Sunday, January 15, 2017

MOVIE, MUSIC, MAGIC: THE HEARTBREAKING "LA LA LAND"

Pardon me while I gush. Literally gush.

There is a kind of significant human experience one gets when he encounters any work that presses a certain button deep inside. The effects make words seem insufficient. You cannot pinpoint exactly why you get that high when you are made to feel something that is recognizable and yet unusually new.  

I get that queasy feeling when I hear certain songs that bring back chunk loads of memories from some particular moment in the distant past. (Try playing Dennis Lambert's song, Of all the Things and my entire college life in the '70s comes right back in a wallop.) I get that from reading a good novel --- and a terrific movie. Like La La Land.

OK. So it's my trip. I was properly warned by people that all those Golden Globes and citations from the various critics should prepare me for something good --- if not better than the usual fare.  I mean, when you hear and read about a movie said in the same breath as Oscar-worthy or the fave of the discriminating, you expect that this will be far better than Batman Versus Superman or, uh, Bad Neighbors 2.  

And there will always be those who do not like the movie --- because, well, they do not like the movie. Period.  Others will give you an entire thesis as to why they think this Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone movie is a lot of Hollywood crap tied in a ribbon and  --- (oh, God ... that Trump word) ---overrated.  Yes, that is within their human rights to say so ... in the same manner that perhaps they cry when they hear a different song  or they may actually have found a philosophical value to Batman Versus Superman. Whatever.

But I love La La Land. Period.  And I loved it because I love movies.  Yes, I love the classics inasmuch as I love them cheesy as well.  If I can appreciate Elvira Madigan or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, then I deserve the right to shamelessly enjoy all the Godzilla movies I can get to watch ... or cry shamelessly in every film version of Hachiko's story.

I love La La Land because it is a romance not only in a movie but about movies.

I cannot wait to discuss this with my students --- as to how a particular movie genre, assumed dead, has been resurrected and reinvented for the digital/ post-truth age.  Movie musicals come in numerous forms --- mostly screen versions from popular works from theater.  Although more popular in the past with the likes of My Fair Lady or West Side Story and, of course, The Sound of Music --- from stage to screen demands a certain magnitude, a level of grandeur as the material is transformed from one medium to another.

Thus, when Les Miserables brought Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway singing their hearts out, one of the longest running musicals was brought to a new form of life in a medium that defies the physical limitations of theater --- into that of cinematic grandeur.

The original movie musical seemed to have withered away somewhere through the decades. Instead, it was replaced by the jukebox musicals like Mama Mia (with the music of Abba), Rock of Ages, Moulin Rouge and Across the Universe (putting together the works of the Beatles).  Gone were those splendid years of the MGM Musicals where you had names like Astaire, Rogers, Kelly and Caron literally dancing on air in music composed and designed specifically for film.  Gone were those years because --- well, maybe --- just maybe --- the audience has lost so much of innocence and that the element of fantasy was replaced by the immeasurable tricks offered by computer technology.

Instead of the joyful innocence and sense of fun in Hollywood musicals, popular entertainment in movies has been replaced by thrill rides.  Technology has become such a wizard that imagination has ceased to have limits --- and what we pay with our good money is to be awed by sensory bombardment.

Then now we have La La Land, a simple love story about chasing dreams, fulfilling ambitions and the price paid in order to hold onto what one perceives as the ultimate happiness. Yes, there are impressive special effects. Yes, there is that sleight of hand of the director telling you, "Figure out how I did this?"  Yes, there is this refinement of the use of technology, never vulgar but instead opting to be charming. Yes, there is this visual delight, this enchantment in deciphering various motifs and tropes in classic musicals, including the use of images, transition devices and --- wonderful cliches.

The movie is actually a tribute to movies --- when they were still innocent and filled with romance.  But here's the catch:  it has redefined the musical, it has broken the expectations of the narrative arc --- it has even re-imagined the incorporation of musical numbers to seamlessly become organic to the movement of the plot.  

The use of the Griffith Observatory in putting reference to Rebel Without a Cause --- or that whole sub-narrative about the closing down of Realto Theater because no one wants to see old movies anymore --- these are all integral to the very heart and soul of Damien Chazelle's work.

But what makes this movie extraordinarily special is not only the performances of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone --- but its music.  Chazelle already showed his love for jazz in his previous Whiplash but here he uses the genre as another metaphor for the arts that need to survive amid the tsunami of changes happening in the world so quickly.  Moreover, the most brilliant music in this piece are not necessarily the grand production numbers --- but the small and intimate songs that capture that magical moment of the story in the film --- as well as the stories in the hearts of the audience.

