ve, for instance, coincided with the Panagbenga Grand Parade (for maximum public dissemination and viewing); another, City Hall should’ve allocated booths, waived the rent this year, for the many local artist communities that have been waiting for a breakthrough into the wider market.

Baguio City Creative City

As it happened, the logo installation including the booth exhibits of the more popular folk arts and native crafts were packed up on the 24th “to give way to Session Road in Bloom“. It’s like saying we’re gonna blindfold our right eye so that our left could see more clearly. WTF.
By the look of things, City Hall (they’re now the minds behind this year’s and future Panagbenga) has deemed that creativity as in Baguio City as Creative City is incompatible with the heart and celebration of Panagbenga such that relative to City Hall’s intent and promise, this year’s Session Road in Bloom to any City native or long-time resident is a HUGE disappointment, meaning, instead of the place finally transforming into one that oozes with more sophistication, more vitality, more glamour (the City is after all also a highly-urbanized city to distinguish it from the provincialism of small towns) that will wow visitors, the City’s premier street is instead riddled with smoke-emitting stalls hawking shawarma, turon, tinudok, lumpia, 100- and 50-peso divisoria clothes, pricey used books by foreign authors, and everything else that’s totally NOT a celebration of the creative minds and hands of the Cordilleras. My goodness, City Hall people? Such is why resident-artists like BenCab are short of inspiration.

We know the passage about there being a time for everything. There’s a time to buy street food from a street hawker; there’s a time to go to Divisoria and buy China-made; a time to attend Palawan’s Baragatan Festival to buy Palawan-made crafts; and there’s a time to be at Session Road to experience the fullness of Cordillera economy, culture, and creativity. After 23 years, organizers, private and public, still hasn’t gotten a hold of the heart of Panagbenga.


Movies and TV dramas to watch this year


Last year, I was able to watch only five movies and two TV dramas. Not bad though. There were years when I hadn’t been able to watch anything at all. This year, my work schedule permiting, I’ve lined up the following initial list to watch:

