“Graceland” a film by Ron Morales is taking the online platforms for independent filmmaking and funding creative projects like no other Pinoy film has, indie and otherwise. At the award-winning film website Indiewire, the film got the most votes out of four films and was declared project of the week, which makes it eligible for the project of the month competition by January’s end. Over at funding platform Kickstarter, pledges for the film total over $15,000 dollars, more than half of what it needs to reach its $18,000-dollar goal; if the latter is reached by Friday, January 6 2012 at 11:56AM New York time (that’s 12:56AM, January 7, Manila time) “Graceland” will received funding for the last phase of post-production.
It is difficult not to be optimistic really, especially since this good news – and yes even just the amount of pledges it’s gotten should be considered as such – can’t have come at a better time. Because what is presumed to be a celebration of Philippine cinema through the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has become a foreboding of sorts with the usual bigger budget films being chosen for the festival, and questions of originality and currency and “new-ness” becoming default. Worse, this year it has brought about discussions on the commercial versus the indie, where a finger is pointed at the former’s lack of originality on the one hand, the latter’s apathy towards the market on the other. This is not to condone those who snub the MMFF and Pinoy film altogether, as it is to ask: is the MMFF’s goal anything else other than making money, taking advantage as it were of the fact that the movie-going public is not given the option of a foreign film? Ah but this year it launched its indie film counterpart which got nary a reaction, happening to as it did at the height of Sendong’s aftermath. Some movies have all the luck.
Meanwhile the old irony exists: while the commercial film rakes it in, a Pinoy indie film like “Graceland” (and I’m sure so many others) depends on a viewing public that might care enough to find out more about the project and watch the trailer, and give it some good ol’ loving. Except that of course there’s nothing old about the kind of loving “Graceland” demands: liking their Facebook page is one thing, spending time to vote for them at Indiewire is another. And yes, pledging whatever amount you can give via Kickstarter is the biggest thing to be done here.
What online poll and funding platforms after all point a finger at aren’t the projects that it chooses. Instead that finger is pointed at us, as audience and critics, especially of the Pinoy film, particularly when we demand of it creativity and originality, currency and relevance. Supporting “Graceland” across these platforms means becoming its patron, shifting the balance of power from film/maker to audience, and forcing the latter to take a stand for the possibility that a film will be exactly what he or she demands.
That possibility is in “Graceland.” At its most basic, it is the story of Marlon Villar, the family driver of a corrupt politician. Marlon’s daughter Elvie is mistaken for the politician’s daughter and is kidnapped. As Marlon is propelled by his search for his daughter, he finds himself deeper into the underbelly of society, and he and his employer unravel and reveal how much both of them are culpable for, and are capable of, the deception that the crisis demands.
From the perspective of someone who spends time watching commercial and indie films, what is most interesting about “Graceland” is that it invokes the notion of a documentary alongside, and merged with, the form of the film. As such there is a sense of a realness to it, one that doesn’t seem like the standard social realist trap of sex-violence-poverty that the Pinoy indie has to some extent become famous for. Instead “Graceland” banks on the premise of social class difference and struggle, using it to cut across the narratives of oppression, those that both the poor and the rich and everyone in between, suffer through. Here, the complexity of class is heavily and painfully layered with the foray into the underbelly of society, where notions of power and versions of corruption are not just unfamiliar, but also have its own set of rules.
If all we’re banking on here is the possibility of a good film, then “Graceland” does provide an endless set of possibilities.
Truth to tell, having seen some really bad local indie and commercial movies in 2011, and fresh from a foray into the MMFF films, only snobbery would keep from being excited about “Graceland.” Though maybe this is the bigger brighter truth: as with every local movie, the task of entering that cinema is always replete with hope. Hope that it will hold up to its promise based on its poster, or trailer, or press release; hope that it will at least be better than the last local film you saw.
That this isn’t always the case doesn’t diminish hope any. And in the case of “Graceland,” this hopefulness begets optimism. Then there is this: in light of the manner in which it engages its audience as supporters and patrons, given the way it has utilized existing online platforms for both promotion and funding, it is highly probable that optimism will finally get us a film that’s worth talking about.
And if not, then it can only still be worth it that “Graceland” forced us as audience out of the comfortable seat in the theater, and into being an audience that will literally take responsibility for the kind of film we want to see. Here is a chance to choose the possibility of a good Pinoy film. The writing on the wall says we should take it.
“Graceland, A Life for Every Lie” by Ron Morales can receive pledges via Kickstarter until January 7 2011, 12:56AM, Philippine time. It will also vie for Project of the Month at Indiewire at the end of January. “Graceland” stars GMA 7’s Starstruck Kids runner-up Ella Guevara as Elvie and Arnold Reyes as Marlon Villar. Their official FB page is here.