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The seedy underworld of award-giving bodies

Seriously, this happened: Anne Curtis won a FAMAS for her jaw-dropping performance in No Other Woman.

MANILA, Philippines - It is quite strange that for a country whose movie industry is reportedly dying, the number of film award-giving bodies is actually growing. During the ‘50s, which is considered by many as the first golden age of Philippine film because of the number of films that were being produced, there was only one award that film producers aspired to. That was the FAMAS Award, a statue fashioned after the then-immaculate figure of Rosa Rosal.

Unknown to many, the FAMAS, which now populates many conversations as an idiom for anybody’s ability to cry buckets at will (“pang-FAMAS ang acting”), was actually the product of the Maria Clara Awards, then the sole award-giving body in the country, being criticized for being irrelevant, being given out only by film writers and not artisans. Even back then in the golden years, back when film was film and directors and other filmmakers were actually well-fed and well-known, there were already power struggles in the award-giving business.

Fast-forward to what is now being brashly considered as the third golden age of the Philippine film because of the proliferation of indies that now populate many international film festivals, FAMAS is now a mere shadow of its former glory. Other award-giving bodies have taken its place, grabbed its prestige, and shared in its controversies. FAMAS has been ridden with intrigues, beginning with the untimely revocation of its corporate papers by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which caused confusion and uncertainty in its leadership and more importantly, in the yearly ceremony.

The yearly ceremony is of immense importance for these award-giving bodies. The ceremony is their cash cow, their claim to fame, their members’ grand opportunity to hobnob with the stars. How else would they lure papaya and placenta soap companies to pay thousands of pesos to sponsor ridiculous awards whose only criterion is attendance? How else would they land a spot and perhaps a glittery black and white photo in the broadsheets and TV Patrol’s showbiz corner? How else can they claim relevance?

Luna, Urian, young critics circle

The Film Academy of the Philippines, an organization tasked by an actual executive order to be the umbrella organization for the various film guilds, gets into the mix with their own awards, the Luna. The Luna is, of course, the official counterpart of Hollywood’s Oscars. However, unlike the Oscars which seems to welcome and award films and filmmakers outside its sphere of influence, the Luna is predominantly an industry affair, oblivious to the achievements of the indies who are swimming at the margins of the moneymaking industry. Nominations to indie films are rare. Actual awards to indie films seem non-existent, limited to those with mainstream backing.

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The Luna’s alter-ego is the Urian. If the Luna shuns independent filmmakers because they have no clout with the guilds, the Urian seems to live in an imaginary world where only indies are shown in the malls. Mainstream films are hardly ever nominated, even for the awards covering technical craftsmanship, which is admittedly the Achilles’ heel of the indies, as professed by many write-ups circulating in the Net.

The Urian, however, is really a private affair and their decisions are reflective not of the pulse of the masses but of the individual politics and taste of the members. A quick look at any year’s roster of nominations would reveal surprises that would raise accusations of lack of taste and abundance of liberties. Perhaps the most glaring of the accusations would be that the members of the Manunuri have become so out of touch with what is current, they no longer watch films in the theaters and only wait for screeners to reach their lap. Despite the accusations, the Urian remains the country’s most believable awards. Whether or not they are now only riding on the prestige of what was a very glorious past is really another question.

The Young Critics’ Circle, the younger (although not-so-young, really) counterpart of the Manunuri, revels in the boldness of their choices. They limit their pickings to a very few films and they give out their awards to what seems to be the most obscure nominee. It is all good, considering the fact that the most satisfying role of critics is not to tell the people what should be watched but to champion a criminally ignored gem. However, very little is written and read. The awards given out by the critics’ groups are lazy counterparts to actual writing. Instead of coming out with an article explaining the merits of a little-seen film, everything is summed up in two insignificant words: Best Picture.

Star Awards vs. Golden Screen

Then there are the awards given out by the press, the Star Awards and the Golden Screen Awards, again, a break-away group. The Star Awards gives a separate prize for indies, in their effort to bring awareness to the marginalized film sector. However, the name of those awards (Best Movie of the Year, Digital Movie Director of the Year, etc.) only exposes their cluelessness about filmmaking. Interestingly, they also have the most categories, probably in an effort to please and brush the egos of the most number of moneyed film producers, performers, and craftsmen. The awards only confirm that the press commits to what it does best: to gravitate towards the glitz and glamour and be satisfied as subservient stooges of the industry.

Last year, the Philippines produced a number of Best Pictures. The Urian crowned Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa. The YCC lauded Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Haruo. The Golden Screens were given to Marlon Rivera’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank and Loy Arcenas’ Nino. The Star Awards, The FAMAS, the Luna, and the Star Awards were unanimous in awarding Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story. The Star Awards Digital Movie of the Year is Paul Soriano’s Thelma. It has become sordidly confusing, really.

In Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (which got nominated by the Urian), Peque Gallaga summarized the practical value of these awards, given the fact that they raise the artists’ value and give them a little bit more attention, comfort and pay. However, with the various ulterior motives of the award-giving bodies themselves, the controversies and the accusations, the criticisms, the surprises and snobs, do these awards still matter: to the producers and employers, who are struggling to make money in a market that is fascinated with Hollywood? To the public, who are more interested in who won Star of the Night, or best-dressed, or best smile? To the historians, who will eventually think there are just too many of these awards for them to make a dent in the timeline of Philippine cinema? There are just too many questions to answer, so I suggest, we just sit back, relax, and enjoy the circus.

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