ROUNDTABLE: Big screen dreams

PEPE DON’T PREACH - Pepe Diokno (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2016 - 12:00am

The movies Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo and Apocalypse Child could not be more different from each other. One is about a group of kids who suck at patintero but are determined to win their barangay’s Linggo ng Wika sports fest. The other, set on the shores of Baler, is a drama about surfing, sex, the sea, the sky, and a web of illicit affairs.

Yet with Patintero in playing in cinemas right now (I highly recommend that you see it), and with Apocalypse Child coming on Oct. 26 (I highly recommend that you see it too), it’s tempting to see parallels between them. Both films were produced outside of the major studios with grants from the QCinema Film Festival, both have little-known stars, and both feature fresh stories. So this week, I invited Mihk Vergara, the writer-director of Patintero, and Mario Cornejo and Monster Jimenez, the duo behind Apocalypse Child, for drinks. In this roundtable at Mario and Monster’s home, over an excellent bottle of Japanese whiskey, we spoke about the joys and pains of bringing their independent movies into mainstream cinemas.

SUPREME: Most independent films are made, then shown at festivals, and that’s it. How’d you guys come around to putting your films out commercially?

In Apocalypse Child, Sid Lucero plays a surfer who may be the son of Francis Ford Coppola. (Yes, the Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Apocalypse Now in Baler, where the film is set.) Arkeo Films

MONSTER JIMENEZ: We felt the momentum in the special screenings that we did. People were asking, “Why isn’t this seen in more places?” Nabuhayan kami.

MIHK VERGARA: I expected just to do the festival route,; maybe screenings at a cinematheque. But based on the reaction at QCinema, my producers at TBA (the company behind Heneral Luna) believed we could do a commercial run.

SUPREME: Are things getting better for indies at the box office?

MARIO: Hell yes! We’re getting there. We’re on the right track. If you think about, this year, in cinemas, I saw Lav Diaz’s Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis and Ang Babaeng Humayo.

MONSTER: Brillante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa. Jun Robles Lana’s Anino sa Likod ng Buwan.

MIHK: Tadem. Magtanggol. Pamilya Ordinaryo. iAmerica. Mercury is Mine.

MARIO: It’s unthinkable!

SUPREME: There are more festivals than ever these days, more films being made than in recent memory, more films being distributed. How are audiences responding to this?

MONSTER: They are growing for sure. There’s actually a festival crowd, and I’m not just talking about students that are required to watch. May mga amigos and amigas. Mga senior citizens.

MARIO: But is the audience more sophisticated now?

MIHK: Well, when Patintero won the audience choice award at QCinema, I said, “Huh? There’s an audience that likes my shit? Wow, people like this the craziness.” (Laughs.)

SUPREME: Do you feel though, that the audience is still limited in a sense that since you’ve played at a festival, you’ve already exhausted your potential?

MIHK: Yes, but that fear has been alleviated a bit because we have a new cut. We shot seven more minutes of material after QCinema to extend the action scenes. So if you liked the film in QCinema, come watch it again because we have new stuff!

MONSTER: If you really think about it, who really knows what QCinema means? People in Davao haven’t seen it. So that’s not my fear. My fear is not being able reach audiences in the first place.

SUPREME: Why is it important for you to release your film to a wide audience?

Filmmakers Mihk Vergara, Mario Cornejo, and Monster Jimenez. Photos by PEPE DIOKNO

MARIO: I don’t want to make a film and not show it. Showing it completes the process.

SUPREME: A lot of directors have stories of watching movies as a child and being inspired by that. Watching our films with an audience does bring us full circle.

MIHK: Yeah, but for me it was TV. Maybe that’s why I feel like I just touch one person in the audience, then I’m good. Because that’s how I experienced the movies growing up, through VHS tapes that my grandmother would rent. She was a hardcore horror fan. Like, blood splatter and murder mysteries; Night of the Lepus, which was about killer rabbits, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Evil Dead, Jaws 1-6, Critters, Gremlins — all the horror stuff that you’re not supposed to be watching until you hit first year high school, I was watching at age eight.

MARIO: I was more in love books than movies until I discovered Spielberg, and that wasn’t until I was 17 or 18, with Schindler’s List. It was the first indication I had that films can be as powerful as books.

SUPREME: Was the movie house ever child of your childhood?

MONSTER: What are the first movies you saw?

MARIO: Religious films that they’d show in Magallanes, where there used to be a theater.

MONSTER: Mine was Popeye, with Robin Williams.

MIHK: The clearest one was the original 1986 Transformers movie. I walked six blocks just to see Optimus Prime die. That sucked. I was like, four.

SUPREME: It’s like none of us grew up going to the movie house, really. We had VHS and LaserDisc. These days, there’s YouTube, streaming, the golden age of television. Is the cinema dead?

MARIO: Is it?

MONSTER: I don’t feel it.

MIHK: I don’t either. When you watch enough stuff, you begin to appreciate the cinema. I really don’t want to lose that venue for our films. Even though I did say that I grew up on a smaller screen, I do appreciate the value now. If I could watch all of those things in a movie house, that would be great.

MARIO: Are we freaks? Kind of. Most people don’t care as much as we do, probably. But there’s very clear numbers that would tell us this.

SUPREME: According to some statistics, box office is going up.

MONSTER: Oh that brings up something, which is very annoying. Nobody’s f***ing saying anything about box office reports. The Philippines is gone from BoxOfficeMojo.com. There’s no more transparency.

MARIO: Experts have told us that it should be a law that box office reports should be transparent. Otherwise, people can manipulate, which is bad because movies can be kicked out of cinemas for supposed low box office.

SUPREME: Can you explain that to people — the concept of “first day last day”?

MONSTER: "First day last day" is when cinemas stop showing your film on the day of your premiere because supposedly nobody watches.

SUPREME: Are you afraid of it?

MIHK: Of course! Thanks for that! (Laughs, takes a swig of whiskey.)

MARIO: That’s why there has to be transparency.

MONSTER: It really hurts the Filipino films the most. If we don’t have transparency, we can’t help each other. We can’t help audience development.

MARIO: In another country, it was discovered that some companies were cheating — padding or subtracting box office to say that nobody’s watching to maybe cheat taxes. So transparency is super important for a healthy industry.

SUPREME: There’s a new Film Development Council chairperson. Is this something we should bring up with her?

MONSTER: Yes, a policy on independent accounting. I also heard that the cinema chains have an unspoken rule that they can’t show more than two Filipino films at the same time, and there’s something really wrong about that.

MARIO: Some sort of protectionism would be nice, especially now, that we’re in a golden age. There are sparks. There really are. And you want to cup your hands around it and let it grow.

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