MMFF: A fes­ti­val in flux

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Joel David Con­trib­u­tor

The Metro Manila Film Fes­ti­val ( MMFF) is one of those an­nual ex­er­cises where the pub­lic can be guar­an­teed of con­tro­versy. The 2016 edi­tion is dis­tinc­tive, in that the con­tro­versy has started this early, be­fore the event it­self has com­menced.

As a way of re­mind­ing our­selves that 2016 has been a year of in­ci­vil­ity, the ex­changes even reached the level of name-call­ing in so­cial me­dia. More­over, rem­i­nis­cent of this year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the sec­tor that felt marginal­ized in the past is the one now rais­ing a hue and cry.

This kind of con­tro­versy has an im­me­di­ate ben­e­fit, in the sense that the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on the is­sue of wor­thi­ness. But since mostly ex­treme sides of the is­sue are be­ing ar­tic­u­lated, we wind up with po­lar­ized per­spec­tives once more.

On the one hand, pro­duc­ers com­plain that this year’s batch of en­tries has no fam­ily-friend- ly fare, by which they pre­sum­ably mean genre films, es­pe­cially chil­dren’s movies. On the other hand, the in­die-sup­port­ive group as­serts that the fes­ti­val had aban­doned the pur­suit of qual­ity for too long, so this year would be as good as any to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for “se­ri­ous” cin­ema to have a fight­ing chance in main­stream venues.

It did not take long for what we may call the com­merce side (as op­posed to the arts side) to strate­gize in fa­vor of their own re­leases, which were ex­cluded from the 2016 MMFF lineup.

First was their an­nounce­ment of a prefes­ti­val ex­hi­bi­tion, which in ef­fect mim­icked previ- ous MMFF edi­tions: se­quels of the usual fran­chises (“En­teng Kabisote” and “Mano Po,” though no “Shake, Rat­tle and Roll”), a hor­ror film, a melo­drama and the lat­est bro­man­tic out­ing of the re­li­able Vice-Coco tan­dem.

An­other blow came in the form of ex­empt­ing non-Metro Manila the­aters from ex­hibit­ing only 2016 MMFF en­tries dur­ing the fes­ti­val pe­riod.

The les­son here is that when art and busi­ness, like ideals and pol­i­tics, are forced into a lifeor-death strug­gle, art won’t stand a chance. In fact, for too long a spell about a decade ago, “com­mer­cial ap­peal” was in­tro­duced as a ma­jor cri­te­rion for se­lect­ing the best film win­ners.

This all-or-noth­ing per­spec­tive wasn’t al­ways the case. In fact, nearly four decades ago, the MMFF ( then only on its third year) fea­tured films that were re­garded as en­tirely pres­tige projects: a lit­er­ary an­thol­ogy, a so­cial-prob­lem film, a con­tem­pla­tion on the con­se­quences of vi­o­lence, a pe­riod po­lit­i­cal drama, a cri­tique of per­form­ing arts, an­other cri- tique of fam­ily val­ues, a com­ing-of-age nar­ra­tive, a cau­tion­ary tale on ad­dic­tion, a crimeof-pas­sion saga.

Yet, those films had the era’s top stars, suf­fi­cient doses of sex and vi­o­lence, feel-good mo­ments still re­mem­bered fondly by those who had watched the screen­ings, plus at least one stone clas­sic and de­fin­i­tive per­for­mance in the same en­try, Vilma San­tos in Celso Ad. Castillo’s “Burlesk Queen” (1977).

That the MMFF also hap­pened to be the first con­tro­ver­sial one, but the firestorm had more to do with the awards process than with the se­lec­tion of en­tries. The best film win­ner also be­came the top-grosser, a trend that has per­sisted in more cases than we care to re­mem­ber, since most of the more re­cent edi­tions of the fest made a spec­ta­cle out of out­do­ing each pre­vi­ous year’s box-of­fice per­for­mance.

In a sense, we can la­ment that that pe­riod, where com­merce and pres­tige could co­ex­ist in the same project, may be nextto-im­pos­si­ble to re­cap­ture; nonMMFF cross­over cases like Au- raeus Solito’s “Ang Pag­dadalaga ni Max­imo Oliv­eros” (2005) or Jer­rold Tarog’s “Hen­eral Luna” (2015) would ac­tu­ally be so rare (in re­la­tion to the sub­stan­tial num­ber of in­die re­leases per year) that th­ese would be ex­cep­tions that prove the rule.

Be­fore we con­clude that there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing to be said for pro­duc­ers, we should look at the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy of the fes­ti­val it­self.

The MMFFis the only pe­riod in the Philip­pine cal­en­dar when lo­cal pro­duc­tions are guar­an­teed pro­tec­tion from for­eign com­pe­ti­tion—and this pro­tec­tion is the high­est pos­si­ble, 100 per­cent. Thus Philip­pine re­leases ex­pe­ri­ence a schiz­o­phrenic sit­u­a­tion, from zero pro­tec­tion dur­ing the rest of the year to full pro­tec­tion dur­ing the fes­ti­val’s 10-day run. INQ

(The au­thor was the Gawad Lin­gap Sin­ing win­ner of the 2016 Filipino Arts & Cin­ema In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in San Fran­cisco. A pro­fes­sor at Inha Univer­sity in Korea, he was found­ing di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines Film In­sti­tute.)

Vilma San­tos in “Burlesk Queen”

Nora Aunor in “Hi­mala”

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