The Metro Manila Film Festival, which runs from Christmas Day, to the first week of January the following year, was purportedly initiated to encourage Filipino producers to come up with quality films. Focusing on locally produced movies, the festival continues to enjoy the benefit of not having to compete with foreign films in local cinemas (except in IMAX and 3D theaters).
Established in 1975, when it was still known as the Metropolitan Film Festival until it was changed to its present name two years after, the festival has produced Filipino classics and internationally recognized films like Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?, Insiang and Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo (1976), Burlesk Queen (1977), Brutal and Bona (1980), Kisapmata (1981), Himala (1982), and Karnal (1983), just to name a few.
Since 1986, after the festival was moved to its present schedule from the original September play date, a significant difference has been observed in the films dominating the festival with producers cashing in on movie franchises, Hollywood copycats, and films “in step with the Christmas tradition.”
At the start, there was nothing wrong with the franchises with the earlier installments of Panday and Shake, Rattle and Roll even getting favorable reviews aside from winning awards. As time goes by, new franchises have resorted to trite formulas and cheap imitations and some were tagged as “advertisements hiding under the guise of movies.”
Aside from the obvious change brought about by the festive atmosphere, some critics also attribute the decline to the transfer of the film festival supervision to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which is expected to handle the worsening traffic situation and garbage problem in the metropolis rather than deal with managing a film-related event. The Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) and the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund) are just two of the groups, which tried to wrest control of the festival in the past.
Throughout the years, the festival has been rocked by awards night walkouts, petty rumors and allegations over misuse of funds, behind-the-scenes scandals, and other related controversies. Commercialism over quality even became more pronounced when no entry was deemed worthy of winning the Best Picture award in 1994. Still, there were a few films, which tried to keep up with the festival’s original vision such as Jose Rizal (1998), Muro Ami (1999), and Crying Ladies (2003), among others. However, when new and “independent” filmfests were born, a delineation between mainstream and independent cinema clearly came to fore.
The festival organizers sought to address this problem in 2010 when it did away with the box-office performance of the entries in the criteria for selecting the Best Picture winner. The blockbuster movie Ang Tanging Ina Mo (Last Na ‘To!) ironically won the award that year. Although they may have changed the criteria, there have also been doubts regarding the overall ability of the jury, with some members not even having any film-related background.
The MMFF also came up with a separate competition for “indie” films, now known as the New Wave category, which is held a week before the main festival schedule. However, the real problem does not simply lie in categorizing which films are “independent” and which are “mainstream” but in recognizing the quality of these entries, regardless of what they are.
This year, Antoinette Jadaone’s All You Need is Pag-ibig, Wenn V. Deramas’ Beauty and the Bestie, Randolph Longjas’ Buy Now, Die Later, Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father, Jun Robles Lana’s Haunted Mansion, Jose Javier Reyes’ My Bebe Love #KiligPaMore, Pedring Lopez’s Nilalang, and Dan Villegas’ #Walang Forever are vying for awards in the main competition.
Meanwhile, Ari: My Life with a King directed by Carlo Enciso Catu, Mandirigma directed by Arlyn Dela Cruz, Tandem directed by King Palisoc, Toto directed by John Paul Su, and Turo Turo directed by Ray-An Dulay compete in the New Wave full-length feature category.
Five short films – Daisy by Brian Spencer Reyes, Ding Mangasyas (Tough Guys) by Justine Emmanuel Dizon, Lapis by Maricel Cariaga, Momento by Jan-Kyle Nieva, and Mumu by Jean Cheryl Tagyamon – and five animated films – Alamat ng Giraffe by Alyssandra Kyle Mallari, Buttons by Marvel Obemio, Francis Ramirez and Jared Garcia, Geo by John Aurthur Mercader, Little Lights by Rivelle Mallari, and The Seed by Joven Maniaol and Larreina Bianca Libuton –slug it out in two other New Wave categories.
The MMFF was supposedly created to help improve the quality of local films. However, several factors like our penchant for imitation and formulaic storylines for fear of disturbing the existing set-up, extreme commercialism during the Christmas season, and the ugly head of politics continue to interfere with the clamor for better movies from our local producers.
Some groups are calling for fresh ideas and original styles, which are always significant in filmmaking. Although our films are breaking new grounds in some aspects, it is possible to come up with a distinctive Filipino style, like what South Korea and Thailand have done with their national cinemas, and not just come up with poor copycats of Hollywood productions. However, other camps would argue that the Filipino audience continues to patronize whatever the dominant movie studios are feeding them so they continue to make the same kind of stuff over and over again. This is deeply rooted in our educational system and colonial mentality.
Many Filipino filmmakers have the talent to make better and more innovative films than their foreign counterparts but their works often lack the needed machinery to promote them even in our own country. There have been calls for the government to lower amusement taxes or give tax incentives, set up screen quotas throughout the entire year, and even help market our films in other countries. However, the constant bickering, not just within the industry but also in our political system, has prevented necessary reforms from being implemented properly.
In the Philippines, a film needs to earn thrice the cost of its production for its producers to recoup their investment. Thus, there is a tendency to keep the cost low by using what has already worked in the past. Production companies connected with major television networks usually dominate the box office as they bank on the constant promotion of their films on TV.
To help improve the existing system, respected film personalities consistently point out that we do not only need revolutionary ideas but radical actions as well. Before we are besieged with another MMFF brouhaha, some sectors are suggesting that we overhaul the present set-up. But are the concerned authorities ready to accept changes? Your guess is as good as mine.