Filipino Indie Films

Must-Watch Filipino Indie Films

Holly | March 28, 2017

Filipino indie films just aren’t the thing for Pinoys. Look up the highest-grossing films in the Philippines and you’ll find a list of big-budget comedy and romantic drama movies. Well, it doesn’t really come as a surprise, considering these movies are backed by the country’s top production and distribution companies.

But behind the record-breaking fame is the fact that these films have received criticism for their clichéd story line and predictable plot. While they give people a good laugh over smart jokes, these films don’t give people thoughts to ponder on or an important lesson to learn. The stories simply aren’t fresh.

This is where the edge of Filipino indie films lies.

After the success of the 2014 independent film That Thing Called Tadhana, people started to appreciate what low-budget movies have to offer. More indie films gained attention, which it so deserves as these movies tell stories people have never heard of.

If you have yet to discover the gem that is Filipino independent film industry, we prepared a list of the best ones ever released. Time to get the box of popcorn ready!

5 Filipino Indie Films You Need to Watch Before You Die

Bwaya, 2014

Filipino indie films

With a title that literally means “crocodile,” Bwaya tells the true-to-life story of a 12-year-old girl from Agusan del Sur who was attacked to death by a saltwater crocodile.

Having lived with the floras and faunas in the marshlands of Agusan for years, the Manobos, a Filipino tribe, vow not to exploit the environment, even offering sacrifices to the deities and the crocodiles in the marshlands, a practice they have been observing for a long time.

But after news about a young girl named Rowena getting attacked by a crocodile breaks out, things take an unexpected turn.

Directed by late filmmaker Francis Xavier Pasion, Bwaya received critical acclaim with people praising the way the film reveals the saddening truth about life in marginalized areas. At the 2014 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, Bwaya was named best film under the New Breed category.

Mga Kuwentong Barbero, 2013

Barber’s Tales

Starring comedienne Eugene Domingo in one of her most iconic portrayals to date, Mga Kwentong Barbero (Barber’s Tales) focuses on the life of a woman named Marilou (Domingo) and her quest to draw in more customers to her barber shop.

Marilou is married to a barber, who runs the town’s sole barber shop. After he died, Marilou is forced to take over the job as she has no other way to make ends meet. Unfortunately, attracting customers is hard for the widow. But things change when she meets Rosa, a prostitute at a town brothel.

Definitely one of the most recognized Filipino indie films, Mga Kwentong Barbero was screened at the 2013 Tokyo International Film Festival where Domingo won the Best Actress award. It also competed at the 2014 Asian Film Awards and Udine Far East Film Festival, where the film earned Best Actress and Audience Award nominations, respectively.

Transit, 2013


A tear-jerking film about family and sacrifices, Transit marked the rise of rookie director Hannah Espia in the filmmaking industry.

The 2013 independent movie talks about Moises (Ping Medina), a single father working as a caregiver in Israel. When the Israeli government passes a law that wants children of immigrant workers deported to their home country, Moises takes drastic measures just to hide his son from the immigration police.

Transit was highly praised for its direction and the actors’ brilliant performance. The film won a total of nine awards during the 2014 Cinemalaya Film Festival. Its accolades include the Best Actress award for Irma Adlawan, Best Director for Espia, Best Supporting Actress award for Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, and Special Jury Citation for Best Acting Ensemble. At the same ceremony, Transit was named Best Film under the New Breed selection.

Although it didn’t make it to the final list of nominees, Transit was the Philippines’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, following the footsteps of many other Filipino independent films considered for the prestigious award.

Ekstra, 2013


Philippines’s Star for All Seasons, Vilma Santos, is a background actress for the first time in Ekstra.

Santos plays the role of Loida, a bit player. The film revolves around her life as an extra in TV shows, starring alongside the country’s top small-screen actors. Although she has only landed small acting jobs in dramas, Loida continues to hope that one day, she’ll get her much-wanted break.

Critically acclaimed for how it presented the struggles background actors face, Ekstra took home the Best Screenplay and the Audience Choice awards during the 2013 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Vilma Santos also won the Best Actress award at the same event.

Heneral Luna, 2015

Heneral Luna

This period film created quite the buzz when it was first released in cinemas in 2015—and for all the good reasons.

Heneral Luna revolves around Gen. Antonio Luna’s (John Arcilla) struggles as he fights for his country’s freedom. Having witnessed everything the Philippines has gone through in the hands of the Spaniards until it was taken over by Americans, General Luna wants the Filipinos to, for once, try to break free from foreign forces invading the country. But the patriotic soldier is stuck in a difficult situation when he finds himself battling against the people he never thought would be his enemy: his own countrymen.

Directed by Jerrold Tarog, Heneral Luna was well-received by critics and audiences alike. The film was all over the news and definitely the most talked-about movie on social media in 2015. Its popularity was further evidenced by its high ticket sales. The film earned a total of ₱256 million from an ₱80 million budget, making it the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time.

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