Is it too much to expect of our award-winning films in the international festivals to help change the internatiomal image of the Filipina as “fine body-stepping masseus” and “very dependable household helps”?
Will our image begin to change for the better soon, at least in some quarters because our actors have been reaping awards in international film festivals? Would American TV soaps stop mentioning “Philippines” as the best source country of household helps and body-stepping masseuses, and instead begin to refer to Filipinos as “those fine actors who bring home awards from film festivals”?
Long before Jaclyn Jose clinched the best actress award at the recently concluded Cannes International Film Festival, we, Filipinos, were after all, not at all “never heard’s” in the list of award-winning actors in international festivals.
In fact, some Pinoy film directors and scriptwriters have had formal recognition at the Cannes years before Raymond Red and Brillante Mendoza had theirs as directors. Lino Brocka’s Insiang, starring Hilda Koronel, made it to the (unarguably) world’s most prestigious international film festival as early as 1978 (though the film itself was released in the Philippines in 1976). Though Koronel didn’t win acting honors, she etched the image of the Filipina actress as a stunning beauty in the covers of several international magazines. The international star at that time was Farrah Fawcett—but the magazines reportedly ran bigger photos of Koronel shot at the Cannes.
From the ‘70s through the late ‘80s, Brocka’s films and its stars made Cannes followers aware of Filipinos as fine thespians living in a largely impoverished country. Brocka passed away in a car accident on May 22, 1991. Film lovers in the country couldn’t rant about his 25th death anniversary because Jaclyn Jose became the first ever Filipina and Southeast Asian to win best actress at the Cannes.
If you would Google for “Award-winning Filipino actors in international festivals,” you’d find out that outside Cannes, our actors began winning in international film festivals as early as 1995. And the first ever to win an award in an international film festival is our superstar Nora Aunor, and she notched it at Cairo International Film Fest for her performance as a housemaid sent to jail and to death allegedly for killing another servant.
Since 1995, about 20 actors have variously won awards in international film festivals and about 40 Filipino films have brought home major and special awards from well-known and little-known international festivals (though the truth is we’ve been winning mostly in the latter).
So why do some foreign scriptwriters seem to still think of us largely as menials and not as lurking fine actors and engaging filmmakers? Or even as a country that produces women who snatch international beauty titles? (Isn’t the reigning Miss Universe a Filipina? And she is not the first ever we have turned out.)
Our award-winning films in the global festivals seem to hardly change our world image as a country of menials because practically all of them tell stories of poverty and deprivation. They are stories of day-to-day struggle to eke out a living in the boondocks and in the congested, cash-strapped cities. They have been lumped as “poornography.”
We may come up with That Thing Called Tadhana or English Only, Please whose characters are middle class and pre-occupied with middle class angst, but would the screening committees of the international festivals accept a film of that kind (and with a happy ending at that) as an entry from a country which was heralded to be “the fastest growing economy” only this year?
It’s possible that our indie filmmakers are willing to make movies about middle class angst since most of them will be familiar with it as most of them come from that socio-economic class—and it is mostly the indie filmmakers who bother to submit their outputs to international festivals. BUT they seem to have been conditioned to believe that films “showing the resiliency of the Filipinos amidst fatal poverty” are the most acceptable to the screening committees and the members of the jury during the actual festival.
Something like “neo-imperialism” seem to be insidiously at work in the international festivals that favor to showcase the poverty and suffering of the citizens of certain nations.
This is not a call for pollyana movies, but more for a variation in the mood and setting of films we send to the global festivals. Sure, the poor, the oppressed, and the depraved have never left us, but there are so many other kinds of characters among us whose angst are worth distilling in films, too.
If our filmmakers can’t help us have a better image as a people, it’s okay. We should turn to other artists, other professionals and experts, and other agents of change for that serious and well-meaning concern.