Patrick F. Campos
ang kinumo, sama kadako sa kasingkasing,
nag-uylap-uylap, mibatig kagil-as, kagilok. . .
sa wanang sa isipan, sa kahimatngon, sa handurawan
nga naghulagway sa mga kamatuoran sa mga nataran,
sa mga darohang basakan, sa mga asyendang plantasyon,
sa mga trosohan ug mga minahan? sa tibuok sangkad
sa kayutaan ug kapupud-an nga kasamtangang giyak-an,
gitamaktamakan? ay, ang mga kuko ug mga tikod
nga maidlot sa mga mangtas ug tampalasan…
—Don Pagusara, from the poem recited in “Maharlika”
Huwebes Huwebes, the last of the Adlaw Adlaw films, is a testament to Binisaya’s growth and longevity, and its final image of the mysterious traveler who sets out to sea, destination unknown, is a powerful conclusion to a long line of films and a revealing metaphor for the trajectory of the Movement. The omnibus film by Don Gerado Frasco, Kris Villarino, and Januar Yap was premiered in the 2019 Binisaya Film Festival and exhibited again, online, in the 2020 Binisaya Film Festival as part of the Adlaw Adlaw Retrospective, which marked the festival’s tenth anniversary. Considered in these contexts, Huwebes Huwebes is a fitting final installment and a milestone in Binisaya’s history.
Biyernes Biyernes (2011), the first of the Adlaw Adlaw films, served as an impetus of both the Binisaya Movement and its film festival. As early as 2005, a group of young filmmakers led by contemporary Cebuano cinema’s enfant terrible, Keith Deligero, was already making short films. The ambivalence of their desire and hesitation to transition to feature filmmaking motivated them to make Biyernes Biyernes, a collaborative project of Binisaya’s stalwarts that included Deligero, Remton Siega Zuasola, Christian Linaban, Idden de los Reyes, Donna Gimeno, and Bambi Beltran, a work halfway between a collection of short films and a full-length film by virtue of its running time. It was supposed to be a one-off project, produced without the thought of tomorrow, designed to kick-off a one-off film festival that would showcase the group’s works—until someone in the post-screening Q & A asked if Sabado Sabado was forthcoming. So they made it happen.
Conceived in the vein of the surrealists’ exquisite corpse, the seven Adlaw Adlaw films (and the Bisdak music that enlivens them) perfectly capture the kind of movement that Binisaya is and provide a vivid picture of where it was going every year when an installment came out (there were no editions in 2014 and 2015). Given the omnibus format, each film’s production was by necessity a cooperative effort, featuring the work of six to eight filmmakers, each with his or her style but—eschewing the conceit of auteurism—each collaborating with the others in creating a polyvocal Cebuano film. Moreover, these filmmakers worked with an entire community, specifically with Deligero, the head curator, and whichever team was tasked to produce the film, mount the festival, and mobilize artists, volunteers, and audiences in a given year. Thus, the Adlaw Adlaw films were always at the core of Binisaya’s growing concentric circles made up of artists, producers, organizers, stakeholders, and patrons.
Notably, every installment aimed to be different from the previous one and break any tradition that the series unwittingly established. Adlaw Adlaw thrived in an environment of unpredictability akin to Lars von Trier’s notion of the cinema of obstruction. Its ethos of restless innovation can be summed up by the modernist slogan, Make it new! Each omnibus film was myriad and forward-looking, with every installment adding several new works to the lot by another batch of filmmakers that carried the Movement onward. Every film pinned down memorable places in Cebu’s cinematic map—domiciles, schools, parks, churches, red-light districts, waters, forests—and expressed the Cebuanos’ distinct humor, outlook, folklore, dreams, and rage in forms as diverse as narrative, experimental, and documentary contained together as one.
At the same time, the curator and creators of the series were aware that the “Cebuano” cannot be contained in one space and cannot only be about people living in Cebu. After all, several filmmakers who have been part of Adlaw Adlaw were residents but not natives of Cebu. Thus, the collective maintained an inclusive and archipelagic consciousness, with Lunes Lunes featuring filmmakers who were once from Cebu but have since left and Miyerkules Miyerkules made by filmmakers from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao virtually conversing with and enriching Cebuano cinema. In this way, the series remained open to making connections across cultures.
