Give the public what it wants, or what it needs? That seems to be the core of the controversy surrounding this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, which opens on Christmas Day.
Last month the MMFF changed its selection process and revised its criteria to focus on story, audience appeal and overall impact (40 percent); cinematic attributes or technical expertise (40 percent); global appeal (10 percent); and Filipino sensibility (10 percent).
“We were all focused on the same direction, and concerned primarily with the quality of the films,” MMFF 2016 Competition Committee member Nicanor Tiongson said, to explain the mostly indie films that qualified for showing during MMFF week.
Shut out were the yearly franchises and perennial box office hits that moviegoers have come to expect. Lamented Regal Films’ Lily Monteverde, whose “Mano Po 7” did not make it: “There is a time for the indie movies. But not during the Christmas season. Christmas is for the family.”
Indeed, previous MMFF receipts show that flagrantly commercial films replete with melodramatic scenes, fantasy sequences, lowbrow humor and impossibly happy endings have ruled the box office. This year’s “Enteng Kabisote 10” and “Mano Po 7” are indicative of the serial success of these franchises.
Naysayers ask: Why watch serious movies at this happiest time of the year? Why pummel the public with movies that reflect the reality desired to be escaped, at least briefly, during the weeklong film fest?
Here’s the simple answer: Because it’s the best time to watch movies we won’t even consider at other times of the year. With no other screen alternatives during the week, movie-watching becomes an opportunity to discover something new beyond the pap regularly served. And while it’s true that not all indie movies are quality output, in the same way that there are good and bad actors and directors in both mainstream and indie productions, there’s a bigger chance to be pleasantly surprised.
After all, the committee that chose the eight movies in the festival hewed closely to the original MMFF guidelines: to show, at least once in a year, that Filipinos can make quality films, and that the moviegoers who made “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang,” “Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” “Itim” and “Kisapmata” such cinema classics, and the mid-1970s a golden age for local movies, can do so again.
Good movies are an excellent way to be both informed and educated, which explains why great literary works often wind up on the big screen. People may not appreciate being clobbered with facts and information, but tell them a good story enriched with character, plot, production values and situations they can identify with, and it becomes a win-win situation.
When the dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered the pullout of the 1976 movie “Sakada,” and the arrest of its director, Behn Cervantes, it was an admission that his New Society was anything but. The film, with its searing focus on the desperate plight of seasonal sugarcane workers, was an eye-opener for most viewers lulled by the martial law era’s siren call of “the true, the good and the beautiful.”
Similarly, movies by multiawarded directors Lino Brocka, Mike de Leon, and lately, Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz, have been hailed for their social commentary and for holding a mirror up to society’s flaws and foibles.
Thought-provoking entertainment is a tradition worth starting, with the MMFF serving as a convenient medium. A number of local movies have won international recognition, after all, so why limit good movies to a select few?
Said Manila Film Festival chair Emerson Carlos: “The 2016 MMFF has redesigned its current season to honor the hard work of the Philippine film industry, while creating a bigger and sustained experience for December’s most awaited family affair. To develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, the 2016 MMFF is elevating the festival’s annual activities, creating a more experiential difference fans will surely enjoy.” About time.
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