Filmmaking during COVID
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Over the weekend I watched a Filipino movie newly released on Netflix: “Pamilya Ordinaryo” (“Ordinary People” on the streaming service), directed by Eduardo Roy Jr., with superb acting by Hasmine Kilip and Ronwaldo Martin. The movie won awards for best film, director and actress in the 2016 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

It was heartening to see a local movie topping the list of most popular shows on Netflix Philippines. The California-based global streaming service offers opportunities for new revenue streams for the Philippine film industry.

Like nearly all sectors, filmmaking and the performing arts have been hammered by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. The sector is struggling to get back on its feet and restart production. And the effort is running into COVID-19 turbulence.

At the heart of the controversy is the Film Development Council of the Philippines. Certain directors and movie producers are accusing the FDCP of “overreach” for acting like a regulatory body, which it is not, and expanding its legal mandate from mainstream films to theater, live events, online productions and even advertising.

The concerns emanate from health and safety protocols governing the conduct of film and audio-visual production shoots. The detailed guidelines, contained in a joint administrative order issued by the FDCP, the Department of Health and Department of Labor and Employment, include the mandatory submission of a report seven days before a production shoot, providing specifics on compliance with the health protocols. Working hours are limited and payment of overtime pay is mandatory.

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The Directors Guild of the Philippines posted a statement on Facebook, declaring: “As the film industry struggles to get back on its feet, the DGPI reiterates that it opposes any form of additional agency intrusion on productions. Not during a pandemic. Not ever.”

Director Erik Matti, founder and co-owner of Reality Entertainment and a member of the Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association, says the guidelines are detrimental to the industry and ignored adjustments recommended by stakeholders. He notes, for example, that not all film producers can afford to pay for overtime work, which is common in film and TV shoots.

This being the creative industry, a growing concern is that the regulations could eventually lead to stifling of freedom of expression.

DGPI board member Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, who faced “The Chiefs” together with Matti on Monday night on One News / TV 5, told us he was worried that they might be required to submit even film scripts for government approval.

Along with the shutdown of ABS-CBN (and now even its digital TV service), the filing of the anti-terrorism bill and the arrest of anti-government protesters, the two directors said the moves were reminiscent of the prelude to Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law.

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FDCP chair and CEO Liza Diño, who also faced The Chiefs, denied that the council is overstepping its mandate and hiding behind the labor and health departments to perform regulatory functions.

Diño explained that the involvement of the FDCP would reduce red tape for industry players in complying with health protocols.

She said the joint administrative order was crafted after numerous consultations with stakeholders including film directors and producers, as part of efforts to restart an industry where enforcing physical distancing and other health protocols can be complicated.

All industries, she points out, are dealing with similar constraints, to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. She says the FDCP remains focused on its mandate of film development and helping the industry cope with the pandemic.

Directors Siguion-Reyna and Matti say they are discussing their next move, to prevent further intrusions into the industry and potential threats to freedom of expression.

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In dealing with this pandemic, nations are seeing the need for a balancing act not only between lives and livelihoods, but also between protecting public health and human rights.

We’ve seen pushback in some countries such as the United States and Australia, with people actually taking to the streets, disregarding physical distancing and eschewing masks, to protest restrictions on mobility and economic activities to contain COVID-19.

Surely it’s not just coincidence that the US is now the global epicenter of the pandemic, with its COVID death toll of 128,000 as of yesterday afternoon now more than double the American lives lost in the Vietnam War.

Last week, Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, had to remind Americans particularly the youth about their “societal responsibility” and that the pandemic arose from a chain of “intimately interconnected” events.

A nurse in New York, the former epicenter of the COVID outbreak in the US, lamented that Americans partying, flocking to beaches and bars while ignoring health protocols in the states now registering a strong resurgence of the disease were wasting the sacrifices – including the grievous loss of lives – that New York endured to contain the disease.

Fauci, at a White House coronavirus task force briefing last Friday, the first in nearly two months, said he could understand the impulse of youths to ignore health protocols: “I was at a stage in my life when I said I’m invulnerable so I’m going to take a risk.”

But he stressed, in a message that has relevance even in our country: “If you get infected, you will infect someone else... Ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable. And that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle who is on chemotherapy, an aunt who is on radiation, or a child who has leukemia.”

“I think what we’re missing – and this is something that we’ve never faced before – is that a risk for you is not just isolated to you. Because if you get infected, you are part – innocently or inadvertently – of propagating the dynamic process of a pandemic,” Fauci said.

“So remember, what happened in China affected us. What happened in Europe affected us. What’s happening here is affecting others, we can’t get away from that,” he stressed.

“We are all in it together,” Fauci said. “And the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together.”

This is similar to our “heal as one” battle cry. But the battle can be more challenging to wage in some sectors such as filmmaking and the performing arts.

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