The dying industry’s elusive dream

by Nickie Wang

Filipino audiences have become much more discerning today than they were in the previous decades. No wonder, our local multiplexes are teeming with foreign films, mostly from Hollywood, because they are the only moving pictures that can, so far, match what audiences look for in a film.

It has been an elusive dream of every filmmaker to see his work of art appreciated both critically and commercially since those are the most effective known parameters in considering the film’s success.

There are artists who create something new and fresh with this amazing medium without the support of big movie outfits – I’m referring to directors of independent films. Some of those became victorious in their attempt to tell a story, but generally a lot them failed to maximize the potential of this medium of entertainment.

I have an Indian friend who always teased me about the state of filmmaking in the country. Although he said Bollywood also suffers the same lack of originality and fresh ideas, Filipino filmmakers have a lot of lessons to learn either from Bollywood or just from the neighboring countries when it comes to using the right technology and the proper way of storytelling.

Disagreeing, I mock my friend on how Bollywood films are made. I told him that it’s been their funny trademark to insert some dancing in almost every movie they make. It’s extremely hilarious that even in the most awkward situations (like after the actors get involved in a mad brawl, or two actors are in the middle of a heavy drama scene), they still manage to include an elaborate production number, which is way out of the story and totally unnecessary.

But still, he makes sense in saying that it’s the identity of their films. So, he asked me back what makes Filipino films different from the rest of the world. The question made me ponder, still I wasn’t able to give a definite answer. The truth is, unlike Bollywood movies or Chinese movies , Philippine-made films don’t have a distinct character.

The best according to Manunuri

The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the film critic organization behind Gawad Urian, recently came up with a list of the 10 best local films of the decade (2000 to 2009). If these films set the benchmark in local movie making, that would still be a big question.

Three of the films on the list are Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (2009), Lola (2009), and Serbis (2008). The other seven features are independently produced films that didn’t even see a big audience nor had the experience to be screened in major theaters.

Mendoza won at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 as Best Director for the film Kinatay, which is about the brutal murder of a woman. His next entry in the best films of the decade list is Lola, which follows the struggles of two grandmothers who respectively cope with the monetary consequences of their grandsons’ crimes. Meanwhile, Serbis, an equally controversial Mendoza film, is about a family who runs a desolate movie house that features porn flicks. None of these made box office record.

Some might say that it’s ridiculous to qualify a film based on its box-office receipts. But what’s the use of the awards a film had collected if still the public does not appreciate the entirety of it. Perhaps the chief reason why the members of Manunuri came up with the list is to give these films new followers and encourage them to give these 10 films a second look.

First on the list is Mario O’ Hara’s erotic drama Babae Sa Breakwater (2003). The film is an insight into the squalor and poverty of inner city life in the Philippines. It was a big winner in the Gawad Urian 2003 and was exhibited in Cannes Film Festival under the category Directors’ Fortnight. Amid all the awards and recognition, it was not commercially successful.

Magnifico (2003), a multi-awarded film of Mario J. delos Reyes had seven Famas awards, seven Gawad Urian thropies, eight Golden Screen awards  and Best Feature plum from international festivals like Berlin International Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival.

The indie, which starred then child star Jiro Manio and seasoned thespians Gloria Romero, Cherry Pie Picache, Amy Austria, Albert Martinez and Lorna Tolentino, was produced independently and was later distributed by GMA Films. Based on previous reports it did well in the tills.

Another multi-awarded film on the list is Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (2005), a story about a homosexual boy who is torn between his love for a young cop and his loyalty to his family. It brought home several Best Picture awards in and outside the country including Berlin International Film Festival, Asian Festival of 1st Films, Singapore and imagineNative Film Festival, Toronto. The total gross earning of Maximo is roughly P1.2 million.

One of the most notable films on the list is Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (2004). The film itself made history for being the longest local films to date. It runs for 10 hours.

Batang Westside (2001), also by Lav Diaz is based on his Palanca award-winning screenplay of the same title. The film is about a crime that happened in New Jersey and runs for five hours. In 2002, the movie earned major awards in FAP 2002, including Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay. Both films are still alien though to the general public.

Rounding the top 10 list are Kubrador (2006) and Tuhog (2000). Tuhog is the story of a mother and her daughter who were molested twice, first sexually and then through the exploitation of their story by a film outfit; while Kubrador follows the life of an old lady bet collector for jueteng, an illegal numbers game in the Philippines. Like the other entries in Manunuri’s list, they are commercially unsuccessful.

These are the films local critics believe are the best that we had in the past decade. The list somehow mirrors the current sad state of Philippine cinema. They fairly answer the question why the industry is hanging by a thread. First of all, we need massive audience to support the industry and that’s what has been missing all along.

Secondly, the proliferation of independent movies does not pump life into the dying industry. As a matter of fact, it only gives people the idea how miserable filmmaking in the Philippines in terms of technology. Lastly, if we are to talk about creativity and originality, as mentioned before, we are not the only country that suffers from the lack of it. But that doesn’t mean we have to join the bandwagon of copycats and complacent movie workers. As the saying goes, there are still opportunities.

3 responses to “The dying industry’s elusive dream

  1. Pingback: Philippine Cinema: the dying industry's elusive dream « WITHOUT WANG² | Vegabond Bloggers

  2. Amen to all you said especially about indies. A lot of people say indies save the industry but that idea is a crap. In other countries, the technology they are using is very current while our filmmakers use the technology other countries have already displayed in their museums. Nakakatawa pa puro gay themed movies or about extreme poverty. they are just wasting their time and money. Only gay people watch their films anyway.

  3. It’s so sad that they see indies as Philippine Cinema’s saving grace. Our mainstream movies are already awful. So what can we expect from the indies? Nothing but shit!

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