‘Spider-Man’ is not the enemy
The Christmas season in the Philippines also coincides with the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) season. The MMFF starts on Christmas Day, hoping that Filipinos will choose to spend their recently received aguinaldos in the box office. Because of its exclusivity agreement with cinemas, the MMFF has always pushed off foreign holiday releases. Irate fans of big Hollywood franchises complain when their premieres get pushed back due to the festival; this is nothing new. This year, the sacrificed premiere happens to be for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” So how come the feud seems extra bitter this year? Moreover, why is the MMFF blaming fans of “Spider-Man” for its low turnout?
There are certain situations that prompt me to speak up outside of mental health. When I see a false dilemma being presented as the dominant media narrative, my ears prick up. This is not just a personal pet peeve; a false dilemma is a distortion of the narrative and, thus, a distortion of truth. Distortion of truth tends to lead to unnecessary suffering. In this case, both parties feel unjustly blamed and attacked and, in turn, blame and attack each other.
I am not a particularly invested party in this feud; my personal safety standards (especially now with the exponential spike in COVID cases) have rendered going to physical cinemas a nonstarter. I am literally not their audience, at least not now. Pre-pandemic, I have often patronized both the MMFF and Marvel films and so appreciate the inherent value of both types of films. What I am invested in is to ensure that people understand what is indeed causing their “heartbreak,” as expressed by the producer of “Kun Maupay Man It Panahon,” so as to prevent unnecessary blaming and shaming.
Let us define the real challenge of the film festival: How do we get Filipinos to financially support Filipino movies? The longtime solution of the festival was to simply eliminate foreign films from the cinemas. Surely, with no foreign competitors, Filipino movies will thrive, right? However, they have neglected the fact that foreign films are not their only competitors; they are also competing with the choice of not watching anything at all.
The full cost of watching a movie at the cinema nowadays has never been higher. I’m not just talking about the ticket price, though at P350 per person this has made movie-going out of reach for a lot of Filipino families. The pandemic has brought about considerable financial strain, with some experiencing job loss or insecurity. Small to medium business owners are dealing with chronic financial bleed due to the numerous disruptions and added safety expenses of the pandemic. A significant part of the country is still reeling from the devastation of Supertyphoon “Odette,” making spending for entertainment a much lower priority. Watching movies at the cinema has also become a serious exercise in calculating risk of safety. A two-hour exposure from an indoor crowd should not be taken lightly.
Filmmakers need to recognize that by asking people to go into the theater, they are asking people to part with their hard-earned money and to make a calculated risk with their safety. Making people feel guilty for not “supporting Filipino films” is a morally unsound strategy when you realize how much you are asking Filipinos to give up. A more effective persuasion strategy is to express appreciation for what it takes to support Filipino art in a time of pandemic. “We know that it’s not easy to spend money and take risks to support us; we will at least make sure that it’s worth it.” Appreciate your audience instead of shaming them into buying your art.
Fans of “Spider-Man” have a right to be upset that they could not watch a movie of their choice (though wishing ill of the festival is very poor form). When choice is taken away, this is what we should expect: a backlash. I hope we can also understand the pain of Marvel fans. Postponing comes at a big risk with fast-rising COVID cases: it might not be safe anymore to watch in theatres by the time it premieres. With dismal turnout and producers unable to recover their investments, “Spider-Man” fans have become an easy scapegoat. But they are not the enemy. Some are patrons of both films while others would not have watched a festival film regardless of “Spider-Man.” Either way, we should not blame potential audiences for exercising their choice. What is going on in the film industry is sadly a sign of the times. As director Joey Reyes said, “Accept. Adjust. Advance. Ok, next move.”
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