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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

entry arrow4:48 PM | Maraming Magagandang Filipino Films

I have a pet peeve. It has something to do with cinema—a topic I am very passionate about, given a life I have spent in studying this artistic form, educating people in proper film appreciation, pushing friends towards lives spent in a little pursuit of filmmaking. And it has something to do with the dismissive way with which some people regard Philippine cinema, always occurring in either of two rejoinders:

“All Filipino films are bad,” is one.

“There are no good Filipino films out there to watch,” is another.

The first is a curious overarching dismissal that is quite unfair, totally ignorant of heritage and history. And the second I almost always respond to with utter disdain: “When they were actually showing good Filipino films in commercial theaters -- Heneral Luna, Norte, Thy Womb -- where were you?”

The Metro Manila Film Festival -- or the MMFF -- is a microcosm of everything that ails and is currently hopeful about Philippine movies today. Once upon a time, it was truly a celebration of the best of Filipino cinema. In the 1976 edition of the festival, for example, Eddie Romero’s now classic Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon was in fierce competition with Lino Brocka’s Insiang and Lupita Concio’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo. To consider that is to be in awe of how the MMFF originated.

But like most things, the MMFF got corrupted and it soon lost its way. It became a festival of the mediocre in Filipino film -- quickly becoming the throwaway vehicle for forgettable trash mostly starring Vice Ganda, Kris Aquino, and Vic Sotto, and also endless rehashes of rotting franchises like Shake, Rattle, and Roll, Mano Po, Ang Panday, or Enteng Kabisote -- somehow founded on the notion that the mediocre made money, and the belief that what common Filipinos want for Christmas film fare is mindless drivel in the name of escapist entertainment.

And so we gave up on the MMFF a long time ago.

But now here we are at this strange juncture. The MMFF through some miracle has finally upped its ante, following a controversial run last year that saw a great film like Honor Thy Father unfairly shut out from awards consideration. And because of this, I think the MMFF deserves all our patronage this Christmas season. The slate this year seems almost miraculous. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, a biting satire. Die Beautiful, a dramedy. Kabisera, a family melodrama. Oro, a politically charged drama. Saving Sally, an animated fare. Seklusyon, a horror film. Sunday Beauty Queen, a documentary. Vince & Kath & James, a romantic comedy. Just look at all the goodies and their posters and their trailers. We should be demanding for all eight films to be seen not just in Metro Manila, but everywhere else in the country.

I know that everyone’s been saying the same thing, but it has really been a while -- years and years in fact -- since I’ve wanted to see an MMFF entry. Going over the trailers of these films just whetted for me a returning appetite for Filipino films under the festival branding. They seem for me the perfect retort to anyone of those who kept telling me before that “Filipino films are horrible,” often based on a single viewing of a Vice Ganda movie.

I tell everyone now: this is our chance to reevaluate things! This is the change we wanted! This is the slate of sterling quality we were demanding for the longest time!

But the latest twist is this. The businessmen/distributors have responded by cutting the runs of these films short, and essentially calling for the return of the likes of films starring Vice Ganda. Zaki Sidri, a former student of mine, griped to me about this: “Basically, they’re not even allowing us to decide for ourselves. I mean, look at Enteng Kabisote, it barely lasted a week here in Dumaguete. What the people want is often totally different from what they think we want. Most of the time, we're just not given a choice.”

And so, here in Dumaguete, we are calling for people to barrage Robinsons Movieworld with urgent requests for all eight MMFF films. Because we’ve been complaining about the sorry state of mainstream Philippine cinema for so long, and this is our chance to actually do something about it.

Babyruth Villarama-Gutierrez, director of Sunday Beauty Queen, reminds of what’s at stake here: “Dear SM Cinema, Robinsons Malls, Ayala Malls Cinemas, Gaisano Malls, and all standing movie theaters around the Philippines... You have the power to make every year profitable. The audience are ready. You yourself developed them when you screened Brillante Mendoza's films in your nationwide tour; when you opened your cinemas to Cinema Rehiyon, QCinema, Cinemalaya, Cine Europa, and Cinema One Film Festivals, which turned out great with minimal marketing. You have the power to outdo your financial targets if you will heed the call of change. Don't be like Kodak [which] died standing up believing [only in] their old formula, or Nokia [which] didn't challenge its own self to evolve. You don't want to end like them. This #MMFF2016 Reelvolution will guarantee your supremacy in the decades to come, I kid you not. This formula [has been] proven by history. This formula [has been] taught in the best film business school in the world, which I happen to come from.”


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