Give them a break


ONE of this column’s readers, Ms. Lilia Papa, wrote: “Manong Boy, I could not describe what I felt after watching ‘Heneral Luna.’ Then your words expressed them. It was haunting, indeed, and disturbing. I wish you could write to reshow ‘Andres Bonifacio.’ ”

Thank you for your kind words, Ms. Pineda. She was referring to the column I wrote about the film “Heneral Luna” (28 September).

I heard that “Heneral Luna” had reached the P240 million revenue milestone—the breakeven point of the film. The film cost P80 million to make and a film has to make three times its production cost just to break even, because revenues have to be split three ways, between the government in the form of taxes, the producers and the theatre owners.

“Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo,” which won a total of nine prizes including Best Picture and the Gat Puno Antonio Villegas Cultural Award at the Metro Manila Film Festival early this year, was produced by the same makers of “Heneral Luna,” Artikulo Uno. It reportedly cost P100 million to make. Sadly it nowhere near came to breaking even. So I am very happy that the Artikulo Uno people this time around have a chance to actually make some money with “Heneral Luna.” Quality films should be encouraged by our patronage at the tills.

And I agree with Ms. Pineda. It is, indeed, a good idea to rerun “Bonifacio” in certain theatres, or for block screenings, or even just to tour it in schools to give more people a chance to see a film that deserves to be seen.

Unlike “Heneral Luna,” students were not required by their history or social studies teachers to see “Bonifacio.” I suspect this may be partly because of the controversial contention that Andres Bonifacio is the first Philippines president (as the film’s title says), which is not taught in our history books.

Or perhaps it depicts the disturbing reality that the founder of the Philippine revolution against Spain, the Supremo of the Katipunan, was murdered not by the Spanish but by his own Katipuneros. It tells us even then, we Filipinos, our leaders and our social movements, were wracked and ultimately defeated by factional dissent and bitter infighting. However, the same truths are depicted in “Heneral Luna,” which is why it became so popular to begin with. The truth hurts but there is no denying it.

It is quite natural for historical accounts to be varied and divided, as they are written from different perspectives. The same is true with historical films. In a previous Metro Manila Film Festival, for instance, the biopic on Emilio Aguinaldo depicted Bonifacio as a traitor who deserved his fate (and, of course, Aguinaldo as the hero).

It is important for today’s youth to become acquainted with events from the past, varied as those interpretations may be. We keep repeating the tragedies of history because most Filipinos don’t know their history and don’t learn from them. Indeed, I find it appalling that most kids nowadays don’t even know what happened during Martial Law or don’t know about the 1986 People Power Revolution, which are only a few decades back.

Films that portray history can be an important part of the social studies curriculum. Analyzing and comparing the movie version to what actually occurred or what is written in our history books can only benefit our students and complement their classroom experience.

Now regarding taxes, not many people are aware what a big risk making movies is. Like I said, to recoup expenses, a film has to gross at least three times its budget just to break even. For a small market like the Philippines, this is tough, especially when you consider rampant piracy and the competition coming from Hollywood movies.

Good local movies don’t always win financially. No wonder we now only make an average of 50 movies a year from a high of 300 in the 70s and 80s. It is really a losing venture odds-wise, and only the big film companies can afford flops, maybe not even them.

“Heneral Luna” is an exception. It really would not have made money at all were it not for the public clamor to extend the film’s run. The film opened to dull houses and theatre owners after the first week were ready to pull it out, but positive word-of-mouth and critical praises everywhere helped its staying power and drew big crowds to the theatres in the succeeding weeks (it is still showing).

The local film industry is lethally overtaxed, with as much as 52-percent of the gross earnings of movies going to government coffers, and the government giving nothing back to help promote the industry. It’s been a one-way disadvantageous relationship that has never changed, even with the promise of so many actor-turned-politicians and politicians-turned-actors to turn things around.

Our film industry is still among the most heavily taxed in the world. There is a 30-percent amusement tax levied by the local government units, the culture tax, the flood tax, taxes on raw materials, plus the 12- percent value-added tax (VAT) by the national government.

The film industry needs a big break from all these taxes. I hope the next president (showbiz or no showbiz connections) finally makes this come true.


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1 Comment

  1. Just to digress a little bit, I wonder how much money the documentary IMELDA made. They never released the figures but that docu also had a long run. I hope they show it again this election season.