It is really not all that surprising that, of all times, La La Land should be a film for the here and now. Reminiscent of the bittersweet romance of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (apparently one of the films that the 31 year old Chazelle found as inspiration), the return to innocence, the need to be reassured of far loftier emotions --- and even the anesthesia provided by romance --- gives respite to the audience who now lives in a world of utmost uncertainty.

When the world has refused to acknowledge the dichotomy of black and white but chosen to justify all shades of gray, the splendor of movies --- and the musicals bring us such welcome relief and temporary happiness in knowing that people in love can fly off and dance among the stars --- and that even traffic in the L.A. freeway can be cause for a grand opening production number. Movies respond to the temperament of the world --- and La La Land, in all its sweetness --- and eventually one the most pained endings ever --- is a fitting reply to what we have become today.

OK. I love La La Land and I tell it to all my friends and whoever wants to hear or listen. I cannot allow a beautiful experience such as the one I felt remain in me without sharing.  The movie has left me humming ... and remembering of all the people and possibilities I gave up to pursue what I thought was my dream.  A price has to be paid.  Even the pain of remembering this becomes worthy of a movie and a song.




Saturday, January 7, 2017

WHO'S AFRAID OF THE MMFF? : THE FINALE

In that old Kevin Costner movie "Field of Dreams", his character was told: "Build and they shall come."

That could be said about the re-energized, revitalized and reconstructed edition of the MetroManila Film Festival in 2016.  

Rising from controversies and a chorus of complaints from a variety of sectors, the annual fiesta of all-Filipino films was rehashed through the revamp of the people who matter: the old guards --- practically institutions in the film industry --- were drastically removed and replaced by a completely different set of individuals who carried their own advocacy into the fray.  

The results were met with disbelief and grim anticipation of a lackluster festival that will not impress much less be patronized by madlang people.  

When the usual suspects in the form of franchise films or signature performers who you expect to see every December were not allowed to join this year's edition, people did not know what to expect.  One thing was held with certainty, this year's MetroManila Filmfest will deliver so much less in the box office compared to that of the past five years.  

Some even lamented that out of this messianic need of the reformists, the beneficiaries of the festival --- namely the MOWELFUND and the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) will receive the brunt of far much less income for the coming year.

Together with all the complaints and apprehensions thrown into the pot of stew, the MMFF 2016 rolled on and showed the eight films selected for the holidays.  And now that it is over and done, there are so many lessons as well as realizations that have been unraveled, so many hidden messages finally revealed. 

No, the festival was far from perfect as there is no such thing as a perfect anything.  For the past week and so many days, Filipino audiences have been treated to some gems --- as well as others that could stand some improvement but nonetheless way above the standard quality of the more-of-the-same movies that we see throughout the year.

In conclusion, let me share my assessment of both the good news ... and the bad.

Indeed, build and they shall come ... and they came. 

The audiences may be far lesser in number than the frenzied throngs who fill up lobbies of theaters in malls or generate uncontrollable havoc everywhere.  Instead, you still get the lines of people for the box office but they are far shorter and definitely more comfortable to deal with.  

You realize that indeed the profile of the Filipino moviegoing audiences was closely revealed as to who watched what movie and where.  And, as expected, the repeat screeners were far less because the movies were not fan based and relied purely on the appreciation of the audience for the entries shown.

But then one thing is undeniable despite the lesser box office returns: the audience will watch a good movie even if it does not have certified crowd drawers whose names shall be used above the title. There was no denying (even before the festival announced how it was going be reformatted) that there is an intelligent Filipino moviegoing audience who has shied away from local films because of its tendency to be repetitive, imprisoned by templates and even vacuous. This is the sector who complained --- although not a majority in terms of the money spending population to yield impressive sales.

The goods news is that:

1.  This year's MetroManila Filmfest drew its crowd.  

In other words, as expected five out of the eight films performed well.  Although they cannot be compared to the mind-boggling blockbusters like the films of Vice Ganda (Note:  Star Cinema has announced that Special Parental Guidance earned a total of P75M nationwide on its first day --- which is perhaps bigger than the total gross of the first day of all the films of the festival and over P500M by the end of its run... which was how much it could have made if shown during the Christmas window) contrary to the hasty opinions of some, this year's festival gathered the crowd that it can possibly gather.  

