Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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At Large

The little movie that could

Call it “the little movie that could.” On just the second day of its commercial run as part of the Metro Manila Film Festival, the movie “Ang Larawan” (“The Portrait”) lost a number of theaters when owners began pulling it out of their venues in favor of more “saleable” fare.

It struck me then as grossly unfair, since all eight competing films vied equally for theater allocations via lottery. The theater owners where “Larawan” was being shown said the number of film watchers was too sparse to justify the movie’s continued showing. This despite the heavy buzz that preceded “Larawan” and surrounded it when early audiences viewed it. It seemed a conundrum: How could “Larawan” increase its audience share when more and more theater owners were refusing to show it? How could the movie prove its draw at the tills when audiences could not find it?

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In the first place, was the theaters’ withdrawal of the film legal at all? Wasn’t the film festival launched in the first place to encourage the production of quality local films, used to justify the special advantage granted to local producers who enjoyed a near-monopoly at perhaps the most profitable season of the year? But why was “quality” now being used to deprive less mass market films of access to an audience?

The MMFF eventually issued a clarification, saying one of “Larawan’s producers (Girlie Rodis) had met with the theater owners and agreed to pull out the film provided theaters would show it after the festival. (All the more to provide bigger profits for the likes of Vice Ganda, Vic Sotto and Coco Martin?)

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Well, it seems the picture is changing. Despite the loss of theaters, “Ang Larawan” continued to chug along, carried by favorable, if not fervid, feedback from audiences.

When the movie was chosen as the “Best Film” halfway through the festival run, theaters that had previously kicked it out began bringing it back. And where earlier, theaters were sparsely populated, viewers who trooped to see “Larawan” reported sold-out screenings. Here’s hoping the movie continues to draw bigger crowds well after the holidays.

Still, it bears asking: Why was “Larawan” treated so shabbily by the festival organizers when it was but a “little” film that did not enjoy the backing of major production houses?

After all, “Larawan” had the lineage to demand respect, if not favored treatment, from the festival bureaucracy. The movie bears the imprint of National Artists, and breathes Filipino culture. If the MMFF was established to promote love for our artistic legacy and for our history, surely “Larawan” lives up to this calling. And then there’s the sheer quality that marks the filmmaking, acknowledged by the jurors who recognized the movie for acting, music, production design, and cinematography. Although perversely they refused to give the trophy to its director.

As I write this, I am confident that “Larawan” will survive its early hard times and manage to eke out a profit in the end. The producers  could very well recover the expenses involved, and make enough of a profit to continue making more films along the bold, brave lines drawn by it.

Many times, in the midst of the controversy surrounding this year’s MMFF, particularly its early choices of movies, the argument was brought up that the point of the festival was not so much to encourage good filmmaking as to make money for producers and theater owners. Some also argued that they owed Filipino audiences “family fare” for the holidays, which they seemed to interpret as inane (and repetitive) comedies and action flicks, further insulting the intelligence and sensibilities of young moviegoers.

Since when has the government (the Metro Manila Development Authority has overall supervision over the festival) been obliged to look after the material well-being of wealthy producers and theater owners? Since when has the government been charged with lowering the standards of artistic merit in a festival meant to showcase the best work of our filmmakers?

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I wonder what Lorenzo the Magnificent would say about this whole stinking mess.

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TAGS: At Large, Larawan, Metro Manila Film Festival, nick joaquin, Rina Jimenez-David
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