EDITORIAL MMFF: Festival of greatness, or festival of greed?

Films to look forward to (or not): MMFF’s first four entries include a Vic Sotto starrer with a ubiquitous hashtag awkwardly dangling in its already overlong title, a Vice Ganda starrer that has the popular comedienne sharing the screen with Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, another iteration of Panday, now headlined by Coco Martin, and a rom-com with Jericho Rosales and Jennylyn Mercado. Illustration by PATRICK DALE CARILLO

EDITORIAL MMFF: Festival of greatness, or festival of greed?

Francis Joseph A. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - Just like Enteng Kabisote or Panday or Ina Montecillo, whose troubles seem to never end with their yearly repetitive adventures, the Metro Manila Film Festival, the festival that paved the way for those characters to be the center of either ire or delight of Filipino moviegoers, is once again beleaguered by controversy.

Last year’s festival beautifully converged creative and commercial considerations. It had Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful and Erik Matti’s Seklusyon — films that garnered modest profits without sacrificing artistic integrity. It had Avid Liongoren’s Saving Sally and Babyruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen whose respective genres fall short of mass appeal but still received enough curiosity to sustain their screening up to the end of the fest. It had Alvin Yapan’s Oro, which raised much-needed awareness not only on ethics surrounding the practice of filmmaking, but also on forgotten human rights concerns around the country. The festival even had room for a traditional Star Cinema rom-com, one so focused on following formulae that it excelled despite the obvious lack of originality. If success was measured in terms of building the cornerstones of a movie-going public that is more open to a diverse cinema, then last year’s festival was unanimously successful even if it couldn’t match the box office results of previous years for reasons that could also be attributed to some powerful people’s abject lack of support.

It would have been the perfect happy ending. If the story of the film festival were a rom-com, it would have been that final kiss between the two leads which would have audiences leaving the theater presuming that the two got married, had their share of marital squabbles, but still ended up together forever in a world of lovely compromise. Real life, however, isn’t meant to be wrapped up dandily like a love story conceived by a panel of minds who have mastered the art of romanticist entertainment; and real life, when mixed with greed and politics, is bound to be even more complicated, more challenging, and more sordid.

To cut a long story short, the Metro Manila Film Festival, after deciding to go for a rather preposterous compromise of selecting four entries from finished film submissions and four entries from script submissions, has just released its initial selections. And the scripts the selection committee deemed to have that right blend of commercial appeal and creativity are reminiscent of the same films that have given the festival its reputation for low-rent escapist fare. There’s a Vic Sotto starrer with a ubiquitous hashtag awkwardly dangling in its already overlong title. There’s also a Vice Ganda starrer that has the popular comedienne sharing the screen with former Miss Universe and current toast of the country Pia Wurtzbach. There’s another iteration of Panday, now headlined by Coco Martin. Finally, there’s a rom-com with Jericho Rosales and Jennylyn Mercado. What is grossly lacking in any of the festival’s announcements are brief synopses of the successful entries, making it feel like creative excellence was judged not on the basis of scriptwriting but on casting bankable actors and actresses that will ensure box office potential.

Sudden turnaround

What is most saddening about the festival’s sudden turnaround is how it exposes not a preference for profit-making in the film industry, which is not wholly wrong, but a preference for specific names and studios. The festival, which is headed by a government agency, only has the advancement of culture and artistry as its cushion for policy. Government has no business making money for specific private entities, but in this case, it almost certainly feels like there is a preference for the lucrative Christmas play dates to be filled up by the same old faces and their same old antics. If it is, indeed, proven that the selection process was viciously maneuvered to ensure that private interests are protected within a government-sponsored and -funded project, then this no longer becomes an issue of art versus commerce; this has turned into an issue of criminal corruption. What used to be a platform for greatness has become an arena of greed.

An Alternative Venue?

Then there is the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino or PPP, which promises an alternative venue to showcase Filipino cinema without the gargantuan baggage and legacy of the Metro Manila Film Festival. Nestled quietly in the latter half of August when theater owners acknowledge the thinness of business because of the lack of Hollywood blockbusters to screen, PPP will screen 12 films in all cineplexes nationwide. Without a doubt, any expansion of venue spaces for Filipino films that will otherwise be gobbled up by the latest superhero flick or Vice Ganda slapstick entry is a good thing. It needs all the support it can get, to be a real option while the Metro Manila Film Festival is still at the mercy of a government agency that can’t even solve the metropolis’ growing traffic problems and a gang of movie barons and baronesses who have claimed the festival as their own.

More importantly, it needs vigilance.

All good things can go awry, as we have witnessed with the yearly Christmastime fest. As Christopher Lee, cinema’s best Dracula, has said, “There are many vampires in this world today… you only have to think of the film business.” So what else can we do but watch the films, criticize them, then criticize the institutions, be loud, be noisy, and shout our discontent? It is about time we took films seriously.

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Tweet the author @oggsmoggs.





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