Today in laws we don’t need, Senator Bong Go came up with the idea of staging a second Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) from Apr. 11 to 21, 2020, to, according to Metro Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) general manager Jojo Garcia, “help the movie industry arrest the declining viewership of Filipino films brought about by the influx of foreign movies.”
But is this really what we need?
Judging from MMFF’s track record, it’ll be an influx of commercial film studios beating a dead horse or perhaps a decades-old lackluster franchise relying on the same storylines—a slapstick comedy with family values (somehow), an infidelity film of two conventionally attractive celebrities, the nth instalment of Panday, and one good film with an actual storyline to appease angry audiences like me.
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By not dismissing good storytelling and quality films for box office revenue or guilt-tripping people that MMFF is “for the children,” our film industry might thrive the way we want it to. Just take the 2016 edition for example: Lav Diaz’s was fresh out of Bienalle, great regional films like Patay na si Hesus and 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten were receiving the attention they deserve, and, of course, who could forget MMFF’s bold lineup that year?
“Patunay ang MMFF script selections na tunay ang hidwaan ng komersyal at kalidad, tunay din may kapangyarihan ang komersyal interes.”
For the first time in a long time, we’re not just seeing Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto grace marquees. It was diverse and a breath of fresh air we all needed. MMFF 2016 gave us Erik Matti’s dark Christian horror Seklusyon, the thought-provoking yet controversial Oro, Rocketsheep Studio’s visual feat Saving Sally, and Vince, Kath, and James—a formulaic teen movie done right.
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MMFF 2016 blurred the lines between indie and commercial filmmaking. All of this in hopes of uplifting good stories from around the country waiting to be heard.
But as we reached halfway of 2017, this spark of hope dimmed.
The next instalment of MMFF immediately went back to being a commercial cash cow. In the same year, the festival’s three executive members resigned, including veteran scriptwriter Ricky Lee and chairperson Rolando Tolentino. “Patunay ang MMFF script selections na tunay ang hidwaan ng komersyal at kalidad, tunay ‘din may kapangyarihan ang komersyal interes,” explained Tolentino in a tweet.
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“Noong una pa ‘man nang pumayag akong sumali, nag-decide na ako na mag-i-stay lang ako kung ipagpapatuloy nito ang nasimulan nang reforms ng 2016. Sa nagiging takbo ng mga pangyayari ngayon ay mukhang malabo na iyong mangyari,” said Lee in a Facebook post.
Don’t blame audiences for Philippine cinema’s declining viewership, blame powerful people trying to keep our industry same.
We’re back to hoping unique narratives will have a proper platform. Sometimes, we’ll get gems like Rainbow Sunset or Ang Larawan. And sure, we have independent film circuits like Cinemalaya or QCinema, but accessibility is limited. Let’s not forget the problem with early pullouts of Filipino films in certain cinemas.
Don’t blame audiences for Philippine cinema’s declining viewership. What we should try to unpack and unlearn is the industry’s mindset on quality and commercial films. Giants like Rolando Tolentino, Erik Matti, and Ricky Lee tried, but it’s difficult changing minds of an industry stuck in its old ways.
It’s clear that a sequel to MMFF is not what local cinema needs right now. What we need is to give proper platforms for more creative storytelling. Quality films aren’t limited to artsy mise-en-scene and commercial films shouldn’t solely rely on star factor. Just look at sleeper hits like Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna or mainstream favorite Four Sisters and a Wedding.
There is a lack of trust in new narratives—and it shows. If we want change, the will has to come from the people in power themselves. But if MMFF officials are taking advice from Bong Go and his “celebrity friends,” Philippine cinema might have to wait.
Art by Renz Mart Reyes