21 December 2016

Liberation of Philippine Cinema through the 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival

On November 18, 2016, the world wide web lost its chill. Yet again.

Met with a resounding chorus of applause and astounding amounts of jeers, that date would go down as a significant one in our local cinematic history. It was the day that the full-length “Magic 8” feature films for the Metro Manila Film Festival were given their big reveal. And alas, no Enteng Kabisote (I forget which chapter they’re currently on as of late) or Mano Po (that too). Vice Ganda apparently did not get to see the light of day. Not even an AlDub, JaDine, Kathniel, or LizQuen blockbuster rom-com in hindsight.

A month later and just a few more days before the celebrated festival hits our theatres, most folks are still reeling their heads back in horror. But before you turn your back completely, hear me out on my plea. I know it’s not your cup of tea, but let’s give MMFF 2016 one more chance, shall we?

This holds even more water now, what with the recent developments we’ve been seeing. First, the yearly parade for the festival was reportedly in the throes of getting cancelled. As if that blow wasn’t enough, here comes the latest one: the festival will be cut short, scaled down to a measly 10 day-run rather than the regular two weeks that has been practiced ever since. Relying on word of mouth might just be a little too late, then. Even veteran commercial director, Joey Lamangan, attests to this. "I think 10 days are too short. How can we maximize the exposure of Filipino films to a much wider audience if the run is limited," he was overheard saying. 

True blue cineastes would shake their heads in disappointment. However, the majority would turn a blind eye and wait in the wings for the biggest Hollywood blockbuster or the major franchises the local bigwigs have churned out to re-open in the box office. All this because they weren’t given a chance. All this without knowing what they’re missing. And mind you, in the midst of this hullabaloo, the first ticket hasn’t even been sold yet. 

The dismay is indeed a disheartening one in this sudden turn of events, especially when so much effort and thought has been put out by the film industry folks to bring something new to the table. You've got a unique roster consisting of names and themes that don't usually make the final cut. Finally, a refreshing selection offering different slices of life, a snapshot into the various facets of our society and being. One, a family drama starring a multi-awarded cast top billed by Nora Aunor and Ricky Davao, with the dining table playing a huge role to the story's development. Another, an Alvin Yapan masterpiece about a town struggling to find their footing back when what they have known their whole life has been disrupted. Erik Matti makes a comeback following the Honor Thy Father fallout from last year's MMFF, this time with a horror formula introducing Ronnie Alonte. This comes side by side with a Star Magic entry inspired by a Wattpad romance, minus the infinitely more favored tandems, which again stars Alonte with Julia Baretto and Joshua Garcia completing the film's triumvate. Another, an unusual romance that blossoms in the colorful realm of 2D animation. Eugene Domingo packs some laughs and returns with a sequel to a sleeper hit, this time a satire on the rom-com genre. You've got a film led by Paolo Ballesteros, who shines with his comical timing and allows the viewer a sneak peek in the world of gay pageantry. This is also the first time in MMFF history that a documentary film, courtesy of Baby Ruth Villarama, will be making its rounds. 

So many firsts, so many milestones, so many opportunties, so many possibilites. And yet, so little time, literally. There's much interesting fare going on here and yet, not much love. Not much faith. My heart is heavy with sadness over the fact that we are finally here in this moment of revival, only to walk away. Instead of embracing it with open arms, we decide instead to resort to kicking and screaming that it has no place here. No, too indie, not too pang-pamilya, no entertainment value. May Cinemalaya naman diba? Dun dapat yung mga yun. Wala silang lugar dito, we say. 

The 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival is not an attack on mainstream. No one is waging a war and yet we think they're up in arms, taking away everything we've loved about the yearly affair dearly. This is just a valiant effort to switch things up and provide other options to a festival dominated by the usual suspects. This is the risk we needed which, thankfully, a few had the guts to do. Heck, it shouldn't even be about what's mainstream or what's indie, and which among the two are more deserving. There shouldn't be a divide. Direk Jose Javier Reyes of My Bebe Love fame punctuates this further in his blog, "Only by accepting this can we add even more significance to the efforts done by the few in reshaping the most popular piyesta ng pelikulang Pilipino". And I couldn't agree more. This is just as much a gathering of creative minds and the celebration of Filipino ingenuity as years past. Albeit moving forward, going a step further into uncharted territory. 

This realignment is the purveyor of change, the indicator of progress, and that indeed, there are better days. Nicanor Tiongson, who led this year's selection committee, is a firm believer that the risk is worth taking. "Turtles only make progress when they stick their necks out," he points out when interviewed by press. Because if not now, then when? When will we ever get out of the same rut we've been stuck in? When will we ever break free from the same old cycle reducing our capabilities and mocking our common sense? If we don't take a leap, we're in huge trouble. 

The MMFF 2016 might just be the first step into an exciting realm of possibilities for the future of our film industry. However, for all the risks it has taken, it needs us to step out of our comfort zone and put our biases aside. It needs us to welcome it fully and patronize it, still. Otherwise, the valiant effort lies in vain. 

Who knows? This could just be the renaissance of Philippine cinema. But of course, it would need to start with us to make that happen. 

And I hope we don't let this opportunity come to pass.


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