Life in a vertical viewpoint.
Netflix has caused social backlash in 2016 after streaming an altered version of Xavier Dolan’s 2014 feature film Mommy. No scenes were cut, slurs coming from the mouth of a mentally challenged youth were not censored, Quebec French wasn’t dubbed, except the projection was modified to fit the screen and the general viewers’ convenience, much to the dismay of the director and film buffs. Was it a big deal? Yes, because Dolan did not invest in his approach to the 1:1 aspect ratio shot through an iPhone like an Instagram grid for the Instagram aesthetic. It was a layer that confined characters, facial expressions, and emotions within a small, unobstructed space to make the audience feel cramped and stuck. The angles were depressing, but in that moment of cinematic freedom Dolan was able to touch on friendship and hope through a few forcefully widened frames, a dramatic transition that could only be defined by his box.
Much has been said about films that don’t follow the Academy ratio and traditional cinematography, bordering on “pretentious” and “so-called experimental” to suit the arthouse taste, but, like Mommy, The Florida Project’s obscure final shot, or local film Cleaners using 30,000 photocopied materials and funky highlighters to create a unique animation, these media work to tell their story.
Coffee processing company Nespresso believes in this facet of creative filmmaking, so it has challenged creators worldwide to shoot a two-to-three-minute film in a vertical format or the phone screen proportion, giving winners the chance to join the roster of auteurs at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The impact of these short films transcends the modern-day handheld viewing preference and comfort—they mean to inspire and inform everyone, film critic or not, in the raw. The filmmakers can use whatever recording device they have, whatever techniques they know. They can blur outside perspectives or use a dragging pace, and cut to the chase to focus on the point they are trying to make.
Lockdown in the early half of February may have blown the chances of getting more entries this year, but that didn’t stop Nespresso Talents from recognizing film mavericks and their outstanding takes on “Virtuous Circles,” through a digital awarding ceremony via Zoom. The theme aligns with Nespresso’s core belief in perpetuating the circularity of making good coffee through a healthy relationship with farmers, a long-term community fair trade, and nature preservation.
From a rigorous selection of 743 submissions, three finalists Charlene Tupas, Ramil Lantican, and Massah Gonzales-Gamboa bested contestants from the Philippine division for capturing the crux of the theme in their own artistic visuals from a vertical viewpoint.
Third place: My Brother by Massah Gonzales-Gamboa
Set on a mountainside in Negros Occidental, the short film encapsulates the childhood penchant for being kuya’s biggest fan, after-school playtime against the faint sunset, and, from the words of the director herself, “being the light, even if it’s just to a lone person.” You can tell from the kid’s monologue that the short film has no ambitious attempt to romanticize poverty in the rural poor area, but Gamboa, also a cultural worker, highlights what joy means to a family with a simple life while driving audience unconscious of the film’s gripping undertow about loss at a young age.
The winning factor of the short film shines through the admiration that bears a plucky grit, according to one of the jury members Patrick Pesengco, managing director of NovateurCoffee Concepts Inc. “The movie was chosen because of the wonderful dynamics between two brothers and how being a good role model, like how he taught his younger brother to treat their mother right, would always leave a mark,” he says.
Second place: Cheat Day by Ramil Lantican
Commercial filmmaker and jury member Antoinette Jadaone introduces the runner-up as a feel-good film that dwells on its own brand of comedy, “which won’t get you bored while the film is trying to establish its story, and ends with a heartwarming tone.”
Cheat Day brings a sense of elementary school nostalgia with a story that revolves around a class of madcap students trying to pull off what seems to be an exam heist, but eventually unfolds into a surprise for their teacher.
For this film Lantican worked with 18 students and shot the film within five hours, and drowned out three minutes with a cartoonish background music racing against the school bell, scheming facial gestures, and tongue-in-cheek conversations to draw one important conclusion—showing gratitude to frontliners at a time of tension and uncertainty makes a difference.
First place: Tsinelas by Charlene Tupas
A silent film depicting wide-eyed innocence in a cruel place, Tupas’s split-screen structures a slow intersection of two lives not much different from each other: The boy walks from point A to where his tattered slippers can bring him, a crippled boy repairs slippers for a living, and yet, benevolence doesn’t feel limiting.
For an innovative, winning vision, it’s hard to believe that this is Tupas’ first film. “In every frame, I strived to create something real,” she says. “I haven’t been to a film school, but I’m committed to exposing myself to the world of cinema and the endless possibilities of sculpting through Tsinelas.”
The main takeaway of director and jury member Jose Javier Reyes is how Tupas mastered the new sense of focus that is hard to achieve in the making of a vertical film. “It has a grainy and naturalistic texture to capture the narrative,” he says. “The treatment brings out the characters, which makes the film distinctly Filipino, but the end of the film, you realize that it can apply anywhere.”