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At Large

Welcome to indies at MMFF

/ 12:07 AM November 29, 2016

Met up, quite by accident, with noted director/documentarist Tikoy Aguiluz this Sunday and we got to talking about the controversy surrounding the choice of eight movies for the Metro Manila Film Festival.

The lineup of entries is dominated by so-called “indies,” movies bankrolled by entities that have little or nothing to do with the major filmmaking outfits and commercial distributors. Used to be, this festival, scheduled around the Christmas season, was dominated by major studios which released their glitziest, most prestigious films at this time of the year. As the years wore on, though, the “big films” turned into sure-fire franchises, with a stranglehold on popular taste and appealing to families searching for bonding moments during the holidays.

As the quality of the films deteriorated into predictable plots, messy production values and crass commerce (almost literally, since some movies were peppered by ill-disguised product placements), an outcry arose that the MMFF had lost sight of its original goal. That goal was the uplift of the Filipino film industry, giving local producers a dedicated “lock-out” time versus foreign competition to encourage the production of quality movies. But soon, given the huge popularity of movies and the bigger budgets of Filipinos at this time of year, the goal became money-making, with a special award, even, for the best-earning film.

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Maybe that’s why this year’s selection committee decided to give preferential treatment to “little” films helmed by little-known filmmakers who, outside of the dedicated period given to the MMFF, would have a hard time competing against more commercial products.

This is a problem that the makers of blockbusters don’t face. Indeed, when news of the selected finalists was released, the producers of the most popular MMFF franchises had no trouble getting immediate bookings in multiple theaters. Indeed, in all the years that the MMFF has dominated the movie scene, the real competition was not over recognition for quality, but for the biggest box-office returns. The few entries with a semblance of quality storytelling, acting or writing were relegated to picking up the crumbs.

It just proves that the big producers and their commercial productions don’t need the MMFF at all. They can draw audiences at any time of the year, although admittedly, given the Christmas bonus and the free time most Filipino employees enjoy during the season, the box-office returns are particularly rich toward the close of the year.

Filmmakers and producers have warned that, given the limited appeal of the “Magic Eight,” the returns from the festival are bound to be paltry and will pale beside the totals raised in previous years.

But the MMFF and the preferential treatment for local movies was not premised on fund-raising but on improving the quality of our movies and thereby rousing national pride. Keeping that goal in mind, this year’s choices make eminent sense and deserve the support of the entire film community and audience.

It’s still more fun in the Philippines! This is the assertion of tourism officials, law enforcers and the private tourism sector in the light of warnings about terrorism in certain parts of the country.

Recently, the US Embassy in Manila released a travel warning to alert their citizens about the alleged plan of terrorist groups to kidnap tourists in southern Cebu and environs. Areas specified in the report include the municipalities of Dalaguete, Santander and Oslob and Sumilon Island, all of Cebu.

Expectedly, the news raised a lot of controversy and anxiety. But tourism folks in the area assert that activities remain normal, and tourism traffic during the long holiday weekends remains high. So far, only minimal booking cancellations have been received by the affected resorts.

Indeed, in a meeting among the Cebu Provincial Peace and Order Council, top police officials and the AFP Central Command, they assured the public that southern Cebu remains safe and that security forces are “on top of the situation.”

Says Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III: “The bottom line here is to assure the tourists that they are safe in Cebu.”

TAGS: indie, indie film, Metro Manila Film Festival, MMFF, opinion
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