AFTER a good seven years of doing the arts and culture beat, writing reviews, doing cultural assessments, I have surprised even myself that my interest seems to have dwindled.
It’s not that nothing’s going on, as it all just seems secondary to the state of the nation, the urgencies of which cannot be overstated at this point in time. When you don’t have a government that delivers credible information, and no opposition that provides an alternative ideological viewpoint, and all you have is social/media caught up in troll discourse, trends, and hashtags, there is little energy left for arts and culture.
Until you realize that it is exactly the chaotic, confusing, out-of-control state of the nation that highlights as well the state of the arts–its crises of patronage politics and parochialism included.
MMFF, change, transparency
The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2016 has decided to stand for change. It’s been called a revolution and renaissance, as it offers “quality” films to moviegoers, different from the usual MMFF fare.
That is, unlike Christmases past with Vice Ganda and AiAi de las Alas, Kris Aquino and Vic Sotto, with other stars we see on TV every day, which ensure free promotion and box-office hits. This is not to put these films down, as it is to point out how and why these people churn out million-peso hits every Christmas. It’s also to say that while family comedies are sure hits, there have also been better films through the years, from Bonifacio, Ang Unang Pangulo to Honor Thy Father, Shake Rattle and Roll 13 and English Only, Please.
But MMFF 2016 does not acknowledge this state of affairs and instead implores audiences to trust the choices made for them by the selection committee, based on criteria set by the executive committee, never mind that none of those choices were vetted or discussed. This lack of transparency in this “changed” MMFF is surprising not only because the new government had promised transparency, but also because this has been the crisis of MMFF all this time–-not just in terms of how things are run, but also where its money goes.
And while MMFF likes to say that it’s a private entity, it’s still being run by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), a government office, and the amusement tax it does not pay is still considered as public funds that should be audited. This has been asked of it since 2014 by the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), and again in December 2015, and again in January 2016 during a congressional investigation.
Yet change has not meant addressing these concerns, and certainly it hasn’t meant a critical discussion about film in general, and MMFF in particular. Instead it has meant a superficial shift to a new set of people, a new set of rules and criteria, a different set of films, none of which are the fundamental changes we need to see, which include not just transparency, but also the democratization of the process itself.
This is nothing but a mere changing of the guards. And that’s no change at all.
Art and feudalism
Probably the more critical reveal of the relationship between the state of nation and the state of art though is in the crisis being faced by farmers in Tagum, Davao del Norte, at the Lapanday Foods plantation. For years, the farmers were kept from actually tilling their own land on their own terms, even after they were awarded these lands. Other farmers are tied down to Lapanday contracts that have them earning a pittance. This kind of oppression of farmers, and the violence that farmers have been subjected to in their fight for their land, have no place in a government that has promised change.
Yet here we are, talking about Lapanday Foods, which is owned by the Lorenzos, one of whom owns Silverlens Galleries–-opening a new space right in the Lapanday Center in Makati. Now that connection can be dismissed as an overreach, and this demand might look like an overreaction, but neither of those assertions would be valid.
Because this state of affairs behooves us all to wonder about the relationships we keep with those who enable us to do the work that we do, and what we in turn enable them to do. It requires us to look into the feudal relationships we keep, and how we become complicit in the narrative that allows farmers to be oppressed. And at a time when the feudal relationship is revealed to be violent and unjust, the demand on us as cultural workers is to at least question the engagements we have with entities that operate on this injustice.
One hopes Pio Abad, Martha Atienza, Gabriel Barredo, Frank Callaghan, Genevieve Chua, Chati Coronel, Corinne de San Jose, Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Dina Gadia, Gregory Halili, Pow Martinez, Wawi Navarroza, Renato Orara, Gina Osterloh, Bernardo Pacquing, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Hanna Pettyjohn, Maria Taniguchi, Ryan Villamael, Yee I-Lann, and Eric Zamuco, all Silverlens-represented artists, will at least take a good hard look in the mirror and think about the farmers of Lapanday who have lived with injustice all these years.
Here is a critical juncture when artists might take a stand for nation, and stand on the side of justice and truth. One hopes they don’t miss the opportunity the way the MMFF has.