First of the year and already I'm compelled to write a less-than-friendly post.
Before anything, a caveat: as of today, have not yet seen any of the films at the 2011 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF)--would like to, but am having a time trying to arrange a viewing. So, yes, I'm putting that out for the record, up front.
Reason for this cobbled-together post, though, is a budding website called Get Real Philippines, a series of articles written mostly by the webmaster, with a handful of fellow writers (well, one other, apparently). For the most part the articles seem well-written, lively, reasonably well informed, generally progressive--until this article by someone named 'Ilda,' on the recent MMFF.
Not a big fan of the MMFF; for the longest time they've enjoyed the privilege of being the only game in town in Metro Manila theaters during the Christmas season, ostensibly the biggest market in the busiest time in the Philippines, arguably one of the biggest and busiest in Southeast Asia, if not the world. There was a time when this was a good thing: the festival showed the likes of Ishmael Bernal's Himala (Miracle, 1982), and Mike de Leon's Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981). The festival has reportedly degenerated into a showcase of mostly slapdash commercial products, including the Mano Po series (I'd seen the first one--not a big fan of that either--and heard harsh words about the sequels).
Like I said: not a big fan. But I don't think it and the entire Filipino film industry, independent and mainstream alike--deserve the general hosing-down found in that article. Statements like "Unfortunately, our films tell us and everyone else that we are shallow and superficial" seem to slam Philippine cinema in general--so are we shallow and superficial, as portrayed by Bernal, De Leon, Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza? Are our films "a total waste of the people’s time and money?"
Getting down to specific titles, the article mentions three: Enteng ng Ina Mo (Enteng of your mother--but that's a rough translation, it's really a play of words on a classic Filipino profanity) I can't really comment about. It sounds like it's a wholly commercial production and sequels are usually not the greatest films in the world as a rule but I haven't seen the picture and the writer, apparently, has; she pronounces judgment on the script and dialogue, and casts aspersions on the actors and producers' motives (I know it's impossible for her to actually read their minds, but I'll call that a rhetorical tactic; been guilty of doing the same for movies I didn't like). But when it came to her takedown of Panday 2 she writes "the new Panday movie is being criticized for being a blatant rip-off of the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster remake of Clash of the Titans."
"Being criticized?" Is she repeating what she's heard from others? Is she suggesting that she hasn't seen the movie? True, she does add "There was nothing special about the “special” effects either," but is it possible she's basing her judgment on online trailers?
More damning is her take on Shake, Rattle, and Roll 13: "What else can people expect to get out of it? Not much, obviously. People are probably watching it for the eye candy." Then she goes on to disparage the starlets on the festival parade (I understand where she's coming from, but I personally can't find it in me to disparage starlets; they're often fresh young things from the provinces who've been struck blind by all the money and attention, and often lead harsh lives off-camera). Three sentences that don't really talk about the picture, but rather how people might react to the picture. When called on this in the article's comment section, the writer replies with unusual evasiveness: "It doesn’t really matter if I saw SRR13 or not."
Um--yes it does, actually. Basic rule in journalism in general, criticism in particular: know of what you write.
I can't say I can judge this installment myself but I did see the original series back in 1984; Bernal's sequence (Prigyider) in particular was a witty original. I've dipped into the series once in a while and found a few good segments (Kapitbahay, in Shake, Rattle, and Roll IV, 1992). Critic Dodo Dayao does praise this thirteenth variation in his blog--and I do trust Dayao's judgment; he's an astute writer on local and international films, and writes about the movie in close detail with considerable eloquence. Ms. Ilda has every right to disparage the picture, and she makes a good point about the laziness of film producers in general, but she must see the movies first. Anything less smacks of lazy journalism.
Webmaster 'Benigno' defends his fellow writer in a follow-up article, helpfully titled "Filipino indie film makers need to stop whining and step up." * He succinctly summarizes the events that led up to his writing of the article; then he introduces his opinion with: "Based on the sort of comments I’ve seen so far posted in that article..."
