The festival banners and the red carpet were quiet. Everyone had a very long weekend. I had a long weekend, one of my busiest of the year. Eight films in four days and all while trying to juggle school and work. But nobody after the festival looks beat or sad. There were happy and cheerful smiles to go around. It was a lot of work, a lot of great work at that, to put together what I would say was a successful second annual Cinematografo International Film Festival. It was a time where I learned so much about film, myself, and what it actually means to be at a film festival.
There were two films I saw on the closing night of the festival. The Debut, which turns eighteen this year, and had big parts of the cast and crew in attendance, and A Land Imagined,a captivating feature from Singapore, which earned the honors of The Golden Leopard (best film) at Locarno International Film Festival. It was a great closing night with a pair of diverse but fascinating and emotionally resonant films.
Eighteen years after it’s release, The Debut still feels so important for Filipino-American cinema. A romantic comedy and really could be considered Crazy Middle-Class Asians, The Debut strikes a chord with me personally. Seeing this kind of representation and the exploration of ethnicity, culture, and identity, in such a way so few romantic comedies manage to do is quite something. You can draw comparisons to such modern works as Crazy Rich Asians or The Big Sick, these powerful, personal, and emotional dramas about minorities, about what it means to be in the United States as an immigrant and where you must ask how much of yourself, how much of what you are made of, are you willing to give up?
The Debut is a great coming of age film that still feels revolutionary and important. Films like The Debut are critical for filmmakers who are still trying to find their voices and wrestle with what it means to be Filipino-American, or what it is to be a coconut, and whitewashed. It was a striking and moving film to see all these ideas come together on the screen.
A Land Imagined
This is a noir mashing on a foreign story. This delicate ‘no-story’ film fired on so many of the right cylinders. Quietly bubbling on the surface, yet thematically and emotionally burning below, A Land Imagined is a visual and emotional roller coaster that keeps you held in with its simplicity and sharp impact through its duration. You wander around artificial yet authentic Singapore with this sleepless and disgruntled detective looking for a man whom nobody seems to miss. The case almost feels pointless and is worked on in such a painless way, we would think he is looking for something, not a human life. The film finally unfolds into something beautiful and tragic.
A Land Imagined shared beautiful stories about immigration, but it goes further than that. It is said that the Philippines’ main export is workforce. In a lot of countries, they send off their young men to work on projects in other parts of the world, such as The Christchurch rebuilding after the earthquakes, or Singapore’s land reclamation. I think the ideas and emotional resonance of the film can be summed best in one of the literal events that takes place in the film. The construction company takes dirt from around the world to make their new land. The dirt from around the world helps to make new Singapore. This isn’t a black and white, but rather, a confused and murky grey, that can be something really bad for a film to explore, but A Land Imagined charges into that confused thematic void and does so with swagger and gusto.