OPINION: Metro Manila Film Festival: Killing the ‘cinematic revolution’

Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN

By Leovic Arceta

This year’s Metro Manila Film Festival is back to its roots: a money-making machine monstrosity. This is a sentiment echoed by many, including myself, after the MMFF executive committee announced its first four entrees, which includes movies from Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, and Coco Martin.

I wouldn’t want anything other than to be proven wrong on this. But three MMFF execom members resigning after the announcement doesn’t really help its case.

Last year’s revolutionary MMFF was stirred onto a different direction by two major driving forces — the changes in the selection criteria, removing commercial viability to focus on story and quality, and the selection of entries from completed films instead of basing it on submitted scripts.

One of 2016’s criteria, “Story, audience appeal, overall impact,” was removed this year in favor of “commercial appeal.”

Sure, audience appeal and overall impact may translate to “commercial appeal,” with some stretch, but what’s glaring is how the committee is taking out “story” from the selection process.

This, mind you, comprises 40 percent of the criteria. How can anybody judge films without considering the story? By focusing on all the money the film will rake in, apparently.

The other chunk of this year’s selection criteria is given to “artistic excellence,” which also garners 40 percent.

Props to them for actually caring about quality films — except, four of the eight entries are selected from submitted scripts. How do you judge the “artistic excellence” of a film that hasn’t been made?

How do you deliberate on the cinematography, the directing technique, the editing, the sound mix, the acting, based on the script? How, you ask? By focusing on all the money the film will rake in, that’s how.

This is further evidenced by how the body announced the first four entries that were selected.

Nevermind that the photo they posted on their official Facebook page is a screenshot from someone’s phone, and its design is an eyesore: white text on sky blue background with random shapes all over.

It’s true that the devil is in the details.

The post announced the four entries selected, posting the title, director, producers, and lead actors.

If the selections were made using the scripts, why are the names of the lead actors relevant? And how are screenwriters not even mentioned, when it was actually their works the committee had judged?

Just how does something like this happen? Oh that’s right! By focusing on all the money the film will rake in!

Furthermore, some scripts that were snubbed by the selection panel include a musical adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” and one written and directed by Erik Matti. Is the script titled “Revengers” written for Vice Ganda and Daniel Padilla better than those two scripts?

Probably millions of pesos better, as far as the panel is concerned.

Still, I would love to be dead wrong on this. Coco Martin is actually directing his own film under his real name Rodel Nacianceno, albeit riding the FPJ nostalgia wave.

Who knows, there might be something there, right?

And Dan Villegas’ last film starring the same leads garnered praises, right? And it’s still highly possible that the next four entries would be of the same indie-ish strand as last year’s lineup, for better or for worse (they would be screened alongside box office giants).

We’ll have to see.

As with many other things, we can never count on the government, nor on shopping mall chains, to raise the standard of film from simple entertainment to art. And as it is, I think that the old MMFF has definitely returned.

Maybe last year was an anomaly and not at all a revolution.

Or maybe we’re puting pressure on the MMFF to be what a select few of us want it to be? Maybe we don’t need MMFF to give us the quality films we deserve, especially in this digital age.

After all, the real challenge is having good Filipino films any time of the year, and not just during Christmas season.

And if you’re wondering how that can be done, the answer is not “by focusing on all the money the film will rake in.”

Leo is a film enthusiast and a “tech geek” who writes when he has the time. Disclosure: Leo is the partner of Coconuts Manila’s weekend editor Ching Dee.

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