It seems that having film festivals migrate online is the safest, and maybe the only way, for filmmakers and viewers to still celebrate Filipino filmmaking. Even the country’s biggest film festival, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), has announced that it will be held online this year, said the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

“The film industry continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19 but it should not dampen the Filipinos’ spirit of watching Filipino movies during the Christmas season. This year, we are bringing the MMFF tradition in every Filipino home not just here in the country but all over the world via digital screening for the first time,” Danilo Delapuz Lim, chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, the agency behind the MMFF, was quoted as saying in a press release on Friday.

The MMFF, held annually from Dec. 25 to the first week of January, promotes Filipino films and during the festival’s run, no cinemas are allowed to screen foreign films. Last year, the festival grossed almost P1 billion.

Several other local film festivals also migrated online this year — including the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in August, the Daang Dokyu Documentary Film Festival which currently running until November, and the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino which runs from end-October until November — as health and safety measures to control the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still do not allow the opening of theaters and cinemas in most places in the country.

If Cinemalaya serves as a barometer, then it can be said that online film festivals in the country are modestly successful. The online edition of the country’s largest independent film festival grossed more than P2 million, above their admittedly modest targets, as its festival director Chris B. Millado admitted that they are still new at holding the festival online. Only short films were shown at this year’s Cinemalaya instead of the usual full-length features.

Cinemalaya was held on video platform Vimeo while both Daang Dokyu and Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino are holding screenings on their own websites. The MMFF, meanwhile, is partnering with local telecommunication company Globe Telecom and Upstream, a live streaming company, to hold the festival.

“We are very excited about the annual film festival that will take place on a new platform. Filipinos abroad and those who cannot go home for the holidays can enjoy the MMFF tradition by watching MMFF movies on digital platform,” Mr. Lim said in the release.

All eight full-length features will be shown online, but the MMFF has not yet announced the final four entries of the festival. The first four, chosen based on their scripts, were announced in July. The last four, to be chosen from finished films, are yet to be named.

The first four films of the festival are: the horror film Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan, the fantasy adventure Magikland, the comedy Praybeyt Benjamin 3, and horror comedy The Exorcism of my Siszums. — Zsarlene B. Chua