Cinema Owners Sue Film Body Over Movie Screening Rules; Directors Fire Back
Many Filipino filmmakers and fans were happy when the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) released a new memorandum circular on the Policies and Guidelines on the Theatrical Release of Films in Philippine Cinemas on June 15, 2019 to come into effect last July 10.
The new set of guidelines for cinema owners regarding theater showings specified film showings for local and foreign films will now start on Fridays instead of Wednesdays and every film booked for theatrical release must have a minimum run of at least seven days.
The guidelines also said theater assignments will be guaranteed for the first three days of showing to avoid movies from being pulled out of cinemas. The practice of “split screens” or having a double booking for a single theater screen will not be allowed for the first three days of showing, so all movies will get their full screen runs on weekends. The Memorandum also includes a provision for student tickets to be priced at P200 in Metro Manila and P150 in the provinces on Wednesdays.
“Invalid, Unlawful, Unconstitutional”
It seemed the guidelines ensured smoother sailing for Philippine cinema , till they were met with a protest from the Cinema Exhibitors Association of The Philippines, Inc. (CEAP). The organization filed a lawsuit at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court last July 5, 2019 and it was formally received on July 8, 2019.
The complainants stated that the Memorandum Circular is “unconstitutional” and has assigned tasks to an association that it has no jurisdiction over, since its mandate should be concerned only with the artistic and technical merits of a film as well as well as the value of cinema and social and cultural transformation, based on a statement by Sen. Tito Sotto, then-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media during the inception of the FDCP in May 2002. “By issuing the MC, Respondent has exceeded its authority and has acted beyond its mandate. The MC, therefore, constitutes unauthorized administrative legislation, which is invalid and unlawful," the complaint states.
The CEAP clarified it bases its theater screenings on customer demand, and cautioned that “Curtailment of such decision-making process could be counter-productive to the local film industry. If the public loses interest in going to the cinemas due to the showing of films they would not want to watch, then it will adversely affect said industry.”
The affidavit filed at court further states, “WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is most respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that FDCP Memorandum Circular No. 2019-01 be declared invalid for Respondent's lack of legal mandate and for being an unauthorized administrative legislation, and be declared unconstitutional for violating the principle of separation of powers under the Philippine Constitution, and Respondent be permanently enjoined from enforcing the same.”
The Directors Guild of the Philippines (DGPI), which lauded the FDCP's move when it first came out released an official statement about the CEAP’s lawsuit. Among the items that the statement points out is this: “The unbridled exhibition system in the country is in much need of reform to address its disadvantageous system. The memo, which changes film openings from Wednesday to Friday, guarantees a 3-day exhibition, and abolishes the arbitrary split-screening programming, creates an opportunity for local cinema to thrive and be more sustainable.”
“The Director's Guild of the Philippines (DGPI) is deeply saddened and disturbed by this turn of events. As the prominent organization representing the country's premiere directors, we embraced the FDCP memorandum as a necessary change that will equalize the economics of making films and will benefit the moviegoing public by being given a chance to patronize their local cinema,” the statement continues.
The directors urged the CEAP to give the memorandum a chance. “Aside from making films on stories they feel strongly about, local filmmakers seriously want their works to reach as large an audience as possible and their producers, distributors, and theaters to recoup costs or make profits, just as much and as seriously as CEAP does, to ensure local production continues well into the future.” The filmmakers reason out that in an era where piracy, foreign blockbusters and online streaming poses a threat to local filmmaking and the FDCP memo is an evolution in the moviegoing practice that benefits all concerned stakeholders.
The group ended its statement by enjoining colleagues in the film industry to support the FDCP memo “and make their voices be heard in this crucial moment”.
100 Years of Filipino films
The DGPI likewise appealed for support for the FDCP memorandum, citing that Philippine cinema is celebrating its 100th year. “Part of the celebration must be an evolution in exhibition, to ensure that it continues to survive the next 100 years.”
Esquire reached out to the office of FDCP Chairperson and CEO Liza Diño for her statement, and received this reply, “FDCP will make an official statement once we have received the summons and reviewed the complaint. As of now, the Council hasn't been served with the papers yet.”
As the controversy brews, the FDCP has also announced the Philippines is this year’s Spotlight Country at the 22nd Guanajuato International Film Festival (GIFF), in time for the Philippine film centennial. The festival will run from July 19 to 28, 2019 in World Heritage sites Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. A total of 30 films will be screened at the GIFF in different sections and the selection consists of luminaries of Philippine cinema, such as Kidlat Tahimik, Lino Brocka, Lamberto Avellana, and Fernando Poe, Jr. Other Filipino filmmakers who will showcase their works at the GIFF are Brillante Mendoza, Mario Cornejo, Sheron Dayoc, and Khavn De La Cruz.