Now Playing! New Filipino Cinema is as Real (and Surreal) as It Gets

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'Lily' screens at this year's YBCA festival of New Filipino Cinema.  (Courtesy YBCA)

Credit where credit is due: Joel Shepard, the formidable film/video Curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, was way ahead of the curve on the Philippines. Long before the current U.S. President made headlines by praising his ruthless Filipino counterpart, Shepard recognized the urgency and artfulness with which the country’s gutsy independent filmmakers were exposing social problems and government abuse. New Filipino Cinema 2017, YBCA’s sixth annual compilation, delivers the up-to-the-minute, from-the-streets bulletins we’ve come to expect with a dreamy frosting of surrealism and poetry.

The series, programmed with Philippines-based critic Philip Dy, begins Thursday, Aug. 17, with Baby Ruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen (also screening Aug. 27), a documentary about the thousands of Filipinos working in Hong Kong who devote their lone day off to the exercise of freedom, identity and self-expression. Mario Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child (Aug. 18 and 25) features a (fictional) character who was conceived in the 1970s when a certain Bay Area filmmaker was shooting a war movie in the Philippines. Speaking of epics, Lav Diaz’s eight-hour Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to The Sorrowful Mystery, screening Sept. 2 and 3) encompasses history and legend, and fact and fiction.

Current events take center stage on Sunday, Aug. 20, when photojournalist Raffy Lerma projects his recent pictures and reports on the realities of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” If it seems increasingly difficult to separate art and politics, it’s not your imagination. Curators and creators are taking their responsibilities very seriously these days.