By Zsarlene B. Chua
“Satisfactory,” was how Marichu Vera Perez-Maceda, spokesperson of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2015 described the recently concluded film festival, controversies notwithstanding.
In a Facebook post on Jan. 8, the MMFF reported a gross take of P1.02 billion during its 14-day run from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7, a 0.5% increase from last year’s P1.014 billion.
And the top spot in the box office list went to… nobody is saying.
The top four films were — “In no particular order,” said the chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Emerson Carlos who said they do not give the breakdown — Haunted Mansion, My Bebe Love: #KiligPaMore, Beauty and the Bestie, and #Walang Forever. The MMDA is the annual festival’s organizer.
Ms. Maceda also brushed aside the alleged “ticket-swapping incident” early in the festival where viewers who went to see My Bebe Love: Kilig Pa More (GMA Films) were instead given tickets to Beauty and the Bestie (Star Cinema) — though the viewers did see the film they originally intended to. The number of tickets sold for each film is how the box office take of each movie is calculated, and both films are in the running to win the box office “crown.” Ms. Maceda said it was an “honest mistake on the part of the cinemas” and was likely due of the great interest in the two films and not because of the theaters colluding with the producers of one of the films.
“How can you collude when both films are earning?” she said.
Beauty and the Bestie was reported as having earned P419.3 million as of Jan. 7 while My Bebe Love was closing in on P300 million on Jan 2 according to reports.
“We’re very happy with the results, and we’re very happy with the performance of the committees of the MMFF,” Ms. Maceda told BusinessWorld during a phone interview on Jan. 10.
Meanwhile, those who made the embattled film Honor Thy Father (a thriller about a Ponzi-scheme gone wrong starring John Lloyd Cruz in) were not satisfied.
“This hasn’t been the most disappointing as I’ve never expected much from the MMFF, but this was the most painfully affecting,” the film’s director/producer Erik Matti told BusinessWorld in an interview on Jan. 7.
Mr. Matti — who has joined the MMFF five times, first in 2003 with Mano Po 2: My Home — added that in previous years, problems regarding the festival were easy to dismiss but this year was an exception because he and the film’s producers felt “from the very beginning” that “all the odds were against us.”
Honor Thy Father wasn’t picked to join the festival at first — it was only in late October, when entry Hermano Puli backed out, that Honor Thy Father was chosen as the replacement to round out the eight film entries for the festival.
Then, after the first few days of the MMFF, the film’s executive producer, Dondon Monteverde, said that they lost more than 30% of the screens that their film was showing at. This was a situation echoed by another director, Pedring Lopez of Nilalang (another thriller, starring Cesar Montano and Maria Ozawa) and the movie’s co-producer Wesley Villarica. They cried foul when their picture was also being pulled out of theaters.
Finally, due to their supposed non-disclosure of their film’s participation in the CinemaOne Originals film festival, where it was the opening film, the MMFF announced that Honor Thy Father had been disqualified from consideration in the Best Picture competition.
ITS JUST BUSINESS
“There’s always controversies during MMFF and most of them comes from the ‘losers,’ or the producers who do not make money out of the festival,” said MMFF’s Ms. Maceda, before adding that even with the added publicity of the controversies, those films that do poorly in the box office rarely increase their revenues to the point of them being included in the Top 4 money-making festival films.
“It’s difficult to find a middle ground [that will satisfy everybody]. If we had our way, all eight films will be earning money but that is not so. Sadly, this is still business,” she added, before explaining that pulling out films during the first few days of the festival was the compromise arrived at as “it would be unfair to the theaters if they open with poor performing films during the busiest cinema days (Dec. 25 to Jan. 1).”
“But we do bring [the badly performing films back] on Jan. 1 after the interest of the [film]goers with the Top 4 [movies] has waned,” she said.
This practice does not sit well with everyone.
“Pulling out entries that are not earning enough in the box-office should not be practised in the MMFF. It is a festival. The entries should be guaranteed theaters for the duration of the festival,” said writer/director Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr., professor emeritus of De La Salle University (DLSU), in an e-mail interview on Jan. 4.“The practice of pulling out the non-performing films is a display of greed,” he declared. “Exhibitors do not want to support the entries that don’t earn as much as the top grossers; film producers of the top grossing films want to earn more. It’s greed — any which way you look at it.”
Honor Thy Father’s Mr. Monteverde said that the theaters should have given them at least a week to present their films before pulling the film out.
Ms. Maceda pointed out that even with all the additional publicity it received thanks to the disqualification, Honor Thy Father, recorded “an insignificant increase” in revenue during its later run in the festival.
Mr. Monteverde confirmed that the film did not break even as revenues have so far come up to 50% of the estimated P30 million budget.
“I’ll be honest and candid: the pictures of Erik Matti, though well-made, are not for Christmas,” Ms. Maceda said, a point that the director agreed with obliquely.
“My movies have never been known to be competitive in the box office, and the Metro Manila Film Fest is always about the box office so I’ve never expected to be included in the Top 5 or Top 2 — but it gives my movies a chance to be seen by many,” he said. “Of course, that is a double-edged sword because those who go to the MMFF are not the major market of my films.”
