The majority of the time and effort dedicated to Philippine cinema is directed towards understanding and appreciating Manila films. The golden age of Philippine cinema is synonymous with the peak of Metro Manila films. And to the eyes of the intellectual and popular Filipino film crowd, national cinema means films that depict the lives of those in the nation-center. The term national cinema is supposed to refer to films that represent the national identity. These films should have to embody the essence of being a Filipino. But oftentimes, only films that depict the Imperial Manila get to be considered as worthy of the title “national films.”
In this video essay, we examine the 2016 film Patay na si Hesus directed by Victor Villanueva. We focus primarily on how the film underlines issues and discussions on regional cinema. We use the film in explaining a film concept that may have been present from the beginning, but remains seldom discussed.
Regional cinema refers to film movements that depict stories or narratives in the regions, made outside the nation center, and may or may not use the local language. But this definition is, of course, contested. Even scholars studying this phenomenon have varying insights as to what constitutes a regional film.
Hence, it is important to look at contemporary films that may be classified as a regional film. Let’s take Patay na si Hesus for example. The film tells the tale of a family who, upon receiving the news of their father’s death, takes a road trip from Cebu City to Dumaguete. In their journey, the audience gets to know the characters better, as well as the baggage they carry individually.
Patay na si Hesus was directed by a Cebuano filmmaker, Victor Villanueva. Many of the film’s crew hail from Cebu too. Bringing the production control to people in or from the regions redefines the filmmaking process as it allows locals to get to represent their own culture and experiences. And in so doing, issues of misrepresentation are lessened if not totally avoided. In the movie, Cebuano filmmakers get to tell the intersectional tale of a Cebuano family. They get to present to the audience how they see people living in Cebu past the stereotypes of laughable accent or ‘inday’ or maid arc.
Casting local actors is equally important in the discussion of regional cinema. In Patay na si Hesus, we get to see non-mestizo actors playing the mundane and everyday lives of Cebuanos. For a crowd whose cultural identity is marked as being degrading or shameful, seeing actors who may look and sound like them brings a sense of empowerment. Casting actors like Chai Fonacier is a statement that even those in the regions are worthy of cinematic depictions.
Casting local actors also ensured that the Cebuano language used in the script is not butchered or demeaned. It helps the audience in the crucial part of the suspension of disbelief. Admittedly, there have been great regional films whose scripts are ruined by the cringy delivery of their Tagalog cast. Even Patay na si Hesus has to cast seasoned albeit non-Cebuano actors. It would be nice to see regional films in the future no longer needing to cast Manila actors just so they can reach a bigger market. Nevertheless, the conscious decision to allow the characters to speak in the local language transforms the story to become more real and heartfelt.
Aside from its political implications, the casting choice of regional films also has economic contributions. Hiring local actors and film crew develops the local film industry. It sustains the livelihood of the talents in the locality.
Moreover, the conscious decision of regional filmmakers to use the local milieu as the backdrop of their stories counters the notion that Manila and its urban often chaotic setting is what defines the Philippines. Regional films put into the center stage the geography, food, and culture of communities in the outskirts. In Patay na si Hesus, its road movie genre tours the audience to distinct locations within Cebu. In so doing, the film does not only play nostalgia for its Visayan viewers but also invites outsiders to pay attention to unique and interesting coastal towns of Cebu.
Films depicting the regions are not new to the Philippine cinema. Countless films romanticize rural life or exoticize people living outside the nation-center. But the regional film movement, the cinema movement with a conscious intention of asserting the identity, concerns, and issues of the regions, only started in recent decades. Alongside the rise of independent filmmaking, came the filmmakers in the regions capable of creating works with minimal experience and limited budget.
As spectators of the Philippine cinema, we must celebrate this movement because even in recent years, the problems that regional cinema wishes to solve remains at large. Filmmakers, some of whom internationally acclaimed, continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the narrative from the regions. And in many cases, these films are not just films, they play a large role in the economy, culture, and identity, of the marginalized others.