Even before the festival began, four films that brought home the bacon already had the advantage: Vince, Kath & James because Star Cinema produced it, Die Beautiful because it had a pre-playdate publicity advantage and it starred Paolo Ballesteros, Seklusiyon because its director, Erik Matti, has a cult following and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2 because this was the comeback movie of Eugene Domingo.

Despite all the controversies about how many films will be shown simultaneously outside MetroManila and the right of theater owners to handpick which of the films they will choose to exhibit, things worked out fine.  All's well that ends well, although some still insist that it could have been better. 

Die Beautiful immediately picked up momentum because of sparkling word of mouth.   Vince, Kath & James had the advantage of having more moviehouses because it is a Star Cinema movie (after all) and had access to more theaters nationwide compared to the rest.

But what worked finest was the rave reviews given to Baby Ruth Villarama's Sunday Beauty Queen.  Having a documentary film in a mainstream film festival during Christmas is like swimming in a pool with piranhas while having a nosebleed.  In other words, there was no way that this film was expected to get an audience and it would take a miracle in Garabandal to make this film work in the market.  Oh, but guess what?  Contrary to what Elsa shouted, may himala.

Actually it was no miracle.  It was just a damn good documentary that was touching, funny, heartbreaking and --- most important --- reflective of the Filipino --- that pushed this work of love right there to the consciousness of the more discriminating sector of the audience.  You just cannot show a documentary to an audience unfamiliar with the genre ("Hindi ba pang-news lang ang mga yan?").  You need to make your audience aware that this is an entirely different art form that shapes events in real life with real people into a unique universal experience. The impact of the movie to those who watched it--- and talked about it --- and reviewed it --- and Tweeted about it --- all the forces of the universe came together to finally get a decent audience share catapulted by the Best Film trophy during the awards night.

Ten days may not be enough to generate a truly effective word of mouth or viral campaign considering that not all these producers have the millions of pesos to spend on promotions. 

Then again, rethink.  The same principles that worked for Sunday Beauty Queen also had a negative effect on some entries that did not live up to expectations. If the documentary film kicked in especially after the awards, there are also other entries whose sales dropped when attention was veered to the more appreciated entries.

Similarly, who would have guessed that Saving Sally --- the first attempt at a mixed media/ live action plus animation feature film --- would have wooed the crowd so that it ranked fourth in MetroManila in terms of audience share.  Yes, Saving may have had Rhian Ramos and TJ Trinidad but its lead, Enzo Marcos --- is not a household name much less even and up and coming draw in Ronnie Alonte.  Again, it is the sheer power of word of mouth that eventually lifted this movie from limbo to one of the most talked about and appreciated entries in the festival.

2. There were great discoveries in this ten-day festival.  And it had nothing to do with money. It has got everything to do with new forms.

The thing about the festival of the past was that it had become a hodge-podge of the predictable .. just like every Filipino Christmas dinner table must have queso de bola or Majestic ham (or its facsimiles) to complete the festive spirit.  

This year's festival offered something new ... and amidst the dread and  rants of the Cassandras, the MMFF delivered an unusual share of surprises.

Over and above all that has been praised about the festival is its courage to include a documentary film (Villarama's Sunday Beauty Queen) and a mixed-media feature employing live action with animation ( Llongoren's Saving Sally ) into the menu.  Although there was great uncertainty about these entries --- considering that a documentary has real people and Saving did not have certified box office magnets, the results were awesome.

Hopefully with the success of Sunday Beauty Queen, Villarama has opened the doors for more Filipino documentary filmmakers to find their courage, voice and more important, the venue to show their films.  If only for this, then the 2016 MMFF has made its mark and underlined its significance. Villarama has set a high standard for the next documentary filmmaker to stun the audience with the power of reality reshaped to define a greater truth.

Llongoren's Saving Sally is a brave and good first step to inspire younger filmmakers to find new forms of expression in their pursuit of cinematic significance.  Considering the Filipinos' facility in graphic design and animation, let the young generation jump into this pool of possibilities. It took Llongoren ten years to complete this film --- and that is what is so badly needed in the cinematic scene now: passion. Resilience. The need to say something new which is personal while being effective to the audiences.

3. We are discovering actors and not merely deifying celebrities.

Who would have that Paolo Ballesteros' excursions into cloning herself into international celebrities via his genius in make-up would eventually yield something that is more than amusing and entertaining?  No, Paolo is no overnight sensation --- for he has been around for quite some time but it is only now that he has literally blossomed into an actor who can use the range of his other talents to solidify a more significant art form.