Ms. Maceda suggested that Mr. Matti and other “serious” film directors “lobby for a festival of their own” or have the government subsidize theaters to show their films.
“The biggest change for next year’s film festival is we are not anymore allowing films that have been entered or included in any other film festival, here and/or abroad [to join the MMFF],” Ms. Maceda said.
She said that the festival committee was “insulted” because it turned out that aside from being the opening film of the CinemaOne Originals film festival, Honor Thy Father had been screened for competition before it was shown at the MMFF. The movie was shown at the Hawaii International Film Festival (Nov. 12-22, 2015) alongside Heneral Luna and Magkakabaung (Coffin Maker), among other Filipino films. This had the effect of making the film a re-issue at the MMFF.
“Now, the films [that will be in the MMFF] will be specifically made for the festival… we were too lenient with them (Honor Thy Father), we could have disqualified them entirely,” she said.
Mr. Monteverde and the people behind the film are intent on filing a legal case against the MMFF as “anyone who uses logic will see that we should not have been disqualified,” said Mr. Monteverde.
“Yes, we will file a case against them. We’re going to the House probe on Monday so we can air our side of the story and get materials for our case,” said Mr. Matti in vernacular, referring to an resolution for an investigation filed by Laguna 1st district congressman Dan S. Fernandez (who is a member of the film’s cast). “We will push through with the case because the MMFF is so used to people just accepting their judgments, so this time, we’re fighting them,” said the director.
The MMFF is prepared for any case filed against them said Ms. Maceda, who maintained that all filmmakers involved in the festival were given the rules and regulations and were advised to read and re-read those regulations. “If they don’t like our rules, then they are free not to join [the festival]. We’re not the ones inviting them, they are the ones who are joining the MMFF,” she said.
COMMERCE VS ART
“[MMFF and those who are handling it should] really try to find out the real vision of the MMFF: is it for box office or is it for the arts? Because for us filmmakers, it should be balanced… when [the festival] was created, it wasn’t stated that it was solely for box office,” Honor Thy Father’s Mr. Monteverde said.
The Metro Manila Film Festival was created in 1974 “in recognition of the role of the film industry in providing artistic depictions of both this country’s stories and history” states the website of the MMDA.
It actually started in 1966 as the Manila Film Festival, initiated by then mayor Antonio Villegas as a way of getting Filipino films into the city’s so-called “first run” theaters which focused on showing American films. “[T]he yearly film festivals that followed popularized Tagalog films, thus convincing theater owners that these were marketable and profitable,” says the CCP Encyclopedia, “In 1975 the filmfest was expanded to include theaters and areas outside Manila and was renamed the Metro Manila Film Festival.”
There has always been tension between artistic and commercial considerations when it came to the festival. So much so that, according to the CCP Encyclopedia, “the decision to hold the annual ‘Gabi ng Parangal’ (Awards Night) on the third instead of the last day of the MMFF was dictated by promotional considerations. Early recognition generates interest in the award-winning films which ordinarily do not attract as much box-office attention as the more commercial or escapist films. During the festival, winning entries are announced in the movie ads to entice moviegoers into seeing the better-made films.”
The importance of being under consideration for Best Picture is clear: it is one way of getting more people to watch your film — and make your money back.
“Since the MMFF started, the more commercial/popular films have always dominated the box-office,” said DLSU’s Mr. Del Mundo, Jr. “But there were always a few films that attempted to go beyond the commercial,” he pointed out.
Through the years, quite a number of “quality” films won Best Picture: Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo (1976), Burlesk Queen (1977), Kisapmata (1981), Himala (1982), Karnal (1983), Jose Rizal (1998), Muro Ami (1999), and Baler (2008) are some. Whether they made money is another thing entirely. But “Best” is relative — 2003’s winner was Enteng Kabisote 3: Okay Ka, Fairy Ko: The Legend Goes On and On and On.
“Money is really at the root of the Festival. I think this is the reason why the MMDA is running the Festival,” Mr. Del Mundo, Jr. said.
“MMFF is a commercial film festival, sort of, but we are now more prudent in choosing which films will be included in it,” said Ms. Maceda, echoing Mr. Del Mundo, Jr.
As writer Jessica Zafra complained in a January 2013 article on Interaksyon.com: “Speaking of standards, why do we bother to review the festival entries when most of them are rubbish? Because they’re not supposed to be rubbish! Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, ‘entertainment’ and ‘commercial appeal’ are not synonyms for ‘garbage’. There are good commercial movies, and there are bad commercial movies. The bad outnumber the good because the studios think the viewers are idiots.”
Mr. Matti said that he is not “optimistic” about the future of the festival and has reservations about joining the festival again as the MMFF is not showing signs of change. (He admitted, though, that Honor Thy Father would have had a harder time at the box office if they decided to release the film on their own, outside the festival)
“The MMFF is the way it is because that is the concept of the festival — to promote commercial Pinoy movies. To change the Festival, you have to change its concept. Maybe the first step is to change the Executive Committee. The people in the committee have been there since the start of the Festival. Or better yet, start a new Festival with a different vision — a sort of Cinemalaya for the mainstream Pinoy Cinema,” said Mr. Del Mundo, Jr.