Two Award-Winning Indie Films Were Graded Zero by the Cinema Evaluation Board

More than a matter of taste, it's a matter of taxes.
IMAGE Balangiga: Howling Wilderness on Facebook; Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus on Facebook

Things have been pretty rough lately for the people behind two Special Feature films at this year's Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP). Balangiga: Howling Wilderness and Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus were both given a Grade Zero by the government's Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) ahead of their PPP release.

The CEB, which is an arm of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, an agency under the Office of the President, in its summation for Balangiga, said its reviewers think the film is "a long torturous journey with many artsy gimmicks." Another reviewer thinks Balangiga is "a perverted movie masquerading as high art." As for Hypothalamus: Its director chose not to post the full summation, but implied that the CEB's reviewers took similar offense.

Which is difficult to understand. Both Balangiga and Hypothalamus are award-winning films. The former, directed by Khavn De La Cruz, swept up four awards at last year's QCinema International Film Festival: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and the top prize: Best Film. The latter, directed by Dwein Baltazar, took CineFilipino 2018's awards for Best Ensemble, Best Production Design, Best Musical Score, and 2nd Best Picture. So whether or not you've seen Balangiga or Hypothalamus, there's a clear dissonance between critical reception and the CEB's Grade Zero.

But that dissonance isn't the main cause for outrage. The reviews and their resulting decisions, after all, are subjective matters of taste. Rather, it's the implications of the Grade Zero that have everyone riled up. The CEB exists to grade films and provide corresponding tax benefits to the filmmakers. In its own words, its purpose is to "provide tax incentives to encourage producers and filmmakers to create more films." Usually, it does this by giving a film one of two grades: Grade A, for a 100 percent tax break, and Grade B, for a 65 percent tax break.


By giving Balangiga and Hypothalamus a Grade Zero, the CEB is effectively denying its filmmakers tax breaks, and telling them to pay the full amusement tax for their films. Check out the FAQ section of their official website to get a better sense of how it all works.

Here's what people think of the whole debacle:

On the eve of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), here's my appeal: Abolish the amusement tax for local films. Ang...

Posted by Jerry B. Grácio on Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mula sa kung ano ni LAV DIAZ (Straight-A Grade, CEB):

"Nakakapagtaka at lubhang nakakaistorbong isiping itinanghal na...

Posted by BALANGIGA: Howling Wilderness on Monday, August 13, 2018

Di ko maintindihan kung bakit zero ang ibinigay
ng CEB sa Balangiga: Howling Wilderness at sa
Gusto Kita With All My...

Posted by Ricky Lee on Monday, August 13, 2018

Dear Cinema Evaluation Board, it is okay to have different views on cinema. In fact, disagreements enrich understanding...

Posted by Richard Bolisay on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

On top of this, PPP Special Feature films have also encountered distribution problems. Yesterday, the festival's opening day, moviegoers were disappointed to learn that some cinemas (including SM Megamall and Gateway Cubao) were not screening the Special Feature films as supposedly scheduled—leading filmmakers and producers to allege that these cinemas "refuse" to sell tickets to their movies. 

And lastly, to add one more insult to Balangiga's recent injury, the production discovered that ahead of their PPP release that a pirated copy of the movie was being passed around via Google Drive. The producer says she has since identified the culprits and will take appropriate action.

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This succession of problems for these local indie films underscores the difficulty of making and releasing quality cinema in the Philippines. It should concern us to see how hard it is to do things the right way in a system that seems broken, and perhaps it should also give us a better appreciation of films that manage to make it out alive.

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