And in the constellation of too many young stars churned out by television networks and talent headquarters, who would have thought that two of the most refreshing actors would be not only rediscovered but also redefined because of their sheer screen presence?

Rhed Bustamante is the best ingredient in Seklusiyon.  She is the axis from which all the other characters in the movie revolved.  This little girl was so good that she set the bar for the other actors to deliver.  Seeing her during the awards night telecast made it even more surprising --- because this was not the spooky Anghela Sta. Ana who freaked the living daylights out of four deacons and a nun.  She was so good that she became the movie.

Speaking of surprises, it is unfair to call him the next John Lloyd Cruz. There is no second Lloydie because as an actor, he is who he is and will always be who he has become --- irreplaceable by name.  

Joshua Garcia is the new Joshua Garcia.  Why? Because like Rhed Bustamante, he became the heart of Vince, Kath and James.  The charm of the movie is his chemistry with Julia Barretto --- and his significance as a rediscovered actor is that he is one of the best --- if not the best of his lot in that studio.  He is a major find --- because he will be more than just that pretty face attached to a love team meant to sing and dance or grace magazine covers --- he will (given the right chance and guidance) be the next big thing for his studio.

There amount of surprise in finding the biggest gem of the festival will remain inexhaustible. Who would have thought that an actor portraying a transgender best friend would be the most celebrated performance in a supporting role?  Whereas the kabatuhan role would usually be relegated to the same tired stereotype, devoid of color and diminished to the generic, Christian Bables as Barbs in Die Beautiful stunned the audience.  

In the latter part of the film,  he was literally carrying the movie with Trisha now relegated to as an impersonator corpse.  Bables' intelligence as an actor, his mastery of knowing and getting into the character --- added to the great rapport he had with Ballesteros gave him the most deserved award for the year.  If my sixth sense is right, the trophy he received during the celebration of this year's festival will not be his last in the harvest for that role.

Of course, it is almost expected for a veteran like Irma Adlawan to deliver an award-worthy performance as the feisty spitfire Kapitana in Alvin Yapan's Oro. Nora Aunor needs no other trophy to add to her shelves because she IS Nora Aunor and her performance in Real Florido's Kabisera cannot disappoint.  But there are other noteworthy renditions by actors that spiced up the other films as well: Khalil Ramos' disturbingly quiet portrayal of Lennon, the Production Assistant in Babae sa Septic Tank 2, Gladys Reyes in Die Beautiful, Neil Ryan Sese in Seklusiyon and the sheer charm of Enzo Marcos and Rhian Ramos in Saving Sally, 

You sort of wish that actors can be given such beautiful opportunities to portray of spectrum of colorful roles during the other eleven months of the year. You dream that these actors be given greater chances outside indie film fests to try out a whole wide range of portrayals that will test their mettle and stretch their range. 

4. There are examples of great technical expertise in the entries of the festival.

Students of mass media must take special attention of some of the best examples of technical excellence and innovation found in the entries of this year's festival.

Aside from the boost given by Villarama's Best Picture documentary and the recognition of the mixture of animation and live action in Llongoren's romantic fable, other entries revealed moments of Filipino excellence in the technical fields involved in filmmaking.  Note that making films is not only about the galing ng artista or the ganda ng pananamit. It is all about the way the director has put together an entire vision, welding and weaving the elements together for an impressive whole.

That was why Die Beautiful's screenplay by Rody Vera was a good vehicle for Ballesteros and Bables to sparkle in their roles.  The non-linear treatment of events plus the control shown by Jun Lana's direction never pushed the material into the slapstick caricature that is so predictable/accessible to the popular audience. Instead it chose to deal with Trisha Echevarria's journey with both sympathy and dignity.  Carlo Mendoza's camera fulfills the director's vision with both sharpness and accuracy, again never going over the top but depicting a painful reality in the lives of Filipino transgenders.

The same goes for Chuck Gutierrez' award-recognized editing of Sunday Beauty Queen --- which is the very core of how effective documentaries are made.  The difference with sewing together real events as they unfold, focusing on real people as they live --- is that one does not have the omnipotence or superpowers of a screenwriter to manipulate the story. The narrative is told as it happens ... and Gutierrez' editing of his wife's documentary brings out both the heart and mind of the issues of OFWs compelled to create their own world on their days off in order to survive what they have to go through each working day of the week.

