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
Lemana Filandra is a writer and editor at "Klifhenger" (www.klifhenger.com), a site dedicated to movie analyses in Bosnian and English. She has been working as a freelance writer, a researcher, and a translator for the last three years. Currently, She is working on a PhD thesis in philosophy, focused on intersectional feminism and political implications of the concept of body. In the past she had different professional engagements at Sarajevo Film Festival, one of the most prominent European festivals. She also worked as a producer of a music video, a script supervisor and an assistant to a movie director.
Levan Tskhovrebadze is a student of film studies in Ilia State University, Georgia. He has written and made other kind of journalistic content for Georgian outlets like Indigo, Cinemania.ge or Demo.ge. Recently he started working for Ilia State University online publication Cinexpress.iliauni.edu.ge where he writes reviews, articles and also translates some of the important articles or interviews about cinema into Georgian. He has covered few festivals as a film critic. He was doing video blogs for Berlin International Film Festival 2019th edition and has made some content at CinéDOC-Tbilisi and Batumi International Art-House Film Festival. Cinexpress is also the Ilia State University’s Film Club where he made public reports before screenings.
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a film critic and journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently working for Vertigo.com.ua, one of the largest Ukrainian websites devoted to the film industry and entertainment in general. She is also the host of two podcasts about movies and TV.
Denisa Jašová is a PhD student of Audiovisual Studies at Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a Film Studies and Archival Science graduate, she specializes on archival research in film and TV history, especially on Czechoslovak amateur film and TV non-fiction programmes from 70s and 80s. She also works as a researcher for TV documentaries, as a librarian in the Central European House of Photography and as a talk show host in student radio talk show called Cinefil. She frequently writes for magazine Film.sk, IFF Cinematik Piešťany and her first paper about the history of Slovak amateur film will be released in October 2019 in Kino-Ikon magazine. She simply loves film archives.
Bogdan Balla is a Romanian experimental film director and freelance film critic based in Bucharest. He studies film directing at the National University of Theatre and Film and writes for FILM MENU. Besides directing and producing his own films, he also works as an independent freelance film critic. He reads bell hooks and is passionate about queer cinema. He has a preference for working with archival footage for his films.
Svetlana Semenchuk is an author of such publications on cinema as “Seanse”, “The Art of Cinema”, “Cinema TV” and other. The author-composer of the books “S. M. Eisenstein: pro et contra: Sergey Eisenstein in national reflection: anthology” and “E. F. Bauer: pro et contra. Eugene Frantsevich Bauer in assessments of contemporaries, colleagues, researchers, film critics. Anthology”. Teacher of the St. Petersburg New Cinema School, and at the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Amber Wilkinson is a journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the co-founder and editorial director of UK-based website Eye For Film. Her byline has appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Filmmaker Magazine among others. She also contributes as a freelance film critic on BBC Radio Scotland. She has run several FIPRESCI young critics' workshops and mentored student critics at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering film festivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for Berlinale Talents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.