Sinulog Film Festival

Cartoon of Sinulog dancers.

In Cebu City, there’s a festival known as Sinulog. It’s a citywide celebration that encompasses the right mix of partying and a little bit of religious fervour. There’s some debate about the true meaning of Sinulog. But what can’t be argued is the impact that the festival has on the city.

The Sinulog festival has its roots in Spanish colonialism, much like a good portion of the country’s religious tradition. The center of the celebration is the Santo Nino, a version of the Christ child that is dressed as a king, wielding a scepter and a globe.

For some historical context, when the Spaniards first arrived on the shores of an archipelago they would later christen the Philippines, they introduced the concept of Christianity. One of the more enduring concepts what the St. Nino, which became so appealing to Filipinos that many a household in the Philippines will have an altar in the living room and the St. Nino will be the centerpiece of said altar.

The thing about Sinulog in Cebu is that it’s a tradition in the city and for some, marks the official end of the holiday season that starts when malls start playing Christmas carols in late August/early September.

The festival is one of the main things that people think of when they think of what to do in Cebu and witnessing the Sinulog dance is something that both the locals and tourists from all over the Philippines and the wider world make a point of doing when they in the city when the festival is taking place, because it is the centerpiece of the whole celebration, the big dance in Sinulog festival costume that takes place on Cebu’s main thoroughfare, the road that leads to the provincial capitol.

But the dance is not all there is to Sinulog. The fact of the matter is, while the dance is the main course, the ancillary parties are the side dishes. Fried chicken is great, but fried chicken paired with mashed potatoes is even better.

So it’s the ancillary parties that people stay for. People come for the big dances on the streets, but once the dances are done, it’s the parties that the people stay for. In fact, for many guests, those parties are the only reason to show up.

But again, there are subsections of the populace that see the debauchery and think that maybe that’s not what the festival is about, that maybe there’s more to it than loud music and drinking early in the morning and then not stopping until well into the night.

Humans are a visual species. This means that one of the main ways their brains process information is through their eyes, through what they see. So films are a great way to convey information to an audience.

Which is why the Sinulog Film Festival is something that is currently extant out in the world. IT not only showcases what may very well be the true spirit of the event itself, but it also gives filmmakers an outlet for them to ply their trade and show off their skills.

The thing about the film festival is that it’s not about making long-form movies. It’s about short films and music videos. Nothing over fifteen minutes and nothing that’s been previously screened to the public.

There are two kinds of submissions that are allowed; music videos which are supposed to be between two to five minutes long because most music videos are that length on account of many songs between two to five minutes long, which is why the music videos themselves have to be around that length because music videos are usually visual storytelling for a particular song. Some music videos also take a short break from the music in the middle.

Of course, anyone who wants to submit a music video is going to have to make sure that they have the rights to the music so as to avoid any litigation for violating copyright law.

Now, on to short films and documentaries. These are markedly different from music videos, not just because they can be longer in terms of their runtime. The short film and documentary categories have markedly different criteria for their judging than their music video counterparts. They are also noticeably longer and have to be more thorough in the information that they regale their viewers with.

There’s also the issue of language. In order to be an immersive and realistic experience, the use of local dialects is encouraged. However, the motion pictures are meant to be shown to a global audience. As such, anything that’s not in English is going to have to be subtitled in the language.

When it comes to actually submitting the films for viewing, it’s not like sending an email with the file attached. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Submissions have to be made with one high-definition copy on a USB flash drive and two copies on separate DVD discs.

However, regardless of whether it’s a music video or a documentary or a short film, the central theme of the motion pictures has to be the same and that theme is that Sto. Nino is the cause of unity and charity or that faith is the foundation to building a good atmosphere.

Sure, the dancing and the partying are all good. In fact, they are essential elements of the festival because festivals are supposed to be festive and festivities would be pretty boring if no one was feasting. It’s a celebration, after all – they’re supposed to be fun and all that.

But the spiritual aspects of the Sinulog should not be forgotten. Yes, it’s the partying that brings in the money from tourists and partying on the street while blowing a whistle is a popular image for the festival. However, the spiritual roots should not be ignored because it’s that aspect that created the festival in the first place. Without that spect, the festival itself would not be around to be enjoyed by partiers both local and not local.

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