Then there is the subtle yet beautiful use of music in Saving Sally:  quiet, unobtrusive and almost like a silent witness to the revelations of the life of the battered heroine.  All throughout its telling, there is that whimsical quality of the film both playful and at times painful.

The success of Seklusiyon greatly depended not only on Rhed Bustamante's performance but the awesome cinematography of Neil Derrick Bion and production design by Ericson Navarro.  The material was a mood piece --- and true to form, Matti delivered that technically polished piece incorporating a very precise and most effective series of images, settings and props.  Others may squawk about the film's weaknesses but one cannot deny the impact created by the visuals put together to enhance the narrative.

5. The major studios can learn a thing or two about this past festival.

There are two lessons that major studios should re-evaluate at the end of the ten day run of the MMFF 2016.

First, if Vice Ganda can earn half a billion on a first week of December run somewhat spilling over the festival domain in provinces (where the MMFF holds no jurisdiction or control since the executive order only covers Metro Manila ), then there is no real need to place these mammoth franchise movies in the Christmas playdate.

OK, let us go back to the pambata and pampamilya argument again.  Well, yes --- it would have been realistically better if there were family movies shown although as some of the cineastes would say, "Who needs family movies in a film festival?"  Ask the theater owners and they will give a very logical and business minded answer.

However, it does not mean that major studios cannot do another kind of pambata or pampamilya movies, right?  We will not even venture in using the word better because it is unfair.  Enteng Kabisote  and Vice Ganda movies have their audiences have their own taste --- which no one can look down and condemn. Pera nila yon na pinambayad ng ticket sa pelikula so it is their right to choose what they want to watch and no one can order what they can and cannot watch. Imposing one's taste over another is not and will never be the best way to convince people to try out something new.

This also leads to the second point: magpakatotoo na nga tayo, ha? Two of the most successful entries in the festival came from the major studios: these are Star Cinema's Vince and Kath and James and Regal Entertainment's Die Beautiful.

It is important to note that in the final accounting of who earned the most (which shall be discussed later), Vince supposedly took the overall national lead of P108M while Die Beautiful was not far behind.  In Metro Manila, it is claimed that Die Beautiful ranked first with Vince ranking third.

So what's the point?  Plain and simple: it is an inevitable advantage to have the machinery of the studio to back up a film to boost sales.  They have the people, they know the drill. They have the machinery and ... uh, they have set the rules.  But then why be angry about this? The important thing is that Die Beautiful and Vince and Kath and James turned out to be good movies --- better than the predictable conveyor belt lot that you get eleven months a year from the studios.

Having said that ... eh puwede naman pala, ano?

Puwede naman pala for mainstream studios to come out with exceptionally beautiful commercial movies.  

Magpakatotoo Point Number Two:  Good films are not exclusive to indies ... as there are particularly horrible, unspeakable and deplorable products from that side of the cinema making planet as well.  Now if the mainstream studios can produce good commercial movies--- the ones with the freshness of Boborol's hand in romcom and Lana's sensitivity and ingenuity in Die Beautiful, then this not be limited to the ten days of the Christmas showings.

That is the point of the much ballyhooed re-evolution, right?  Let's not pick fights with major studios but cajole them into exploring other options and possibilities because they can if they choose to do so.

and most important:

6. People are happy with the outcome of the festival.

The general consensus is that the difference in this year's crop of MetroManila Filmfest entries is indeed far, far superior to the usual harvest that is offered on the Christmas table. There is a chorus of comments saying that they have now gone back to watching Filipino films because it is finally worth the effort, the money and the time.  Gone are those movies that do nothing but celebrate the producers' desire to make a mint out of the Yuletide frenzy.  
Now you have carefully crafted intelligent films constituting  this "re-evolution" (so they say) to bring back yet another golden age of Philippine cinema.

All this is fine and in so many ways true.  This year's festival has shown not only respect for the audience's discriminating taste but also aimed at elevating the taste level of the ordinary moviegoer.

But this leads us to some observations which can be considered as the not-so-good developments of the past ten days.

1. Yes, there was audience in attendance but will this be enough to convince theater owners to do a repeat of the quality of movies shown in next year's festival? Considering the drop in ticket sales (and therefore ... yes, profitability), can we have the same kind of MetroManila Film Festival in December 2017?

Before anyone goes completely ballistic exclaiming, "Pera! Pera! Puros na lang ba pera ang importante?", I have to distribute some reality pills and say, "Sorta kinda."

