Cinemalaya Shorts A: From banal to exciting

This year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival showcases two main competitions: 11 full-length features and 12 shorts.

The 12 short films, which include titles screened in other fests last year, are divided into two screening sets, Shorts A and Shorts B, which are currently playing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Beginning 10 August, these shorts will start playing in select SM and Ayala Malls cinemas and will be available to stream on Vimeo on 17 October.

Here’s my review of the six films under Shorts A.


A tale of childhood wanderlust, Roundtrip to Happiness observes two siblings playing with Google Maps. The disembodied voices of a young boy and his little sister rise and fall as they bicker and talk about their hopes, dreams and fantasies while jumping from one virtual destination to another.

Director Claudia Michelle Fernando never deviates from the computer screen, utilizing a child’s wistful mouse-clicking as they “travel” around the world. While we get swept away by their melancholic curiosities and get mildly thrilled when they switch to street views, the short feels more like a gimmick that gets a little tiresome, especially with the shrill voice of the young girl.

1.5 out of 5 stars




Niño Maldecir and Cypher John Gayorgor’s short is a disturbing study of one’s loss of relevance.

A mangtatawas one day loses his abilities. As he fails to reclaim his power to diagnose and interpret through his divination rituals, we can sense his increasing anger and exasperation.

The editing and scoring complement the mantatawas’ mental state, intensifying along with his urgent need for the immediate restoration of his powers. It triggers a growing sense of fear as we wonder how far he will go to reclaim his lost magic. His young and innocent daughter, an enthusiastic aide in his rituals, provides an uneasy contrast to the ongoing madness.

While the film leaves us with an unpleasant aftertaste, the shocking metaphor in the end asks a legitimate question: How much are you willing to sacrifice to remain relevant?

2.5 out of 5 stars



Maria Estela Paiso’s poetic tale of depression in the midst of an apocalyptic world (with raining frogs) was more powerful when it premiered at the height of the pandemic in last year’s QCinema — the first time I saw it — compared to its impact in the current environment with much more relaxed Covid-19 restrictions.

In Sambal language, Paiso’s deeply affecting (and too personal) short, which also competed in this year’s prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, may seem pretentious on the surface. She combines different techniques, such as collages, stop motion, old VHS footage, 3D renders and cut-outs — like a mixed media diatribe on life in isolation. The English subtitles, however, are genuine.

The literally faceless woman represents every individual suffering from severe depression and identity crisis, worsened by an environment that triggers thoughts of childhood trauma and adult despair.

The visuals are no gimmick: Favorite childhood snacks, unpleasant memories and adult responsibilities in the form of origami Meralco bills and flashes of bus tickets and government IDs, which effectively channel the protagonist’s crippling stress and anguish.

4 out of 5 stars


Raz de la Torre’s wildly entertaining and suspenseful short is set during the first few days of the 2020 enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila. It follows a mild-mannered man as he goes through the process of claiming his Social Amelioration Program grant money, or ayuda.

The filmmaker uses bureaucracy amid desperate times as his vehicle for his story’s tension, comic relief, heartbreak and redemption. This is a story that cleverly shows than tells. Who knew that a story about ayuda can be relatable, engaging and edge-of-your-seat exciting?

4.5 out of 5 stars



Richard Jeroui Salvadico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay shift to a more positive outlook of the pandemic in this short. Bubbly, uplifting and juxtaposed with song and music, it focuses on three kids working hard to help their mothers get higher education.

A light commentary on the lack of education of impoverished parents, the film sometimes feels refreshing for its hopeful and playful tone in the midst of a health crisis. However, awash in a vivid color palette of orange, yellow and blue, the film is ultimately more memorable for its color scheme than its story.

2 out of 5 stars


The very visible outline of the transmitter box of a mic lapel underneath the dress of one of the two actors in Xeph Suarez’s drama immediately shatters any sense of authenticity in this short film. Once you see it, it’s hard to ignore the distraction.

 City of Flowers checks all the boxes of a regional indie: Provincial setting, regional dialect, some artistic touches and a political statement. Nothing new, exciting or affecting in this banal and predictable short.

1 out of 5 stars

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