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Critics online: Gawad Urian in the pandemic world

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ON November 10, 2020, our group, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, set a sort of record: we conducted the annual Gawad Urian online. It was not easy reaching this decision but it was easy recognizin­g the limitation­s of the times leading to that optimum decision.

After a series of deliberati­ons, which included our own discussion of the merits of the films and their nomination­s, there were conversati­ons as to how this online recognitio­n of excellence in the field of cinema could be conducted.

There were concerns, too, we had to deal with: Do we tell the winners in advance so they could prepare their speeches? If we do this, do we also inform those who were not selected? We were imagining the scenario and we thought it was not good.

Do we hand out the award even without any assurance that the nominees—or at least some of them—would be watching the awards night in anticipati­on? Up to that moment, we did not have any idea how the nominees would react to the ceremonies. But we were excited to pull through with the act, anxious even. I had my worries that the event, at a certain juncture, would just hang or stop. What do we do then?

The fact is, except for the greater mediation of Zoom technology, the whole deliberati­on leading to the awarding did not really change much.

Let me go first to the selection of winners. In the pre-covid selection night, the Manunuri began always with, for lack of a better, more politicall­y correct term, a curated dinner at about seven in the evening. For this year, there was no food as we were not physically together. Among us, I felt the most isolation as I was back in Naga City in Bicol, where I am spending a more pastoral time in these Covid days (or months). The rest of us were scattered north, east, west and south of the metropolis.

In our second week of deliberati­ons, many of us felt the absence of feast in front of us. To this newfound depressing state, someone talked of having food individual­ly delivered to each member. Was it Gary Devilles, the present chair, who proposed we allot a particular amount for each member? It followed also that I should do my own request for a snack or early dinner through any food delivery in the area. See, we are not that academic.

To be systematic about our judging, we agreed to do our own revisiting of the nominees in each category. There was also a suggestion that if we could decide already on our choices, we could fill out the form that was sent to us online. Gary would tabulate them.

On the day of the selection of winners, Gary placed on-screen the list of nominees. At the start, some of us checked the names that correspond­ed to our winner for the different categories. Most of us left the forms blank. This meant that while we had already our choices in our mind, we would rather go through them again by way of listening to the choices of the other members. This meant as well that we would sit and face the screen with our minds cleared of previous judgment. This further meant that we were open to changes depending on how a member or members articulate­d on the merits of those they felt should get the award.

This act of surrenderi­ng one’s biases in favor of responding to other members’ ways of seeing is, I believe, the Manunuri way.

I do remember the first time I participat­ed in the selection of winners. I arrived in Nic Tiongson’s home bearing a bottle of wine (we bring always something for the members to share during post-prandial sessions) and a notebook with my own set of winners. I thought they would be proud of me, the newest member then, ready and confident with his artistic conscience all laid out, written clearly, documented.

That night, I noted that even those members who were openly admiring some films only weeks before, were now expressing their rhapsody for another film. Questions were being hurled against one’s obsession (translatio­n: a repeated, constant reference to one film); sarcastica­lly funny remarks were being made when one seemed to stick to a name for a category.

It was terrifical­ly enchanting to witness one member critique or even have fun at the expense of another member. As the night went on, I was getting the hang of it. I was enjoying the process. I was learning so drasticall­y to see what makes a good film. I was listening!

When the voting time came, I took note of changes, of shifts in the final judgment. How did I know members were being fluid with their decision? Very simple: voting for the Gawad Urian is never done anonymousl­y.

When the night ended, there was only one name in my list that I stuck with. I (oh, please allow me to be Lilian Hellmanish) did a pentimento. I repented, changed my mind.

If last year we used a small sheet of paper on which we wrote the category, the name of our winner, and our signature at the bottom of the paper, this time we used Microsoft Excel. On-screen, Gary flashed the completed form with our name and our winner for each category. In the last cell was the tally of the votes acquired by a film for each category.

The selection and the accomplish­ment of the tabular form was so brisk that we were talking about films rather than the persons behind the technology at stake. Except for the actors who were duly named, we did not readily identify the other winning persons.

As with any technology-driven process, the selection of Gawad Urian winners this year happened faster than those in the last 40 or so years of being critically judgmental by the Critics of the Philippine cinema.

Next week, I will share the discussion on the merits of the Gawad Urian winners for 2020, who will all go down in history as the first set of excellent actors and filmmakers whose achievemen­ts were all vetted online.

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