• MMFF, transparency, big words

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    KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

    THE Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is all of six months away, and here we are already talking with such passion about what the film industry needs and what the audiences deserve, quality versus commercial, small film producers versus big production companies, new versus old, change, change, change.

    There is very little that we know so far, probably owing to what recently resigned MMFF execom member Roland Tolentino has said is a “confidentiality clause” on their work with MMFF.

    What we do know is this. Four films have already ensured their spots in the MMFF 2017 roster, three of which hark back to the tried-and-tested blockbuster films of old. Three members of the MMFF execom have resigned because the current committee is moving in the direction of “putting too much emphasis on commerce over art” (statement, July 5). Those who benefited from last year’s “changes” are raising a ruckus. Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Chair Liza Diño is being questioned for deciding to stay as part of the execom.

    We are being told that this is a waste of last year’s gains. Yet no one wants to talk about what those gains were exactly.

    Past imperfect
    If there was anything MMFF 2016 was, it was a missed opportunity. That was the chance to do things better not only by giving audiences a different set of films, but also by having a selection committee that has the balls to defend their decisions and explain why they chose certain films over others.

    MMFF 2016 could’ve decided to be transparent. They could’ve engaged the public in an important discussion about filmmaking and audiences, about where change must start and how. There was a need to respond to the question of MMFF as “tradition,” as part of that one time in the year when whole families can afford to watch films together (because Christmas bonuses!), and what were those families supposed to watch now?

    There were no films for children in last year’s selection. And the one teen film had a thoughtlessly inserted attempted-rape scene, that was put there as nothing more than climax, where the attacker got away with it, and the female victim did not make a fuss.

    The MMFF 2016 selection committee and execom did not explain why that film – or any film for that matter – was chosen at all. No one took responsibility for that film’s recklessness. Maybe because the more “controversial” film had a dead dog at the center of it.

    Speaking of which, the MMFF 2016 leadership also refused to take responsibility for that, pinning the blame solely on filmmakers, when ultimately and in the end, that completed script, the filmmaking process, and the final product are the responsibility of the MMFF itself.

    Neither did the MMFF 2016 leadership discuss the highly irregular inclusion of a documentary film, which is a different genre altogether and could only have been measured using a different set of criteria from feature films.

    And what of the film “Kabisera”? Anyone would be hard put to defend that badly written, terribly executed film.

    Present tensions
    Now six months since, and with four movies already part of the 2017 roster, we are being made to believe that MMFF is back to its old ways, and that’s just terrible for everyone! Those who were part of MMFF 2016 are asking about process: why were these four films chosen?

    But that’s the thing with missing the opportunity to do things better last year: we lose the moral high ground to demand for better this year, too. It is also the height of arrogance to now demand answers from this year’s committee, when you are the same people who refused to answer questions about the process and film choices last year.

    We are being told that this is about “quality.” We are being made to talk about those films that didn’t make it: the Palanca winner, the texts by National Artists, the ones by the “credible” directors.

    But how are we defining quality, and what is the basis of credibility? Even last year, the big word “revolution” was being thrown around, yet no one wanted to define what that meant. They would be hard put to find one film in last year’s roster that could be equated with a revolution; and collectively, there was nothing extraordinary about that roster given what we’ve seen other festivals churn out.

    Present possibility
    Sure, Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals are not the MMFF, and the former two don’t have the same kind of audience and following that MMFF gets. But that is the elephant in the room, isn’t it?

    Money. The insistence on “changing” the MMFF, on putting in “new” and “better” films is really about getting the chunk of the market that the box office hits get every Christmas. It’s about spreading the wealth, so to speak.

    Because contrary to what we are being made to imagine, and despite dropping words like quality and change, hope and revolution, ultimately the MMFF – and the fight for it – is about profit.

    In that sense FDCP’s Diño is on the right track: she is accepting that money is what’s at the heart of the MMFF as a festival. That she’s decided to stay in the execom is a good thing: that’s part of her job as FDCP chair. But while she’s there, probably the bravest thing she can do is insist that all films that are part of MMFF, including the four already announced, go through constant critical assessments to help these films do better not just in the box office, but in terms of storytelling and content and relevance.

    Because “film development” is also about pushing the formulaic and commercial to do better. In fact, development can be about challenging the tried and tested to surprise us.

    We told audiences last year: give these films a chance. We could be saying that about this year, too.

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