The weeklong French Film Festival from June 10 to 15 at the Greenbelt 3 Cinema in Makati City was a resounding success with consecutive full house screenings of titles like Venus in Furs (La Venus a la Fourrure) by controversial Polish director Roman Polanski; Mood Indigo (L’Ecume des Jours) by Academy Award winner, director and screenwriter, Michel Gondry; as well as the highly recommended political satire on the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Quai d’Orsay.
While the huge turnout of some 10,000 moviegoers to the festival signifies a keen interest in French films among a good number of Filipinos, the French Embassy Manila’s Audiovisual Attaché Martin Macalintal would still like to see the day when films from the European country are shown commercially.
In a one-on-one interview with The Manila Times at the conclusion of the 19th French Film Festival, Macalintal said, “Our role is to support the commercialization of French films in the Philippines, so there is an economic factor in the [event]. But outside of the festival, there are hardly any commercial screenings of French films in the country, because in my opinion, [local]theater operators do not believe in the marketability of French or European films here as a whole.”
He, however, appreciates the significant growth in cinematic tastes of Filipino moviegoers, in that local distributors have been actively purchasing French film rights as of late. Macalintal cited Venus in Furs as an example, whose rights have been acquired by Wilson Yulo Que of Pioneer Films, as well as the upcoming biopic of legendary French designer Yves Saint Laurent. Both movies are set for commercial release in Philippine cinemas.
Given such encouragement on the Filipino’s appreciation for French films, The Manila Times ventured to discuss the flipside of this cinematic relationship between the two countries and peoples, and was surprisingly informed by the audiovisual attaché that since 2000, the French movie industry has continuously held commercial screenings of Filipino films.
“It is not a one-way relationship. The French have long been supporting Filipino films,” Macalintal related. “When Eric Matti’s On the Job was screened in the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, it was immediately bought by a French film distributor for commercial release.”
He further noted that the French moviegoer’s appreciation of Filipino films began in 2000 when Raymond Red’s Anino was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, there has been a keen interest in the Filipino culture as a whole, among the French, which they believe is satisfied by local cinematic works.
“Their interest in Filpino films come from a natural curiosity—they want to see what they don’t see in their culture. They are able to experience Filipino culture, which is new to them, through cinema,” Macalintal added.
Having worked for the French Embassy for 18 years, the attaché has seen the French to be very open to “cultural diversity,” and to hold many similar values with Filipinos.
“The French are very much interested in Filipino culture. That is proven through countless screenings of Filipino films in different festivals in France with kilometric lines on opening night. They can relate to how we, as a culture, deal with situations and relationships, which is very similar to theirs,” he said.
Despite observations that Europeans are only interested in films that show poverty and the hardships of Filipinos, Macalintal quickly disproves the assertion with the French.
“The French are not interested in Filipino movies that merely focus on the environment or setting, but the human aspect, the emotions, and the entirety of the movie’s story that connects with viewers,” Macalintal corrected. “The different stories of Filipino families and their relationships—how conflicts are resolved—are what the French are interested in. Not just the [economic]situation of the people.”
However, Macalintal cannot deny that films with poverty as a theme are often shown abroad, not because audiences are partial to them, but precisely because it is the Filipino producers themselves that make these kinds of movies for international distribution.
“The ‘feel-good’ romantic comedies that are produced here are never sold by Filipino producers to the international market. They are not even sub-titled to begin with,” Macalintal explained. “What they do sell to the international market are films that highlight the negative side of life in the Philippines.”
Essentially, it is up to the local producers to uplift the Filipino’s image through cinematic art. For if they ask the French what they would like to see from Philippine cinema, their answer would be “everything.”