There are a number of events that have undermined what is otherwise a new Metro Manila Film Festival.
First, the decision of MMFF ExeCom to pull Oro out of cinemas and strip the film off it’s Fernando Poe Jr. Memorial Award because of it’s “controversial” scene of dog killing is unthinkable in modern cinema. These narrow-minded actions hurt the industry and impedes artistic genius, creativity, and representations of truths.
Apparently the Committee’s investigation and decision came after Senator Grace Poe’s reaction that Oro may have violated the country’s animal welfare law. But, who is the production company now that will actually slaughter animals, or people for that matter in order to demonstrate a point or a message? I believe many Filipinos have seen Winter’s Bone in which Jennifer Law’s character, Ree Dolly, guts a squirrel. Did the production team actually went hunting for the animal to have it killed by the actress? Would the actress actually skin an animal? Does an actor actually rape another actor in order to tell the story? Do actors actually get stoned when acting out drug sessions? As what Oro producers maintain, they’re neither dumb nor crazy.
This Padre Damaoisic judgment of film is exactly what happens when politics that can’t solve it’s own problems overextends itself into the creative industry. Bad or dirty is perceived where there’s none. This is also why, in the region, South Korea and India have overtaken this country in the production of world class film and TV drama.
I don’t believe the Senator’s late father, the well-loved actor FPJ for whom the Memorial Award is named, himself toting and firing guns like the devil not because he loves killing but it’s for his Wild West-type characters, would’ve approved Poe’s statement. The Senator, if she’s at all mindful of possibly unjust publicity for Oro could’ve looked quietly into the veracity of her claim first. But, again, hers is a moot claim. When did acting during filming become real?
One of the first surprises in the new year is the President’s appointment of singer-turned-blogger Mocha Uson (who has received much flak for having campaigned for the President) to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). If only to inject out-of-the-box thinking into the Board which is also known for it’s medieval views of film, then, good!
Second, limited provincial screenings. I couldn’t believe that Baguio City, a university town, has not screened. Did MMFF think there’s only the SM cinema house? On the other hand, SM the only big-capacity cinema in town where you can watch in comfort and peace and not be distracted at whether or not the air you’re breathing in is chemical-laden, or cockroaches and rats are playing about your feet did not screen perhaps because of an anticipated low turnout. But, to be fair, government or the film festival’s committee cannot just compel businesses to host these events without offering mutually beneficial terms that are agreed upon in advance. SM after all is not put up as a charitable or cultural organization. In any case, the poor management of Festival events in the provinces mirrors the woeful state of arts outside of the Metro even in cities such as Baguio which claims it is home to artists and the Cordillera culture.
Third, timing. Holding of the Festival during the Christmas and New Year holidays is counterproductive. At this time, people are hosting and attending parties, brooding over gifts, preparing food, and getting frazzled from all that activity. Going to the cinema especially for festival type films is far from their minds unless there’s compelling reason to do so. And, truthfully, merely telling people to “go out and support Philippine cinema” is not enough a motivation.
In Baguio City, if the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB) perhaps in behalf of the City could organize attendance of artists ala red carpet style and promotional interactions with the public eg. sit-down autograph signing, and bring in sponsors to do flowing champagne on New Year’s eve screenings – because why not? – then people have reason to step out of their houses. F-e-s-t-i-v-a-l, you know?
Organization of MMFF in past years has defined how film festival is understood that is in the literal sense- festival as in many. Numerous films and nothing else although why expect more when it’s the Metro Manila film festival?
Fourth, when did festival type films align with blockbusters? So then media need to stop putting out reports of “box office updates of highest grossing films” during the MMFFs. Festival type films are intended to showcase the art and methods of storytelling and to sensitize viewers to that art form. Think of Salvador Dali’s art. Imagine the conversations to be had about one. If Filipino film goers could cultivate that sensitivity, it could then be said we are advancing in culture. We don’t have to go to Paris or New York to talk or learn about advanced filmmaking. We create those right here.
Change in mindsets about film festivals particulary the MMFF is needed. That change has to first happen in government relative to it’s role as regulator and promoter, the film industry’s institutions as protector and facilitator, and media as shaper of viewer’s minds and tastes. But we have to do it quickly. It’s already the 21st century.