Ironically, I was in Hong Kong through the week that Philippine Cinema’s newest celebrities—the Hong Kong-based OFWs of 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival Best Picture, Sunday Beauty Queen—were enjoying sweet victory on home ground.
As I do every year I’m away for the holidays though, I quickly checked cinema schedules the day after getting back, to catch at the very least the festival winner of the MMFF. In fact, I did so with more haste this time around as it was unclear to me whether the all-Filipino slate in movie houses had indeed been extended from the original [albeit already abridged]10-day run to January 7, as I had read on social media.
But to my surprise, Sunday Beauty Queen was not in the roster of movies showing at my usual cinema haunts. Take note, this was only January 4, a day after the 10-day guarantee that only MMFF entries would be shown on the big screen.
Naturally, I found this quite strange. A Best Picture Award after all is more than enough reason to keep a movie in cinemas, with the victory sure to create a buzz, ergo draw in more moviegoers.
And so as I enjoyed my last day of disconnect from showbizlandia, I simply thought to myself, “Wala talaga sigurong nanoonood,” while making a mental note to go over box office figures with my staff at work the next day.
Before I even got to the office though, I got my answer—straight from Sunday Beauty Queen director Baby Ruth Villarama herself at the beauty salon of all places!
The meeting and one-on-one interview that ensued with Villarama was purely by chance. As I was sitting down for my mani-pedi, I overheard two people talking about a screening that night for Sunday Beauty Queen at SM Megamall.
“I hope they can come,” said the woman’s voice.
“Thank you; I’m sure they’d like to as soon as they finish work,” replied a male voice.
When I turned around, I was surprised to see Villarama chatting with Jaton Zulueta, son of Piandre Salon owner, Rosalinda Francisco. I waited until they were done and approached Direk Baby Ruth whom I had met at one of Sunday Beauty Queen’s press conferences before Christmas. After exchanging pleasantries I learned that three of the stars of documentary—Hazel Perdido, Mylyn Jacobo and Leo Selo—were getting the royal treatment just behind her. What a coincidence!
“Ms. Francisco apparently watched the movie and was so touched by their stories, she reached out to the production and invited us for a day of pampering,” she happily told me.
The director added that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect since the trio were due to return to work in Hong Kong in a couple of days.
Deciding to leave the three to enjoy their hair treatments and foot spas, I sheepishly asked Direk Baby Ruth if I can “bother” her through hers, with the question atop my mind: “Why has your movie been pulled out of cinemas so soon?”
She replied in frustration, “I know! I’ve been asking the same question because we’re Best Picture!”
Suddenly, like a pair of old ladies on salon day, we both sat down and chatted away while Piandre’s well-trained therapists quietly fussed over us.
“How was the turn out during the official run?” I dared ask.
“We’ve been sold out in cinemas!” she exclaimed. “The response of the people, it’s been overwhelming actually, especially since we’re a documentary. But for some reason, I’ve spent this entire time going from cinema to cinema begging them to keep running our movie, even as people on social media keep posting pleas not to pull us out. It seems like Heneral Luna all over again, but we have yet to see where this will go.”
As of the director’s last count on Wednesday, only five cinemas, mostly in SM Malls, have given slots to Sunday Beauty Queen. In 2015’s MMFF, Best Picture Heneral Luna was similarly pulled out of cinemas prematurely and screened in cinemas again, following a relentless social media campaign. [Coincidentally, both movies are Buchi Boy Productions].
I asked again if she cared to analyze the turn of events, and Villarama ventured, “Well, here’s a situation wherein what cinema owners had been used to in past MMFFs had been changed. Much as I don’t want to put labels and separate mainstream and indies, you can’t help but wonder if we would have been pulled out of cinemas this early if we had a big production company behind us. There are those who’d like to think that this move to pull us out of cinemas—along with other MMFF entries—is their way of trying to show, ‘Hey, this change didn’t work; let’s go back to what it was like before’.”
For the documentarist-producer-director, whose past credits include Little Azkals, Jazz in Love and A Letter from Ifugao, so much has been achieved by giving an opportunity for new material to be shown in the MMFF this year, which would all go to waste if written off by pulling them out of cinemas.
“I am still hopeful that everyone will rally behind Filipino movies as a whole—regardless of whether indie or mainstream—because what we’ve seen is a very encouraging response from the public in watching something different.”
Having taken many film courses abroad, as well as joining international film festivals, Villarama said she has seen first hand what a united effort among producers, cinema owners and the government can do to support a country’s movie-making industry.
“We just have to work together and be a little more patient,” she added.
She had a similar reply to T-Zone’s request for a reaction over Senator Tito Sotto’s proposal that day to hold a separate independent film festival during school sem break every year, in favor of bringing back traditional family movies to the MMFF.
“We already have numerous platforms for independent film festivals – Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals and even the NCCA and FDCP’s Cinema Rehiyon, among others. To propose another venue separating indie films from what we’ve already accomplished this year in the MMFF, which is to stop drawing a line between independent films and mainstream films, will be a huge step back.
“We should stop putting labels on our movies and instead genuinely support Filipino films as a whole because the fact remains that Christmas Day is still the best time to show the best of Filipino movies every year, and I believe we should keep it that way regardless of indie and mainstream.
“If a real effort should be made toward this, it should be for all stakeholders—the government, producers, cinemas—to promote and market all Filipino movies. Maybe the malls where we show can start with putting up posters of the festival next time like they do in other countries,” she suggested.
As to what the government can specifically do to support the Filipino filmmaker, Villarama had this to say: “I took up Film Distribution abroad and learned from there how in France, only 25-percent of Hollywood movies are shown throughout the year. The rest is allocated for French- and EU-made movies. [In my opinion], that’s a more concrete way of supporting Filipino films instead of separating indies from mainstream all over again.”
Is she discouraged by the pullout of Sunday Beauty Queen from cinemas? The ever-optimistic director replied in the negative and said she is simply hoping for the best.
“I’m proud of what Sunday Beauty Queen has achieved as the first documentary to become a finalist to the MMFF. And most of all, I’m proud of how the stories of the real-life characters in the movie have touched and inspired so many other Filipinos. That alone is encouraging, and that’s the whole point of this documentary,” she ended.