Monday, January 02, 2012

Get real, Get Real Philippines

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.


Bayani Santos Jr. said...

Now, this is the quality of discourse that can make this site truly intelligent AND intellectual. Enough of Ildas and her kind. This Ilda sweepingly labeled Filipinos, as a people of "squatter mentality" --conveniently having forgotten that these squatters own their country, and should not have been squatters at all, if only we have just social structures and political morality. In fact among our misfortunes as a people are the ILDAs of this country. May their tribe remain marginal.

Noel Vera said...

Hm. No 'like' button. Ought to fix that.

Thanks, Bayani!

Alem said...

thanks for writing about it. i wouldn't have put it more eloquently.

it's really disheartening when, as you've mentioned that people like her who would possibly enjoy an indie movie, do not even want to waste 2 hours of her time, simply because she's busy.

well, see you at the movies, indie or mainstream.

Etchie said...

It is also strange that while an actual filmmaker, Jerrold Tarog, did post a comment about the indies, those said "writers" denounce him as a "whiner. And it's not helping.

They think they are brilliant in what they write--and even disparagingly brush aside the constructive criticisms that would probably aid them in their so-called "cause". But their treatment of the commenters with an enormous contempt equal to elitist discrimination, I really believe there is nothing productive would come out except as a provocative blogpost fishing for, simply, a controversy.

Noel Vera said...

Their ivory tower needs a thorough shaking...

Thanks, Alem, Etchie!

Phil said...

Don't feed the trolls. Linking to them just gives them power.

Noel Vera said...

Huh. Didn't think of that.


was about to react to the article, but you've said what i wanted to say. reminds me though of an incident when fernando poe jr was being considered for national artist, and there was this woman who was ranting against him. when asked what fpj films she has seen, she said she doesn't bother to. eddie romero and laurice guillen, who were both present, said there was nothing to discuss, as she could not possibly comment on one whose works she hasn't seen.

ronald said...

I read her article and I couldn't help myself and ended up posting a comment. Reading her article I assume that she doesn't know Philippine cinema that well--One of those who only watches American/foreign movies and look down at our locally-produced movies. I bet you when asked to give an example of a good movie, she will say, "I like movies like Titanic. It's so romantic and the effects look so real."


Noel Vera said...

I think they mentioned The Empire Strikes Back in one of their early articles. Which is a decent fantasy movie...but what do ordinary Filipinos care about the adventures of Luke Skywalker?

Anonymous said...

They just wrote another article entitled "Kabadingan and kalaswaan in Philippine cinema". I will not be baited to comment this time around.. I don't want to waste time trying to have a healthy discussion to those who don't really want to hear one but their's. They just want to sensationalise and draw traffic to their site.


Noel Vera said...

Better things to do myself...

Jugs said...

The Shake, Rattle and Roll series are essentially three movies in one, so the odds of at least liking one over two gives it some kind of value for money.

And I think horror is a genre that we've become increasingly better at, as even the international market is beginning to take notice.

Noel Vera said...

We've been good at horror since the '70s. Gerry de Leon and Eddie Romero's Blood Island movies proved to be so popular American productions were pretending to be made in the Philippines, just so they can cash in on the fad.

A Fine Jologs said...

Apparently, people like you have been observant as to the manifest stupidity and hypocrisy of the Get Real Philippines blog. I had a long and tedious discussion with Benigno and Ilda, their admins, and oh my, it was comparable to arguing with a 5-year old kid!

Check my posts under the Karen Jimeno articles.

Anonymous said...

I watched the movie. It sucked as most all Filipino Movies since the late 80s. Say what you like, but Filipino Movies haven't progressed from then to this point and as long as people insist that it's the best that can be done, then it will never improve. I find Indian Movies much worth the watch than Filipino Movies.

If there is so much Independent Filipino Films winning Awards in Berlin, why not show those on the mainstream, nation wide instead of movies starring old mega stars?

Noel Vera said...

Anonymous: you watched what movie?

Why don't they show the Berlin winners? Because the people who have the power and clout to show the Berlin winners aren't the same people who made the Berlin winners.

Fine Jologs: Good fight...

Anonymous said...

I think some people are going way overboard with their reaction against this said article about the state of our films. I read it to know what the big fuss is all about and has left me scratching my head as to why some people are tossing out antagonistic remarks about her views. A lot are reading too much of what she stated. It was as straightforward as it should be. I've read a similar issue to this in other websites, and they have more hurtful and far more scathing things to say about our present film industry. Why aren't they then getting the flack? I thought Benigno's article was a little more provocative, but I tell you I've read worst from others who don't even chance upon looking at some great films from de Leon or Bernal.

I like only some filipino films (the ones only by Mike de Leon), but as a plain average film viewer, many and many other films just seriously need improvement. Some films I looked at don't even have great editing and some, especially in horror films, just don't know how to utilise the camera in a story where it could have been easier for the eyes to follow through the narrative. I'm talking about the present mainstream film industry now, which Ilda has brought up in the article.

I don't like how they keep picking out mestizas and mestizos in films that are supposedly about the mediocre way of life of your average pinoy. Not believable, especially when majority of them can't act like such things ever struck them emotionally. Am also tired by the same said storylines and how they're even told uninspiringly. There should be more intuitive, sublime actors in the industry where even being wordless in their grief becomes more powerful and more believable than the melodramatic, extroverted approach of emotions (the ones who emote like they're constipated- no kidding here). Again, I am referring to this generation's crop of "artists".

I'm no film fan. I like films for some escapism but I also like them smart and believable and with a lot of genuine heart.

- Marnie -

Noel Vera said...

The fuss was over two months ago. Time to move on.

Noel Vera said...

Am glad you did differentiate between mainstream and indie. Far as I can see, the indie films are vital and inventive--managed to see a few of them myself.

Anonymous said...

Sooorry if I still post but... Guys, just relax. (haha. Just recently read the said article as well as this one) Ilda's article is just about HER opinion. She is just SHARING her opinion. There is nothing wrong with that. Moreover, a lot of the things she said holds truth--- Filipinos today do lack creativity. Although local movies today are entertaining, we can not deny the fact that MOST (not saying all) movies today are becoming tiresome to watch. We can not really watch the same old story lines over and over again.

I understand that the so called haters of that post got offended but they should really try to understand Ilda's point of view.

Don't you guys (and the viewers against ilda) think that it's time for new ideas to sprout.

Noel Vera said...

The line that Philippine cinema is bad is an equally tired idea. Can we have NEWER ideas?

We'd said this already, if she'd bother to look at a wider spectrum of Filipino movies approve or not her thesis would at least have more authority. Check out Raya Martin, John Torres, Lav Diaz--if she don't think their ideas are fresher than Hollywood's...well, what's her idea of a fresh or good movie, hm?

Nothing new said here. Moving on.