Feb 26, 2009


I just find it quite amusing that quite a few people now have reacted more or less in this manner to our documentary, PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION:

"Kayo pala nakakuha ng raket na 'yan? Nag-bid din kami diyan e..."

As far as we know, the Baguio Centennial Commission has asked various production groups to submit proposals for a documentary on the history of Baguio, this year being the city's centennial and all. One group proposed a budget of P400,000.00.

Well, for the record we didn't join "the bidding" for this "raket," as they call it, truth is, we didn't even know there was a bidding at all. As far as "PORTRAIT..." is concerned, this was how it came to be:

2007, Open Space got to dip its many hands into video production, and we thought we were ready to seriously pursue this new form of creative expression after dabbling in it in our multimedia theatrical presentations. After a planned co-production of a TV show with another institution fell apart, and since we suddenly found ourselves having access to a 3-ccd camera (the relationship, with the camera, that is, didn't last long. But that's another story.), I brought up the idea of producing a TV show to the group, called "Portraits Of A Hill Station." It was gonna be a weekly television show that will feature snippets of life in Baguio.

We knew that on our own, we wouldn't be able to sustain even just one season of 12 episodes, we can only stretch our very meager resources to cover 4 episodes at most. So we decided to make the first 4 episodes tell the story of how Baguio became a city. That way, should the show end up with no sponsors and/or any means of support, the first four episodes could stand alone as a substantial and relevant project.

Another reason why I thought it was best to springboard the TV show with Baguio's genesis was, well, it wasn't because I thought I was an authority in the history of this wonderful city, but quite the opposite: I wanted to know more about the city I've decided to call my home, the city that has sheltered me for more than a decade. I wanted to know Baguio's story.

The thing about preparing for the worst is that more often than not, the worst does come - save for a few friends, some in high places and some whose hearts just happened to be in the right places who thought that the project was worthy of their generous support, the show was shunned by sponsors. Some not only dismissed it but also predicted and even hoped for its doom.

Doomed the tv show was, and instead of four we were only able to air three episodes in September, 2007, and those three episodes told the story of the city from pre-colonial times to post-war Baguio. And despite the absence of sponsors, we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouraging reactions from people here in Baguio and abroad. We received inquiries about the possibility of putting those episodes on DVD, and we seriously considered the idea.

But our pockets have already gone very dry at the time to do it, so the idea stayed on our to do list until late last year, after a couple of personal commercial projects, we had enough to once again give the DVD idea a go. It wasn't much easier this time - we knew we needed a re-shoot, and we didn't have a camera anymore which meant the added expense of renting a camera. That we did, and since the main equipment was now running on a meter, time wasn't on our side: ten shooting days.

We would chip in for gas money so we can go around the various locations, and while some of us would be out there waiting for the sun to set to get that shot we thought the documentary needed, some of us would be at home in San Luis stretching their creativity to come up with a decent meal for everyone at the lowest possible cost. Not enough fresh mini-dv tapes for this documentary, there simply wasn't enough money for that, which meant re-using 2-3 year old tapes and hoping that the images would come out alright.

After ten days of shoot, we worked for about two weeks on draft version and on December 14, 2008, we aired the one-hour documentary called PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION. We had three minor sponsors this time (Camp John Hay Dev. Cor, the City Mayor's office and the FRB Foundation), so we had enough to cover post-production expenses and the airtime cost and didn't need to dig into our shallow pockets for those anymore.

And then the DVD - even if the production didn't earn enough to cover even just basic expenses, we were still unanimous in our plan to give free copies of the DVD to various school libraries in the city and to hold free screenings of the documentary. Production is slow, we can't afford to mass produce the DVD so production's done at home on a regular DVD-burner, and given the loads of other work we do on my abused desktop pc, we average about 2 or 3 DVDs a week.

But that's ok, in doing "PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION," we learned about Baguio's story. And it's a great story, and we just want to share that story to as many people as possible. We thank the Baguio Historical Society for endorsing the documentary.

