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‘Commerce over art’ triggers filmfest row

PUTTING too much emphasis on commerce over art in choosing the entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival prompted three acclaimed personalities to resign as members of the MMFF 2017 executive committee, it was revealed on Wednesday.

“We resigned because the MMFF 2017 Execom took a different direction by putting too much emphasis on commerce over art,” screenwriter Ricky Lee, former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication Rolando Tolentino, and journalist and documentary producer Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala said in a joint statement.

They said they made the decision after several meetings and deliberations.

Lee, Tolentino and Alikpala said they accepted the invitation to be part of the committee because they were excited to maximize the gains of the festival last year, when most of the entries were artistically made and independently produced.

“Last year’s festival showcased a wide variety of quality cinema that went beyond the formulaic,” the statement said. 

“There was a shift of emphasis from commercial viability to artistic excellence. It also celebrated the spirit of a film culture that produced many cult classics in the early years of the MMFF.”

The three also said their resignations had nothing to do with the first four selected MMFF 2017 entries, which included the movies produced by the big film studios and featured box-office hit makers Vic Sotto and Vice Ganda.

“We had expressed our intention to resign long before the announcement of the first four entries was made,” the statement said.  

“Some quarters in the Execom insist that only big film studios can produce a blockbuster. We believe that producing a box-office hit and creating quality film is not exclusive to the big film studios nor to independent film outfits. 

“All excellent Filipino films deserve all forms of support. This support includes movies being screened for the entire duration of the festival with maximum exposure in as many theaters in and outside Metro Manila. 

“We stand committed to seek reforms in the Filipino film industry. We remain steadfast believing in a Metro Manila Film Festival that can once more be a celebration of the finest of Filipino artistry. The Filipino audience deserves no less.”

Last year the Execom, citing the “changing times of the Philippine cinema,” introduced the MMFF 2016 by having a fresh season of eight full-length films that the organizers described as “cinematic revolution”. 

They said the MMFF selection committee made the decision to choose technically excellent films that focused on the quality of their story and production rather than commercial viability and the draw of the star performers.

The 2016 films included Die Beautiful starring Paolo Ballesteros; “Kabisera” featuring Nora Aunor; “Saving Sally” topbilled by Rhian Ramos; “Seklusyon” featuring Rhed Bustamante; “Sunday Beauty Queen” starring Hazel Perdid; “Vince & Kath & James” featuring Julia Barretto; “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2”: “Forever is Not Enough” topbilled by Eugene Domingo; and “Oro” starring Joem Bascon.

The organizers said these films marked a turning point in the history of the MMFF and started a “renaissance” of quality films in the Main Competition. They said the selection of eight feature films gave  audiences a different experience from the usual, which was a true reflection of the world of possibility that the thriving local cinema had to offer.

But last year’s lineup failed to hit or surpass the P1 billion that the festival grossed in 2015, having earned only half-a-million pesos.

That prompted Senator Vicente Sotto III, whose brother Vic Sotto’s film “Enteng Kabisote and the Abangers” failed to be included in the MMFF 2016, to file a Senate resolution pushing for a separate festival intended for independent films.

Sotto also said he was not satisfied with the outcome of the festival in 2016, particularly its earnings. He said in the resolution that while some enjoyed the new films in MMFF 2016, others were still looking for old festival favorites that “give them a good laugh.”

In 2015 the MMFF grossed P1.020 billion, which was more than P15 million above what the festival earned in 2014.

The movies included in the list of top earners in 2015 were “My Bebe Love #Kilig Pa More” starring Vic Sotto and the phenomenal Aldub love team Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza, “Beauty and the Bestie” which featured Vice Ganda and Coco Martin, “Haunted Mansion” starring Joem Basco, Alan Paule and Janelle Salvador, and “Walang Forever” starring Jennilyn Mercado.

This year, the first four official entries features Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto in “The Revengers” and “Love Traps #Family Goals,” respectively, along with a “Panday” remake starring Coco Martin and the romantic comedy “Almost Is Not Enough” featuring Jennilyn Mercado. 

MMFF 2017 executive chairman Thomas Orbos said the selection process for this year was not yet finished, and that the committee only selected four out of eight official entries.

“So, there is still a chance for others not selected and therefore there is no reason to say there is no more chance,” said Orbos, who is also a general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority, the overall organizer and the supervising body of the annual festival.

“We all need to remember that MMFF is not an ordinary festival. As an afterthought, last year, when all the eight films selected were “indie” films, the Execom members who were associated with “commercial” did not resign.”

Film Development Council of the Philippines chairwoman Liza Diño-Seguerra, also a member of the MMFF executive committee, said she was not happy with how MMFF was shaping up this year, but she said she understood where each sector was coming from. 

“Filmmaking is a business as much as it is an art. The hardest part is to find the balance so we can serve both of its purpose,” she said.

Topics: Commerce over art , Metro Manila Film Festival , MMFF 2017 executive committee , Ricky Lee , Rolando Tolentino , Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala
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