Sunday, November 24, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORT | Lav Diaz Film for Bonifacio Day + FilCom's fundraiser for typhoon victims in Tacloban


NEW YORK |  November 30 is a public holiday in the Philippines. Why? It is the day Andres Bonifacio, the de facto national hero of the Philippines, was born.

The "official" national hero, as was designed by the Americans, is Jose P. Rizal. Bonifacio founded the Katipunan movement which sought armed independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine revolution.

Many advocates consider Bonifacio to be the "real" first President, although he is not recognized as such in the history books. The reasons are too complex for a blog post to unearth. Suffice it to say that the more popular recognition of Rizal as the Philippine national hero has no explicit legal designation in Philippine law. As a consequence of our colonial past, my native country officially celebrates two holidays in memory of two national heroes: Jose Rizal, the more famous patriot, and Andres Bonifacio, the underground hero.

I would like to invite you to the Philippine Consulate General of New York's 150th anniversary of the birth of Andres Bonifacio. The Consulate originally scheduled it for December 2, but then it moved it up to Tuesday November 26 to coincide with a Friends of FilCom fundraiser to benefit the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in central Philippines.

FilCom stands for the Filipino American Communities of the Northeast. The Consulate is hosting a simple reception for this fundraiser, with the Bonifacio Day celebration as the evening's entertainment. The Consulate will update the New York community of the developments of the typhoon, relief efforts, government and international aid. That is the first part of the evening. Donations to the fundraiser, as the flyer above states, will go to the Philippine Jesuit Foundation.

The evening's second part (the entertainment) will consist of a poetry recital, a life account reading by the actor Debralee Daco (HERE LIES LOVE), and a film screening of an austere short film by Lav Diaz, one of the greatest Philippine film auteurs of all time.

I will deliver a performative recital of a poem written by Andres Bonifacio. The wonderful actor Debralee Daco will interpret the role of Gregoria De Jesus, the wife of Bonifacio. Daco will read from De Jesus's autobiography, an account of her life with her husband.

Both the poem and the Daco's reading from De Jesus's autobiography function as contextual material for the evening's film screening: a 30-minute short film, Prologue to the Great Desaparecido. It is Lav Diaz's introduction to his most important upcoming feature film The Great Desaparecido which questions truth and history around Philippine Revolution and Philippine Independence.

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido

In Prologue to the Great Desaparecido, we find Gregoria De Jesus searching for the body of Bonifacio in the mountains for 30 days. She calls for Bonifacio. She calls for the spirits even to help find her husband. It has been 325 years that the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule when the Revolution, led by Bonifacio, exploded on August 21, 1896. On May 9, 1987, Bonifacio was charged with a death sentence by counter revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino general who later appointed himself the first President of the Philippines.*

Seen in light of the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, Gregoria De Jesus's search for her husband's in the mountains strikes me as deeply relevant in light of the search of Haiyan/Yolanda survivors for their own loved ones.

All this said, Debralee and I wish this evening will nevertheless be enlightening, edifying and in aesthetic terms entertaining. We also hope it will serve as a prologue to Lav Diaz's Prologue.

Lav Diaz, you see, is considered "the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema.” He began directing in the Philippine commercial film industry in the 1990's. But he received greater attention for films with clearly independent, socially conscious and artistic intentions such as Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcyon and Hesus Rebolusyonaryo.

After leaving the industry, Diaz sought to create his cinema on his own terms. Like the Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, Diaz's reputation rests on path-finding epic films. Beginning with the five hour Batang Westside in 2001 which won the Best Asian Feature at the 2002 Singapore International Film Festival -- followed by later films (such as the landmark near 11-hour Evolution of a Filipino Family, the nine-hour Heremias Book 1, Death in the Land of the Encantos and the seven-hour Melancholia (2008 Venice International Film Festival New Horizons Best Film) -- Diaz has used his long-form cinema to question the very nature of cinematic time and space.

