I grew up with the fire and fierceness of one Armida Siguion-Reyna, film producer and cultural icon, fighting against the censorship of film, with every bone in her body, teaching us all the importance of critical thinking and of the careful analysis of art and culture, which should be the basis of how pertinent institutions judge our works, and which should push cultural workers to learn to self-regulate, to spend time thinking about the works that they do, so that they might defend it against those who will impinge upon our creative and artistic freedoms.
This fight against censorship is a long-drawn one of course, and even in the present we grapple with the conservatism and moralism upon which is based the subjective and unilateral judgments made about what we can and cannot see in film and television, what we can and cannot write, how we can and cannot articulate ourselves.
To some extent I have considered President Duterte one symbolic up-yours to this moralistic conservatism that runs through the veins of the nation. He who says he will not change the way he speaks, no matter how we might take offense; he who demands that we all level-up, shift from being offended by the bad words and jokes, toward listening to what else he is saying and doing.
The President is he who will not be censored. Damn our notions of offense and morality. Damn the law, even.
The case of “Oro”
There is nothing correct or valid about the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ (FDCP) decision to pull-out the film “Oro” from cinemas. And if you look at the statements released by these two government institutions, what is revealed is the utter lack of critical thought put into the decision.
The pull-out of the film hinges on two interconnected things: that a real dog was used in the film’s dog-killing scene, and that a staff member of “Oro.” had lied when he was asked about it. The former should be decided on only by a court based on the laws on animal welfare. The latter is based solely on the fact that one person – who was not part of the MMFF Executive and Selection Committees – had asked about that particular scene, and a member of the film’s staff had lied in reply.
Note that the MMFF Selection Committee itself had no questions about the said scene. The “Oro” producer has also said they will take responsibility for these actions.
The January 3 statement from MMFF said that “without prejudice to the law taking its course on whether or not an animal was killed in the course, or in connection with the filming of ‘Oro,’ no showing in theaters of the present version shall be allowed.”
Three days after – without the law takings its course – Director Alvin Yapan and the producer of “Oro” were banned from MMFF 2017, an MMFF ExeCom decision, which according to FDCP’s Liza Diño is based on “what happened behind [sic].” (ABSCBNNews.com Jan 6)
All this is damning.
Beyond the film
The FDCP and MMFF leaderships must take a good hard look at what they are doing to filmmaking and creativity when their decisions regarding “Oro” are premised on what happened during its production.
Because if what happened during the making of a film is now enough reason to censor a film, where is the line going to be drawn?
Endo is a violation of the law, but a majority of film and cultural workers are in fact contractual laborers. Will films made on the backs of contractual workers now be kept from being shown in theaters?
Cultural workers labor under difficult, sometimes unfair, conditions: would a weeping production assistant, who has taken offense at the harsh words of the director, now be cause for a film’s non-exhibition?
Did a production leave the natural environment untouched during its filming, did they feed their people well, did they overwork them, did they pollute the environment in any way, did they disturb the community, did they pay proper taxes, did they issue receipts for everything?
See, when MMFF-FDCP decided so quickly and unthinkingly to sanction “Oro” based on something that happened behind-the-scenes, what it did was shine a light on all other possible and probable violations of the law during any film’s production. And if the task is to ensure that no animals are harmed during filming, then is it not important to ensure that no humans were harmed as well? Throw in the environment to boot. We have laws on that, too.
The more important question: now that MMFF-FDCP have established this new “behind-the-scenes” criteria for judging films, how many productions will tell the truth about the conditions under which they film? How many will lie?
At this point given the thoughtless and uncritical decisions of MMFF-FDCP, they have dug a grave deeper than they can even imagine. Now the issues are beyond “Oro” and already about what these institutions stand for.
Because how can there be film and audience development when MMFF-FDCP have allowed for a film to be judged for one scene – a tiny fraction of the film’s running time? When MMFF-FDCP have pushed for this decontextualized non-assessment of one scene, as removed from the rest of a narrative?
When MMFF-FDCP were first to stunt the discourse by refusing to show the film to the public?
The January 6 statement of Diño says that their decisions have nothing to do with the artistic merits of the film. But there lies the problem: a film festival only measures a film based on its artistic merits, full stop. Everything else is noise (or a case for the courts).
The censorship of “Oro,” as such, is not only a colossal mistake, it is also an embarrassing display of how these cultural leaderships, running on public funds, ultimately do not care about film, development, or the public at all. Neither do they care about levelling up the discourse.
How’s that for change.