Film still from Bronx Obama. Photo Courtesy

Raya Martin, acclaimed young Filipino film director, will visit San Francisco June 11 to present his film, “How to Disappear Completely.”

At just 30 years old, he is already a master of the craft, having produced 12 films including “Independence,” “Autohystoria,” and “A Short Film About the Indio Nacional.” His skill permeates throughout his recent work, making his penultimate film an excellent production.

An allegorical, suffocating and delirious tale, it resembles the work of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas in “Post Tenebras Lux.” With a minimal plot, the drama supersedes reality.

The masterpiece can be categorized as part of the “slow cinema movement.” Besides Martin and Reygadas, other filmmakers including Lisandro Alonso from Argentina and the Portuguese Pedro Costa are also shaping the movement with their work.

Martin will kick off the third edition of the New Filipino Cinema festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Joel Shepard, film programmer at the center, is responsible for organizing the festival and manages programming for the most cutting-edge screens in the city.

In an interview conducted by Michael Guillen in 2013, Shepard said his passion for Filipino cinema was born in the Festival of Rotterdam, Netherlands, where he discovered “the avant-garde underground scene … members of a younger, underground scene working with tiny budgets, who were making experimental and raw, immediate street filmmaking.”

“I decided I needed to know more and get deeper into Filipino Cinema, especially since the Bay Area has such a huge Filipino American community,” Shepard said.

The festival is comprises 16 feature films and a program of shorts, balancing commercial Filipino films, with introspective and complex arthouse films.

The titles include: “Transit” by Hannah Spy, a drama about the odyssey of Filipino immigrants in Israel; the moving and enjoyable “Anita ‘s Last Cha Cha” by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo, who will attend the presentation; the utterly funny and entertaining “The Bit Player” by Jeffrey Jeturian about extras in a film set; and the restoration of a 1982 film titled “Oro, Plata, Mata,” a great historical document that portrays the upper classes during the period of Japanese occupation.

The festival will close with the latest film by another heavyweight of contemporary Philippine cinema, Brillante Mendoza. “Thy Womb” takes place in the Bajau community south of the Philippines, whose culture is linked to the sea. International critics raved about this latest production by the director who brought us “Lola” and “Serbis.” This will mark the first screening of this film in the country.

And as a climax, a special engagement after the festival will screen another masterpiece, “Norte, the End of History” by Lav Diaz, a great adaptation of the novel “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Diaz makes exquisite films, but they require patience because their development is slow and his movies are long.

Documentary Film Festival
In stark contrast to the rising and courageous Filipino film festival, the already established SF Documentary Festival will present more than 40 documentaries over a two-week period in its thirteenth run.

The programming — coming from the same team that organizes SF IndieFest, Santa Cruz Film Festival and Another Hole in the Head— continues its formula, perpetuating stereotypes about realities outside of the English-speaking world.

Negative portraits and topics such as violence, poverty and lack of education predominate among the films with Latino interest.

“The Engineer” by the Guatemalan Juan Luis Passarelli and British Matthew Charles, focuses on a criminal and forensic investigator who works recovering bodies disappeared as a result of the struggles between MS-13 and Mara 18 gangs in El Salvador.

Centered in the rough aspects—the pain of the families and the eccentricity of the central character—the film is worse than a horror movie. The main character sleeps in a room covered with pictures of mutilated and decaying bodies, and wears black T-shirts with images of skulls.

“Of Kites and Borders,” a co-production between Mexico, Spain and the United States, is a documentary that takes place in the border city of Tijuana—inhabited by endearing characters like Carmela, the girl who rummages through garbage dumps with her dad, and the brothers Adrián and Fernando, “the traffic light luchadorcitos” who act as masked wrestlers after school to make a few bucks.

This documentary will be shown with the short “Life on the Line,” about 11-year-old Kimberly Torrez, a “transfronteriza” girl who crosses the border every day to go to school. The documentary focuses on the human drama and the obstacle that the border across Nogales, Arizona, constitutes for the emotional and economic welfare of the family.

Also from the United States, and perhaps as an exception to the negative portrayals of Latinos, the funny “Obama Bronx” by Ryan Murdock presents Louis Ortiz, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx in New York City, who earns his living thanks to his great physical resemblance to Barack Obama. A widowed father, the most beautiful moments of the film are those in which people react to his presence, as well as images showing his relationship with his daughter Reina.

The Filipino film festival will take place at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco from June 11–15. The SF Documentary Festival will take place June 5–19 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, and in Oakland. For more information:,

—Translation Alfonso Agirre