To the outsider's view, Manila appears as a city full of disturbing contrasts. It is the midpoint of a densely populated agglomeration, homing state banking and commerce headquarters, tourist lures, international businesses and new media corporations including, ironically, centers for Facebook content moderation. All this is heavily seasoned with the remains of the colonial rule of Spanish, American and Japanese origin, the terrifying political course of infamous president Rodrigo Duterte, an incredibly high volume of child pornography, and the biggest population of homeless people in the world. Taking into account the local censorship rules, there is no surprise that Filipino cinema becomes more and more politicized. SCHOOL SERVICE (international premiere and competition contender at Warsaw Film Festival's 34th edition) by director Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio and the scriptwriter Rona Lean Sales does not go into radical activism territory, though it still has the confidence to expose the troubled reality of Manila's suburbs.
The film covers the 24-hour span after the 8-year-old Maya gets kidnapped on her way home from school and is brought to the outskirts of Manila to become a beggar. She is immersed in a completely new world and so are the viewers, even if the director refrains from using any explicit and shocking imagery. What becomes the film's key feature is the perspective of a child who is progressively losing its innocence.
The central character, a schoolgirl seemingly coming from a safe environment, enters the dusty city streets with an attitude as rebelling as it is ultimately useless. Escaping has got nothing to do with how hard you try: it is just impossible. Maya's attempts to run away leave room for optimistic expectations, playing with the conventions of children films, but as the story goes deeper, anxiety starts to take over. It would be easy to blame the kidnappers, but the film shines a light into a complex universe where oppressors are themselves oppressed, and enslaved to complicated social predicaments. With no right decisions available to make, violence becomes the only way out, and young beggars are quick to understand that they have to follow these rules to fit in.
There is an episode in which an outrageous dream built around the desire for things to be normal evolves into an animated sequence, echoing the opening titles and their idealized, crayon-drawn version of a family; an image impossible to chase, and impossible to escape. Meanwhile, the film's focus gradually shifts from Maya's individuality to the kids as a group, and eventually dusky Manila steps out as a threatening character of its own. The film employs a realistic visual style, and even though it is combined with children-focused storytelling, it is quite a sincere attempt to provide a take on poverty, prostitution and social stigmas.
SCHOOL SERVICE is a work that is inseparable from the context that inspired its creation. While it does not look as an immediate call for action, it is clearly intended to resonate with the audience and to engage the audience in public discussion. The film is produced with a clear aim at domestic release but it will also provide an emotional insight into the social issues for international audiences.
FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.
Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.
Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.
Tomáš Hudák is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.
Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.
Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering filmfestivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for BerlinaleTalents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.