Analyzing the ills of Philippine Cinema

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IN EARLY February, one of the country’s most prominent film directors — Erik Matti — bemoaned the state of Philippine cinema, saying that despite the “industry being the busiest [it has been] in the past three years” only a handful of movies have achieved box office success. He called his lengthy Facebook post on Feb. 7 a “plea for help” for the government to intervene to save the industry.

“In terms of what direk Erik Matti said that the government should intervene, that is also what [my] book hopes to do… to inform and influence policy development,” Michael Kho Lim, a professor at De La Salle University (DLSU) and an independent film producer said during the launch of his book on Feb. 21 at the DLSU campus in Manila.

Titled Philippine Cinema and the Cultural Economy of Distribution (published by Palgrave MacMillan). The book takes an in-depth look at the problems plaguing the industry and offering solutions on the “business side of things” or the problem of distribution.

“The perennial challenge for independent filmmakers has always been to get their content out in the market — to become visible and accessible to a bigger audience. Piracy provides that visibility and accessibility, albeit informally. Therefore, the real threat to filmmakers is not piracy but invisibility and obscurity,” states an excerpt of the book which was sent to BusinessWorld via e-mail.

The book is said to examine “the complex interplay of culture and economics in the context of Philippine cinema. It delves into the tension, interaction and shifting movements between mainstream and independent filmmaking,” in an attempt to address the “big question of sustainability of the independent sector based on the premise that distribution is its weakest link,” according to the book’s summary and excerpt.

“How will people know about your film if you don’t market it?” said Mary Liza Diño-Seguerra, chairman and CEO of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) said in response to Mr. Matti’s post at another press conference in February outlining the agency’s projects of the year.




The answer might be as simple as having a bigger marketing budget for a film.

But film director and producer Babyruth Villarama, who directed the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 Best Picture, Sunday Beauty Queen, said that very few independent outfits have the machinery to create a huge marketing plan when “we barely have enough to fund the films in of itself” using the film grants.

“What we need is political will, the answers are all in front of us, if we only take measures,” she said.

Agreeing with Ms. Villarama, Mr. Lim said what the Philippine film industry needs is a cultural policy on film.

“In one of the chapters, I emphasized strongly about cultural policy… in terms of development [of the industry], institutionalizing or putting certain rules [is important,]” Mr. Lim said.

He pointed out that rules such as content quotas, where the government will set limits on how much foreign content can be shown in cinemas so local content doesn’t get the short end of the stick, and the changing of the opening day of a film’s run from Wednesday to Friday, are some of the measures he sees will benefit the industry.

(He said that while the Philippines has a cultural policy crafted in 1973, no focus is put on film and the policy is outdated.)

In response, Ms. Diño-Seguerra said they are currently in the process of crafting a film policy and that her agency is planning to hold meetings with all the stakeholders — from filmmakers to exhibitors to producers — in order to answer the challenges of the industry.

“We acknowledge that the government needs to step in and we are doing it,” she told reporters during the awarding ceremony of the first Animation du Monde Asia on Feb. 22 at the French Ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park, Makati.

Now that she is on her third year as the chairman and CEO of the FDCP, she said it is time for them to create the policy — her first few years in the role were dedicated to building the confidence of the industry stakeholders that the agency is working hard to help the film industry.

Mr. Lim, for his part, told BusinessWorld during the book launch that if the FDCP were to craft a policy now, it would be a step in the right direction although he fears that Ms. Diño-Seguerra might not finish it with the three years left in her term. But he remains hopeful that what the agency is doing is a start. — Zsarlene B. Chua

The book is available at the Palgrave website and costs $79.99 for the e-book version and $99.99 for the hardcover. It is also available on Amazon.