What change looks like

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KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

AS one has been wont to do in the past, for the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and for the other filmfests here (Cinema One and Cinemalaya), three days were spent since Christmas to watch local films.

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Granted that this is the first time in years that I’ve watched all MMFF films–once you see an Enteng Kabisote film, you’ve seen them all, and you can only stand to watch Kris Aquino for so many films.

Yet there was little reason to celebrate this MMFF, and contrary to the way it was sold, there was nothing here that was mind-blowing or life-changing–certainly no revolutions–and the good could only be cancelled out by the terrible and regressive.

The spin
Time and energy was spent declaring that the MMFF was offering change, insisting that it is for cultural and audience development, fashioning it as a fight against big business and capital, and a disengagement from the appeal of the box office. In the beginning, we were regaled with notions of the independent versus the commercial, the “small” films versus the Mother Lily-produced “Mano Po” or the Star Cinema-produced “Super Parental Guardians.” One side declared the MMFF was for children and families; the other side pushed back: we offer quality films across genres, for all audiences!

Some members of the MMFF Execom and Selection Committee tried to take control of the discussion, and failed. After all, unless you can defend the choices that were made this year relative to the choices made in the previous years; unless we are willing to go into lengthy discussions about taste, and film development, and the diversity of audiences; unless we are willing to admit that the independent has come to be conflated with the mainstream, and how the big production companies have used “the indie” as a way to expand their audience; unless we are willing to admit that the audience, as with all of the nation, is clearly divided given just the high cost of watching movies, and given taste; then there is no way of taking control of this discussion.

The other question of course is whether or not we’re even willing to have this discussion.

It is as such no surprise that the promise of “change” in the MMFF has really only meant the noise that prematurely celebrated this year’s eight films. We heard it said that there is a film for everyone, that these films symbolize change, that it is the success of the quality film over the sure box-office hits. The audiences were implored to go watch all eight films, and to demand for it in the cinemas–never mind that none of us knew what these films were about, and why these were chosen, save for quotes from members of the selection committee that established mostly that some of them were contextualizing their choices not in the way local film has evolved in recent years, but in stereotypical assessments of MMFF films in general.

The silenced
Just as so much noise was generated given the choices made by this year’s MMFF, and just as that noise continues given the expected audience turnout–going to the movies has become a Pinoy Christmas tradition after all–there are many things that are being silenced by this exercise of change over at the MMFF.

For one thing, we have yet to be told about why any of these films were chosen at all. Sure, there were films like “Die Beautiful” (written by Rody Vera, directed by Jun Lana) and the sequel of “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank” (written by Chris Martinez, directed by Marlon Rivera) that are worth watching because the fictions offer at least something new for those who watch commercial films, but there are also “Kabisera” and “Vince And Kath And James” here, chosen for reasons that are beyond me.

“Kabisera” has more loopholes in its narrative and script than any other family drama I’ve seen Regal Films churn out in the MMFFs of recent years. “Vince And Kath And James” is a million steps backwards for the local rom-com (in MMFF and beyond), which has already gotten over the need to objectify the girl’s body and use it–literally! –as a site of struggle between two boys. And for a movie that was for the youth–I watched it in a theater packed with teenagers squealing every time the male lead would appear on screen–there is nothing more irresponsible than feeding them a romance where attempted rape is made justifiable by the man’s jealousies.

And then there is “Sunday Beauty Queen” (directed by BabyruthVillarama), which is a welcome but inexplicable choice, because it is a documentary that answers to a different set of standards from the rest of the MMFF films: how was this film measured relative to the other feature films that did not make it to the top eight?

Let’s not even begin asking about the English-language film “Saving Sally” in a festival that is purportedly “for the people.”

The same
The truth is for all the grand declarations of change, this MMFF has fallen silent on exactly the same things that the past MMFFs have. There is an utter lack of transparency about how these films were chosen, and explanations are hard to come by.

We are treated to a set of criteria for judging, as with Cinema One and Cinemalaya, but unlike these two, the MMFF is no private enterprise, run as it is by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), a government agency, and using public funds and resources as it does, from Mocha speaking at a Malacañang press briefing, to the Film Development Council of the Philippine (FDCP) taking it on as project. The burden of transparency as such is heavier on the MMFF.

There’s also this: for all the notions of battling with the commercial films and refusing formula, not only is there formula in this year’s MMFF, there is also the fact that all it wanted to do was to have a piece of the market that Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto have been able to depend on in Christmases past, a movie-going public held hostage by the consumerist holiday and the escapism that film allows. This MMFF just wanted a piece of that pie.

Different capitalists, same victims.

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3 Comments

  1. “…never mind that none of us knew what these films were about, and why these were chosen…”
    “…we have yet to be told why any of these films were chosen at all….”
    “…chosen for reasons that are beyond me.”

    Reasons unknown, but those reasons are beyond you? Cultural samples were there for the sampling. Cultural crititique would have been worth the time to sample them. But we are all in the dark. Did the change consist in no one issuing passes to cultural critics? “Critics” have a bad rap these days? As critics go, spoon feeding is a big no no; critics have their own standards. They come up with their own reasons for the cultural worth of anything.

  2. It looks like I am the only one who wasted his time to read this column. I feel like an idiot. Really sad.

  3. Different capitalists, same victims..so are “your capitalists” superior to the others? If they are not, what’s the beef, exactly?