By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman
Like a suspense movie with a good cliffhanger, the story (and controversy) of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) did not end with the announcement of the eight films chosen to be shown over the holidays. That was just the beginning.
“Ang daming susunod na aabangan (There’s a lot of things to look forward to),” said the famed writer Alfred “Krip” Yuson, who is a member of the MMFF selection committee, at a forum on Dec. 8.
Among the burning questions are: Will this year’s chosen eight, most of which are independent movies, do well in the movie houses given the exclusion from the lineup of the big studio holiday films featuring the usual money-makers like comics Vic Sotto and Vice Ganda? After all, last year, the MMFF took over P1 billion in the box office on the back of films like Vice Ganda and Coco Martin’s comedy Beauty and the Bestie, which took the lead in the money-making race by earning P481 million in the box office.
Unlike in previous years, this time around the selection committee of the festival — which is organized by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority — did not rely on submitted scripts which are prone to see extensive changes made between their selection for the festival and the finished versions. Instead, for the 42nd edition of the annual festival, the committee required producers to submit finished films. The end result was the almost complete lock-out of films from the big studios like OctoArts Films, Regal Entertainment, and Star Cinema.
Do the executive committee members regret the choices they made this year? What will happen to the many beneficiaries of the country’s biggest film festival?
“May panghihinayang ba? (Do we have regrets?) No, because we are talking about one industry here,” said veteran actress Boots Anson Roa-Rodrigo who is an MMFF executive committee member and the president of the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation Inc. (Mowelfund), which is one of the beneficiaries of the country’s biggest movie festival.
According to news reports, Vice Ganda’s latest movie, The Super Parental Guardians — which, to many people’s surprise, did not make it into the MMFF this year — earned P68 million on the first day of its regular commercial run and has so far raked in over P250 million and counting. It is currently running in movie theaters nationwide.
The MMFF executive committee members said in previous reports that they knew the consequences of their choices, but they stand firm on their decisions.
“We have realistic take on this,” said Ms. Roa-Rodrigo, who spoke on behalf of Mowelfund at the forum.
“As a beneficiary, siyempre, mas maganda kung mas malaki ang kitain (of course it would be nice if the box office earnings are big), but we’ve always had the attitude that we’ll [make] do [with] whatever is given to us. If we have to outsource to raise additional funds, then we do it.” She said the foundation historically receives enough funds from the film festival to cover 70% of its operational costs for the year. But she said they can adjust. “We are ready for that,” she said.
PREMIUM ON SCRIPT AND NARRATIVE
The about-face from the tradition of presenting big films from big studios featuring big stars during the nationwide film festival — which excludes the screening of non-festival films from Christmas Day to Jan. 3 — has its benefits. Ms. Roa-Rodrigo said: “Even the big producers [who did not make it into the festival this year] have said that they will participate next year.”
Mr. Yuson broke in to say, “If anything, it’s [a] lesson that they can produce anything they want, just beef it up with more quality.” He then said, referring to the major motion pictures The Super Parental Guardians and Enteng Kabisote 10 and the Abangers that are currently showing, “The two blockbusters — I don’t know if this is controversial — they did not rank that low among the 27 movies that we selected. They were in the top 18, except that the eight we chose were head and shoulders above [them]. There’s a big gap [in the scores] between the eighth and ninth movie, average of four points.”
The movies that made it this year are Saving Sally, Kabisera, Die Beautiful, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, Vince, Kath, and James, Sunday Beauty Queen, Oro, and Seklusyon.
The following criteria were used in their choosing: 40% artistic quality, 40% technical, 10% local and global appeal, and 10% Filipino sensibilities. In previous years, commercial viability/appeal was a major component when choosing festival films.
“It did not say in the criteria anything about commercial appeal. All we did was to be faithful to the criteria,” said Nicanor Tiongson, a critic, academic, and chairman of the executive committee.
The members of the panel said the festival gave a premium on story and script.
“To ensure quality, you start with the story. Second is the script and third is the execution. There were others I won’t name — ’yung mga blockbusters ngayon — pero hindi umubra (they are blockbusters now — but they did not pass). They were very low with the story and script,” added Mr. Yuson.
The award-winning writer said a good movie must have a strong narrative complemented with a good rhythm.
