Okay, so. There’s this thing that happens in the Philippines in the last two weeks of December + first week or so of January, which is locally known as the MMFF — the Metro Manila Film Festival. During that period of time, nearly all foreign-made films are punted out of movie schedules in the various cities that make up Metro Manila. What do we get to see over the holidays instead? A small group of specially-selected films that have been chosen to dominate the theaters for that short period of time. These specially-selected films have to be Filipino-made, and will be competing for festival prizes.
No doubt that when the MMFF got started, those selected films met exceptionally high standards of artistic merit and quality: Himala (Miracle), which starred Nora Aunor; Imortal (Immortal), whose cast included Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon, and Cherie Gil; and Magic Temple, by the inimitable fantasy directors Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes. The festival also saw firsts such as the animated feature Adarna: The Mythical Bird; Markova: Comfort Gay, which did double duty as a historical film (being set partly during the Second World War) and an LGBTQIA+ movie; and more.
Even the more “commercial” entries have become modern Filipino film classics, including the very first Shake, Rattle, and Roll (a horror film made up of three independent segments, featuring three different casts).
Problem was, as time went on, more and more of the films that were being submitted for consideration as festival entrants threw out the ideas of artistic merit and quality in favor of hokey stories and blatant exploitation of the audiences who would flock to the cinemas with their families, there being little else to do on Christmas Day after all the day’s celebratory meals had been eaten.
It got to the point that the MMFF films began to turn themselves into nothing more than glorified — and excruciatingly long — commercials for all the different products that the movie actors would need to promote.
This year, there was a massive shake-up in the rules for the MMFF, and it was about damned time: the organizers decreed a return to artistic merit and quality. As a result, the crop of movies that would be monopolizing the local cinemas in December could all best be described as being “indie” in one way or another.
The change in the rules made waves. I was personally happy that I might get a chance to watch something substantial, but that would not fail to be entertaining as well. A lot of people, however, decried the new rules, and the rationalizations that they trotted out to support their views boiled down, basically, to:
“Filipino families are used to seeing mindless stories with hack actors and way too much product placement at Christmas! They don’t want to think! They don’t want to be challenged! OMG WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN”
And the prevailing view on my social media sites was that the films and filmmakers who got shut out of the MMFF as a result of the new selection rules never bothered to make quality films. They just wanted to churn out a shit film that would make them tons and tons of money precisely because that film, and those of its ilk, would hold a monopoly over local cinema schedules. The rules for quality were supposedly always a part of the selection rules; but they had not been enforced stringently for many years, resulting in an overload of thoroughly rank and stinky stories being force-fed to local audiences.
Local audiences were being conditioned to accept the filmic equivalent of days-old horseshit as film festival fare — and all for the glory of turning a quick buck!
So this year’s festival was plagued with far more vitriol than usual: see also condescending producers and whiny “stars”, plus the pernicious and frankly EVIL “rule” that seemed to say, if an MMFF 2016 film didn’t make any money on its first two days of release, it would be pulled out of cinema schedules. That is unheard of, and that is nothing less than blatant manipulation in favor of the big producers who want these “indie” films to be deprived of the audiences that they deserve, and who want to substitute their own stupid stories instead! In other words, they want to keep feeding Filipino moviegoers horseshit!
I’m glad to report that many of the films in this year’s festival seem to be doing well. There are now demands for merchandise, and there are early indications as to who might do well in the awards derbies. I’m glad. I’m glad.
But here’s my opinion on it all:
No matter what the box office receipts look like this year, we have got to keep fighting in order to see another great crop of actually good Filipino movies in the next MMFF, and in the next, and in the next. We can’t let the whiny stupid producers of horseshit win any more. They can organize their own damned festival! But the MMFF films must once again showcase the art and culture of the Philippines. The MMFF films must once again be a way for filmmakers of all ages, genders, and provinces and regions to tell their stories.