Honor thy cinema
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2016 - 9:00am

(Conclusion)

We received many reactions and inputs after our column last week on the Honor Thy Father / Metro Manila Film Festival controversy. And we’d like to share them here.

First off, a couple of errata. Our friend Direk Tikoy Aguiluz informed us that only Lav Diaz has been awarded the Locarno Golden Leopard Prize. It seems the item we picked up on Brillante Mendoza having won the same for his 2005 film Masahista was erroneous. What Dante won for that early film was the Ecumenical Award from an independent Catholic award-giving body.

Secondly, our bad for getting confused between Mike de Leon’s classic Itim and his much younger tocayo Mike Alcazaren’s relatively recent Puti. Sorry for the reverse chiaroscuro.

Regarding the congressional hearings that have established impropriety in the conduct of the last MMFF, we chose not to name the key figure who got most of the flak for the apparently unwarranted disqualification of Honor Thy Father or  HTF for the Best Picture Award. But everyone now knows that it’s Dominic Du who’s being charged with conflict of interest — for being involved with the two movies that won the Best Picture and Second Best Picture awards. It was Mr. Du who told the jurors, only a few days before the awards ceremony, not to consider HTF for that award.

As it turned out, it was a fellow board member of the MTRCB, Keats Syquia-Musngi, as one of the MMFF jurors, who disclosed the matter at the congressional hearing. In our own board meeting last week, all of us commended her for her “honesty and courage,” to which she simply responded in her usual plucky if tongue-in-cheek manner: “The truth shall set you free!”

Another development involved MTRCB chair Atty. Toto Villareal, who has been designated as resource person for the Technical Working Group (TWG) on account of his legal and policy inputs during the hearings. This TWG was organized by the committee chaired by Rep. Winston Castelo, for the drafting of a law or laws reforming the MMMF and for the authentic development of the film industry. Also involved in this committee are Reps. Alfred Vargas, Dan Fernandez and Gus Tambunting, among others.

Atty. Villareal has shared the following inputs and suggestions with this committee: (a) the legal inadequacy of the law governing the MMFF — (an old) MMC Executive Order No. 86-09 signed by former MMC head Joey Lina providing for the “amusement tax waiver set-up;” (b) the later promulgation of MMDA’s organic law which specifies that its functions should pertain to the “delivery of basic services;” (c) the overhaul of the MMFF to make it similar to foreign film festivals where the matter of selection and awards will largely be determined by filmmakers and other artists, with other sectors like government and business significantly supporting on the side (this will include screenings to attract investors here and abroad, as well as learning get-togethers for industry stakeholders, etc., to directly serve the artistic support and development; and (d) the designation of a specific minimum number of days when ONLY FILIPINO FILMS can be shown throughout the country, separate and distinct from the MMFF (this will serve the need to support the entire film industry).

The MTRCB chair has also suggested to Rep. Vargas that the amusement tax set-up be replaced with a special excise tax, which will not be dependent on the current rates of amusement tax of the various LGUs.

Direk Lav Diaz sent a rejoinder on our half-lament that his internationally acclaimed films remain generally unseen by the local audience. I will have to leave some names out. Lav will understand. But here’s his friendly clarification:

“I can assure you that I make cinema for our dear Pilipinas and our dear people. ’Yan ang commitment ng cinema ko.

“Mahirap gumawa ng cinema. At mas mahirap maging independent filmmaker dito sa bayan natin. Lalo na sa mga obrang ayaw mong ikumpromiso, sa mga obrang hindi kumbensyunal, sa mga obrang taliwas sa nakagawian na. When I started doing my so-called long works or that ‘slow cinema,’ it was a zero budget situation; there was no support, I was using cheap cameras; oftentimes, I shot things alone or with some loyal friends. I became a pariah. Nobody would dare touch my works. Ang daming hindi malunok na insulto at panlalalit akong narinig, even from so-called friends. Slowly, they noticed the works. Grants finally came. Support finally came.

“I just want to point out the very reason why it’s very hard to show our works here. Mahirap kaming magpalabas sa commercial cinemas, sa mga malls or the more popular venues, sa tinatawag na commercial theater circuit, (which) is run by a very powerful group; they control it; there’s no space for us. I’ll repeat that: There’s no space for us. And we don’t have the means to fight them. 

“Even so-called Special Screenings (sa kaso ng Norte, Hanggang ng Kasaysayan at Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon), ang hirap. Makikiusap kaming parang pulubi at magbabayad ng malaking halaga. At limitado ang araw ng pagpapalabas. 

Pasingit-singit lang kami dito. And espasyo lang namin ay ang academe, ang mga film clubs at sinepilya, ang mga film festivals dito, at ang FDCP ni Briccio (Santos).  

