Sunday, August 11, 2013

Harana (2012)

WHO: Director Benito Bautista teamed with guitarist Florante Aguilar to make this documentary.

WHAT: It doesn't have to be inevitable that massive urbanization and modernization is followed by an abandonment of valuable cultural traditions associated with a simpler or more provincial way of life. Music may be uprooted from its original contexts, and bring pleasure and emotion to a listener far removed from the soil of its creation. In the United States people like Harry Smith, Alan Lomax, and even the recently deceased filmmaker Les Blank have helped to create a record of unique musical traditions that may have been first developed to help illiterate people remember narratives, or to provide accompaniment for strict social interactions, but that can still be appreciated for its own sake by modern listeners.  In the Philippines, a figure like Aguilar is just the man to help preserve and revive music known as Harana, a century-old tradition of songwriting and performance intended to be used as serenade or courtship ritual in communities where direct communication between unmarried men and women followed strict cultural codes.

The documentary Harana follows Aguilar in his quest to find living practitioners of the dying Harana art, and bring their lovely sonorities to a new and appreciative public. Francis Joseph A. Cruz describes the film beautifully in a recent review I shall now excerpt:
It seems the sincerity that the music offers is a product of very modest circumstances, of timid gentlemen with nothing but their voices and their hearts to craft melodies from. They are unsung heroes passionately singing to save their songs’ fragile relevance. Harana marvellously allows their timeless voices to get heard and enjoyed along with memories of romances that persist or could have been had they not been rendered obsolete by the unstoppable passage of time. 
WHERE/WHEN: Screening today at 1:00, 3:00, 5:00 and 7:00 at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts screening room, with more screenings at the California in Berkeley, the Camera 3 in San Jose, the Piedmont in Oakland, the Opera Plaza in San Francisco, and the Aquarius in Palo Alto over the next few days and weeks.

WHY: Of all the cinemas I regularly cover here at Hell On Frisco Bay, YBCA seems to me to make the most concerted effort to connect with the full range of San Francisco's famously diverse ethnic communities, especially those under-served by well-established cultural institutions of their own. The venue has programmed healthy surveys of unusual aspects of Chinese, Brazilian, Korean, Indian, Iranian and numerous other national cinemas since I've been a regular attendee, not to mention series devoted to auteurs from Nigeria, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, Senegal, Poland, Russia, and other countries. This kind of programming has an East Bay mirror at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, which has screened films from all these nations and more during the same period. But my anecdotal experience tells me that, for whatever reason, YBCA seems to be better at seeing a higher proportion of their seats for such screenings filled by people whose ethnic backgrounds match that of the filmmakers.

Recently, YBCA has been especially adept at reaching out to the Bay Area's Filipino-American community. Although Harana premiered to sold-out crowds at CAAMFest this Spring, where it won the audience award, it was equally successful as part of YBCA's New Filipino Cinema series earlier this Summer, where it again won the audience award. And so the venue has brought it back this weekend to coincide with what Asianweek calls "the largest celebration of Filipino Americans in the U.S.", the annual Pistahan event at the neighboring Yerba Buena Gardens.

Upcoming YBCA screenings that should appeal to members and allies of broader cultural communities in San Francsico include Back In The Day, a pair of documentaries on African-American street artists, and La Camioneta, another doc on the dangers of public transportation in Guatemala. Hopefully the fact that Thomas Riedelsheimer's terrific documentary Touch The Sound is screening digitally means that it can be screened with subtitles in order to make the screening accessible to hearing-impaired audiences, as its focus on sound artist Evelyn Glennie make it of particular interest to Frisco Bay's thriving Deaf community.

Although all of the above should also have appeal to members of the not-quite-cultural community known as "cinephiles" as well, of course. Another September YBCA series is the four film and video works collected under the Local Boy Makes Good banner: 4 features of diverse types but all directed by longterm Frisco Bay residents, at least two of them with serious ties to local cinephilia. I don't know much about The Singularity's director Doug Wolens, other than the fact that I've long been interested in seeing his earlier film Butterfly (and will have a big-screen chance to at the Castro September 16), but I'm acquainted with Gibbs Chapman, director of mother mortar, father pestle, and Konrad Steiner, director of way. I met the Chapman through his work as a PFA projectionist, and Steiner through his involvement in putting on local screenings, most notably the wonderful but lamentably concluded (or is it just a hiatus, Konrad?) kino21 series. As for the director of Fred Lyon: Living Through the Lens, I have not personally met Michael House, who now lives in Paris, but note that his prior film The Magnificent Tati screened as part of a YBCA retrospective of the French auteur's work a few years back. The best news is that all four of these makers will be on hand for their respective screenings.

HOW: Harana was shot digitally and will screen digitally.

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