"The few quality films shown in the last few annual filmfests have fared very badly."
While Manila during the Lunar Year period when every office in Taiwan is closed for a nine-day holiday, I read a news item on the “dire situation” of the Philippine film industry.
Award-winning director Erik Matti expresses his cri de coeur about the state of an industry which has produced a President of the Republic largely on his cinematic legend.
Those were the days when cinema was the biggest entertainment fare of Filipinos. People would line up for hours to buy tickets on stand-alone theaters to watch their favorite movie actors who at the time were inarguably the most popular persons nationwide.
But times have changed. If there is an industry that is truly in the “doldrums,” it must be Philippine cinema.
Most every household has a television set from which to watch their favorite telenovelas courtesy of ABS or GMA, for free but for the initial cost of the monitor and the electrical consumption.
Millennials and the upwardly mobile have their access to the internet, where they can watch Netflix or HBO or even YouTube. And now even their favorite telenovelas are available through the information highway.
Stand-alone theaters hardly exist; the malls, which substitute for parks and playgrounds for the urban Filipino in a country where parks hardly exist, instead house the cinemas where more often than not, western movies trounce local films in the tills.
Director Matti waxes poignant when he says “we are on life support and we need resuscitation…this is a plea for help.” He urges government to intervene.
Even the Metro Manila Film Festival, that annual phantasmagoria of locally produced movies, is not faring as well as it should despite a holiday period monopoly. Is it because the “masa” are now tired of the shmaltzy flicks and slapstick comedies cum horror inanities that have characterized this annual festival?
And yet, the few quality films shown in the last few annual filmfests have fared very badly, such that the mall theaters pulled them out after a day or two of showing in favor of the slapsticks.
The filmamker in fact says that the industry was at its busiest in the past three years, yet only a handful of its products achieved box office success.
“Has our audience outgrown our films? I really don’t know at this point,” Matti adds.
Clearly the local film industry cannot survive if this goes on. But what can government do?
I remember how we raved about “Heneral Luna” when the film which was about to be written off by movie theaters due to initially poor box office results suddenly gained the interest of everyone, the elite of society included, after raves from millenially peppered Facebook and social media platforms.
A sequel, “Goyo” about the boy general Gregorio del Pilar, did not fare as well, last year, but happily was picked up by Netflix.
Erik Matti directed the widely-acclaimed “Buy-Bust” now available through Netflix. It was praised abroad and got people taking a second look at the remarkable acting improvement of Filipino-Australian actress Anne Curtis, heretofore known more as a comedienne in a lunchtime television show.
A serious young actor, Enchong Dee, likewise appealed to movie theaters to “please” prolong the showing of recent films which critics have acclaimed for their artistic merit, but sadly, have not caught the attention of moviegoers.
Erik Matti is at his wit’s end in his pained expression of whether the industry is “really getting our films to the audience it was actually made for, or (whether) it is just bringing these to the small audience we embarrassingly deserve?”
What can the government do for the Philippine movie industry? Would cutting entertainment taxes or subsidizing “good” movies help? Perhaps not, or perhaps only incrementally.
Or perhaps we should ask the multi-millionaires, even billionaires who have built fortunes out of cinema and telenovelas to sit down with the senators and congressmen brought to power on the strength of their movie persona, along with the directors and scriptwriters, bit players and others who make their living from local cinema, to discuss and analyze what ails their industry.
If they can have acting workshops to hone their skills, why not a workshop to study the state of the industry, and propose solutions?
I share the grief of Matti and Dee, as well as the others who rue the state of local cinema as much as I rue the state of cultural affairs of this benighted land.
* * *
I had a most memorable evening last Friday attending the fourth in a series of concerts of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, which commemorated its 45thanniversary through a concert at the Manila Cathedral last Nov. 15. I missed that cultural event as I could not leave Taiwan at the time due to preparations for the 2018 Joint Economic Conference.
I almost missed the fourth concert and was fretting inside my car, as it took 45 minutes to reach the Cultural Center from my house which was just a kilometer away. Traffic froze along Pablo Ocampo Sr. (Vito Cruz) between Adriatico and M.H. del Pilar for a good 40 minutes for some unexplainable reason.
Anyway, I got to the CCP just 10 minutes before the concert started, and had a most pleasurable two hours listening to the much, much improved PPO under the direction of Yoshikazu Fukumura who took over from Olivier Ochanine some two years back.
That concert was stunning. Congratulations to both Maestro Fukumura and the entire Philharmonic!
* * *
Sadly, just as I was wrapping up this column for submission, and just after getting back to Taiwan, I found out that the legendary Armida Siguion Reyna, a true nationalist who used her musical prowess to advance both Filipino culture and evoke love of country among us all, passed away.
As I am unable to visit the wake of someone I greatly admire, I express profound condolences to the bereaved family, particularly to my friends Carlitos Siguion Reyna and his Bibeth.
Sing with the angels, Tita Armida!