Four days ago I woke up at noon time, a habit I developed since the Philippine government imposed a lockdown all over the country in March to avert the spread of the coronavirus. I suddenly had the craving for lumpia with togue filling. Knowing that togue or mungbean sprouts and lumpia wrapper were not available at the nearest grocery store, and that I was prohibited from venturing downtown due to the barangay clustering scheme that our city government put in place, I rummaged through my kitchen cabinet to look for the next best thing. I found a bag of flour and mungbeans in a jar. Over coffee I Googled “how to grow mungbean sprouts” and managed to do the task in half an hour. I retreated to my home office and started writing entries for my new blog sites. These are writing projects that I started two days earlier in a bid to be productive during the COVID-19 crisis. After all two film projects have been shelved due to the crisis. My creative juices needed to be put in good use.
Yesterday I woke up earlier than usual. I was roused by a phone call from my father who is in our hometown Pagalungan, Maguindanao. He asked me how I was doing. “The summer heat is just too much. But I’m OK. How are you?” I assured him. I’m isolated from the rest of the family since I took residency in General Santos. I want to see my father. But that is impossible in the meantime. From this city I have to pass through two provinces that have imposed total lockdown due to cases of COVID-19. There are checkpoints, and chances are I will be turned away. Only vehicles with essential goods and medical personnel are allowed to pass.
I hang up the phone and jumped out of bed. With my cat Kylo Ren trailing me I walked to the kitchen, made myself a mug of coffee, and then proceeded to the dimly lit laundry room to check my togue project. The mungbean seeds had sprouted. I collected them in a colander. I would make my lumpia wrapper from scratch later. Meanwhile I retreated to my home office to check my email. My cat Aslan was sleeping on my laptop. I picked him up and before I could position him on a cushion in another part of the table he jumped from my arms and walked to the next room. I checked my email and the statistics of my blogs. I had a combined 1,850 views in my two blogs. I also earned $1.15 from a monetization program. Not bad. I can do this on a regular basis even after the lockdown.
Moments later I heard the Whatsapp ringing tone in my phone. It was a video call from Liryc dela Cruz, my former producer, who is now based in Rome. He announced that Locarno has cancelled its 2020 edition due to the pandemic. It is just the latest addition to a growing number of European film festivals that have cancelled their events this year. “How are you?” I asked him.
“I was able to go to park today. It was such a relief after two months under home quarantine,” he told me. Italy has eased its lockdown this week. The country is one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed about 30,000 of its citizens as of late.
“Do you think Venice will be cancelled this year?” I asked him.
“I am not sure yet, although there are talks about a digital edition like Visions du Reel in Switzerland,” he told me. Some film festivals are shifting to the digital format that can be screened anywhere in the world to a select audience as a way of adapting to the pandemic.
“If an event as big as the Tokyo Olympics can be cancelled, it is only logical for large film festivals to wait another year,” I replied.
With a COVID-19 vaccine still many months away, the main concern of governments now is the safety of their people. They have lowered their expectation on economic growth this year. There will be long-term effects on many business sectors including travel and the creative industry. There is also a profound effect on mental health, and as a writer and filmmaker, ensuring artistic practice that adapts to this difficult time is a way of maintaining a degree of balance in my life.
I checked my Facebook Messenger. Joseph Arcegono of the North Luzon Cinema Guild has messaged me. He asked me when I can be a speaker of the ongoing Online Film Lab for Regional Stories that they have organized. The Lab is a nightly session of lectures, film screenings and discussions with directors in a specific chat group. It has been going on for more than a month already. Utilizing digital technology, it is a way to continue developing aspiring filmmakers in the regions despite the lockdown.
“I am available anytime. Just schedule a night for me anytime in May,” I told him.
It was almost lunch. As I was making my lumpia my mind wandered. I reflected on how COVID-19 pandemic has affected cinema — its philosophy, practice, distribution platforms, even international cooperation and the notion of national borders. I came up with an idea. I would ask friends for their views on the matter for a special article on New Durian Cinema, the online journal of Southeast Asian cinema that I edit. At late afternoon yesterday I sent the question to friends: How will the COVID-19 pandemic reshape cinema?
Today I woke up because of the continuous crying of Aslan at the bedroom door. I forgot to keep the door ajar last night. He wanted to come in. I walked to the door, picked him up, and proceeded to the kitchen. I gave him a kitty treat. I made myself coffee and walked to the home office to check my email. A representative of the Film Development Council of the Philippines was asking for some documents pertaining to a film that I intend to make that commemorates the 500th year of the first circumnavigation of the globe and the victory of Lapu Lapu in Mactan in March 2021. “I will send it before Friday,” I emailed her back. As I sipped on my coffee, I looked out my office window thinking tomorrow will come sooner than expected.