At Large

Working with little fanfare

Fittingly, Rachel Arenas, the newly minted chair of the Movies and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), says she “loves” watching local movies, “and if I really want to see a particular film, I really line up to buy tickets.” The last time she braved the long queue, she recalls, was for a historical film, the “sleeper” hit “Heneral Luna,” although her preference, she confesses, veers towards rom-coms.

Which may be her biggest qualification yet to head the country’s review and classification body, which passes judgment on the fitness for public exhibition of movies and television shows.


Arenas, a former congresswoman who has put in decades working in different parts of government, had barely warmed her seat when she faced a mini dust storm over the rating of the film “Bliss.” (By coincidence, the film’s director Jerrold Tarog also helmed “Heneral Luna.”)

A three-person review panel had initially given “Bliss,” a psycho-thriller, an “X” rating, which meant it could not be shown in any public commercial outlet. This rating, said Arenas, was attributed mainly to “prolonged frontal nudity, excessive violence and masturbation.”


When the movie’s producers appealed the decision, a larger body, this time including Arenas herself, reviewed “Bliss,” and this time it received a less harsh R-18 classification. The MTRCB decision, which Arenas says she agrees with wholeheartedly, maintains that “what’s in the film—realistic depiction of aberrant sexual activity, sexually-oriented dialogue, profanity and gore—can be seen by adults.”

“I think the whole controversy even helped (the filmmakers) because it drew the public’s curiosity,” quips Arenas.

“Lenient and liberal” is how Arenas describes herself in her role as a reviewer. When she first met with her 30-person board, she says, Arenas said she wanted filmmakers and TV producers to be “encouraged to self-regulate.” She also called on the board to be “reasonable and responsible” in carrying out their duties, including “working closely with our stakeholders.”

The work of the MTRCB and its members is no picnic, after all. Every day, says Arenas, a member is charged with sitting through about four to six movies, plus TV shows, including daily noontime variety shows (which are reviewed after the showing or when there are complaints), dramas, game shows, and sit coms.

To a comment made during the Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel media forum that so far her term as MTRCB chair has been relatively calm, Arenas said it is precisely what she wanted, “to create as little fanfare as possible.”

In the course of their work, Arenas says, “I would like for us to fix our problems within the agency. Let’s not bother the President with matters that we can settle ourselves.”

Indeed, ever since taking her oath of office last February, Arenas has not met with President Duterte who surely has far more pressing and weighty issues on his mind.


Among the projects the MTRCB is embarking on is a new local film festival, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipino Films), in cooperation with the National Youth Commission and the Film Development Board. For two weeks in August, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino will feature exclusively local films with advocacies that primarily reach out to the youth and other “neglected” sectors.

But of the projects that most excite Arenas, she said, is a film to be helmed by Baby Ruth Villarama, director of the Manila Film Festival entry “Sunday Beauty Queen.” Using the same documentary-drama format, Villarama, said Arenas, will document the lives of prisoners on one hand, and of jail guards and administrators on the other, to “tell the story” of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

That is one of her advocacies, says Arenas. To use the power and artistry of one medium—film—to reach out to a broader audience and create awareness about urgent social issues using the sensibilities and approaches of journalism and broadcasting.

This is one innovation that one hopes will be sustained and strengthened. All “under the radar,” of course.

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TAGS: Movies, Movies and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)
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