For your next movie night.
With the advent of local art house films and a greater spotlight on Filipino talent globally, more filmmakers are upending the commercially-viable formula that audiences have grown accustomed to: soap opera-style plots and acting. As Filipino creatives usher in a new era of more inventive, strongly-written local cinema, audiences are responding with an increased appetite for a retelling of our stories, especially those that tackle Filipino life as it is or as we imagine it to be.
If international guilds are any indication, the shift is paying off. More Filipino films graced the screens of prestigious festivals in Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, among others. Even the pandemic, originally touted as a death blow to the local film industry, actually provided audiences with a much more accessible way of consuming Filipino productions via online streaming platforms.
Undoubtedly, with the abundance of talent in the country, it’s about time local creators get recognition. From a classic poignant drama about life during Martial Law to a documentary on Filipino migrants in Hong Kong, watch these nine films lauded internationally that’ll make you be proud to be Filipino.
Sunday Beauty Queen
You can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you can’t take the love of beauty pageants out of the Filipino. In Filipino domestic worker communities in Hong Kong, beauty pageants are highly-anticipated annual competitions, and the 2016 documentary Sunday Beauty Queen follows the struggles of a group of immigrant workers, as well as their journey to find dignity and purpose through pageantry. Directed by Baby Ruth Villanueva, it won Best International Documentary at the London Labour and CinemAsia Film Festivals.
Ma’ Rosa is the thrilling Brillante Mendoza-directed drama about Rosa, played by industry veteran Jaclyn Jose, and her efforts to support her impoverished family through a small sari-sari store that she later uses to traffic crystal meth. When both Rosa and her husband are arrested by the police, their children must figure out how to free their parents. Jose was lauded for her acting and bagged the Palm d’Or Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, the same year it was released.
Whether the Weather is Fine
Whether the Weather is Fine, which primarily follows Daniel Padilla as Miguel and Charo Santos-Concio as Norma, is a surrealist and satirical take on the aftermath of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Directed by Carlo Manatad, with a screenplay by Giancarlo Abrahan, Carlo Francisco Manatad, and Jérémie Dubois, the 2021 project was funded by the Busan International Film Festival. Additionally, it went on to participate in the TorinoFilmLab, earning a TFL Co-Production Award. Eventually, the film was co-produced by six countries and premiered in the US at the Chicago International Film Festival.
A Thousand Cuts
A Thousand Cuts is a hard-hitting documentary about Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa. The film, which was directed by Ramona S. Diaz, explored the Rappler co-founder’s struggle for press freedom under the immense scrutiny of the Duterte Administration. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and received critical acclaim, including a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Chito S. Roño-directed film, which adapted the namesake novel by Lualhati Bautista, follows the years-long struggles of a middle-class family during martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Dekada ’70 premiered at the Asian American International Film Festival and was submitted as the country’s entry to the Academy Awards. Since its release in 2002, the title has gone on to become a classroom staple; used as a primary example of what life was like in this era.
Ordinary People (or Ang Pamliya Ordinaryo) is an incisive social commentary directed by Eduardo W. Roy Jr. about teenage couple, Jane (Hasmine Kilip) and Aries (Ronwaldo Martin), making a living as pickpockets in Manila. When their baby is kidnapped, they must resort to drastic measures and suffer indignities from society’s supposed bastions. Killip won Best Performance by an Actress at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The 2016 movie made waves internationally too and was shown at international film festivals in Venice, Stockholm, Tokyo, Harlem, and Hanoi.
The movie is a comedic drama about an elderly gay man named Rene, played by the late Eddie Garcia, and a street dog he adopts named Bwakaw. Directed by Jun R. Lana, the story follows Rene as he learns to cope with his feelings about life and love. Bwakaw was awarded a special mention at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Additionally, the movie’s lead won Best Actor at the Asia Pacific Film Festival and the Asian Film Awards.
The Sweet Taste of Salted Bread and Undies
The 2018 film, directed by Che Espiritu, follows a young homeless girl named Aguy (Miel Espinoza) who lives near Manila’s railways. She has special healing magic with a twist—she can cure people, but only by inflicting pain on them. When she meets Sal (Bodjie Pascua), an old man with various ailments she’s unable to heal, the two are thrown into an unlikely friendship. Besides the numerous domestic awards the movie received for the acting and directing, the movie also won Best Film at the Spanish Calella Film Festival.
Smaller and Smaller Circles
Adapted from the namesake novel by F.H. Batacan, Smaller and Smaller Circles was directed by Raya Martin and its screenplay was written by Ria Limjap and Moira Lang. The tension-filled drama follows two Jesuit priests who work to solve the mysterious murders of young boys in a slum area and doubles as a social commentary on corruption. The movie was released in 2017 and premiered at the Busan International Film Festival the same year.