  1. Oro (‘Gold’ in English) is an independent film by award-winning Filipino director Alvin Yapan, based on true events about a small-scale gold miner (Elmer) who finally decides to establish a life of his own separate from Kapitana (village chief) his employer and benefactor. Elmer’s plan is disrupted with the arrival of an armed group, Patrol Kalikasan, who call themselves environmentalists. This turn of events finds Elmer and other small miners in the village turning to Kapitana who tries to secure a work permit in order to protect her employees from harassment by the armed group. Meanwhile the group settles down in the village with the plan to take over operations of the mines. The controversy over the alleged dog killing during filming however which caused the movie to be temporarily taken off cinemas and stripped off it’s FPJ Memorial Award has taken the spotlight away from the compelling story.   
  2. Die Beautiful. Another Filipino independent film, by Jun Robles Lana, about Patrick whose homosexuality is the reason his father eventually disowns him. Transforming into Tricia, he wins the title of Ms. Gay Philippines. His stint is short-lived however as he suddenly dies of brain aneurysm. Everyday during her wake, his make-up artist best friend works on his corpse transforming it to look like various Hollywood and Filipino celebrities to the great amusement of visiting family members, friends and guests. Patrick/Tricia is played by Paolo Ballesteros well-known co-host in the country’s longest-running noontime variety show Eat Bulaga! He won the Best Actor award at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival for his role as Patrick/Tricia. He also recently gained international acclaim for his unbelievable transformations with the use of make up into well-known celebrities. I am a fan of his ability! A great grandson of national artist Fernando Amorsolo one of Philippine’s greatest painters, Paolo Ballesteros is finally digging deep into his heritage.
  3. Saimdang: Light’s Diary. These days, TV is the new cinema. A good thing because compelling stories, beautiful cinematography, and astounding effects are now accessible every day right in the comfort of our living rooms or even bedrooms. I know of a bank executive who has two TVs inside the bedroom- one for herself and the other, her husband’s. They each have different TV viewing preferences and habits and neither wanted to give these up. Acquiring another TV was the most rational solution. In this case, I agree. Ha ha!  Anyway. Thanks to a positive first experience of South Korean drama (My Girl), I have now started to consciously choose shows from there. Like Saimdang, also since I love history. Shin Saimdang, according to an article at Korea Times, is the country’s wise mother icon at the same time artist, writer, calligrapher, and poet during the Joseon Kingdom. A woman ahead of her time. The drama plot begins with art history lecturer Ji Yoon discovering the diary of historical figure Shin Saimdang, and thereon “unravel(s) the secret behind a historical painting and unearths the unbelievable truth behind one of history’s biggest mysteries.” It’s not everyday that stories of Asian women who contributed to their countries’ histories are widely broadcasted through this platform. 
  4. Goblin: The Lonely and Great God. Local Kdrama fans have been raving about this show. Goblin, though? In Filipino folklore, goblin is duwende whose dwelling place, mole hill or at least that’s what it looks like, our grandparents warned us from disturbing if we didn’t want bad things happening to us ie. warts or itchy skin. (I once defied my grandmother’s warning and kicked the mound at the foot of the caimito (star apple) tree in my grandparents’ frontyard. Just to see. What does a goblin look like? An army of big fat fiery red ants came out at me. I recall running off like the devil itself was at my back.) Curious if Goblin is anything close to my fiery “duwendes“, I read up about the drama online. Synopses I read essentially say ” a supernatural love story between a Goblin who wants to end his immortality by finding himself a human bride and while at it makes friends with a Grim Reaper.” Twilight with a death wish? I recently went on Youtube to know more and tried episode 15 which had just finished showing then. I recognized at once Gong Yoo from Train To Busan which was received well here and Lee Dong Wook from My Girl! Their characters, Goblin and Grim Reaper, make an interesting study especially that it may have been the first time that the grim reaper character is explored in length on screen. Normally, it’s grim reaper=angel of death. End of story. But not this grim reaper apparently, who makes friends with humans, feels deep sorrow over a love that could’ve gone better, and so dreams for himself a better job and happier ending. A vulnerable grim reaper. That accessibility alongside power is why he has become popular with humans, I guess. It was how vampires suddenly became quite the steal. I also thought the lines clever, alight with subtle humor, and right on spot. I laughed when the Grim Reaper urges the Goblin to return the Mummy, one of several portals the Goblin has been using to enter/exit countries he was touring, because otherwise “it might cause an international dispute.” The installation of a comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassies in Busan and Seoul which recently opened age-old wounds between South Korea and Japan flashed across my mind. And for non-believers of predestination and reincarnation, this story will show in a lovely way how these concepts work. I will definitely take time to properly watch this drama.
  5. The Blacklist. This is the only long running TV drama that I continue to watch. Liz Keene is back. The show’s now on season four which goes to show the story’s amazing.
  6. Sherlock.  The famous detective is portrayed anew in this BBC series. Cumberbatch as Sherlock is riveting and otherworldly which is nearer to my imagination of the iconic detective.
  7. Jackie. Years after the demise of the former First Lady, the world is still keen on who she really was. But just as I won’t ever tire of re-makes on the life and person of Princess Diana, so with the former US First Lady’s. The movie review on Variety says, “it’s Noah Oppenheim’s remarkable screenplay, not drawn from any credited sources, that takes the most startling liberties with Jackie’s fiercely guarded privacy. Even at her most emotionally riven, she’s portrayed here as a woman in canny control of her identity, switching between different masks for press, public, and associates, and wearing none only when truly alone.” I’d like to see that interpretation come alive on screen. And Natalie Portman who I admire as an actor is superb for the role.
  8. The Handmaiden is an internationally-acclaimed and winning film by South Korean Park Chan-wook, which Variety describes as “a bodice-ripper” about “a pickpocket who poses as a maid to swindle a sequestered heiress” and “boasting more tangled plots and bodies than an octopus has tentacles.” My curiousity is piqued.
  9. Wonder Woman. It’s a shame the United Nations “dropped” the Marvel heroine as ambassador, after “45,000 people signed a petition protesting the selection” citing “a large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” is not an appropriate spokeswoman for gender equity at the United Nations’. But this is the sort of justification or reasoning that marginalizes further certain groups of women already perceived as “bad”. Aren’t these perceptions, by women at that, a negation of ‘gender equality’? What do we mean when we say ‘woman’? Do we refer to just a certain class of women ie. the “good” ones? Those who cover themselves up to their necks and down to their ankles, with flattened breasts, and who never went swimming? If so, we should re-think ‘woman’ again. The ‘wonder’ in ‘woman’ is perhaps that we’re a diverse lot but at the end of the day, whether we’re prostitutes or nuns, we face common concerns and issues of our gender. Who do we turn to? It’d be a tragedy if women cannot be ‘wonder woman’ to one another. Methinks we’re (women) weirdly afraid of the wonder woman potential in each one of us ie. of “a large-breasted…woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit…and knee-high boots” who readily appeals to the opposite sex and so put a lid on it. Well, Linda Carter was my childhood heroine so I’m going.
  10. La La Land. Who knew Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone would make an award-winning pair on screen? The musical is a breath of fresh air (just as Donald Trump was to American voters!) after years of the same franchise and rehashed storylines. It’s why TV’s High School Musical was such a hit. Moviegoers haven’t seen a good musical in quite a while.
  11. Your Name. This is a Japanese anime box-office hit by Makoto Shinkai who’s touted as up and coming Miyazaki, about “high schoolers Mitsuha and Taki who are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint. When a dazzling comet lights up the night’s sky, it dawns on them. They want something more from this connection—a chance to meet, an opportunity to truly know each other. Tugging at the string of fate, they try to find a way to each other. But distance isn’t the only thing keeping them apart. Is their bond strong enough to face the cruel irony of time? Or is their meeting nothing more than a wish upon the stars?” This one I plan to watch with my kids, complete with flowing rainbow-colored popcorn.

