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Cinemalaya Competition Charmain Carlos Siguion-Reyna says ‘no shortage of personal voices in Philippine cinema’

CINEMALAYA COMPETITION CHAIRMAN CARLOS SIGUION REYNA Carlos Siguion Reyna
Carlos Siguion-Reyna

MANILA, PHILIPPINES Award-winning filmmaker Carlos Siguion-Reyna looks forward to revitalizing the country’s independent film industry as the new Cinemalaya Competition and Monitoring Committee Chairman.

He assumed the position vacated by Director Jose Javier Reyes, who is now serving as Chairman of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

“I have to get into transition mode. Basically, a lot of that is making sure na ma-implement kung ano ‘yung naka-plan (to implement what’s planned) for 2024,” said Carlos when asked about his first order of business. “Right now, I’m getting to know the landscape of this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival.”

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Aside from that, he will run the Cinemalaya Film Lab for 2025, where he will be “guiding the 20 semi-finalists and helping them complete the scripts that would be chosen for next year’s competition.”

His connection to Cinemalaya runs deep. Carlos taught a combination of 13 writing and directing courses at the Singapore campus of the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for seven years. During his summer breaks in August, he would return to the Philippines and get involved with Cinemalaya.

His feature film Hari ng Tondo (Where I Am King) received the Special Jury Prize in the Directors’ Showcase category of the 10th Cinemalaya in 2014. He also served as a jury member of the Cinemalaya film competition in 2013 and 2015.

The new competition chairman remains the head and program director of the Cinemalaya Institute, the educational arm of the annual biggest independent film festival. Since 2015, Carlos has been giving workshops and conducting film direction courses at the Institute.

“By 2015, when my stint at NYU was about to finish, I got a call from Cinemalaya president Laurice Guillen. She asked if I would be interested and I was interested to run a workshop on filmmaking. So, we started the Cinemalaya Institute.”

The six-week workshop offers five masterclasses on Basic Filmmaking: The Silent Film; Screenwriting; Production Management; Film Editing; and Cinematography. Its faculty are members of New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts Asia’s M.F.A. program in film in Singapore, headed by Carlos. 

“That went on every year for about five years and then the pandemic hit so we couldn’t continue. We talked about reviving the Cinemalaya Institute, regularly and face-to-face. I hope to get back to that by next year,” shared the veteran filmmaker-mentor.

Being the competition and monitoring chairman was not exactly planned. Carlos’ gradual participation through the years led him to see and appreciate the original and evolving vision of Cinemalaya as an organization, a foundation, and a film festival.

“It got me interested, not only in independent-minded, personally-voiced films but also in education through the Cinemalaya Institute. I thought it was a place I was comfortable in, where I could contribute something. So, that’s why when I was asked by Direk Laurice to be the competition chairman, I immediately said yes,” Carlos shared.

For Carlos, the future is bright for Cinemalaya. He wants to maximize the wealth of Philippine materials from different regions. “There is no shortage of personal voices. Considering the challenges we as a nation are going through, our internal and external affairs, and how they affect our attitudes and conditions as citizens in this country, there is no shortage of things to talk about, to make films about.”

Carlos has done 13 feature films; some of which have won in various international film festivals in San Diego, Toronto, Newport Beach, Berlin, and Singapore, and local film awards Gawad Urian, FAP Awards, FAMAS Awards, and Young Critics Circle Awards.

Hindi tayo mawawalan ng kwento (We will never run out of stories). Everybody has different experiences and there’s a lot of variety in experiences, in where people come from.”

On the subject of challenges in the film industry, he emphasizes the importance of getting the audience back to the theater. With the proliferation of online streaming services and rising ticket prices, Carlos hopes to bring cinema houses back to life before they become retail spaces.

“Audience development can be improved through education and working in tandem with theaters to find the best way of distributing and releasing films,” he said. “There is no shortage of good Filipino works so I’m not pessimistic about the films. But there’s a challenge to stimulate the audience to go to the theaters and watch films kasi may nanonood naman ng mga (because there are people still watching) Philippine films on streaming services.”

As a veteran filmmaker who champions the dynamic film landscape in the Philippines, Carlos encourages aspiring filmmakers to keep telling their stories.

“What we are looking for is something that’s not spelled out enough and something not easily visible like a beautiful vista or a great acting scene. What is important is we get to see you – what is your take on the world? What is your take on what’s going on around you? It’s your voice. It’s your perspective. Because, in the end, that is what will make me, a viewer, go into the cinema to watch what you have created and take on that journey with you,” concluded Carlos.

The Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival will run from August 2 to 11. Catch the 10 full-length finalists and 10 short feature films competing for the coveted Balanghai trophies.

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