By KERRY TINGA

1 8 - Ganito Ang Mga Pelikula Noon, Paano Ang Mga Pelikula Ngayon?

AN INDIE BEFORE INDIE Conde’s Genghis Khan (1950) wowed audiences at the 1952 Venice Film Festival, despite being made with a limited budget

Film is arguably “the” art form of the 20th century. It can also be described as “the” art form of the masses. Its history is intertwined with the drastic rise in the world population and shift toward urbanization at the turn of the century.

It took hundreds of thousands of years for the world’s population to reach one billion. Scarcely more than a century later, we reached an estimated two billion. It was 1927 and the groundbreaking “talkie” film The Jazz Singer had just come out. Now the world population is at more than seven billion and “blockbusters” fill the cinema houses

As our world reached billions after billions of people who flocked to live in city centers, this new art easily provided mass entertainment to escape to somewhere, to dream of something, and to feel for someone.

As someone born at the tail end of the 20th century, growing up in a world where cinema competes with television, which competes with the Internet, I find watching a film in a theater an experience. In the dark with the projector rolling, a close up of an actor to see every facial tic and movement, or a sweeping shot of a breathtaking landscape that fills the entire wall, film is an art form still more intimate than Internet and television combined.

2 9 - Ganito Ang Mga Pelikula Noon, Paano Ang Mga Pelikula Ngayon?

On The Job directed by Erik Matti

Earlier this year, Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti, known for directing acclaimed films such as On the Job and BuyBust, commented on the state of the current, local film industry via Facebook: “People in social media who are not insiders of the film industry are quick and thoughtless
to blame the loss of our Filipino audience to plain bad filmmaking. Yes, there are loads of those that we produce each year but the problem isn’t all that.

[…] We can only make good-looking, well-made, worth-everyone’s-buck movies if [they] sustainable. Give us the same privileges as a Hollywood tentpole movie and we’ll give you a big budget epic movie worth your money. Right now, it’s not looking like that at all. Give our Filipino films a chance to be seen by the entire country. That’s all we are asking for.”

I am an outsider looking in, with little insider knowledge of the local industry, quick to comment, as Matti remarked, about the state of the Filipino cinema industry as a result of “bad” filmmaking. So, instead, I go on to write primarily about what I know as a Filipino filmgoer.

Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan (1950) is a testament to the ingenuity of Filipino cinema and filmmaking. Noted for its technical achievements, especially on a limited budget, it was screened at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. He is now considered a classic of the international film industry.

Nonetheless, Bibsy Carballo writes in Filipino Directors Up Close: “Genghis Khan’s reception among local audiences was dismal. Although privileged to be the first film shown at the first-run Times theater venue of Hollywood releases, it closed after just five days of screening. Audiences were laughing at the short horses that were dwarfed by the burly Mongols.”

The most successful film industries, from Hollywood to Bollywood, from our neighbors China, Japan, and Korea to the art houses of Europe, are successful because the local filmgoers trust them and line up to watch their movies.

But what is an award when you cannot get to the average Filipino? Who is a film for? The filmmakers who go to Cannes or the filmgoers who go to their local cinema?

We have one of the largest diasporas in the world. We should have Filipino films playing internationally to a welcoming audience proud of their motherland and her industry.

Perhaps the Filipino filmgoer was never the most trusting, as the short quote from Carballo’s book would suggest. But with so many competing media, the Filipino film industry has whittled down to the unimpressive state it is in today.

I can count on my fingers the amount of Filipino films I have watched in the past few years, embarrassingly. There were a few romantic-comedies on Netflix and on plane rides to kill some time (nothing high-brow), and a couple more because they received international acclaim. This includes this year’s Quezon’s Game and 2016’s Ma’ Rosa, which I watched only after Jaclyn Jose won the award for Best Actress at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

As Matti pointed out, it is easy to blame bad filmmaking, which will forever exist in every film industry, in any country but there is also an untrusting public who flock to the familiar Hollywood blockbusters and lighthearted local romantic comedies. Myself included.

But what is an award when you cannot get to the average Filipino? Who is a film for? The filmmakers who go to Cannes or the filmgoers who go to their local cinema?

It is that Filipino cinema industry’s missing link, between the awards and the box office, where filmmaker and filmgoer meet at the middle, where both are willing to take a chance, the filmmaker challenges the audience while the audience challenges themselves.

For the Filipino filmgoers like me, who scarcely give the local industry a chance, falling for Hollywood propaganda, opting to buy a ticket for the next superhero film or Oscar bait, here are five Filipino films that got me to think twice about our local industry (in a good way):

Heneral Luna, directed by Jerrold Tarog
On the Job, directed by Erik Matti
Ma’ Rosa, directed by Brillante Mendoza
Metro Manila, directed by Sean Elis*
Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank, directed by Marlon Rivera

*Directed by the British Sean Ellis and produced by a British
production company, it featured a Filipino cast and crew

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BuyBust directed by Erik Matti

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