x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Small but perfectly formed

First Philippine Film Festival in UAE starts today.

The film Rosario, directed by Albert Martinez, will be screened during the two-day Philippine Film Festival. PhotosCourtesy Kitsch Films
The film Rosario, directed by Albert Martinez, will be screened during the two-day Philippine Film Festival. PhotosCourtesy Kitsch Films

The UAE's first Philippine Film Festival starts this weekend, and it's going to be busy, writes Alex Ritman

For the next few weeks, Dubai's entertainment headlines are likely to concern one international film festival, one opening night world premiere and the anticipated red-carpet appearance by one rather diminutive Hollywood A-lister. But before Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol touches down, no doubt turning the Madinat Jumeirah into a mad sea of inner earpieces and clipboards, an entirely different film event will be landing on the other side of town.

This weekend sees the arrival of the UAE's first Philippine Film Festival, a two-day event featuring screenings, workshops, a gala dinner and several well-known faces from Filipino cinema. The festival is being organised by the Kitsch Company, a Dubai-based arts and entertainment agency that runs kitschmovies.com, an online portal that provides cinema listings for all films and all screens across the UAE. And while the event is intended to help showcase its organiser's abilities, the festival came after research revealed that the Filipino community across the UAE was being grossly under-represented in terms of film.

"There are approximately 600,000 Filipinos in the UAE, which is not a minority," says Kitsch's general manager of marketing services, Johan Ramos. "But unfortunately there are only around 12 Filipino movies shown each year."

The festival hopes to close this gap, bringing over films not shown in the country before, while introducing Filipino culture to a wider international audience. But for its inaugural event it's starting fairly small, with just four films. However, these four have been selected especially to help portray different aspects of Pinoy life.

"All the movies are about Filipino culture, Filipina women, Filipino men and Filipino tradition," says Ramos. "We want to educate people about Filipino film, arts and culture. We're hoping to achieve a lot."

Of the films, three are fairly new. Rosario, which won numerous awards at the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival, is a period piece set in the 1920s during American colonial rule. It tells the story of a passionate and liberated woman defying the restrictions of the age. The Philippines' official foreign language entry to last year's Academy Awards, Ded Na Si Lolo (Grandpa is Dead), features heavy doses of superstition and comedic sibling rivalry as a large family gather to mourn the death of the patriarch.

Botelya, a bronze winner at Cannes 2009, revolves around three generations of mothers and the unity in their love for their children.

Standing out in the schedule is Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?, a 1976 romantic musical classic set at the start of the 20th century during the revolution against Spanish rule.

Much of the festival activities will take place in Deira City Centre mall, whose Vox Cinemas will be screening Ded Na Si Lolo and Rosario. Abu Dhabi will be getting a piece of the action as well, with one screening of Ded Na Si Lolo on Friday evening at Marina Mall.

Then there are various workshops taking place over the weekend at the Marco Polo hotel in Deira, which will also show Botelya, before the festival comes to a close with a gala event and screening of Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? at the Radisson Blu hotel. Boots Anson Roa, a veteran Filipina actress who also stars in Botelya, and Soxie Topacio, who directed Ded Na Si Lolo, will be in attendance.

With the exception of the closing event, the entire festival is free to the public. Predictably, the demand has been high, although with just 250 seats per screening, it's quite limited. "We've had a lot of enquiries through our online booking," says Ramos. "There are companies who want to bring their entire staff and Filipino schools who are sending their pupils to the workshops."

Kitsch has also found that Filipinos with families in the UAE have been eager to attend. "A lot of parents whose children grew up here are emailing us, particularly about Ded Na Si Lolo, because it's very traditional. If you've been raised here you really don't know the curious little things Filipinos do during a wake and funeral. They really want their children to see it."

And once the festival has finished, the hope is to improve the offering of Filipino films across the UAE. Kitsch is already in talks with suppliers and has a partnership with Vox Cinemas for next year. "We're hoping to bring at least one film in the first quarter of next year," says Ramos, who admits that it's more difficult to take things into the commercial domain as all films must pass through tighter approval procedures and cost a lot more money.

But the figures suggest that the audience is there for more Pinoy films. "It is actually the cinema owners themselves who are telling us that there is a big consumption of Filipino movies," says Ramos. "Not only in Dubai, but also in places like Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi."

The UAE's first Philippine Film Festival takes place this Friday and Saturday across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For timing and locations, visit www.kitschmovies.com/pff-UAE