The 21 short and feature-length films, including six European and six German premieres, that make up this year’s Focus programme at exground filmfest provide a perfect opportunity to get to know the rich tradition of Filipino film culture and explore current strains of socio-political discourse in and about the country beyond the official narrative propagated by the increasingly authoritarian Philippine state.

The programme brings together works by internationally celebrated filmmakers such as Lav Diaz, Khavn De La Cruz and Jet Leyco with lesser-known gems from up-and-coming directorial talents, all conveniently shown with English and German subtitles. In addition, several of the films will also be screened in Frankfurt am Main and Darmstadt after the festival. An extensive accompanying program, including two exhibitions, two panels featuring high-calibre guests and lectures on the subjects of a full century of Philippine filmmaking and the current human rights situation in the country will serve as a broad platform for discussion of the cultural and political developments afoot in the South-East Asian island nation.

“With the help of our team member in the Philippines, curator Axel Estein, exground filmfest has worked to discover those artistically and socio-politically notable productions that take a bold stance on current issues such as censorship, oppression and corruption,” explained Andrea Wink of the festival’s organisational team. “A special thanks is owed to Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain as well as to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Film Development Commission of the Philippines (FDCP), without whose support this Country Focus on the Philippines would not have been possible in the first place.”

Reckoning with Duterte’s Regime and the Human Rights Situation
Several of the programme’s films examine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal anti-drug policies, in which hired killers are paid to murder drug suspects. In the opening film “Neomanila” by Mikhail Red, a group of these contract killers take the young orphan Toto under their wings, while the ex-dealer protagonist in Adolfo Boringa Alix Jr.’s “Dark Is The Night” (Madilim Ang Gabi) finds herself on a hit list drawn up by Manila’s chief of police. The young female cop in Erik Matti’s spectacular action film “Buybust” is involved in a ruthless drug war that mirrors the current social relations under President Duterte in a frightening manner. These social dynamics are also one of the themes of “Respeto”, by Alberto “Treb” Monteras II, which is being shown in the scope of youth days, exground filmfest’s programme for young people. In the film, Hendrix (played by hip-hop star Abra) dreams of a rap career that would enable him to leave behind the slums of Manila and their everyday climate of oppression, despotism and unparalleled violence.

The alarming situation concerning human rights under the Duterte administration is also the subject of two events in the accompanying programme for exground filmfest. In a presentation entitled The Human Rights Situation In The Philippines, Dr. Jochen Range, expert on the Philippines at Amnesty International, will report on the consequences of government policies characterised by violence, arbitrariness and corruption. In the panel discussion The Human Rights Situation In The Philippines, the guests will be discussing their personal experiences and approaches to treating the subject.

Photojournalist and panel participant Raffy Lerma documents the effects of Duterte’s brutal anti-drug policies in his work, while director, activist and panel guest Kiri Dalena is deeply engaged in the struggle for civil rights in the Philippines and against state persecution and corruption. Dalena uses poetic images to show the toll of inhumane treatment in her moving short film “From The Dark Depths”, which is featured in the Focus’s short film programme. Rosa Cordillera A. Castillo, an assistant professor at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University, will also be joining the panel and further enriching the discussion with her background in sociocultural research.

Finally, Raffy Lerma and Kiri Dalena, joined here by a further Philippine artist, Martha Atienza, will also reflect on the political and social situation in their native country in the video and photo works featured in the exhibition Paradise Lost, hosted by Nassauischer Kunstverein from 9 November to 6 December in co-operation with the exground Country Focus on the Philippines.

Grand Masters and a Century of Filipino Filmmaking
In the scope of this year’s Country Focus, exground filmfest is also turning its attention to the past, with a series of films that address historical themes or are themselves milestones of cinema history. The over 100-year-old tradition of Philippine filmmaking cannot be properly assessed without mentioning its most prominent representative: Lav Diaz. Famous and perhaps infamous for his works of epic length, Diaz creates aesthetically uncompromising films that take an unflinching look at the past and present of the Philippines. The exground filmfest programme features his most recent work, the nearly four-hour-long rock opera “Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw” (Season Of The Devil, 2018), which treats oppression and opposition during the years of the Marcos dictatorship.

In treating the occupation and colonization of the Philippines by the USA, Khavn Dela Cruz has chosen to tackle a further dark chapter in the history of the Philippines in his “Balangiga: Howling Wilderness” (2017). Multi-talent Dela Cruz has not only made upwards of 150 films thus far – the director has also composed 23 albums worth of material and written seven books.

Ishmael Bernal (1938–1996) is a further outstanding Filipino filmmaker included in exground’s Focus programme. The festival will be showing his drama “Miracle” (Himala, 1982), which depicts the aftermath of a supposed sighting of the Blessed Virgin in a tiny village. The film is notable for its brave scepticism regarding religion in light of the prominent role Catholicism plays in Philippine society.
Raymond Red’s “Manila Skies” (Himpapawid) represents a further milestone of Philippine cinema history chosen for inclusion in the programme. Based on a true story, this tale of a scheme gone awry revolves around a robbery that ends in a bloody disaster and an insane escape plan. The real star of this no-holds-barred action film is without a doubt Red’s incomparable camera and editing work – the striking, poetic flow of images even manages to transform the most mundane of details into cinema gold.

The panel discussion 100 Years Of Philippine Film History deals with problematic areas in the history of Filipino film, a legacy that has seen around 80% of its productions irrevocably lost over the years. Panel participants Raymond Red (filmmaker), Edward Cabagnot (Cultural Center of the Philippines) and Teddy Co (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) will discuss among other things how the country can create a positive future under the constant threat of cultural and identity loss.

Special Guests Attending the Focus Programme
To facilitate this sustained encounter with the world of Philippine cinema culture, in addition to the invited panel guests, numerous Filipino directors will be on hand at exground filmfest to present their works to the festival audience in person, including the director of the opening film, Mikhail Red, as well as his father, Raymond Red, a trailblazer when it comes to alternative Filipino cinema. Raymond Red will also be presenting his classic “Manila Skies” (Himpapawid) at exground, as well as two of his short films, including Palm d’Or winner Shadows (Anino) from 2000, as well as participating in the panel on 100 Years Of Philippine Film History. Also scheduled to appear at the festival with his drama “Town In A Lake” (Matangtubig) is internationally celebrated director Jet Leyco, who learned his craft from the Filipino masters of the trade, Khavn De La Cruz and Lav Diaz.

Find the full Programme here

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On paper I am an Italian living in London, in reality I was born and bread in a popcorn bucket. I've loved cinema since I was a little child and I’ve always had a passion and interest for Asian (especially Japanese) pop culture, food and traditions, but on the cinema side, my big, first love is Hong Kong Cinema. Then - by a sort of osmosis - I have expanded my love and appreciation to the cinematography of other Asian countries. I like action, heroic bloodshed, wu-xia, Shaw Bros (even if it’s not my specialty), Anime, and also more auteur-ish movies. Anything that is good, really, but I am allergic to rom-com (unless it’s a HK rom-com, possibly featuring Andy Lau in his 20s)"