More than just movies
“Maupo ka. Ipikit mo ang iyong mga mata,” Laureana Novicio-Luna tells her son Antonio one calm evening at the height of the Philippine-American War. He sits down and closes his eyes as told. A melancholic piano tune starts playing in the background as the mother gently takes her son through the episodes of his life—childhood Christmases in Binondo, studying in Europe, the historic execution of Rizal—all flowing smoothly in one long, elaborately set Steadicam shot.
This was only one of the scenes that made “Heneral Luna” an acclaimed historical biopic and a crowd favorite. Creative, beautifully crafted, and captivating, it’s the kind of cinematic experience that Filipinos have been starving for and are now waking up to. To wage a war against noncommercial films like this is to limit this nation’s horizons as an audience.
Yet that seems to have been the response of some when independently made films dominated the recent Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). The most questionable response was in the form of a Senate resolution filed to create a separate festival for indie movies.
It is sad that indie cinema is being pitted against mainstream cinema so ungraciously. In the first place, there should be no war between indie and mainstream; instead, it should be a question of quality versus drivel. It just so happened that in the previous MMFFs, many of the “commercially viable” movies were more of the latter.
Some say these dime-a-dozen movies are exactly what the MMFF should be screening: “movies to bond, enjoy, be entertained and share a good laugh with their family and friends,” in the wording of the Senate bill. This implies that noncommercial movies have no such recreational value, and that is just not true. “Heneral Luna,” for example, drew collective reactions, inspired memes, and was talked about all over the country.
The difference is that films like “Heneral Luna” aren’t a slapdash recipe of formulaic plots, mediocre acting, and shamelessly reused gags. Quality films appeal to their viewers with originality and creativity, be it in their message, ambition, or execution. Their aim is not just to entertain and certainly not just to break even in the box office, but also to bring artistic value and substance into the viewing experience.
Filipino audiences loved “Heneral Luna” and clamored for it to be screened at their local cinemas. It is proof that just because a movie has an indie tag to it doesn’t mean it is not suited to the preferences of the general public. The public just needs more opportunity to actually see these films.
Why is this important? Why do we need to warm up to more art, more competence, and more substance in our cinemas?
Because each movie we watch is more than just a movie. In a way, it is an investment. We may have chosen to watch it as a form of leisure, but if we were to spend P200 plus two hours of our life on one single thing, wouldn’t we want it to be of more value than an average noontime variety show?
A movie that is unoriginal or shoddy is a waste of time and money, and an insult to us as consumers. If we can guess the punchline before the comedian delivers it, that’s a sign the filmmakers didn’t do a good enough job. And if we pay for this kind of movies over and over again, we’re only sustaining this mediocrity when we could be aiming for better entertainment.
Further, films are not only for pure leisure. Sometimes, we need to see something that strikes us, plunges us into an unfamiliar world, or at least makes us want to learn more about a certain subject. This is how cinema is supposed to broaden the perspectives of the audience. We’re familiar with too many movies about “the other woman” but barely give a chance to films about mining or extrajudicial killings. What does that say about our world view?
Independent films at the MMFF does not mean an elite, highbrow class is lording it over the masses in the movies. Instead, it is an invitation for all to widen our cinematic options and a chance for us to discern better on the films with which we fill our heads. What better way to spend our movie budget?