(Last of two parts)
Despite thousands of screaming fans that line the streets of Manila for the “parade of the stars” every year, the long-time Metro Manila Film Festival —which was intended to revive the movie industry—is a failure.
Rez Cortez, president of the Actors’ Guild of the Philippines, said the 10-day Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), a moneymaking scheme to raise funds for the benefit of industry players and workers, has caused a bitter row over money instead of building up the industry.
“The MMFF has raised hundreds of millions over the years, but where is the money? The beneficiaries claim they have been shortchanged. They demand a full accounting,” Cortez told The Manila Times.
A Marcos-era law creating the MMFF provides that the 20 percent amusement tax paid by moviegoers from December 24 to January 3 should go to industry workers. MMFF later expanded its coverage to the provinces, allowing theater owners to impose add-on costs at the box office during the period, earning more revenues.
As provided by law, the beneficiaries of this bonanza are as follows: Movie Workers Welfare Fund (Mowelfund), 50 percent; Film Academy, 20 percent; Film Anti-Piracy Board, 20 percent; Optical Media Board, 5 percent; and Film Development Council of the Philippines, 5 percent.
Cortez said the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) took over control of the MMFF when the late President Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986 and then the problem over money took root.
When Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Bong Revilla Jr who are both actors, filed a bill seeking to return control of the MMFF to industry players, they discovered during the hearings that the funds were never audited and hundreds of millions are missing, Cortez said.
He said the Commission on Audit (COA) made a probe and found out that from 2002 to 2008 alone the beneficiaries did not receive their full shares, and the discrepancies amounted to about P82 million.
The law says the beneficiaries should receive their share within 20 days after the film festival, but the Actors ‘Guild and the Film Academy said it took more than one year before they received any money and the MMDA did not submit financial reports.
“They used the money before they gave a portion of it to us. Ginigisa kami sa sariling mantika,” said Leo Martinez, president of the Film Academy of the Philippines.
Dominic Du, president of the Motion Pictures Distributors Association and member of the MMFF Executive Committee, said Cortez and Martinez raised “old issues, which were settled a long time ago.”
He said 85 percent of the P19.769 million collected in 2013 film festival, for example, had been remitted to the beneficiaries after deducting the cost of awards and prizes of P4.675 million, operating expenses of P594,000 and donation to Yolanda victims of P500,000.
On the charge that the beneficiaries receive their share by installment, Du said majority of the beneficiaries prefer it that way” so they will not spend their money all at once.”
“Majority wants it that way. We are in a democracy,” he said.
Du said he regrets the existing situation in the movie industry because the stakeholders are squabbling over money instead of working together to promote Philippine movies.
He denies charges that the producers, theater owners and the MMDA are part of a syndicate that deprives industry workers of their benefits.
“To tell you the truth, they don’t need to put up a syndicate para mabuhay. They are well off,” he said.
Cortez and Martinez called on Congress to amend the MMFF law and said the film festival should be taken out of the control of the MMDA, which has no connection with the movie industry.
“MMDA is a square peg in a round hole and it’s receiving money it does not deserve,” Cortez said.
The Times made several futile attempts to contact MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino but his Public Information Officer, Candy de Jesus, would not even answer calls.
“Maybe Tolentino has something to hide. Maybe, he would only answer calls from the Ombudsman,” Martinez said.
The screaming fans that watch the “Parade of the Star” every year may stoke the egos of actors and actresses and bring smiles to faces of the organizers of the MMFF but they will not help revive a dying industry.
The Philippine film industry, one of the oldest in Asia, has showed a steady decline in terms of viewership and number of films produced since 1980, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).
Viewership dropped from 131 million in 1996 to 63 million in 2004 and from a high of 200 films produced in a year in the 1980s the number dropped to 56 in 2006 and to 30 in 2007, a NSCB report said.
Industry players point to piracy and competition from foreign films as the cause of the decline, citing the fact that the top-grossing movies in the Philippines are made in Hollywood by giant firms with multi-million dollar budgets that local producers could not match.
Rise of the Indies
Independent filmmakers known as “Indies” have emerged from out of nowhere to produce 45 films in 2010 and 44 in 2011, making up about half of the total movies made in the country but only time will tell if it will lead to a revival of the industry.
Indie directors such as Brillante Mendoza, Pepe Diokno and Jim Libiran have won awards at prestigious film festivals abroad but the films they produced, which delve on social problems caused by corruption and poverty, seldom achieve box-office success.
Producers claim the most popular local movies are light, romantic comedies, which do not require big budgets and result in more profits, and these films compete for honors in the MMFF every year.
“The quality of these films is not good because the target is only a portion of the market, which is the ‘masa.’ They have to spend more money to reach a bigger market, and a film usually costs from P10 million to P15 million to produce,” Cortez said.
He said indie films cost less because producers, many of them students, don’t pay fantastic fees to movie stars and they use cheap video production equipment, which theatre owners reject.
Cortez said MMFF would not accept indie films as entries despite their big contribution to the revival of the industry and the honor they brought to the country with the awards Indie directors reaped abroad.
“They have their own regional festival for indie filmmakers,” Cortez said.
In December the MMFF will hold another film festival for the “masa” but the issues raised against it remain unresolved and the industry still faced a bleak future despite the tax privilege it enjoyed for years to help its revival and growth.
If the MMFF is a failure, industry stakeholders should look somewhere else for salvation. No need for them to look far, the Indie films offer a lot of promise.