MANILA — Is Philippine cinema ready for a five-hour movie?
Lav Diaz, one of this Asian country’s bolder and more experimental directors, fearlessly says “yes.” His latest film, “Batang West Side” (Westside Kid), is five hours long and tackles the drama in the lives of migrant Filipinos in New York.
Where “American Adobo” showed the lighter, if bittersweet side, of living in a foreign land, this one — also filmed in New York — tackles heavier themes. Simply put, it’s a whodunit: a Filipino-American working in the NYPD investigates a crime that involves fellow Filipinos.
The movie won accolades and the prestigious Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal awards for best picture in the recent Cinemanila Intl. Film Festival, patterned after the Sundance Film Festival.
But as expected, some quarters have been critical and skeptical: “Too long,” “too heavy,” “people can’t handle it,” “distributors won’t pick it up,” “theaters won’t screen it” are some of the comments hurled at the pic.
The director is unfazed. “Wrong,” he says. “There are theaters that will accept this film. People will watch long films.” Movie producer Lily Monteverde has been very supportive. Her outfit Regal Films produced the movie and is pushing for its theatrical showing. Regal has produced another, shorter (1 hour 51 minutes) Lav Diaz film, “Hesus Rebolusyonaryo” (Jesus, Revolutionary), slated for release this year.
Diaz laments that Philippine cinema has been left “too far behind” in world cinema, noticing that startling new works have emerged from other Asian countries, specifically Taiwan and Iran.
The New York-based Diaz burst into the local cinema scene three years ago with “Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion” (The Criminal of Concepcion County), which was screened at the Toronto Film Festival. He followed this up with one more riveting film, “Lumakad Kang Hubad Sa Ilalim ng Buwan” (Walk Naked in the Moonlight).
Diaz’s films have not been commercial successes, but they have made deep imprints on the face of Philippine cinema. If anything, Diaz wants to free it from its old formulas and safe confines. “Batang Westside” still has to be shown commercially in local theaters.