The most common kontrabidas in this scenario are the producers who the general public (or people who do now know how the movie business works) see as these insatiable greedy monsters who will sell their soul to the god of Anghela Santa Ana for the sake of profit., What people tend to forget in that surge of impassioned emotion is that --- folks, film is business. That is why it is called an industry.

It is an industry because it operates on the availability of money.

Producers make movies to make money.  

I have yet to meet a producer who goes into this business because he wants to score points with God.  What is important (at least) is that he does not lose that much money in his investment or that he will still have enough money to finance more films in the future (assuming that he has not yet fallen into such a brain-curdling trauma).  

The same goes for theater owners.  

Despite the noble intentions to educate the masa by exposing them to kagalang-galang and karapatdapat films, both producers and especially theater owners still need to make money. And there is nothing wrong with that because, as I said, this is a business.

Making movies for the MetroManila Filmfest is not like Cinemalaya or Sinag Maynila or Cinema One Originals in which an institution or foundation gives you seed money and you must find a way to get a co-financier to handle the difference in the cost of production.  We are dealing with the world of private business here where motivation is profit --- and not the achievement of the highest significant human experience.

It is fallacious to say that this year's festival is a failure: it is far from that. But still it did not deliver the same money as last year's version where the gross reached to a staggering P1B. There is absolutely no way that they could duplicate that with what is in this year's menu.

But then again that was never the intention of the festival. Without the franchise they could not have made close to the record of last year. The organizers of this year's festival wanted to change the equations all together but still ... theirs is not the power to change the system.

Moreover, the even bigger problem is that:

2. It is also about the beneficiaries of the festival: The Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) and MOWELFUND (Movie Workers Welfare Foundation).

Figures suggest that MMFF 2016 made a little over P300M.  Impressive at it may sound, this is a paltry comparison to the P1.2B that the movies made last year.

Aside from the producers and theater owners, others lamented the far much smaller amount to be handed to the two major beneficiaries of the festival --- dedicated to movie workers, namely the MOWELFUND and the Film Academy of the Philippines.

But then again, maybe there is need to re-examine this.  Maybe there are better ways of raising funds for the benefit of movie workers rather than depending on the volatile sales of a ten day festival which is now being compelled to deliver money for the welfare of its everyday people.  

Maybe it is about time to also reassess how the MOWELFUND and FAP can, after all these years, find a more definite source of funding --- and not depend on a festival for its operational sustenance. 

The entire mindset about this festival changed when the Best Picture was awarded to the film with the highest box office returns., This turned the fiesta into a full-fledged pera-pera celebration.  And this is seemingly justified by the fact that it has beneficiaries --- in other words, profit for a cause.  The MOWELFUND and the FAP deserve something much better than this --- to be on the receiving end of the ambiguous profits of a festival.  

As an after thought: can we also stop asking who was the top grosser of this festival? Sure, we can look at the figures and do our business comparisons, identify consumer behavior and all that. But this festival is about films ... and not just how much money they made. Who made it to the top ... and who hit the bottom should be irrelevant in the context of the purpose of this event.


3.  The divisiveness between independent and commercial filmmakers should be put to a rest.  

The knee jerk reaction to the selection of the final eight films to make it to the MMFF this year was violent.  The question asked was' "Bakit puros indie?"  

To begin with, this is not true.  Two of the films in the festival are studio produced or distributed.  Vince and Kath and James is a Star Cinema project: Regal Entertainment is a co-producer of Die Beautiful.  Quantum Films is also the producer of Babae sa Septic Tank 2 --- and this outfit has produced a number of movies before including last year's English Only Please.  Perhaps what is necessary is really to define to the much larger public what is meant by an independent movie.  If a work is not produced by any of the major studios, that does not necessarily mean that this is an indie movie: it can still be mainstream in its sensibilities but produced outside the domain of studio giants.

And regardless of what is indie or not, I disagree even with some of my friends when they say that this has no place in a Christmas festival.  It is best to remember that even a movie like Joyce Bernal's Kimmy Dora or Jerrold Tarog's Heneral Luna or Antonette Jadaone's This Thing Called Tadhana were all indie movies --- which had mainstream sensibilities. Considering the lot that was offered in this year's roster, even the so-called indies like Kabisera or Oro  were not exactly experimental films that only a U.P. Film Institute doctoral candidate writing his dissertation will approve.  They are issue films (which are also mainstream in theme) that will not and cannot be touched by major studios which prefer romcoms, horror and comedy projects.