It is our hope that, given the current sad state of Baguio, in telling the city's history, its journey from being a pastureland to being one of the most beautiful hill stations in Asia, the obstacles thrown its way and how Baguio and its people overcame those obstacles, how the city rose from the ravages of war, how it quickly got back on its feet after the devastating 1990 earthquake, this documentary might just help re-kindle our people's sense of community and start working together for a better Baguio.

As the documentary says in the last segment... we inherited a paradise from the city's pioneers who built Baguio a hundred years ago, what kind of Baguio are we passing on to the next generation?

So for those bidding for that "raket," don't worry, we didn't "outbid" you, we didn't even know there was such a bidding.

Open Space did this on its own, independently, just because we thought it's a good thing to do.

It may not look like a 400,000-peso documentary, we don't actually know exactly how much we spent on this... but we did invest our hearts and souls into its production.

And we are just glad to have been able to do this for the city.

We thank everyone who helped us and believed in this project.

Feb 10, 2009

Oh What A Circus

Panagbenga, the annual month-long event that is the Baguio Flower
Festival. Among its institutionalized components are the opening and
closing parades, the parade of floats, the street-dancing parade, the
Market Encounter (a trade fair), and Session Road in Bloom (when
Session Road is closed to vehicular traffic and is filled to brim with
stalls selling, among other things, cellphones, corn and hotdogs…
fine, among others).

One year you may see Baguio's various VIPs fighting over who gets to
captain the Panagbenga ship, and another year they're avoiding it like
the plague. Every year, the current captains move heaven and earth
(lots of it in Burnham Park) to prove that they can do better than
their predecessors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, for every year
we are assured that whoever is at the helm, he, or she, is doing
everything to come up with something better than last year. Panagbenga
has become so big that I make it a point not be in town during the big
events (the parades used to be a joy to watch, but in recent years,
standing for hours craning your neck to get a glimpse of flowery
advertising billboards on wheels has become less and less attractive
for me). If I can't afford to leave town, then I sit in front of the
TV and watch the goings on in the comfort of our living room. And I
particularly find it amusing to watch the bickering between past and
present organizers, politicians, and "concerned citizens."

Anyway, what exactly is my beef? Panagbenga has become a showcase of
what Baguio doesn't have, or of what Baguio has that's ignored by the
powers that be. It is that time of the year when Baguio plays second
fiddle to everything and everyone which/who were brought in to amuse
the tourists. Instead of taking the opportunity to show to the world
what Baguio is all about, we end up being a mere staging area.

We all know that Baguio is not a flower growing community, and even if
we were once a city of flowers, the building frenzy going around the
whole city in the name of development and progress has surely erased
that tag. It would be really great for the city if the festival would
inspire the people of Baguio to make their city a true city of
flowers… but sprucing up one's backyard only once a year does not make
our city one of flowers. We become poseurs.

And I'm just not impressed by pronouncements by organizers that begin
with, "this year we were able to bring in…" followed by, "next year we
hope to be able to bring in…" Bring in? What about doing something
with what we have? Wouldn't it be better to brag about what one was
able to put together with what Baguio does have? Isn't that what most
festivals are about, celebrating traditions and what this or that
place is blessed with and proud to have? And who the hell are the LA Divas and why are we putting a group on center stage whose claim to fame is being copycats of a American pop group?

And to rub salt to injury, when elements from outside are brought in,
the question is, just like true blue mercenaries, "how much?," and
organizers, again, move heaven and earth to come up with the money,
and when locals are lucky enough to be included in the festival's
events at all, they are told not to complain about the dishonorable
honoraria because they're "doing it for Baguio."

It's true, though, what we locals are doing we do it because we love
Baguio, while for the others it's simply just another gig.

Clowns, jesters, poseurs, mercenaries, corn and hotdogs. Oh, what a circus!