Filipino filmmaking at a crossroad
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2014 - 12:00am

Film making in the Philippines, or for that matter in most parts of the world, has never been so much interesting and fun. Thanks to the digital medium, making a film has come within reach of many aspiring directors, writers and producers.

And yet filmmaking in its many new formats, notably in the indie (for independent, as contrasted with mainstream or major film studio) category, continues to have significant financial challenges, as well as issues on content, viewership, and censorship.

The recently concluded Cinemalaya independent film festival, its 10th year under the generous stewardship of businessman Tony Boy Cojuangco, showcases not only some decidedly brilliant works but also reveals some fissures notably from organizational pressures and changing values.

A decade of not making money has reportedly become a major point of discussion between the festival executives who run the show and Tony Boy. It’s not surprising that one of the rumors emerging is the desire of the former PLDT boss to wrap up his love affair with cinema and cut his losses.

This comes conveniently at a time when two new independent film bodies – Cinema One (under the aegis of ABS-CBN) and CineFilipino (funded by ABC5) – are now also shelling out millions of pesos to support Filipino films by providing incentives and financial support to aspiring filmmakers.

Still, to say goodbye to Cinemalaya is to end a significant chapter in Filipino filmmaking especially after it has been acknowledged even by international forums for its contribution to the blossoming of the local cultural scene.

Not commercially viable

Fact is, majority of indie films are not commercially viable. Crowd drawers to movie houses remain the blockbuster Hollywood films, although there has been a decided trend of late where local cinemaphiles, especially of the younger and middle age brackets, have been enthusiastically supportive of local indies.

The Cinemalaya 10-day fest, for example, has transformed many supporters into marathon moviegoers who often watch three to five films a day or every day during the festival’s duration in a bid to catch all of the critics’ best choice.

Still, even with the addition of four movie houses chosen for their strategic locations outside of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to give other indie film supporters an alternative and more conveniently located viewing venue, there is not enough money generated from ticket sales to recoup costs.

Labor of love

For that matter, it is not only Cinemalaya that is bleeding from this film festival. It’s a known fact that many of the directors and producers who received initial funding from Cinemalaya to produce a feature film had to augment the cost of film production with their own or borrowed money.

For those films that are able to rise above the rest in terms of popularity, the investment is recovered, mainly thanks to much lower costs of digital recording, editing, lighting, sound mixing, and smaller talent fees of lesser known or new emerging actors and other professionals.

But these successful films are way too few. And with the addition of the new festivals, the ratio of exceptional versus good films just seems to rise to favor more “losers.”

It seems that Filipinos, like the rest of the English-speaking world, still prefer including such box-office hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Guardians of the Galaxy on their weekend family excursion schedules rather than an “experimental” Philippine film.


An incident on the night before the awarding ceremonies for the Cinemalaya festival raises critical questions on creative rights and film ownership. It’s unclear how the incident evolved, but it seems that the entries to the festival in 2012 and 2013 were uploaded on YouTube and the official Cinemalaya site without the consent of the concerned directors.

Harsh words were expressed by the film directors with regards the perceived transgression of creative rights, and Cinemalaya quickly issued an apology plus a withdrawal of the postings from the relevant Internet sites.

It’s an ugly scene that makes the aggrieved look like ingrates when, after having received the funds to make the film, they turn against their benefactors to bite the hand that fed them, so to speak.

On the other hand, it shows Cinemalaya as an offender that has been bullied out of proportions for the “mistake” of trying to make Filipino indie films more accessible to a wider segment of the general public.

Cinemalaya may have started with the primary objective of nurturing new artistic and creative talents in local film, but in the end, its ultimate goal should be to uplift the cultural standards of all Filipinos, most especially those who can already watch films on any channel, the freer the better.

An analogy that comes to mind is an accumulating torrent of water that finds no outlet. One of these days, indie films will just break out and be available for almost anyone who’s interested to appreciate. Today, after the film fest, you can hardly get to view the indie film even if you would want to buy a DVD.

Double whammy

On the other side of the industry spectrum, major Filipino film studios are experiencing a double whammy – from the continued deluge of Hollywood movies and to a lesser extent, the Filipino indies and low-budget Filipino full-length features.

For Filipinos who depend on mainstream film studios for their living, times are indeed tough. No wonder many of them, including relatively known actors and actresses (yes, even Nora Aunor) are accepting lower pay from these independent productions.

Admittedly, there is a gaping void that has been left unfilled by the demise of such directing icons like Lino Brocka, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Celso Ad Castillo, Eddie Romero, and many more; plus acting idols like Fernando Poe Jr. and Dolphy.

The Philippine film landscape is indeed changing, and how exactly this will mutate in the near future will be interesting to behold. Great actors, great directors will pass away. But others will be born for future generations to appreciate.

For sure, cinema – in whatever format tomorrow shapes – will survive. We just can’t resist a good movie.

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