Like many things that were great during the first bloom of youth, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) today has fallen into hard times. It has a hard time making money at the box office. It produces more bad films than good; it is dominated by tired movie formulas. Those who speak for the festival lack conviction about the event and can only mouth clichés.
The only thing that has really survived intact is the draconian imposition that for a fortnight, starting Christmas Day, Metro Manilans can watch nothing but Filipino films in cinemas.
The film festival today is in desperate need of a redesign and rethink, by talents and managers who know how to nurture and grow an event like this.
This is all lamentable, because once upon a time, when Madame Imelda Marcos was still a cultural activist, the filmfest was a marvelous event for the movie industry and fans alike.
Producers, film artists and filmmakers eagerly participated in the competition, vying for the coveted honors and considerable prizes. Movie fans eagerly looked forward to watching the films. A veritable army of movie critics sprouted in Philippine media.
Though the quality of the films was uneven, participating films generally performed well at the box office.
The filmfest lost direction and conviction at precisely the time when its originators were taken out of its management, following the EDSA revolt of 1986.
The Cory Aquino government tried, but it didn’t know what to do. Perhaps, the biggest problem of the filmfest is that it is an essentially authoritarian creation in a field that depends almost totally on freedom, creativity and talent.
The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), as the overseer of the filmfest, is ill-suited for its management. It has no idea how to do the job. Years of trying to reinvent the thing, of introducing innovations, and of announcing a forced march toward quality cinema have not worked.
The question now bugging many, especially Metro Manilans, is whether the filmfest is still worth all the trouble and the punishment of eating a diet of Filipino films.
The movie industry has been suffering over the past decade from a pervasive lack of creativity. Filipino filmmakers are producing anything of significant value. The talents that keep appearing in so-called box-office hits are invariably old timers and/or too new at the game.
We think that the filmfest at this point is not in tune with what is happening to our country today. It is not feeling the fever of change. The country now has a population of between 106 and 107 million, which means a formidable potential movie audience nationwide, as well as a lot of new potential talent to tap. The economy is performing very well under President Duterte. The country is modernizing its infrastructure for north to south, and in five years, the Philippines could literally be transformed. At the same time, the country’s relations with the world are undergoing pervasive transformation.
Philippine cinema is not part of this tide of change. Instead, it reflects now a tired and workaday spirit, doing things the beaten way, instead of venturing into new directions and frontiers to find new fans and supporters.
Continuing the filmfest is actually an industry challenge, not a government one. It is the people who work, finance and make Filipino movies who should make the case for the continuation of the festival.
Government can help, yes—perhaps with some incentives and a timely infusion of assistance. But the direction and revival of our movie industry is not a task for government bureaucrats; it is a task for creative minds and visionary investor-leaders.
Philippine cinema needs a fresh dose of talent, looks and brains.