Since its inauguration in 2005, the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival has seen a steady rise in moviegoers who opt for an alternative on the big screen. In figures, this progression translates to a 15- to 20-percent audience growth annually with 2013 as the festival’s banner year, hitting the 100,000-attendance mark.
Encouraged by these numbers, Cinemalaya decided to reach out to metro-provincial cities in 2016 and mounted the festival simultaneously in Cebu City. The resulting box office, however, was far from what they hoped.
“On the first day of Cinemalaya’s showcase in Ayala Center Cebu, there were very long lines and the theater was full. On the second day, we only had about six or eight people inside the cinema at a given screening. The reason? Because the first day was free,” Chris Millado, Cinemalaya Festival Director and concurrently Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)’s vice president and cultural director, openly related at the sidelines of the festival’s 2017 launch.
He noted nonetheless that the enthusiastic audience on that first day was comprised of the youth, much like the composition in Manila.
“But apparently, they are still not willing to pay for tickets for non-commercial films,” Millado surmised.
“What this tells us is that we still have a long way to go in terms of audience development and of audience education. We thought Cebu was going be a breakthrough because compared to other areas, they have a big institute for cinema. As it turns out, we still have to do a lot of ground work, but we are not giving up.”
He furthered that even with 2013’s record breaking audience turn out, the festival still has a long way to go even in Metro Manila.
“Although we were jumping for joy that we hit a hundred thousand in 2013, that’s still a fraction of the cinemagoers in Metro Manila alone. We are only reaching the intellegencia – the students, the educated, etc. But we still have to do a lot of work in terms of making this engage with a broader mass.”
When The Manila Times asked what steps they are taking in this direction, Millado unveiled what he calls their “secret weapon.”
“One of the secret weapons of Cinemalaya is the ‘Cinemalaya Campus’ where we engage the younger generation in terms of film appreciation. A lot of these kids who attended the campus when we first launched it many years ago became subscribers of Cinemalaya. And now that they are professionals, they bring their families to watch the festivals with them. They have become our advocates for independent films,” he replied.
The ‘big picture’
Cinemalaya’s experience in Cebu is not the only lesson Millado and his team are taking with them in the festival’s 13th installment. Their theme “See the big picture” was apparently also the product of a realization.
While Cinemalaya has always been held at CCP, the festival began screening at partner movie house Ayala Malls in 2010. All the same most cinemagoers still braved heavy traffic and July rains to catch the movies at CCP.
“The theme came from the question ‘what makes Cinemalaya at CCP very unique?’ We were asking why people would still flock CCP? We discovered that it’s about the Cinemalaya-going experience—a ratio of 70:30 with Ayala Malls.”
Unlike watching entries at the malls, Millado said moviegoers at CCP enjoy the experience of an art center where they can see other works like paintings and sculptures. To date, Cinemalaya remains the only film festival in the country that is held in a performing arts venue.
“Most importantly, you are engaging with filmmakers themselves who are here and fellow movie enthusiasts who can participate in dynamic interesting conversations right after the movie. I think that makes up the excitement. It’s a place for community that you don’t get as an experience at mall. That’s the big picture,” Millado added.
Armed with nine full length feature films and 12 short films, Millado says that they hope to top Cinemalaya 2016’s 70,000 audience tally this year.
Source of pride
With the ongoing controversy hounding the more market-driven Metro Manila Film Festival, The Manila Times asked Millado for their group’s take on the issue.
“From the beginning, Cinemalaya has maintained that its platform is independent and that the content it produces are driven by artistic decisions of the director, who we consider as the visionary of the project, and not by the market. It doesn’t surprise me that this has happened to MMFF. Because when you are out there you are already at the behest of the market forces. It’s not that simple,” Millado replied.
The festival director added that the argument in MMFF is not simply independent versus commercial content. On one hand, Millado said, are the theater owners, big producers and the audiences who somehow still clamor for light hearted and family content during the Christmas period. Meanwhile, there is a group of filmmakers who would like to challenge the taste of audiences.
“But my sense is, if we had the theater owners and the big producers with us, what is sacrificing a little bit of revenue to invest in developing the audiences? That might be one of the challenges and a promise that could still happen in MMFF,” Millado further noted.
This statement weighs heavier as the CCP in itself, monetarily speaking, has a lot more to lose in holding Cinemalaya annually.
“But this is not a money-making project for CCP,” Millado told The Manila Times.
He revealed that while the government allocates P15-million for Cinemalaya, CCP really needs P40 to P45 million. Sixty percent of the government’s budget goes to subsidizing the films and the prizes. CCP then has to shoulder the cost for theaters, ushers, marketing and other aspects of holding a film festival.
“Hopefully in the future, when we have attracted more audiences, we can ask for more money from the government. After all, Cinemalaya single-handedly pushed Philippine independent cinema and changed the landscape of movies not only in the Philippines. It has helped showcase Philippine cinema to the world. And if there’s a source of pride, what is P15 million?”