Movies & TV

To those who doubt the Metro Manila Film Fest 2016

A reaction to anyone who concludes that this year's MMFF was a big bust.
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After years of Shake, Rattle, and Roll installments and permutations of Vic Sotto and Ai Ai Delas Alas playing the same characters over and over again, the Metro Manila Development Authority, this 2016, decided to reformat the traditional Metro Manila Film Festival by focusing on more substantial entries, regardless of their potential commercial value. According to selection chair Nic Tiongson, the move, which intends to help the industry make an indelible mark globally, will also "disprove the myth that quality indie films will not earn money and [that] commercial films cannot possibly have quality.” 

With this new criteria in mind, eight films were selected for the new MMFF, with only one film represented by a big studio. Though this year's movies have been greeted with acclaim by critics and moviegoers alike, not everyone seemed pleased with the MMDA's decision. On December 27, comedian Manny Castañeda published this public Facebook post as a commentary to this year's indie-focused festival.

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His words earned the ire of many who considered the MMDA's decidedly content-driven turn a triumph for Filipino cinema. Writer and editor Irish Dizon, in particular, wrote the entertainment veteran a long open letter—also on Facebook—in defense of this year's choices. In support of quality local films (independent or not), we are publishing an abridged and translated copy of Dizon's message. 

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Dear Sir Manny Castañeda,

Let me answer you, Sir Manny, point per point.

YOU: “The ‘not so impressive’ box office performance of the so-called indie films in this year’s MMFF relative to previous Metro Manila Film Festivals should put the arrogance of some indie fanatics in check.”

ME: I don't know what the exact figures are. I don't know exactly how much the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 entries have earned so far. But I'm sure that even if you combine the earnings of all eight films, it's hard to top the P68-M that Vice Ganda and Coco Martin earned on opening day [for Super Parental Guardians]. If we talk money, you win, undoubtedly. But. BUT. What's problematic is what you said after. What “arrogance of some indie fanatics” are you talking about, sir? Is it arrogant for us to be tired of franchise films that give us a quick scare and cheap laughs and ultimately do nothing for us?

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Is it arrogant when a group of thoughtful, progressive cineastes decide to have faith in the Filipino audience and give us a crop of films that are built upon fresh ideas and engaging stories that need to be told and heard? Is it fanaticism when you shamelessly throw your full support behind beautiful, unusual movies produced by small independent companies? I think not. The correct description is passionate and woke viewers.

By the way, I grew up watching Shake, Rattle, and Roll movies. I used to be intimidated by indie films, but I watched Kanakan Balintagos' Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and that was an eye-opener. Indie films are not intimidating. Indie films are movies. Period. 

I grew up watching Shake, Rattle, and Roll movies. I used to be intimidated by indie films, but I watched Kanakan Balintagos' Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and that was an eye-opener. Indie films are not intimidating. Indie films are movies. Period. 

YOU: “Lily Monterverde of Regal Films who spoke with authority and experience when she insisted that the Metro Manila Film Festival is not the appropriate venue for indie films was right after all. Clearly, the season itself calls for sheer entertainment much like going to a theme park. Though some of the entries were beautifully crafted, still there is a time and place for avant-garde, socially relevant and art films. The MMFF is definitely not one of them.”

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ME: Mother Lily is a fascinating person. She has been making movies long before I was alive and her progeny will probably make films long after I am dead. She has experience, yes. But sir, know that no authority is absolute. I would not want to live in a society where only one person has authority over films, especially since films reflect and feed our culture. You say, “the Metro Manila Film Festival is not the appropriate venue for indie films after all.” WRONG. The Metro Manila Film Festivals IS the appropriate venue for films. (Nota bene: I took out the word indie.) Because the biggest film festival in the country should show case the best Filipino movies—regardless if a big studio company or a tiny one produced them.

The argument that this season is “for sheer entertainment” is pure commercial BS and you know that. Christmas, while marketed as a season of good cheer and good will, is also the season when deep-seated family issues blow up at the dinner table. Christmas is the season when people feel their singlehood and loneliness most acutely. Christmas is when we try to forgive and forget the assholes who did us wrong and realize we can’t. Christmas is a minefield, and you know it. Filmmakers do not help us when they serve us the same old shit year after year after year. You laugh for two hours and then what? Does anything change after? You know what helps? Movies that reflect our issues onscreen, forcing us to confront them; characters that mirror us and our mistakes; characters that may or may not find redemption. The great thing about showing these films at Christmastime is that we actually have time to process what we watched.

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You want to go back to the old MMFF? Why? You're the only one benefiting from it and becoming richer, meanwhile the viewers are being boxed in one level of entertainment. 

YOU: "The proponents of indie films should learn to identify the audience at each particular time. They should carefully choose their own battle. It is unwise to just barge into a territory that does not belong to them. A gate crasher always has a very negative repercussion."

ME: The audience does not change: The audience is the Filipino people. The Filipino people deserve good films, whether produced by a giant like Star Cinema or a fledgling company like Rocketsheep. Why do you keep saying “indie” like it’s some virus? A good movie is a good movie regardless of its producer. Territory? Gate crasher? Wow, check your privilege, sir. Who died and made you and people like you overlords of Philippine cinema? Art—cinema—is for everyone.

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The only idiot is the greedy filmmaker who wants to get a Filipino's P250 in exchange for a movie that leaves the latter no better than when he entered the cinema.

YOU: “Some even went to the extent of throwing insults to those who disagreed with them only to realize now that they have placed their feet in their mouth. Mercedes Cabral, an indie starlet who early on has brazenly called Mother Lily an idiot, should make an effort to look at herself in the mirror and see what a real idiot looks like.”

ME: Mercedes Cabral has since apologized for calling Mother Lily an idiot. Mercedes Cabral delivered a searing performance in Alvin Yapan’s Oro. Mercedes Cabral is not an “indie starlet.” Mercedes Cabral is an actress, and a damn good one. And it's not idiocy to gamble on the Filipino people, sir. It's not idiocy to speak one's mind when a powerful person tries to block the kind of change we can stand behind.

The only idiots I see, sir, are powerful people who look down on fledgling Filipino artists from their high horse rather than helping them up.

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The only idiot is the greedy filmmaker who wants to get a Filipino's P250 in exchange for a movie that leaves the latter no better than when he entered the cinema.

Those are the real idiots.

P.S. This is just the first year. You cannot expect people to adapt at the snap of a finger. But take it from me who watched all eight entries beginning December 25th: People are watching. To quote one of my most favorite commercials ever: "Great things start from small beginnings."

But what do I know? I'm just a nobody viewer.

XOXO,

The girl who watched all eight MMFF 2016 entries

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Read Irish Dizon's full original post.

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