“The others had bad flashbacking. Or the dialogues were not good, especially the comedy movies. Usually, there’s reliance on too much ad-libs, like you’re watching a noontime TV show. Nakatayo silang parang firing squad (they just stood around like a firing squad). Walang script na sinusundan (there was no script they were following),” said Mr. Yuson.
GOING BACK TO ROOTS
While some critics are now saying that this year’s lineup is “too much culture and too highfalutin,” the committee members disagree.
“Culture embraces everything: basketball, poverty, beauty, affluence, good, and truth. It’s a way of life. In all other movies, culture was reflected in the widest sense,” said Ms. Roa-Rodrigo.
The movies in the lineup represent a multiplicity of genres, said the committee members.
The MMFF’s complete turnaround was fuelled by last year’s hullabaloo when Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father, starring John Lloyd Cruz, was disqualified from the Best Picture category, and the controversy even reached the floor of Congress, prompting the MMFF to review its criteria and rules.
Mr. Matti has another MMFF entry this year, Seklusyon.
“After the controversy last year, ang umiral ay kailangang sundin ang mga pagbabago (what was discussed was the need to pursue change),” said Ms. Roa-Rodrigo. The criteria were changed from giving a premium to commercial appeal to highlighting the movie’s story.
The Honor Thy Father case reminded the committee why the festival was first conceived: to raise the standard of Filipino movies and for local movies to have exclusive show dates without having to compete with Hollywood movies. According to the MMFF Web site (www.mmff.com.ph), the festival, which started in 1975, had a vision to “develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, and to promote the welfare of its workers.”
The movies shown in the early years of the festival were of high quality, including Lino Brocka’s Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979) and Bona (1980).
Mr. Yuson, who has written award-winning poetry and children’s books, noted that the critique that this year’s festival is lacking in films fit for children is the most difficult to counter.
Of the 27 movies the panel watched, there were hardly any children’s movies — just “two movies that were not good” and Vic Sotto’s Enteng Kabisote and the Abangers, which did not make it to the final list, and which, according to entertainment insiders, is, unexpectedly, not doing well in the box office.
In earlier news reports, Mother Lily Monteverde of Regal Films was quoted as saying: “Sayang naman, nanghihinayang ako sa mga bata.” (I feel sorry for the lost opportunity, I feel sorry for the children.) Her movie, Mano Po 7: Chinoy, was excluded from the MMFF and instead started its commercial run on Dec. 14.
Mr. Sotto, protagonist and producer of the long-running fantasy series Enteng Kabisote, also lamented about the lack of children’s films as Christmastime is supposed to center on children.
The MMFF executive committee thus challenges big producers to come up with movies genuinely fit for children — and that have compelling stories.
OUTSIDE METRO MANILA
Another twist in this year’s MMFF plot is the screening-time issue. According to screenwriter Moira Lang, a member of the play date, sales, and monitoring committee, there will be no “first day-last day” which refers to the practice by movie theaters in which a festival movie is pulled out of the screening schedule if it does not attract many moviegoers on its first day, to be replaced with a more popular offering.
While this means that the eight movies are guaranteed two full days of screenings, Mr. Lang said the committee is trying to persuade movie houses to let all the films have a full 10-day run.
But then again, the MMFF, as its name implies, has no jurisdiction over provincial cinemas, which also traditionally show local movies on Christmastime. While provincial theater houses promised to show only Filipino films from Dec. 25 until Jan. 3 — the duration of the movie festival — they do have the option to screen a Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto movie if there is still a demand for it.
The MMFF can only hope for a sleeper hit, or an underrated movie that slowly gains an audience after being shown for a long period despite lacking a blockbuster opening and having little promotion.
“As in any advertising, if the product is good, it will have its continuous marketing like word of mouth. We’ve had examples of sleeper blockbusters because of word of mouth like Heneral Luna (a period film which found its audience through word of mouth and internet promotion). Sana ganoon din ang mangyari (hopefully something like that will happen),” said Ms. Roa-Rodrigo.
As the MMFF’s plot thickens, all we can do is to wait and see — or better yet, check out the movies ourselves over the holidays.
The festival will begin with the traditional Parade of the Stars from Rizal Park to Plaza Miranda in Manila on Dec. 23. Then eight feature films and eight short films will be screened from Dec. 25 to Jan. 3 in major cinemas in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. The Awards Night will be held on Dec. 29 at the Kia Theater in Cubao, Quezon City.