“ In the early days my child, there used to be Filipino Movies. Really. We used to have a festival then called the Metro Manila Film Festival where for at least ten days beginning Christmas , the theaters were screening great Filipino movies and many people watched. Some people even watched all the entries and even made bets on who will win Best Picture. We had awards nights that were filled with glamour and controversies because there were so many good films then that people were debating on who really deserved to win best film. Until one day, the mayors who were organizing the festival thought ‘We need to earn more money. Producers should not focus on making good films , they should just focus on profit! Period. And the only way we can make that happen is to make this festival a contest on who makes the most money…and design a good float alongside for the parade. The movie that earns the most money will win Best Film. So the people making the movies made films that were mediocre to lower production cost, add gazillion of special effects from Bangkok and hoped that eventually it will make a lot of money. Now remember, these Filipino Films were not competing against Spiderman or Hollywood Pirate movies. They were competing… among themselves. They tried to outspend each other until the producers didn’t have money left and people got tired of watching their sequels. Eventually, they destroyed each other in the process until there were no more Filipino films left.”
- a future conversation between the author and his grandchild
Edu Manzano’s closing remarks as host of the recent Metro Manila Film Festival proclaimed that Philippine Cinema is now ready for the world! Perhaps , he was reading from a prompter then and when eyebrows were raised wondering why Enteng Kabisote won Best Picture, Manzano explained that one criterion was “ commercial viability” which accounts to 40% of the total score. With this year’s MMFF Best Picture standard, are we really ready for the world?
Let’s backtrack a few decades and see what’s the MMFF’s raison d’etre. The late Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas set-up the Manila Film Festival to showcase the best of Philippine cinema . It was made even bigger when in 1975 it changed its name to Metro Manila Film Festival and opened on December 25 and run till the New Year. By law, only these Filipino Films are allowed to be screened during this festival.
Through the years, the festival introduced great classics like Ganito Kami Noon Paano Kayo Ngayon, Himala ,Kisapmata,Bulaklak ng City Jail, Karnal, Jose Rizal ,etc. to the Filipinos and eventually-to the world.
In 2003, my first feature Crying Ladies won Best Film on that year’s MMFF. . The judges then included some of the Who’s Who in the field of Cinema and the academe. It was a competitive year . Jeffrey Jeturian’s Bridal Shower ,and Joel Lamangan’s Filipinas were all equally good films. The standards were high and I’m proud that we worked hard to reach that standard. As a result of that best picture award ,Crying Ladies was our country’s representative to the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Sadly, if we were to enter Crying Ladies to the recent MMFF , we would probably win nothing. I wonder which film will represent the Philippines to the next Oscars. This year’s MMFF Best Film ,perhaps?
Enteng Kabisote has already reaped its reward as a commercial film on the first day it opened. It has been rewarded every year in the box-office. It does not need another award. It’s like giving an award to Bill Gates for being the richest man again this year. Orly Ilacad’s (Enteng’s producer) statement that every producer believes that their film is the best film , and with the 2007’s MMFF criteria, they truly deserve all the awards that they got. Except that it’s the only award that they got. The Best Film of the festival did not win anything else. No acting ,story, social values or technical award.
If we’ll look at all the film festivals’ rules on judging the Best Film ,you will never see a criterion called Commercial Viability (add Global Appeal to that ) ,not even in the Oscars.
It gets even more bizarre when MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando defends the criteria by saying that this film festival is for commercial films and if the filmmakers want to make art films they should enter their films in festivals abroad. Abroad? Why then does the MMFF still aspire for the world? Are they dreaming of Philippines being the next Korea in world cinema? Korean cinema grew because it made good films not because it made commercial films.
Again, the MMFF organizers will say that the criteria for Best Film is stated in the MMFF Guidelines when the producers applied to be considered in the Magic 8 (or 9? Or 10? These numbers too change annually). However, when a producer applies to the MMFF , all that he or she dreams is to be considered in the list. It is difficult enough to be considered- what more if they question the fine print rules in the guidelines. It’s painful to be told -Kung ayaw mo, di huwag kang sumali!
One veteran master director once told me that the MMFF is a festival run by politicians and its objective is to raise money for the local government. According to him , we filmmakers, should learn to accept this and keep our hopes low if we join . The MMDA create the rules in their own game.
What is the point of having awards then? Let’s make something like a newspaper drive where the class that collects the most newspapers gets a cheap plaque. Let us not strive anymore to make good films .And like prostitutes, lets just work our asses hard to get the most customers by doing tricks.
Ironically, the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) ,the government agency that encourages filmmakers to make better films by giving tax incentives to high graded films ,becomes inutile during Metro Manila Festival . A-graded films still need to pay the amusement tax in full. This tax (30%) is the local government’s keep. The more a film earns ,the more the MMDA profits. And rather than giving the top-grosser a tax incentive , they just give them a trophy instead . If box-office gross equates to a good film (or Best Film), I dare the MMDA give the 2006 Best Film a tax break.
Each MMFF ends with its share of controversies and predictions of the film industry’s demise. This year is , however, we can be more accurate when Philippine Cinema will die. The MMFF has already pulled the plug. Greed is good, perhaps , but greed kills.