After 'Birdshot', What's Next for Promising Filipino Indies?

IMAGE Pelikula RED

Before it was sent out for international nominations, Heneral Luna had received enthusiastic support from local audiences. Cinemas were packed. Viewers vouched for the films and told other people about the full house showings, doubling the effect. It was a major word of mouth success with the local audience. Later, the Film Academy of the Philippines chose the film to represent the country at the Oscars.

But the reverse happens, too. Some Filipino films get more local attention after they have been screened, praised, and awarded abroad. In 2014, the long lines at the SM Cinema screening of From What Is Before came only after director Lav Diaz had won a Golden Leopard at Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland.

Now that Netflix has come into play, local films are getting a new tier of viewers. Birdshot is the first film from the Philippines to be distributed to the streaming platform's 117 million global subscribers. It was previously sent to the Oscars as the Philippines' pick for the 2018 Best Foreign Language Film category. It did not earn an official nomination or a spot on the nine-film shortlist. Director Mikhail Red, however, got a talent-to-watch-for seal of approval from both the festival circuit and international publications.

Already the pre-release buzz makes a strong case for the Netflix distribution for Birdshot. The title refers to a teenage girl's shooting of a rare Philippine eagle, which becomes the subject of a mired police investigation. The film upends the political suspense genre by being set in a lush province and taking quiet breaks in favor of scenic shots–a welcome addition to Manila-centric moral tales and realist dramas that have won awards abroad. Birdshot considers all sides and purposely raises more questions than it answers. This is a great asset for its wide release: the film may be read as a text rife with symbols and inspire a conversation about the charactersâ innocence, guilt, and tactics for survival.


For people who did not see Birdshot at Cinemalaya, Netflix offers a convenient way to join the conversation about the film's merits and chances at international pickup.

All this confirms the transnational nature of films. Even so-called local support of a film may be made possible by other countries' recognition, financial backing, and distribution. Netflix has become part-gatekeeper, part-middleman in this system.

Roads to Netflix

What does this mean for local productions? If successful, Birdshot may pave the way for more Filipino offerings on Netflix. Among the possible avenues:

1| Netflix banks on the prestige of award-winning Filipino films and directors. This ensures that Netflix gets mentioned in reviews by critics and bloggers. Big winners tend to be favored because, in theory, they have a longer shelf life on DVD and beyondâhaving been pre-approved by the powers that be.

2| A local word-of-mouth phenomenon, sleeper hit, or box-office grosser may be considered in hopes of repeating the success in other markets.

3| As in the case of pioneer distributors, it may also opt for a wildcard film that has not been given proper distribution. If the film becomes popular, Netflix will have owned its second-wind success.

4| Netflix may explore co-productions with Filipino filmmakers to make films palatable to a wider audience.

Ideally, Netflix serves as a teaser rather than the only event. The hope is that beyond a snug movie day at home it entices the viewer to see films at festivals, read film criticism, and join the larger film culture.

While this might be too wishful; for now, the best Netflix can do is to keep films from gathering dust in archives, where they wait to be recovered by film scholars and programmers. Films need an audience; they are made to be circulated to the public. Netflix can potentially create more buzz around local independent films, giving them a chance to be part of the conversation now.

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This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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