His films also makes us aware of the inherently commercial nature of film-making. Most importantly, the very un-commercial nature of his body of work raise the notion of cinema as a possible tool for involvement, investigation, mourning, healing, remembrance, meditation, confrontation and action for his fellow Filipinos.

Please RSVP to

Prologue to the Great Desaparecido

*Footnote: Historians have condemned the killing of Bonifacio as unjust. Bonifacio did pose as a threat to the Revolution, because a split in the rebel forces would have resulted in almost certain defeated to a united front against the Spaniards. But historians have noted that the trial of Bonifacio was politically rigged. The Cavite leaders, led by Aguinaldo, wanted to wrest control of the Revolution from Bonifacio who exerted a spiritual reign. In other words, he had to be eliminated. Class played a significant role too. Aguinaldo represented the upper class and Bonifacio the middle and lower classes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TYPHOON RELIEF EFFORTS | In Brooklyn, a Bayanihan Spirit benefit (Nov. 21) and a Sunday brunch fundraiser (Nov. 24)

NEW YORK CITY | It was inevitable: Hundreds of people and organizations around the world have stepped up to the plate to offer their services and aid to the Philippine victims of super Typhoon Haiyan. The deadly cyclone killed more than 3,600 people, and many more have been left struggling to overcome the destruction that was left in the typhoon’s wake.

The deluge of benefits, fundraisers and international pleas for donation comes with it a major problem: finding a reputable group that can get the supplies to the people who need them.

Sending cash directly to people in the area isn’t as helpful, since there’s nothing they can buy. But if you’re able to donate, the most important way to help right now is with a cash donation to a vetted relief organization. While medical supplies, food water and clothing are still in scarce supply, it’s very difficult to get the hard materials collected and then delivered and distributed there.

If you want to donate or help promote a fundraiser, the first order of business is to uncover where the money is going to. Is that humanitarian group or charity actually on the ground in the Philippines?

An NGO, the US Philippine Society ( has a veted list of relief organizations - $40 can feed a family of 5 for a week.

Gawad Kalinga USA ( is another relief organization with collection and distribution systems, was identified by the NY Times, and has a history of doing this work. They’ve already distributed 60,000 food packs and aim to provide another 200,000 packs in the next 2 weeks.

The next step is to figure out if there is a crack in the system. Are there specific needs, voiced by Philippine victims (antibiotics and other med packs, for example), that are not being served by the overwhelmingly institutionalized support mechanism?

As someone who has received tons of emails announcing their own relief efforts, I'd like to call attention to two benefits for which I have already voiced my support. For convenience's sake, I will start out with a brief summary here, followed down below by longer descriptions.


Hosted by the Filipino American Museum in association with more than 30 New York organizations, including Filipino Mundo-NYC.

Tickets are $10. The event takes place at GALAPAGOS ART SPACE, 16 Main Street,  Brooklyn, New York 11201. Tickets are available at

All proceeds for this Thursday November 21st benefit starting at 8:00 pm will go to National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). To learn more about NAFCON USA, visit

See the line-up of performers below.


NOVEMBER 24, Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm at Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn

$40 brunch!

Featuring dishes by Chefs Romy Dorotan, King Phojanakong, Perry Mamaril and Pancho Gatchalian.


RSVPs are suggested! Call 718-940-8118. Or email

This past Sunday, November 17th, Purple Yam Restaurant in Brooklyn raised $7,615 for Gawad Kalinga USA.


FAM (Filipino American Museum)'s 


Thursday, Nov 21 2013 8:00 pm
Please join FAM (Filipino American Museum) for a night of BAYANIHAN SPIRIT
to raise funds to benefit Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.

Thursday, November 21, 2013, 8PM at

16 Main Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Tickets $10

Emcee: Miss Info, HOT 97

The line-up of performers is terrific. View it at or

For more information, here are the social media outlets.
Twitter @famnewyorkcity
Instagram @famnewyorkcity

Filipino Mundo-NYC is honored to be a community partner of Bayanihan Spirit.


