MANILA, SEPTEMBER 2, 2011 (STAR) FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo (Photo - Maria Isabel Lopez (top) and co-star Sue Prado in two scenes from Cuchera)

Joseph Israel Laban’s Cinemalaya film Cuchera will have its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival from Sept. 8 to 18.

According to Funfare correspondent Ferdy Lapuz, Cuchera will screen in the festival’s Discovery Section which spotlights the most exciting work from new and emerging directors from around the world.

Laban is the third Filipino director to be included in this section. Lav Diaz’s Ang Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion and Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista competed for the Discovery Award in 1998 and 2005, respectively.

Cuchera was in the New Breed Section of the last Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. It stars Maria Isabel Lopez, Paolo Rivero, Simon Ibarra, CJ Ramos, Jonathan Neri, Kimmy Maclang, Isadora and Sue Prado.

Ferdy sent the following excerpt from the website:

One of the most shocking debuts in recent Filipino cinema, Joseph Israel Laban’s Cuchera deals with the grim fate of low-rent drug mules. (As the introductory titles tell us, hundreds of Filipinos are imprisoned offshore for smuggling.) Pitched somewhere between ultra-sinister comedy and grimy realism, the film opens as a shaggy-dog story, following two women as they contemplate visiting a faith healer. The narrative then settles on Isabel (Maria Isabel Lopez), a former mule who now hopes to start her own trafficking business.

A kind of Filipino Mean Streets, Cuchera piles outrage upon outrage. The characters are so desperate that they will engage in — and accept — anything in the hopes of making money. Scarred by her own experience as a mule, Isabel has no problem blackmailing or strong-arming others into working for her — and she’s willing to overlook a lot to make sure things run smoothly. When she returns home after a number of errands, she’s unfazed by the discovery that her husband has been having sex with an underage girl (whom he clumsily tries to hide in the bathroom). After some knowing chuckles, they promptly settle down to the evening’s business: cooking okra to make it easier for the mules to swallow the drugs they’re enlisted to transport.

There’s almost no one in the film who isn’t horrifically compromised. Even its few acts of charity are problematic or end in disaster. Cuchera may turn out to be a watershed in Filipino film history — directly linking the melodramatic ferocity of the politically charged works of veteran directors like Joel Lamangan and Carlos Siguion-Reyna with the more intimate style of what some have dubbed the Filipino New Wave. It’s also a devastating comic horror film, and one of the most precise dramatizations of Bertolt Brecht’s famous dictum — “Grub first, then ethics” — ever made.

Cuchera was written by Laban and was produced by Laban, Derick Cabrido and Ariel Bacol, co-produced and represented in the international festival circuit by Lapuz.

There are three other Filipino films screening in Toronto this year: Lav Diaz’s Century of Birthing and Adolf Alix Jr.’s Isda in the Vision Program and Raya Martin’s Ars Colonial in the Wavelength Program.

Music and fashion to help fight poverty, illiteracy in Samar

Manila-based Fil-Am virtuoso saxophonist Michael Young lent his talent for a great cause when he joined award-winning Fil-Am fashion designers Robin Tomas and Bobby Yalong in an evening of music and fashion Wednesday night (Aug. 24) at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue in New York City to help raise funds for a campaign to battle poverty through literacy in the province of Samar.

“The Michigan-born Young, who is also a model/endorser and saxophone professor at UP and UST, provided runway music as models donning the latest collections of Tomas and Yalong strutted down the ramp,” reported Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre. “New York’s Pinoy glitterati attended the glamorous event that started with a 6 p.m. cocktail reception. Eleanor de Leon, wife of Consul General Mario de Leon and who hails from Catbalogan, Western Samar, is the honorary chair of the show, with Dave Brodsky as executive producer.”

Samar Time...and the Music is Easy was presented by Building Futures Together, Inc. (BFT), one of New York’s leading Filipino-American civic groups working hard to achieve its goal of building a mini-library in as many public elementary schools in Samar. For years now, the organization founded by Loudette Avelino has been donating boxes of select books — old and new — as well as education materials to numerous schools and even day-care centers in Eastern, Northern and Western Samar.

BFT also holds an annual “Walk Against Poverty” as part of its awareness program for one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. This year’s walkathon will be held on Sept. 17 at Central Park West in Manhattan and every dime that will be raised will go directly towards obtaining a mobile medical unit and a livelihood project for Samar.

Avelino said the donated books come from all over New York, filling BFT’s rented storage rooms to the rafters. It’s always hard work gathering these books and storing them until it’s time to ship. For board members Jude Tan, Mel Capinpin, Vivian Velasco and PJ Pascual, who typically do not lift and pack bundles of books, collecting and boxing them are always a challenge. Oftentimes, it would require driving huge vans as far out as upstate New York to take entire libraries that are closing down.

[PHOTO - Virtuoso saxophonist Michael Young performed at a New York fund-raising fashion-musical that featured dresses by Robin Tomas (above, left) and Bobby Yalong (above, right). Top: Building Futures Together, Inc. founder Loudette Avelino and Dave Brodsky, producer of the show.]

According to Edmund, Avelino said one New York mom donated a set of hardbound Harry Potter series once owned by her young son who passed away. The books have already been shipped to Samar.

“What we send are very select books,” Avelino said. “They have to be in English, hardbound, in a variety of school subjects like science, math and grammar. Reference materials, dictionaries, and encyclopedia sets are most in demand. The books are all packed in balikbayan boxes before being shipped to Samar in huge containers.”

Last year, Avelino returned to Palale Elementary School in Western Samar — the first recipient of an entire shipment of books from BFT over 10 years ago upon the request of its donor — and saw the impact of the books that traveled from the Big Apple to the three Samar provinces. Each classroom was able to set up a library because of the big shipment of books.

She noted how Liberty Alvarez, a third grade teacher, described how the books they received a decade ago are still being used to this day. They are sturdy, she said, with pages thick and shiny. She told Avelino that the children who first used those books have since graduated and gone on to high school or college, and those who succeeded them said they love the books because they provide stories that teach them significant lessons, and beautiful pictures of places, animals or plants they only hear about.

But what pleased Alvarez the most, Avelino noted, were the grammar books, acknowledging that grammar “is a major weakness of the children and even of the teachers” in Samar. Alvarez noted that even the Department of Education officials in the region often visit the school and take or borrow books that serve as “teacher aids” or are “teacher-relevant.”

For the most part, Avelino said BFT-designated recipients are required to set up a mini-library complete with shelves.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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