Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Journalism vs. Criticism
March 15, 2009, 3:36 am
Filed under: philippine cinema

Since I started writing fairly regularly for Philippines Free Press late last year, I’ve began to be of two minds about the importance of film journalism as opposed to film criticism in the Philippine setting. A local independent filmmaker whose films don’t do much for me once chastised me saying that I “should be documenting more what’s happening in the scene”, and that “yes, the filmmakers you’ve blessed [by this I believe he meant written about] are getting attention internationally, but what about the rest?”. I responded, with a degree of indignation, no doubt tinged by the ridiculous use of the word “blessed”, by saying that there were broadly speaking three types of writing on film in the Philippines: reporting, journalism, and criticism. The first simply announces what has happened (“film x won an award in a Marine Film Festival!”), the second, at least in our local context, will do the same but perhaps include some minor additional research or a quote (“film x won an award in an Marine Film Festival, the first and only Marine festival in Asia. the director had this to say about the experience “[insert quote gushing with pride]”, the third, which I claimed for myself at the time, was the space of criticism, which I said was attempting to discuss the films themselves as works of art, and championed the need for this kind of writing on cinema in the Philippines given how little of it there was here.

As I’ve attempted to write criticism on a more frequent basis, I’ve come to realize the importance of good film journalism as a starting point on which criticism can stand. Without intelligent film journalism being written, each piece of criticism will almost necessitate a degree of greater contextualization before the criticism proper can begin; something extremely difficult to do especially when space is limited. Do we have good film journalism in the Philippines? I don’t think anyone of half a mind would say yes without twitching. Under the classification of reporting and journalism there are a host of familiar names of varying, often diminishing, levels of quality: Ruben Nepales, Marinel Cruz, Bayani San Diego, sometimes filmmakers like Rica Arevalo, and worse, old timers like Nestor Torre who writes mostly about things he has a vested interest in — (count the number of articles he’s written about Cinemalaya vs. Cinema One Originals to verify this). And this is just the staff of one newspaper.  Proof of the problem? How are audiences to understand the value of a particular recognition bestowed upon a film for example, when you have news of Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos or Melancholia winning prizes in the Orizzonti section of the prestigious Venice Film Festival receiving less space and attention than Adolf Alix Jr.’s Donsol winning in an Asian Marine Film Festival? This is a problem, and to the innocent reader it can be very misleading. What we have, ultimately, is a cinema of the press, where reporters and journalists rarely seek out stories or are discerning in their coverage,  instead using what’s handed to them. A virtual competition for number of free printed press releases ensues, which only encourages filmmakers to put more effort into their PR than they do to their pre-production.

If I was in another country with a healthier quality of film journalism I probably wouldn’t think  twice about the choice between the two. I enjoy more and find more challenging the writing of criticism. I learn more from it. But I’m beginning to feel the need for intelligent, informed film journalism, and am beginning to feel some responsibility to write it. To follow are a few more journalistic pieces written for Philippines Free Press and elsewhere.

A side note — a few local writers on cinema worth reading:
Richard Bolisay (Lilok Pelikula)
Francis Oggs Cruz (Lessons from the School of Inattention)
Dodo Dayao (Piling Piling Pelikula)

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