Arts & Leisure

Initial MMFF entry selection generates controversy

Posted on July 04, 2017

ON JUNE 30, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) general manager Timothy “Tim” Orbos announced the first four entries for the 2017 edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) which included the return of big ticket names such as comedian/host Jose Marie “Vice Ganda” Viceral, Rodel Pacheco Nacianceno (better known as Coco Martin) and Marvic Valentin “Vic” Sotto to the film festival.

On the same day, three of the 24-member MMFF Executive Committee (Execom) resigned in apparent protest over the choice of the first four entries.

The three who handed over their resignations were scriptwriter Ricky Lee, academician Rolando Tolentino, and broadcast journalist Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala.

“Basically we respect their decision to resign despite the fact that the selection process is not yet over,” Mr. Orbos told in a text message.

Despite signing a confidentiality agreement, Mr. Tolentino in a tweet on July 1 said: “The results of the script selection speak for itself.”

In May, the MMFF announced changes in the criteria for choosing festival films and once again allowed script submissions to serve as entries, unlike last year where the Execom only accepted finished films for consideration.

Of the eight films which will run in this year’s festival -- to be held from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7 -- four films would have been chosen from script submissions while four would have been chosen from finished films.

The MMFF explained in a May 5 post that the acceptance of script-only entries was a decision made “after months of thorough and careful evaluation and deliberations, including dialogues with the different industry stakeholders,” and was “based on the stated objectives of the 2017 MMFF to pursue both artistic excellence and audience appeal that can equate to more benefits to its target industry beneficiaries.”

The annual festival is run by the Metro Manila Development Authority.

As is often the case with the MMFF, the change was met with raised eyebrows as some parties pointed out that it seemed the MMFF is “going back to its old ways” of prioritizing box-office success over “quality” films.

The four script submissions which were chosen as entries are: Ang Panday, a reboot of the classic Fernando Poe, Jr. fantasy-action franchise which will this time be headlined by Coco Martin who will also serve as producer and director; Almost is not Enough, a romantic drama starring Jennylyn Mercado and Jericho Rosales; The Revengers, a horror/comedy starring Vice Ganda, Daniel Padilla, and former Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach; and Love Traps #FamilyGoals starring Vic Sotto and Dawn Zulueta.

The Execom chose the four over other submitted scripts such as Smaller and Smaller Circles, a film adaptation of the F.H. Batacan mystery novel of the same name which won the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for English Novel in 1999 which would have been directed by Raya Martini; Ang Larawan, the musical adaptation of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s The Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino with music and lyrics by fellow National Artist Rolando Tinio and composer Ryan Cayabyab, among others.

“Our selection committee had a difficult time choosing given the quality of films. We have to thank them for their exhaustive and thorough deliberations,” Mr. Orbos, who is also the MMFF Execom chairman, said in the June 30 MMFF Facebook post announcing the first four entries.

In all, 26 scripts had been submitted.

The same MMFF post noted that another four films -- this time chosen from finished movies -- will be announced in November as the deadlines are Oct. 2 (for early bird submissions) and Oct. 30 (for regular submission).

“To those who were wondering and asking why I resigned as an Execom member of the MMFF, the answer is simple: from the first time I agreed to join, I decided to stay only if the reforms started in 2016 continued. Considering all that’s happening, I don’t think it will happen, that’s why I don’t see the point of me staying,” Mr. Lee said in Filipino in a July 2 Facebook post.

Last year’s MMFF saw mostly independent films gracing the theaters, with big studio film franchises passed over in favor of “quality” films. The 2016 Best Picture was given to Baby Ruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen, the first documentary to ever win in the festival.

“The MMFF script selection is proof of the real divide between commerciality and quality and commercial interests are powerful... it is also proof that there’s no interest in removing the distinction between indie and mainstream [films]. Indie was removed,” said Mr. Tolentino in a series of tweets on July 1.

And it seems the decision is also not sitting well with another Execom member, Film Development Council of the Philippines President and CEO Mary Liza Diño-Seguerra. In a Facebook message sent to this reporter on July 3, she said she “feel[s] for them, our creative member who felt they had no choice but to resign because of what’s happening within the committee.

“It was a tough fight and we fought hard but there are things beyond and above us that we cannot control. [The] Execom is a collegial body, majority wins and this time, that was what prevailed,” she added.

The new Execom -- whose composition was also met with controversy when it was announced in March as it removed educator Edward Cabagnot and film director Moira Lang as members -- recently introduced to its ranks a 24-person committee including a representative from the mayors of Metro Manila, a representative from the theater operators, and a representative from film distributors.

“Of course [I’m not happy with the results], but I understand where each sector is coming from. Filmmaking is a business as much as it is art. The hardest part is to balance both so we can serve both of its purpose,” Ms. Diño-Seguerra said. -- Zsarlene B. Chua