Maybe what can be better said is that next year's selection should also take into consideration the audience outside their circle: this means being sensitive to the needs of the paying public considering that it is Christmas --- and that even in Hollywood, the Yuletide movies are not philosophical dissertations by filmmakers but season-appropriate films that cater to a wider spectrum of audience demographics.

Fact: not all commercial movies are bad --- in the same manner that not all indie movies are good.

The bottom line is that whether it is produced by Star Cinema or Artikulo Uno or Quantum or any upstart studio, a film is a film is a film.  It is either good or bad.  Who and how it was produced are not ultimate determinants for quality.

And this further points to:

4.  The call is for better films --- whether commercial or independently produced. And these better films must attractg a much larger audience and not limited nor dictated upon by the few.

This is easier said than done.  

Firstly, the MMFF need not and should not be hostile to either the producers or the theater owners. Let me repeat: they are businessmen and they are only doing what they are supposed to do.  What is important is to convince them to try harder to discover newer ways of making effective commercial movies. For the MMFF to sustain whatever gains it got this year, it must learn to work with all kinds of producers and theater owners.

Remember, Vince and Kath and James is still a Star Cinema romcom based on an online novel. But what made a difference was Theodore Boborol's direction and vision of the film. In other words, it is not impossible to make fresh studio films which are not restricted to the tyranny of formulas or the color-by-numbers approach to what makes a blockbuster.  It has been done before and it can be done with greater room for innovation and, yes, experimentation.

In the same manner, if non-box office stars like Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia, Ronnie Alonte, Paolo Ballesteros and Christian Bables can bring in the audience at whatever maximum capacity there may be, then please let it be done.  

God knows we need more actors --- as we are already burping out celebrities pretending to be actors.  The re-evolution that the MMFF is insisting is not only about the films themselves --- but the attitude, the practices and the very rules that govern the universe of local showbiz.

Most important, the MMFF and the producers should agree that the purpose of the festival is not to alienate, castigate or divide --- it is to inspire producers to try harder, something newer and be braver.  In the same manner, producers should stop looking at the MMFF suspiciously as the promoter of indie movies and with a personal agenda to deprive their companies of the oh-so-important end of the year income.  There should be a dialogue --- a sensible dialogue rather than the foray of pronouncements on social media --- between the MMFF and their potential participants.

The results of this year's festival should provide lessons on both parties to hear out each other and, most important, understand where each is coming from.

When there is an audience, then producers will make more movies of caliber. When you fill up a movie house, you can bet your bottom peso that the theater owners will welcome these films and/or movies with open arms ... and endless extensions of showings.

5. Oh, God: did it have to be the killing of a dog?

Every year the MMFF is marinated in controversy.  Last year it was about the disqualification of Erik Matti's Honor Thy Father from the Best Picture award ... and some so-called secrets that should not have been revealed about who was working with whoever. So who would have thought that this year, the issue will be all about the onscreen killing of a dog in an advocacy film?  Who would have imagined that it got that far before anybody to notice and say, "Teka, a crime has just been filmed and shown on Christmas Day."

Yes, according to Republic Act 8485 it is considered a criminal act to maltreat animals for whatever reason ... more so, to do this for the sake of art , for shock value or some claim of authenticity.  If proven guilty, there is no justification whatsoever for the slaughtering of a dog just to capture whatever lofty reason there might be --- or need to depict some brutal idea in a film.  And the sad part is whether they like it or not, the people behind the MMFF are dragged into this deplorable controversy.

Glossing over the problem or saying "Para aso lang yan?" aggravates the situation. This is a problem that must be handled with care as well as fairness --- because, as the troll under the bridge said, "At this point of the game, you certainly do not need this s--t!"  Ignoring the problem, evading the issues or muddling them by saying the end justifies the means will tarnish whatever brownie points earned because of the success of the festival.

And please, let us not go into "You have to be a vegan first" or "What about the extra judicial killings?"  A lot of us eat pork and beef and wear leather shoes and belts --- and are appalled by extra judicial killings as well. But we still do not think it was a very good idea to show a dog being butchered onscreen. For the sake of art or the creation of a thematic statement.  Duh!

Lastly, and most importantly ...

5.  Ten days of all-Filipino films do not and cannot make Philippine cinema.

So we were all so pleasantly surprised by the audience turnout of the films. We are all celebrating the positive reviews and how most of the films were hailed as breakthroughs.

But again success is both delightful as it is scary.

