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Bacolod City, PhilippinesMonday, January 6, 2014
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with Eli Tajanlangit

Not yet The End, is it?

It looks like the Metro Manila Film festival which has officially ended has not exactly ended, not in the minds of cineastes and movie fans who think it raised far too many questions with no apparent answers coming.

The awards have been given out and foreign films are returning  to our theatre screens, but so have critics’ voices gone on a crescendo, each one raising  a set of issues, and  all weighing down on one question: why, exactly, do we have an MMFF? Why do we have to set aside a week during which we lock out all foreign films and force everybody to watch nothing but Filipino movies? That we do this during the  Christmas holidays, when practically everyone is predisposed to watch a movie or two with the entire family, is an indication of the national importance we attach to this festival.

As far as  I can remember, the MMFF is meant to showcase the best of Filipino movies and to provide a venue which can make movie making for Pinoy producers a profitable exercise. Thus, we are supposed to have a screening process, which winnows and sifts through possible entries, and narrows them down to a magic few, which will then  have a very bright crack at the box office. With no competition at all from foreigners, the local films shown during the festival period  will have higher probabilities of recouping their capital and even make money besides. From what I can recall, this filmfest was meant to give quality and outstanding Pinoy movies a crack at profitability.

It has worked for a time. The filmfest was where Filipino  movies that we now consider classics debuted: Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon; Lupita Aquino Kashihawara’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamu, Lino Brocka’s Rubia Servios and Inay, Eddie Garcia’s Atsay, Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Moral and Karnal, Mike de Leon’s Kisap Mata, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala, Celso Ad Castillo’s Burlesk Queen– outstanding, no, landmark movies that helped define Pinoy culture were screened in this festival.

Compare that with this year’s crop of Girl, Boy Bakla, Tomboy, My Little Bossings, Pagpag, and, oh dear, did you know there is also an entry called Kaleidoscope World?

The best that this year’s filmfest could offer us was Joyce Bernal’s 10,000 Hours, a tight and palpitating, but loose dramatization of former Senator Panfilo Lacson’s time hiding. The movie is creditable, but couldn’t quite come up to par with the political sweep of Minsa’y Isang… Robin Padilla is surprisingly good here, but boy, a year from now, we won’t remember his Senator Alcaraz the way we remember Christopher de Leon’s Kulas in Ganito Kami Noon…

Every year, expectedly, there is a controversy or two in this festival. No matter how beautiful it was, Burlesk Queen in its time became a center of controversy when it got most of the awards.

The controversy then was not because Burlesk…did not deserve the awards sweep. No, the controversy was really because the other entries were just as  powerful and brilliant, any which one richly deserved the awards; I think among those films were de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, one of the most lushly photographed Pinoy movies of all time,  Bernal’s Walang Katapusang Tag-araw and Brocka’s Inay. As hindsight and history now teach us, these movies ended up among the Filipino greats.

Compare that controversy with this year’s: the questions over how a Maricel Soriano who had a supporting role in GBBT ended up with a Best Actress award. Or how Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel, a solid and polished film loaded with satire could lose out to MLB and GBBT.

Indeed, the MMFF is a reflection of what is happening to the larger Filipino film industry in general. Commerce has taken over, and art and culture have taken the last, farthest row in terms of our priorities. One need only to watch MLB, this year’s top-grosser to see this point and weep: the movie is, simply put, plain and sheer mindless entertainment. Where are our quality films? Where is the Pinoy filmmaker as artist?

While it is lofty and ideal to allow market forces to play on their own in our film industry, it is such a sad waste of  resources and talent to keep the MMFF the way it is. If we continue to do so, we might just as well cancel the whole thing and bring back Hollywood to our holiday theatre screens.

As it is, the MMFF has turned into one giant cash machine for those who know their marketing. It does not showcase the best of Pinoy films at all.

There is nothing wrong in people making as much money as they want when they produce films. But that is not what the MMFF was created for, is it?* 

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