Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Metro Manila Film Farce (1)
January 8, 2008, 12:59 am
Filed under: festivals, philippine cinema | Tags:

Written in January 2004, for the now defunct

Reinvigorating Philippine Cinema:
The Possibilities of the Metro Manila Film Festival

Audiences and industry folk alike have long been preaching the death of Philippine cinema. We gaze back fondly through sepia shades and smile at the glory of our past, shake and scratch our heads lamenting over our pathetic present, and blink and miss opportunities to improve our future.

The Metro Manila Film Festival is a great idea to support the local film industry. It reserves the time of year when most people are able to enjoy days of leisure, and allows only locally-produced films to be shown in commercial theaters. At the same time, it stages a “Film Festival,” a term that carries with it the connotation of presenting films of a higher-than-normal quality, and supposedly highlights our best works, bestowing them with awards and showcasing them: allowing the films to humor, move, teach, challenge, identify with and unite the county in a celebration of art and the best of what the Filipino is capable of.

The Metro Manila Film Festival is a great idea to support the local film industry.

Unfortunately, it is only an idea.

As it exists today, the Metro Manila Film Festival accomplishes all of the above– reserves the Christmas season for a display of local works, stages a “Film Festival,” and gives out awards. What is lacking, however– sorely, painfully, sadly— is the driving desire to show quality films.

The decision of whether a film will or will not be accepted into the Metro Manila Film Festival is made all the way back in July, usually before even a single frame of film for ANY of the projects to be considered has been shot.

If shooting of the film has not yet begun, how then, one might ask, are the films chosen? Based on the script?

If the script has been written, yes.

But what if, as of July, there is no script– as was the case with Regal Films entry Mano Po 2?

Why, no matter, simply submit an outline of the plot.

And if there is no plot yet?

Umm… a list of the cast will be fine.

And if the entire cast has not yet been confirmed?

A proposed list will do just as well.

Are you beginning to see the inanity of it all?

What would happen, if, say, the announced director of a project drops out, and the submitted script; the script that the selection committee read and was the basis for the film’s inclusion (and ranking) in the festival, is completely re-written? This was the case with one of 2003’s MMFF entries, Captain Barbell: Quark Henares dropped out as director, and the original script written by Lyndon Santos and Ramon De Veyra that was approved by the Metro Manila Film Fest was re-written by RJ Nuevas beyond any semblance of its former self.

Would not this illicit a second look by the selection committee? Would it not warrant an investigation into whether the film still merited its slot (and ranking) in the festival?

As this year’s festival’s selection committee made apparent: No. Captain Barbell stayed in the festival without so much as a peep or raised eyebrow from the selection committee, nor, heaven forbid, a read-through of the new script or preview of the film beforehand.

What exactly is the criterion for the selection of films into the MMFF? Director Joey Romero, a member of the screening committee, broke it down in a December 13 article that appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: creativity and style, 50 %; commercial viability, 30%; and exemplifying Filipino culture and history, 20%.


Before anything else, let us remember that the selection committee makes their choices, at most, based on the script. Sometimes, as has been outlined above, the decision is made based on much less than that. Disregarding the idiocy of the film’s script being the final arbiter of its inclusion in a Film Festival, let alone a script that is often radically changed before, during, and after shooting, but to judge a film’s CREATIVITY AND STYLE, or COMMERCIAL VIABILITY, based on its script?! A film is not the equivalent of a book of prose– audiences don’t read it; they see and hear it, and creativity and style in the written form don’t necessarily translate to creativity and style on the big screen.

The MMFF is a great idea to support the local film industry. But in order to turn that idea into a reality, some serious changes need to be made.

Imagine a December festival done properly: one that, for example, chose to bring back the best films of the past year, chosen after viewing the finished film, not the cast list, not the plot, not the first draft of the script. Imagine a festival that awarded the acclaimed but overlooked films of the past year, such as Maryo J. Delos Reyes’s Magnifico, Quark Henares’s Keka, Mario O’Hara’s Babae sa Breakwater, or even Lav Diaz’s Singapore and Brussels Film Festival Best Film awardee Batang West Side of 2 years ago (a film that has received awards and been screened in numerous prestigious film festivals abroad, but which until now has never seen a commercial release in the Philippines), and re-released and re-introduced them to local audiences.

Imagine a festival that dared to do something as radical yet practical as encourage and promote our young and courageous independent filmmakers, artists like Khavn Dela Cruz, RA Rivera, Ditsi Carolino, Ramona Diaz, Sari and Kiri Dalena, and Raymond and Jon Red (to name but a few), by showing their works theatrically, either before a film or in combination as a feature in itself, introducing them to Philippine audiences.

What if, perhaps, 2 or 3 classic films were chosen each year to be shown during the festival, to re-introduce to Philippine audiences young and old the important works of our cultural history?

What we would have, then, is a breeding ground for the education of our audience towards our cinema’s past, a display of the absolute best of its present, and a harvest of the seeds of its future.

Having a festival where a prime consideration for a film’s acceptance or rejection is its “commercial viability,” is utterly ridiculous. Without getting into the argument over the selection committee’s mystical methodology for determining a work’s “commercial viability” (based simply on the reading of a cast list, plot, or even script) it is safe to say that this should not even be of concern to the festival organizers. Choosing the best possible films should be their main concern, as making the best possible films should be the concern of the filmmakers. The audience is there– the responsibility in a festival such as this does not lie in showing them what we believe they want to see, but simply showing the absolute best of what we have to offer.

The Metro Manila Festival is a good idea for a way to support the local film industry. But without a drastic overhaul in regard to its implementation, it will remain simply an idea.

Alexis Tioseco awaits the death of Philippine cinema with optimism.

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