The ritual of watching Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) films is one that I take as seriously as the annual Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals, and recently CineFilipino, films. It, of course, requires the financial capacity to spend on films—I don’t watch foreign films in cinemas anymore—and the time and energy to go from one film to the next, sometimes going to three films a day for the limited run of the indie festivals.
This is a critical point that needs to be made, because it is what’s lacking in the current discourse against the MMFF and in favor of “quality films,” i.e., Honor Thy Father (Erik Matti, 2015) and necessarily everything else on this year’s MMFF roster or anything that is deemed to be lesser than HTF.
What Honor Thy Father needs to admit
I saw Honor Thy Father recently, in a cinema that was filled with all of 10 people. It was an interesting film for sure, and even more so because it was being shown as part of the MMFF, the annual display of what is imagined as possible box-office hits. In the context of the MMFF, the grit and violence is a rarity.
But also there is always one film in the MMFF, year-in-year-out, that dares challenge the Enteng Kabisotes and Shake Rattle and Rolls, and recently, the Kris Aquino and Vice Ganda films. Because lest we forget: it was MMFF that had Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (Enzo Williams, 2013), Shake Rattle And Roll 13 (Chris Martinez, Richard Somes, Jerrold Tarog, 2011), Rosario (Albert Martinez, 2010), Blue Moon (Joel Lamangan, 2006), Crying Ladies (Mark Meily, 2003), Dekada ’70 (Chito Roño, 2002), Hubog (Joel Lamangan, 2001). And there is no dismissing English Only, Please (Dan Villegas, 2014) and Walang Forever (Dan Villegas, 2015) as rom-coms, when contextualized in the kind of rom-coms that Star Cinema’s been churning out—and making money on!—all these years.
One must realize that within the discourse of MMFF, and the fact that it is about making money on Philippine cinema once a year by holding an audience captive, nothing is gained by sounding all elitist in demanding for change. And this is what ails the campaign to reclaim the MMFF: it has been limited to the case of Honor Thy Father, instead of bringing in the fact that historically, MMFF has failed the film industry by picking what will be sure box-office hits versus what might affect critical change in the taste and aesthetic of our audiences.
And then there is this fact: the makers of Honor Thy Father are not the first ones to fight with the MMFF, nor are they the first ones to discredit it for its choices and its rules. In order to reclaim the MMFF, this discussion needs to go beyond Honor Thy Father, Matti, and John Lloyd Cruz. It needs to be about the bigger film industry and the many directors and actors who do want to make better commercial and mainstream films.
Naming names, using labels
Another thing that ails this struggle to reclaim the MMFF is the manner in which even Matti himself has had a tendency to not name names, and no one seems to want to problematize the labels that HTF uses for itself.
For example, on December 27 Matti tweeted about how some MMFF organizers are actually “ka-sosyo” in one or two MMFF films, hinting that these would be the ones who would win at the awards night for sure.
Who are these people and why can’t Matti name them? Why are we going all blind item on something will help us understand why HTF was disqualified, and why certain films are chosen over others for the MMFF?
There has also been a tendency to speak of HTF as a “small indie production,” or to have behind it “small producers.” And one cannot help but wonder: if a Dondon Monteverde-John Lloyd Cruz produced film is “small” then what does that make the producers who do not have Monteverde as their last names? How can any film at all that is produced by the son of Mother Lily, who owns one of the largest film-production outfits in the country, ever be considered as small?
If I were a struggling independent scriptwriter for film, if I were a director who had sat on my first film because I could not deal with the fact that the indie festivals will own my film for years just because they’ve given me the funds to make it, it would confuse me that a film like Honor Thy Father and its makers and producers are now believed to be one with me in my struggle as independent filmmaker.
What HTF has effectively done in the course of refusing to problematize the labels it uses for itself is disenfranchise the independent filmmakers further, and confuse the audience even more. Because if HTF is indie, then what does that make the real indie films, which we would never see in the MMFF?
The curse of change
The curse of the change that HTF’s call has revealed is the almost unthinking, presumed to be necessary, kind of elitism, the kind that is in the words we choose, but more importantly in this case, the necessary dismissal of one kind of filmmaking, one form of creativity, over another.
This need not be the case. In fact, one way to level-up this discussion is to stand united: the Honor Thy Fathers and the Enteng Kabisotes, both. There is also the need to engage with the Film Academy of the Philippine (FAP), which as one of the beneficiaries of MMFF earnings has been demanding an accounting of MMFF funds from 2005 to 2015, a demand that has fallen on deaf ears. The statement of FAP Director-General Leo Martinez (posted January 16 on the FAP website) quotes MMFF Executive Chairman Jesse Ejercito and Spokesperson Marichu Maceda separately asserting that they are not answerable to beneficiaries, nor should the MMFF be subject to a COA audit.
If we can’t get an audit of funds, if Maceda can claim that the MMFF is a private entity even when it is under a government office such as the MMDA, then how can we even imagine affecting change?
The industry of film can get behind a critical point that is in FAP statement of Martinez: he calls to give back the MMFF to the film industry, and have it managed by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).
Now that is a change that’s possible isn’t it? Also one that the President can easily agree to before his term ends.
But then again, that might mean the end of Kris Aquino films.
Ah, the real crisis of change for the film industry.