“The MMFF has been run and controlled by a ‘syndicate’…. Ginawa nilang hanapbuhay ang MMFF. Ilang taon na nilang hawak at gatasan yan…. Di ba, for so many years already, laging tatlo o apat na pelikula ang inilalagay (ng isang producer) at walang angal ang lahat? Kahit na maayos ang pelikula mo, tatanggalin ka nila dahil may ihahabol pa (ang isa o dalawang big producers) o may gusto pang ilagay ang Chinese group. Batang West Side was a victim of that system. Don’t get me wrong. Tama ang reklamo sa Kongreso; kaya nga lang very ironic….  I love Erik. He’s a dear friend. I feel bad na nalagay siya sa sitwasyong ganito.

“Destroy THAT group if they want real reforms in the MMFF. The solution is very simple. Yun lang naman, e.”

Thanks for the input, kaibigang Lav.

Indie kingpin Raymond Red also offers his “random thoughts”:

“A lot of the general criticism of the state of the local movie industry has pretty much been the same ever since I started making films over three decades ago. I was of course primarily involved in alternative independent cinema, which mostly stayed sort of underground, or at the periphery of the mainstream industry. The word ‘industry’ states its real purpose, it is a business. Philippine cinema however refers more to an all-encompassing idea, that leans towards it being an art form and a major part of cultural heritage. That is where the confusion of the general public stems from. And now, even the ‘mainstream’ has evolved. Technically speaking, free television is the new mainstream, in the Philippines at the least. It is the main source of media of the greater part of our population. And then there is all this talk of ‘blurring’ the lines between the different media, of cinema, TV, cable, Internet, advertising, etc. The fact of the matter is that audiences are also evolving. And yet, the old blaming game is still playing out, that of producers churning out the same formulas that stunt the psyche of the audience, while producers continue to say ‘but that is what the audience wants and watches’.

“I can never pretend to know the solutions. But I have remained ‘alternative’ precisely because that is my goal — to provide audiences alternatives to what is ‘mainstream.’ We started out struggling with alternative means of production, to alternative ways of exhibiting our works. Yes it is a niche audience, but no one still has the right to say that a small group of 30 people appreciating an experimental film in a small gallery screening has no significance and contribution to intelligent exchange of ideas and culture. Now we are witness to new technology providing us the means to screen such works in a large commercial screen and possibly reach a larger audience, provided that the theater owners allow us to.

“The recent MMFF controversy is a good catalyst for cinema people to unite and re-assess what really needs to be changed and done. Different people will have their own opinions on the nitty-gritty details of the issues, but we will find a common aspiration and goal. The future audience will demand how and what they will watch. That future audience is here now, so we must reach them through cultural awareness and film education.”

Jim Meer Libiran (Tribu, 2007 Cinemalaya winner), another outstanding indie filmmaker together with Ida del Mundo (K’na the Dreamweaver) and Milo Sogueco (Marikina) whom I failed to cite earlier, also puts in his many centavos’ worth:

“Distribution and access to a profitable market are what filmmakers need. And this area has been in the hands of a few people (most of them sitting on the board or executive arms of MMFF). Unfortunately, most of them are unsympathetic to new currents in filmmaking, their minds are closed to new ways of making and viewing films, all to the detriment of a new burgeoning wave. It would be hypocritical to say dismiss the present set-up for its profit motivation, because honestly, we small filmmakers also want to recoup our investments so we can make bigger and better films. The MMFF fiasco is an issue of access. Access to funds, to profitable markets, to government protection. Give us a two-week reprieve from Hollywood films, a sizable fund, and the right calendar, and we will give you wave upon wave of quality independent films.

“Even the best directors who have made groundbreaking films and have won many awards in the last eight years found themselves unable to make a second or a third project and had to go back to the proverbial slave pits to be able to survive or pay back the debts incurred during the making of their projects. At a time when momentum is good, we cannot follow through. And that is sad. But then, who are we to complain? The world owes us nothing. We just hope for a level playing field.”

This seems to be both the gripe and the hope that characterize the local film industry, vis-à-vis or often against what may proudly be called Philippine cinema. A level playing field. Where the minnows are given a fighting chance against the sharks.

Seattle-based author/scholar Vicente Rafael adds another concern: “The problem though is access: very, very difficult to get DVD copies of these movies. Distribution is terrible. And online streaming rare. It’s like getting your book published, having a launch, then nothing. No place to get it, can’t give it as gifts, can’t show it to your class, etc.” In California, Joanna Allas-Fojas echoes the lament: “Sana meron sa iTunes. Kahit Heneral Luna wala man lang ito sa iTunes.”

We can only assume that limited international access is part of the growing pains. It’s yet another familiar gripe, but the industry has had this decades-old problem of getting its act together. And while the sharks continue their needlessly bullying ways, whether with regard mainstream festivals or mainstream access to viewership, no semblance of unification seems ever to be in sight.

We hope that the expected reforms if any that are applied re the MMFF can also include or lead to a more equitable disposition of overwhelming creativity all around. The incredible talent, nay, even genius for film is here, in our midst, very much so. Let’s honor it, and give praise (and space) to the best of Philippine cinema.

ACIRC ALFRED VARGAS ANG BATANG WEST SIDE BEST PICTURE AND SECOND BEST PICTURE CINEMA FILM FILMS HONOR THY FATHER INDUSTRY MMFF
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