There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

– Werner Herzog

Art therapy


Effects of stress could be channeled away from the body to create works of beauty instead, so why not? Coloring books are an old hobby from childhood, but have been recently marketed worldwide for adults as well. My favorite theme is travel and I prefer oil pastels. I love seeing the places come to life at my fingertips. The world would’ve gone bust and I wouldn’t know it.

Exhibit: Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion: The Dark Side of Fashion
“Curated by Dr. Claudia Banz of the Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg, the exhibition presents the not-so-glamorous side of what is now known as ‘fast fashion’. The exhibit offers information on the industry’s effects on the environment, the fast-paced consumerism, and the working conditions in clothing factories.” 11 October-25 November 2016, Bulwagan ng Dangal, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Tue-Fri 10AM-4:30PM / 10AM-2PM Saturdays. More information: fastfashion-dieausstellung.de/en

Have an indie break

cinematheque at Casa Vallejo is where one can get a fill of short and indie films produced here and abroad. I used to just have a quick sandwich at noon break to be able to sneak in 45 minutes or so to watch the featured film. Considering the production and artistic talent put into these films, the fee at the entrance is very minimal but how come most would shell out thrice the amount for, say, fighting-over-silly-nothings movies? I think the reason this type of films are not as popular is that there’s critical thinking asked for. The viewer has to really get into the story to understand the film, which can get doubly challenging with foreign films because there’s the subtitles to deal with at the same time. But all in all it’s about the art– the various ways of presenting a story or of the artist’ interpretation of reality. Particularly of indie films, a critical and at times harsh telling painful to confront on the big screen.

Granted that, still the local artist community – for one, Kidlat Tahimik is still alive and right here too – should be recognized and widely promoted by the City. In fact, in connecting local indie film-making to tourism (not just for the City but the entire region as well), such a promotion, celebration, and competition of talent could turn out as successfully and famously as, say, the annual Cannes Film Festival. That’s locally meaningful, which can be integrated into the Panagbenga Festival which has become just a foodgasmic-cum-sports-festival of sorts concentrated within just the CBD (flowers have taken second place, a one-time parade of; at downtown and in villages it’s as barren of real blooms as usual).

Today’s the last screening of Tigbao.

PCDSPO Colorized History Project

The Philippine Government’s Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) has an ongoing Colorized History Project in which archived historical photographs in black and white are digitally rendered in vibrant color, like the one below. Jose Rizal and company in the rendered version look even more…dapper.

Filipino leading propagandists: Dr. Jose P. Rizal, La Solidaridad publisher Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Mariano Ponce.