The difference from its predecessors expected of Huwebes Huwebes came in being composed of only three episodes and, for the first time in the series, being thematically and spatially cohesive, despite the inherent fragmentation of the omnibus film. Consider its settings, characters, and plots.
The first episode, Frasco’s “Takot Reef,” is centered on Noel, a fisherman who wrestles with his conscience as he investigates if the stranger whom he saves off the shore of his fishing village is a protector of their marine sanctuary or a smuggler who traffics drugs and takes shelter in the sea. Noel’s mind is directed inward; he talks to himself; and, before committing a reckless act that would cause his incarceration and leave another man dead, his immediate concern is to provide for his wife and child. Something he is not going to be able to do anymore.
Villarino’s “Pa-burger sa Camotes,” the second episode, moves inland as it were. It follows Xander, an undercover police searching for the stash of a drug pusher who was summarily killed by unidentified figures. In the process, he meets the man’s blind daughter, whose only wish is to relive her happy times and return to her dead mother’s island hometown. Pretending to be the orphaned girl’s father and building a genuinely filial relationship with her, Xander, beyond the call of duty, acts selflessly toward a stranger in his community. He tries to save her, but tragedy overtakes him.
The last episode, Yap’s “Maharlika,” tells the story of Emman, a transient stranger in a seaside village, who befriends Rikoy, a love-struck teenager trying to break away from the wrong crowd and quit playing the drug runner. Taking on the surrogate father’s role (as the boy’s real father is in prison), Emman opens Rikoy’s mind to the power of poetry but is unable to save him from merciless vigilantes who understand only the language of violence.
Through his writing and direction, each filmmaker played a vital role in mapping the metaphorical geography of the island, the seaside, and the open sea. The film’s spatially nested configuration enabled by its omnibus format offers a cumulative view, a filmic illustration of the movement from the self, one’s conscience, one’s family, others’ families, one’s community, to society at large. As such, Huwebes Huwebes is the most conceptually and visually archipelagic in Adlaw Adlaw, a series of film islands deeply cognizant of the multiplicity and simultaneity of places.
The omnibus format of Huwebes Huwebes allowed the three filmmakers with distinct visions and intentions to analyze Duterte’s drug war from different angles and show how every victim is a victim in a specific way, every person a unique life before being executed like the rest—the curious bystander, the guilt-ridden law enforcer, the wrongly accused, the wayward teenager, the bereaved parent, the orphaned child. The format also affords the audience the space and orients them toward the task of making sense of the shift from episode to episode, filling in the gaps and backstories of the characters, and drawing out the latent interconnectedness of people’s lives, including their own.
The episodes that make up Huwebes Huwebes exhibit a deliberately dialogic relationship that altogether gestures beyond the diegetic islands that double as Cebu and unmistakably points to a nation. It is “Maharlika” that finally creates this connection between the regional and the national imaginary, with the episode’s image of the inverted Philippine flag signifying the state of war, its visual reference to photojournalist Raffy Lerma’s Pieta-like photograph taken in Pasay and published in a newspaper with nationwide circulation, and its use of Don Pagusara’s Sugbuanon poem, “Kinumo” (recited by Emman), speaking of “realities on the ground, on farmlands, haciendas and plantations, logging and mining camps, stretches of land squatted and trampled upon,” and the people, “the toiling masses, workers, peasants, and Lumads,” rising together in indignation, raising their fists as one.
In the end, the cross-cultural openness of the Adlaw Adlaw series is here oriented toward the kinship of victims. Huwebes Huwebes renders the oft-used qualifier “regional” irrelevant, for the film does not aim to set itself apart in a cultural corner but offers a chorus of three voices—and behind them the Movement and the history of Binisaya—in solidarity with all national subjects that suffer and mourn.
HUWEBES HUWEBES (2019) Direction and Screenplay: Don Gerardo Frasco, Kristoffer Villarino, Januar Yap. Editing: Kristoffer Villarino, Don Gerardo Frasco, Idden de los Reyes. Cinematography: Don Gerardo Frasco, Dwight Handro Buot, Idden de los Reyes. Production Design: Denzel Yorong, Pauline Olarte. Sound: Vanya Versushka Fantonial, Karl Lucente. Cast: Fritz Nino Pilones, Noel John Noval etal.
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