2019 Cinemalaya Notes: It was ‘John Denver Trending’ versus ‘Edward’ from beginning to end

By Ibarra C. Mateo

NEW BREED OF ACTORS: 2019 Cinemalaya Best Actor Jansen Magpusao (right) and Louise Abuel. Magpusao won for his role in Director Arden Rod Condez’s John Denver Trending. Abuel starred in Thop Nazareno’s Edward. / Ibarra C. Mateo Photo

Director Arden Rod Condez’s “John Denver Trending” (JDT) was the first film I watched in the recently concluded 2019 Cinemalaya.

        For several years now, it has been my practice to watch all the competing Cinemalaya films only at the CCP Main Theater. With screenings scheduled at 10 am, 12:45 pm, 3:30 pm, 6:15 pm, and 9 pm, I could complete watching all the 10 full-length and 10 short films in competition in two days and three nights.

        Ateneo Prof. Glenn Sevilla Mas introduced me to Condez after the 10 am JDT maiden screening at the CCP on Aug. 3.

It was stormy outside, with gutter-deep floods all over Metro Manila, left-over of the heavy rains the night before. But people went to see the JDT and other Cinemalaya films showing then.

        It was a frustrating first day. Extremely frustrating. My Facebook friends asked me why I posted “very frustrated after watching three other films.”

        During the gala of two films on Aug. 3, long speeches bored the audience. The years before, I walked out on Cinemalaya films which did not excite nor stir me. This year, I decided to sleep inside the CCP Main Theater, while waiting for the next film screening. Several people in my row also drifted into rapid eye movement phase during screenings.

        However, there were those who walked out after the film screenings started, but they gave them a chance lasting 15-20 minutes. Despite an unnecessary overdose of butt-showing scenes and what tried to be a sci-fi movie, or whatever, the audience grew impatient.

        Director Thop Nazareno’s Edward was among the four full-length films shown on the second day. I felt that it will give JDT a good fight. Initially, I ranked Edward as my #1 film, slightly edging out JDT.

        The night of Aug. 5, the third night and last night of my annual “Cinemalaya triduum” passed unremarkably.

        Privately, I told friends who love films, notably Cinemalaya, “tapos na ang boksing.” “It is either JDT or Edward which will get the best film award,” I said.

        During the succeeding days and nights, I watched for the second and third time JDT and Edward. It was during this period that I slowly fell in love with JDT. I could go on watching it for several times, in the same manner that I caught Eljay Deldoc’s Si Maria Isabella at Ang Guryon ng Mga Tala 10 times.

        I even posted on FB that I am hoping for a tie, specifically for best film, best director, best actor, and best actress. But who am I to implore the jury members.

        Spin handlers and crisis managers of one particular film even called a media gathering to create a buzz for a film. Despite the teasers, however, the audience did not pay attention.

        Others attempted to insert the “cougar films” in the growing online discussion about JDT and Edward, by declaring that 2019 Cinemalaya was about “adolescent boys versus cougars.” Again, no passion was ignited to favor the cougar films.

        By the fourth day of the festival, it was clear that it would be a close fight between JDT and Edward. Screenings of the two films had been always sold-out in CCP venues.

In an unprecedented move, the CCP management gave an extra screening to JDT a few hours before the awards were to be announced.

        On Aug. 11, the 2019 Cinemalaya jury gave its unmistakable nod to Condez’s John Denver Trending.

JDT was declared the Best Film of the 2019 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

The jury cited JDT’s for “its nearly epic sweep of its masterful use of the resources of cinema to depict a boy’s entrapment and doom.”

Similarly, the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema prize was also bestowed upon JDT. It was commended for “an unflinching look at mob mentality in the digital age, convincingly taking us through the psychological anguish of a victim of cyber bullying.”

JDT was the first directorial project by Condez.

The film also received four other awards, namely, Best Actor for Jansen Magpusao who made his debut in the film in the lead role, Best Original Music Score (Len Calvo), Best Editing (Benjo Ferrer III), and Best Cinematography (Rommel Sales), or a total of six awards.

JDT was also cited by the Cinemalaya jury “for its highly relevant subject matter, its highly convincing characters and effective ensemble acting by a cast of non-professional actors” and “for its coruscating critique of the social media as an engine of lies, hate, and destruction.”

Nazareno’s Edward, meanwhile, received the Special Jury Prize. It also bagged the awards for Best Actress (Ella Cruz) and Best Production Design (Alvin Francisco).

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