Beyond loveteams, mistresses, and slapstick

Beyond loveteams, mistresses, and slapstick

Let me share why local film festivals have left me quite disappointed.

This December, I attended a film fest screening in my hometown Tuguegarao City, participated only by locals who had to produce a film about the locale. I was impressed with the local film scene. Their stories were unique from the ones I’ve seen in Manila since they were close to home. I heard how much fun the production teams had creating their films despite struggling with budget, equipment, and manpower—common struggles in independent filmmaking. Most people around me were newbies and aspiring filmmakers who mostly did not have production managers, assistant directors, art department, script cons, and gaffers—just a group of friends with a story to tell.

All I thought and hoped was that a story to tell was enough. I was disappointed when I noticed that the cinema was barely filled. I observed a similar problem when I followed reviews and screenings of the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Considering that MMFF is a reputable film festival, I was surprised that seats were barely filled in every cinema except for “Rewind.”


“Rewind” deserves its success. The heartfelt story and life lessons, coupled with the comeback of the love team of Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera on the big screen, made it the top-grossing film among this year’s entries. However, since it did not win an award, the awarded ones received much backlash. Netizens accused the filmfest of being rigged and criticized other entries. In the week I visited the cinema, “Rewind” always sold out while the others remained barely filled.


My disappointment grew since this year’s entries were individually unique, where each film presented themes that relate to the Philippines. To name a few without spoiling too much: “Firefly” featured places to travel to in Sorsogon; “GomBurZa” beautifully encapsulated nationalism during the Spanish occupation; “Mallari” referenced local folktales in their plot.

These films offered a local story worth watching, yet how come many didn’t give them a chance? After all, Filipinos should appreciate them the most.

We, Filipinos, stick to specific tropes—love teams, mistresses, slapstick comedies—to the point that when we are presented with new themes, we criticize them.

Mind you, these tropes are not terrible; if anything, they reveal a classic interest and identity of the general Filipino audience. However, criticizing local films outside these themes is counterintuitive. By limiting our preferences, we deprive ourselves of other stories. I fear that if audiences continue to attend cinemas solely to watch the usual proven-and-tested plots, we no longer welcome ones that represent minorities and underrated identities, that experiment with new treatments, and that open doors to aspiring filmmakers.

You may think, why should filmmakers bother risking a story that may not sell? As a film student, I was taught to value intention above all. If filmmaking just follows a sure-selling formula, we risk losing the essence of creativity and individuality. The intention would not be by the directors but by the audiences, fueled not by passion but by profit.

If a renowned film festival such as the MMFF could not encourage everyone to watch local films, then who else is going to? If every local, provincial, or city-wide filmfest does not receive much support from its citizens, then for whom else are these films made?


The film industry is already a competitive venture and a saturated market. To find interesting stories is easier than to find people who want to produce and watch them.

Film festivals serve as bridges connecting unique storytellers with audiences, offering a chance to learn and appreciate diverse narratives. When I watched films from my fellow Tuguegaraoeños, I felt sentimental and represented—feelings I hope everyone experiences when watching local films.

This impact can only be achieved if we, as viewers, uplift local filmmakers who show us that we are stories worth telling.

If every person continues to watch films produced in their locales, envision a future where every seat in the local cinema is filled. We embrace a film culture where everyone can admire the beauty of films without undermining others. By then, the only thing a filmmaker needs is a story to tell.

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Mariane Libatique Lubo, 22, is originally from Cagayan. She is a communication major at Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, studying film and advertising.

TAGS: Film, Metro Manila Film Festival, opinion

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