Right now, Philippine cinema is in the middle of a very exciting phase in its history, with more and more independent films becoming more mainstream, and with the country’s Film Development Council working hard to bring Filipino films abroad and letting exposing local filmmakers to others in the industry. So, of course, as a fan of both Philippine cinema and science fiction, when I heard that there was going to be another science fiction film in this year’s ToFarm Film Festival, I decided to grab the chance to watch it. Keith Sicat’s “Alimuom” is one of the first few hard core science fiction films in the Philippines. The result is a good first attempt in it, as the world building was good and interesting. However, the pacing was just too slow, and the effects do need to be worked on. However, there is a lot of room for improvement in the genre as it has only begun, and I’m hoping that more local filmmakers will try to take a stab at this genre.
“Alimuom” was directed by Keith Sicat, and is based on a local science fiction comic anthology called “Outerspace Filipino Workers”, which was also created by Sicat. This film was an entry in this year’s ToFarm Film Festival, a film festival that has the central theme about farming and agriculture. This year is the third time they’ve held this particular film festival.
The movie is set in the Philippines in a future where planting has been deemed as illegal as the Earth has become too toxic to sustain plant life, where sections of the coutnry live in “bio-domes”, wherein private companies control the government; and where all planting of crops is all done off world, causing most Earth bound citizens to dream of a better future working off world. In the midst of this, there is Professor Diwata Encarnacion (Ina Feleo), a leading scientist in her field, whose family, composed of scientists, has experienced hardships due to the governments rules on agriculture. However, everything changes for her after the Ministry of Agriculture comes knocking on her door, asking for help due to the recent troubles the ministry is now facing, which include mutated seeds and a rebel force of farmers living outside the bio-domes.
The world building that was done here was well-done. It was interesting how the set and the technologies presented here were a mix of the old and new, and there was a lot of world building going on in the background as well, especially when it came to the radio announcements that can be heard in the background, to the current situation of Filipinos during that time.
It was also interesting how some of the issues that were presented, also resonated today, from the hard time that farmers have thanks to the government, and the fact that having an overseas worker in the family takes a huge and devastating toll on the family, more often than not.
The effects, however, do need a lot of work, and it did remind me a little bit of a mix of late ’80s or early ’90s science fiction. There was one particular shot that was repeated, that of a facade of a building with shuttles going towards it and coming from it, that was highly reminiscent of the original “Blade Runner” film. Add to this the great cinematography that greatly gave us the feel of this gritty future world of ours.
The story itself, although interesting, felt mostly like a lot of set up, with too many sexytime scenes that I thought was unnecessary as I felt that there were other ways that the breakdown of Diwata’s marriage could have been shown. Even if our effects are still not up to par yet, the film could have made use of different narrative and creative tools to make it more of a cerebral think piece that allowed the viewers to piece together what is really going on within the ministry, Diwata’s work and its connection with the original work of her father and grandfather, the disappearance of her sister, and the existence of the rebel forces outside the bio-domes.
The acting was great and had veteran actors in it, which is why I felt that Epy Quizon and Mon Confiado, both of whom audiences saw lately in both “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral”, were greatly under utilized.
In the end, the result is a good first try at hard core science fiction, but its pacing dragged the story down and ended up feeling like one long set up or a long classic episode of “Doctor Who” from the ’80s.
From here on out, there will be spoilers!
As mentioned earlier, the world building that went on in the background was the one thing that kept me going while watching the film as it was able to blend the old with the new, and show us that the issues we have today are still the same in this version of the future.
For the technology, it was a mix of current cellphones and tablets, mixed in with the more futuristic technologies of projecting things on glass or in the air. Diwata’s home too was a mixture of the old and the new, with them using technology that they can afford, while still keeping old school items such as a stuffed dinosaur, and an old school wooden record player. The radio announcements and advertisements, however, added a lot to the world building, with them talking about having a better future working off-world and with the current problems that are reminiscent of the same problems we have today, from our LRTs breaking down all the time, to how filmmakers are overworked.
It should be expected that our effects do still need a lot of work, and based on this, it’s around the level of the ’80s or ’90s, however, I am not sure if the budget also affected this. However, the effects, even as was expected of it, were alright.
My biggest issue with the film was really with its pacing, as it felt like a lot of set up with a rushed build-up and ending. I wish that the rebel farmers concept was introduced earlier on into the film, and that we could have explored the outside of the bio-domes more, and Diwata’s relationship with her sister, who turned out to be the leader of the rebel farmers. There, the breakdown of Diwata’s marriage could be explored as well as their family’s history with the government, we could have seen Diwata exploring the plants that they grew there, actual clashes with government forces and Diwata having that internal conflict of what she should do next, especially as her father and son do live within the Mega Manila bio-dome. Instead, it was all set-up and the ending felt anti-climactic. It also felt, at times, that it was more tell than show. This was a shame as the story itself had so much potential.
However, the focus on the family did highlight the issues that citizens, and especially the farmers, experience all the time.
All in all, “Alimuom” was a good first stab at doing a science fiction film, although the narrative was weak and anti-climactic, which was too bad as the world building and premise were good. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement here, as this genre in Philippine film isn’t really done, and I cannot wait to see what they will do next.
Image Source: Alimuom Facebook Page