Wow, don't people do actual research anymore?
He writes "it seems the people who lament the marginalised place “indie” films hold in the Philippines are better at whining than stepping up to said challenges" (chip on the shoulder much, hm?)" and adds "It is “impossible” only because the Philippine indie film sector lacks the sort of innovation that makes billionaires out of nerds and outcasts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs."
Um--blanket judgment on an entire industry (this time independent) based on comments made on blogpost article. Useful information here: if one has to make a handful of sweeping generalizations on an industry, it helps to actually read up on and talk to both industry insiders and outsiders in close detail. The more research put into the article, the more authoritative and persuasive article can be.
Benigno then goes on in detail about the Weinstein Brothers and Miramax Films, holding them up as an example of an independent outfit that was actually profitable; actually, Miramax was not the blockbuster moneymaker it claimed to be; that aura of profitability came more out of the Weinsteins' ruthlessness and ability to manipulate contractual conditions than out of the creation of actual independent hits.**
Independent filmmakers (and you'll have to take my word for it that I'm talking from experience about people I know well) are some of the hardest-working and most innovative people I know. They do miracles; they create art out of impossible budgets, and in impossible circumstances. Asking them to market their films brilliantly and well is one more impossible task to add to their basket, and I agree this much with Benigno: this just might be what the filmmakers need to do. This isn't the first time it's been said, nor is he the first one to say it; he just needs to do the research, and it wouldn't hurt to dial down the obnoxious, know-it-all tone (him apparently not knowing it all, at least about this industry).
The question of making Filipino independent or art films pay has been around for a long, long time, and no one has come up with any definite answers. Lino Brocka's Insiang (1974) was a box-office flop, despite being screened in the prestigious Director's Fortnight in Cannes, despite being made for a low budget; Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L. was welcomed with glowing praise, and standing-room only previews; when it was released it flopped, despite the name of Philippine star Vilma Santos in the marquee.
Independent filmmakers today actually have a somewhat better record at the boxoffice; unlike Brocka, they can leverage digital technology to make their films cheaper, faster, easier to make, and in the case of a few titles, they have made some profit (if I remember right, Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) did modest business and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Girl in Septic Tank) did huge business (roughly 20 million pesos, or over $400,000). In the case of Zombadings the big studios reportedly attempted to repress the picture, keep it out of theaters so it wouldn't threaten their mainstream product.
But--comedies and zombie pictures? What about Sari Dalena's Ka Oryang (see image above), this year's Cinema One Best Picture, and in my opinion one of the best and most important film I've seen this year, Filipino or otherwise? Not to put down the two titles (haven't seen them, but have heard good things), independent films are also meant to deal with things commercial product won't touch (that's why they're independent). If it's difficult to market independent films, that's a combination of a system rigged against the independent filmmaker, an often difficult to market subject matter, and--let's throw this in as well--Filipinos who if they don't frequent Filipino films often condemn said films to the trash heap ("If it's Filipino it must be trash (and no, I don't watch Filipino films)"). This particular segment of Filipinos is crucial to the indie filmmaker; he's the kind of viewer who might appreciate an innovative independent film--if he can be troubled to actually view it.
The attitude isn't new; Gerry De Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Manuel Conde had to contend with this in their time; so did Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mario O'Hara.
I'm not trying to completely put down or thoroughly trash Benigno and Ilda and their like; I enjoyed reading their blog, and think they have the right position on some issues (the need for better reproductive health, holding Aquino accountable, and so on). I think their hearts are in the right place, and their effrontery appropriate--when targeted at those that deserve that effrontery, like corrupt government or conservative institutions. The Metro Manila Film Festival? For the most part, yes--I've seen my share, no, more than my share of their garbage; I've also seen a few gems, though, and I'm careful to make the distinction. More power, Get Real Philippines, only--get it right, too. It'll help you in the long run.
* I know, I know, my sarcasm's showing.
** Old joke:
Q: How do you make a small fortune in Filipino filmmaking?
A: Start with a big fortune.