NOVEMBER 24, Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm
at Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn
$40 brunch!
Featuring dishes by Chefs Romy Dorotan, King Phojanakong, Perry Mamaril and Pancho Gatchalian.

RSVPs are suggested! Call 718-940-8118. Or email

As it happens, Amy Besa, one of the owners of Purple Yam Restaurant, is presently in the Philippines. She has been organizing dinners in Manila as well.

On November 17, Besa posted on her Facebook Page:
Some thoughts percolating around here. After the relief work to provide food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, medical needs of the survivors of typhoon Yolanda, some forward thinking people are now looking at ways to help the displaced refugees esp those here in Manila. Chefs like Theodore Day Salonga are suggesting helping provide jobs within the restaurant industry. Ginny Roces-de Guzman is suggesting city vegetable gardening esp utilizing the skills of displaced farmers. 
Since my advocacy is establishing community kitchens where they are needed, I hope we can transform what Tricia Tensuan's Enderun Community Drive's efforts to feed the refugees at Villamor Base into some form of a community kitchen for those who need it. We need to look for more long-term solutions to the problems that Yolanda created.  
Proceeds from tonight's (Nov 17) dinner at Gustare and tomorrow night's (Nov 18) at XO46 will go to these efforts to provide water to communities down south and to help feed the refugees at Villamor Base.
Together, we can re-build this country! Tulong tulong tayong lahat para sa kinabukasan ng bansa! 

To give context, to date 11.8 million people have been affected compared to 3 million people in Haiti’s Hurricane; 12,000 people have been injured, 921,000 people displaced from their homes.

The UN has estimated that $3M in cash is needed immediately for basic rebuilding of homes and essential buildings (hospitals, schools, etc.). International appeals have brought in 19 percent of that amount – primarily from the business sector. Asia Citibank turned over all of one day’s profit to relief, JP Morgan is matching employee donations up to $250,000. Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross are providing medical support and other governments have donated food and water.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ON CÉLINE DION | Music commentary for Le Journal de Montréal in Canada

QUEBEC |  Canadian journalist Raphaél Gendron-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal interviewed me about my views on the release of Céline Dion's new album Loved Me Back to Life. It was her first English-language studio album since Taking Chances in 2007, so naturally it's big news.

Raphaél published a thoughtful and well-researched article, in which he interviewed various members of the English-language media (including Robin Leach).

I very much enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album. Scroll down to read the complete text of the interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaél's «Le retour d’une valeur sûre» article appeared in French on November 6, 2013 in the Canadian publication. It was subtitled «Les médias étrangers saluent l’arrivée d’un nouvel album de Céline». 

See more at

I was happy to help Gendron-Martin, who charmingly tweeted his article as soon as it was published online.

To prepare his article, Raphaël asked me these questions:
  • What's the importance of a new Celine Dion's album in today's industry?
  • How can Celine Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
  • When you hear the name "Celine Dion" today, what do you first think of?
  • How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
It turns out that Raphaël is quite an expert on Céline Dion, as evidenced by this tweet where he is writing at a junket while surrounded by Céline's glamorous photos.
As is often the case, I offered the U.S. perspective on cultural matters, just as I recently offered an Irish radio the U.S. perspective on the conviction of Bradley Manning.

In «Le retour d’une valeur sûre», Raphaël quoted me as saying:
Selon Randy Gener, critique new-yorkais pour Critical Stages et ­ancien contributeur du New York Daily News, l’arrivée d’un nouvel album pour Céline Dion apportera de la nouveauté au public qui ne pense à elle que pour ses spectacles à Las Vegas et pour les reprises du Titanic à la télévision. 
«La question est maintenant de voir si sa réputation sera suffisante pour créer du profit dans une industrie maintenant dominée par les ­extravagances de Lady Gaga ou encore un rappeur coréen. L’image de Céline dépend entièrement de sa merveilleuse voix. Mais je me ­demande si ce sera assez pour se traduire en immense succès de vente pour l’album.»
Man, he made me sound so trenchant!

