Business as usual
Old habits die hard. There’s no better way to explain the confounding exclusion of director Loy Arcenas’ “Ang Larawan,” the screen adaptation of the stage musical by National Artists Nick Joaquin and Rolando Tinio, in the screenplay round of the Metro Manila Film Festival’s selection process.
That “Ang Larawan” was deemed inferior by the festival’s 24-member executive committee to the scripts of the starrers of Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, Coco Martin and Jennylyn Mercado is nothing short of mind-boggling. Three members—Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Rolando Tolentino and Ricky Lee—have since left the execom, citing its decision to prioritize “commerce over art” as the reason for their departure.
True, the MMFF has to be given the benefit of the doubt for its choices. But it certainly needs to justify its apparent preference for profitability over quality, especially considering the festival’s criteria that are supposed to separate the grain from the chaff: 40 percent for artistic excellence, 40 percent for commercial appeal, 10 percent for global appeal, and 10 percent for a film’s ability to promote Filipino cultural and historical values.
The second batch of entries will be announced on Nov. 17 based on finished-film submissions.
But there are nagging issues that demand to be addressed: Is Arcenas’ star-studded wartime drama about spinster sisters completely devoid of commercial viability and appeal? Even more pertinently, can a disqualification penalty be meted out on any of the first four entries that turns out to be an artistic dud? Indeed, some clarifications are in order.
The MMFF’s choices have become a raging conversation piece in social media—but, as a matter of fact, the contentious debate over the festival’s raison d’etre has been going on for decades now.
While it’s true that the quality films fielded for the festival’s “revitalized” edition last year had earned less than the commercial flicks in the MMFF’s previous incarnations, it would be too simplistic to gauge success or failure solely by the amount of money a film raises at the box office.
Profit is important, but so are the long-term benefits of good movies that realistically depict the plight of the people that art and cinema wish to serve. If the entertainment industry’s movers and shakers can’t help in raising the quality of viewers’ tastes and moviegoing standards, the public might eventually end up convinced that life is nothing more than a series of escapist diversions.
It is crucial for movies that don’t hew closely to filmmaking formula to be given a fair chance and enough time to develop an audience—and that doesn’t happen overnight. After all, the MMFF has been around since 1975.
An instructive look at some of the screen classics that originated in the MMFF reveals that the “riches over rationality” rule hasn’t always held sway: In 1976 alone, the lineup included the outstanding likes of Lino Brocka’s “Insiang,” Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara’s “Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo” and Eddie Romero’s “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?”
The list of the festival’s exceptional oeuvres is long and nothing to scoff at: “Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo,” “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising,” “Kisapmata,” “Himala,” “Brutal,” “Moral,” “Karnal,” “Muro-Ami,” etc.
Unfortunately, when its organizers realized the festival’s money-generating potential during the viewer-rich holiday season, they began “refocusing” their priorities and encouraged the inclusion of more commercial films whose quality has deteriorated through the years.
It got so bad that, in 1986, the jurors decided to hand out only a Third Best Picture award (to “Halimaw sa Banga”) because all the other entries were deemed “unworthy.” It took the festival 30 more years to realize it was truly time for change—and, like a film lover’s dream, MMFF 2016 came to life.
But that was then and this, sadly, is now.
The 2016 festival’s paradigm-shifting innovations have since been compromised by its critically acclaimed entries’ inability to prove that good films could make a buck as quickly and efficiently as rom-com retreads, inane comedies and horror knockoffs. And just like that, the MMFF is back to square one—and it’s business as usual.
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