On leave from cinema evaluation
BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2020 - 12:00am

During a dinner at the Manila Polo Club in early March hosted by the board chair, there was talk that the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino may have their films graded by CEB, by which time in September incentives to the best films therein will likely be given. Run by the FDCP, the Pista like the Metro filmfest dominates the local cineplexes during its weeklong run.

Ever since the Supreme Court decision late last year abolishing the amusement tax for Philippine movies, the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) has been in a kind of limbo. The CEB grades films A — entitled to 100 percent rebate of the tax — or B, around two-thirds rebate.

The ruling, which effectively junked a previous appeal thus making it final, came out on the last day of screening of Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entries, but Culion, the box-office tail-ender of the festival, went on with its review and got an A, even if after the fact it was all academic.

The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), which oversees the CEB, through its chair assured the board that it was in itself not yet abolished, and that it would go on, even if reviews would now come few and far between because funding has to be sourced to give incentives to films in case these get good ratings “for prestige”.

Yet there’s a saying that you can’t eat prestige. So for the third month running, the board has not previewed any films, which state of suspended animation is not likely to change in the near term.

This comes a month before the launch of the first Summer Metro filmfest which runs right after Holy Week, brainchild of a neophyte senator. Indeed, if the holiday festival has been so successful, why not have a counterpart during the hot and dry months when people may find comfort in the air-conditioned theaters.

During a dinner at the Manila Polo Club in early March hosted by the board chair, there was talk that the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino may have their films graded by CEB, by which time in September incentives to the best films therein will likely be given. Run by the FDCP, the Pista like the Metro filmfest dominates the local cineplexes during its weeklong run.

The Pista a couple of years ago ran into some controversy when a couple of films handpicked by the council screening committee failed to get a grade, making a former council chair remark was this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing? To the credit of the council and the board, both have tried to maintain some semblance of independence if not autonomy from each other, and that protracted loggerheads was best proof of the adage “agreeing to disagree”.

Looking at it now on hindsight and with accompanying detachment, those no grades were some of the best publicity the fiesta, which will run its fourth edition this year, ever had. The two films had no rebate, but the publicity they got was unquantifiable and raised more interest in watching them. I had written that the minority believed that the films in contention deserved at least a B if not A, but that is all water under the bridge.

What to say but cinema survives bruised egos and latent delusions of megalomania. Can’t blame the ungraded directors either for perhaps cheering the present dormancy of the board.

Yet one would think that CEB has done more good than harm for local cinema. The grades may be all academic, the rebates mere pesos and centavos, but there’s something in prestige that’s not meant to be eaten.

Maybe a new system of grading and incentives can be devised, with the board working hand in hand with FDCP. An offhand suggestion: why not have films graded A with a lower ticket cost at the box office, since the masses have been complaining of the prices, and let government bridge the gap of producers and theater owners’ losses, if any. This in effect will entice and encourage more people to watch quality films.

There’s also the old beef about board composition and membership. A majority are admittedly overstaying, and there’s a reason for the original intent of regular turnover every two years or so. But it isn’t as if it’s a sinecure the better to steer clear of any comfort zone, and fresh blood is good though the honorarium might be considered a pittance by some. Retaining a handful of the old guard may also be wise for the sake of perspective and continuity.

A national artist or two, cinematographers, scriptwriters, directors, writers, gossip columnists, producers, actors at one time or another comprised the board, with a handful falling on the wayside. And there are more future national artists, cinematographers, scriptwriters, directors, writers, gossip columnists, producers, actors who have fresh input to move Philippine cinema forward, just waiting to be called to duty and could use the pittance in these hard times.

What a long strange trip it’s been. How to file leave from a body itself on leave? There’s true friendship there even for a nanosecond, or the time it takes from one mise-en-scéne to the next.

CEB FDCP SUPREME COURT
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