Raphaël was courteous and professional. I am thrilled that he got a cover story for his work. That's super-cool.

Like I said, I enjoyed being interviewed about Céline for this French-language Canadian newspaper. I did actually say a lot more about her and her new album, so I am posting here the entire interview I gave Le Journal de Montréal.

Raphaël G.-Martin of Le Journal de Montréal: What's the importance of a new Céline Dion's album in today's industry?
RG: Céline Dion has not released an English-language album in six years. "Loved Me Back to Life" is going to be a novelty in an entertainment industry that has relegated her to Las Vegas concerts at Caesars Palace and the occasional TV re-run of the movie Titanic. The question is whether Céline's brand of talent will ultimately make a huge profit in a music industry where wild Lady Gaga-like antics or Korean rappers on YouTube typically make a big splash on the top 10 list. Celine's image depends entirely on her golden voice, and I have to wonder whether that will be enough to make her album a huge success.

-How can Céline Dion be still relevant compared to the other pop artists?
Have you noticed that pop stars do not just sing anymore? Lady Gaga sang her new song on a London stage while completely naked. Miley Cyrus, the nasty little twerker who shouldn't, exploits Twitter to post photos of herself sticking her tongue out and proclaiming her promiscuity.

In Brazil, Justin Bieber has been visiting brothels in between performances where people throw water bottles at him. Courtney Love revealed her drug addiction problem in a magazine because she wants to make a comeback. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono act more like politicians than rock stars; they use their music as a platform where they score political points. Madonna recently packaged her latest song inside a short film and a free speech web project.

When you compare Céline to these pop artists, you would not be so far off if you thought she were a nun! She has a stable home life. Her French albums kick ass in the French market and sell very well. She's not a songwriter, so she's an interpreter of songs. She's a mother. She does not smoke. She does not do drugs. She does not drink. She always thanks her husband and her family. Maria the nun in The Sound of Music was a bigger troublemaker than Celine. She's from another planet of Music Star.

-When you hear the name "Céline Dion" today, what do you first think of?
As a Broadway critic in New York, I always put a great premium on a singer/entertainer's sound. The golden voice that comes out of her just wins me over, no matter how overly cutesy her image has become and how shockingly thin her body looks and how mannered her vocal style can be when she sings. She has a powerful voice that is beautiful to listen to. Nobody can take that away from her.

-How do you think being "permanently" in Las Vegas had changed her career compared to a touring artist?
Céline minted herself as a different kind of star by being permanently in Las Vegas. If you want to hear her sing in person, you have to go to her. She does not have to go to you. That's a game changer, a real testament to how she has positioned herself in an orbit that is closer to the genuine old-fashioned pop artists of the previous century like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr.

Of course, Céline is also selling spectacle by staying rooted to Las Vegas. But she does not have to constantly trick out or twerk her ass or do nasty attention-getting antics, the way other touring artists do. An argument could be made that she has become a kind of singing statue: that she runs the risk of becoming a too-comfortable, immovable fixture in Las Vegas. She attracts an older demographic of audiences, for example. I bet it is difficult for her theatrical collaborators to stage her in every new Las Vegas concert just because there is a level of out-sized spectacle that people have come to expect from her Las Vegas shows. The challenge is always to re-design the spectacular effects in ways that do not overpower her singing voice.

I have heard some tracks from her new album, "Loved Me Back to Life." The voice I heard there is practically difficult to recognize. It's stripped down, almost pure in its sound, restrained, elegant, more beautifully controlled. Going this direction is quite likely the logical next artistic step for a pop icon who has become so closely associated with a certain level of Las Vegas spectacle.

That's where my interview ends.

BONUS FOR DION FANS:  Two days after the Le Journal de Montreal article was published, on Friday, November 8, Céline showcased her excellent Loved Me Back To Life with an intimate gig at New York’s Edison Ballroom.

See her wow the fans and music critics with a resonant rendition of the album’s Sia-penned title track in this YouTube recording of her live performance: