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Barfly: The Silver Lining



Moviegoers are learning to be more discriminating.

The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) would have been long behind us by the time this piece sees print, but it can’t be too soon to talk about the next one—which, as sure as death and taxes (well, maybe some taxes), will come rolling around before we know it. True to dubious tradition, this last festival found itself embroiled in controversy once again over the way certain awards were handed out—or rather weren’t, particularly in the case of novelist Lualhati Bautista, who by most reckonings deserved at least a nomination for the Best Story and Best Screenplay awards.

That was a strange, absurd, and unforgivable oversight, and all my writerly sympathies go out to Lualhati, who clearly got a raw deal. But that’s not the point of this column. Instead, I’d like to look for the silver lining in this otherwise gray cloud.

Some of that silver is certainly money. MMFF boss man Rey Malonzo admitted as much when he reportedly maintained, early in the selection process for last year’s entries, that box-office potential should factor in the committee’s choices. A festival of guaranteed blockbusters—not fringe or independent movies, nothing too radical, canada goose salgnothing too artsy—is what these people were dreaming of.

That’s understandable to some extent, given the financial hardships and anxieties that the Filipino film industry has been going through these past few years. According to the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, 30 million tickets were sold in Metro Manila in 1997; that fell to half just three years later. Likewise, 52 producers bankrolled 202 movies in 1997; by 2000, those figures had come down to 32 producers and 89 films.

That slump resulted partly from the global economic malaise, and partly from the industry’s own over-indulgence in tried-and-tested formulas that even the dumbest Filipino moviegoer could see through. Producers have been praying for a miraculous recovery—not unlike one of their own typical movie endings—and pinned their hopes on events like the MMFF to turn things around.

Well, their prayers were answered. The 2002 MMFF turned in the biggest take in the festival’s 28-year history, grossing some P314 million, according to a visibly proud Malonzo. Never mind that the 2002 MMFF, unlike its predecessors, featured nine instead of seven entries, and included provincial audiences. The fact was that it raked in tons of money, more than double the previous year’s gross of only P147 million.

A little red flag just went up in my head to warn me that this sounds a lot like the triumph of crass commercialism, and that the box-office receipts will simply make people like Malonzo even more insensible and insensitive to aesthetic nuances. Malonzo has already been crowing that the festival’s commercial success should make his critics shut up.canada goose salg

But it’s worth noting (or, as industry lingo would have it, “in fairness…”) that the festival’s top grosser were a healthy mix of commercial and critical picks—Mano Po, Lastikman, Agimat, Spirit Warriors, and Dekada ’70, in that order. What this suggests to me is that our moviegoers appreciate a variety of choices, and that—can this really be happening?—they’re learning to be more discriminating, preferring movies made with some intelligence, some care, and some technical sophistication. (Lastikman’s special effects, for example, were nothing to sneeze at.)

This is good news not just for movie producers, but also for those who, like me, have been toiling in the corners of the industr y for the past 25 years, hoping for a time when producers would (once again, like in the late ’70s and early ’80s) be more venturesome with their projects. Whatever their shortcomings, Mano Po and Dekada ’70 proved that investing in big ideas can pay; the scuttlebutt is that, flush with Mano Po’s success, “Mother” Lily Monteverde now wants to do more epic movies—well and good! (Why not try Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart for size?)

Let’s hope the next MMFF will imbibe this lesson, and that our producers and directors take more risks with their material—and, oh yes, that our jurors be much more careful with theirs.

I suppose it remains to be seen whether a replenished war chest will mean a stronger commitment to quality and innovation. The fact is that you don’t really need all that much money to turn out something reasonably good—just a fresh idea, and aggressive marketing. Heck, you don’t even need a local audience (although what a pity and an irony that would be, to save our best for foreigners).

A few years ago, Saranggola (which I co-scripted, and which won some prizes here and there) was made for just about P6 million—which it promptly made back by being sold to a US distributor for US$250,000. Why stop at Metro Manila, when you—like those audacious Australians and Chinese—can have the world? -Newsbreak

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