Success should not be an end in itself but only the beginning.  That is what true success means: opening doors, encouraging others to savor the gains ... but more so, being able to sustain the euphoria or even raise the ante.

Going hand in hand with the success of the film festival is the responsibility and the challenge.

The responsibility is to help redefine and redirect Philippine cinema not in arguments that would lead to divisiveness and discord --- but to share a vision.  The vision should be encompassing ... and that should be the challenge.  

The challenge is for good Filipino movies to be available not only ten days a year wrapped in a Christmas package. It should be something we relish fifty two weeks a year ... with pride and a sense of ownership.

Otherwise, if success is not handled properly ... or when entitlement or arrogance precedes a sense of duty, then indeed success will be the beginning.... of an end.

And we don't want to go back there any more.

















Friday, December 30, 2016

ON THE LAST DAY OF THE PASSING YEAR, ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE NEW ONE

OK.  I will join the club.  2016 will go down in my personal history as not one of the best years of my lives. But I console myself in saying that, "It could have been worse."  Well, it could have also been better.

But now that (as I write this) we are all inching towards the very last day of the year, let us pump up ourselves in the manner of the blow fish hoping that the new year will be kinder. Just the sheer enumeration of all the people who left us these past twelve months is already mind boggling: at first I thought I could handle it when David Bowie and Prince died. But when George Michael, Princess Leia and her mother all died within the same week, I said to myself, "The Grim Reaper is really hot in his dance ... but do you think he can take some suggestions as to who should be in his guest list?"  

2016 saw the year of the underdog, the Year of Living Surprisingly.  We acquired a rather different kind of president through an impressive number of votes.  Even the U.S. has elected its 45th president who is most likely unlike any other who came before him. Populism and protectionism is on the rise, political musical chairs keep playing, Russia and China and North Korea and Syria and the terrorist bombings in Europe. Name it and we've done and seen it all in this passing year.

And some effing pessimist gives me the finger and says, "So what makes you think 2017 will be better?"  Just think that by the end of January, the Naughty Monkey would have gone to be replaced by the Year of the Proud Cock.  Now if that is not assuring, I do not know what is.

In the meantime, I hope to change my luck by changing myself in some ruffled fronts.  My God, at my age --- I have come to realize that there are still a helluva lot of lessons to learn considering how fast the world changes.  Some people think New Year's resolutions are just a lot of crock --- but I opt to say that they are just personal guidelines.  

By knowing your vulnerabilities and objectifying who you are at this point in your life gives you not only context but a sense of direction. It is like that ubiquitous pin on the GPS map of your life telling you exactly where you are --- so that you can estimate which options you have in Uber to get to your destination.  It is not meant to be The Ten Commandments revised and revisited each year.  It is simply reminding yourself where to go ... and how to get there. So let's go.

1. I will not define my life or even my Universe by the things I read and share in social media.

It has become endemic: social media can overwhelm and even possess you so that you define your existence by the number of friends, followers, likes, dislikes and even livestreaming one can use to enhance the present reincarnation.

There is a need to curb that.  There is also a very important need to discriminate what is true from what is being made to look true in the worldwide web.  Information has become so accessible, abundant and cheap so that deception and authentication have become relative. It is easy to be misled and misguided by social media so that you get to a point that your life becomes a series of shoutouts and you even start posting pictures of your dying grandmother on her hospital bed or ... worse, showing one's self having an enema because it is good to share. Life has become a series of Instagram shots, Snapchat mini-videos and Twitter messages to turn one's daily life into a multi-platform reality show.

It begins to eat the very essence of being alive by diminishing your universe to URLs and hyperlinks.  You tend to misuse and abuse the idea of a friend because you have diminished something precious and meant to be cherished into a very common verb.


2. I will only react to chosen issues --- and even spend more time determining whether the rest of the world needs my reaction.

Some smart ass once sent me a DM to warn me that times have changed.  Said rectum personified said, "Now is the age of interaction. Soliloquy is dead. " Oh.  That simply means that once you read about something/anything in the internet (Read: Access to information) and give your five cents worth of an opinion (Read: Freedom of expression) then you better be ready for a thousand and one Magis and clowns to go hurling their precious comments about what you just spat out there.

But then again --- do you really have to?  Is there any real and practical reason aside from announcing to the world that you have an opinion --- or that you are in the know --- that you have to let the rest of the Universe know what and how you exactly feel?  Perhaps not ... but some people find it therapeutic to scream to the world what they are experiencing in the here and now.

Maybe I should put a lid on tweeting or making shoutouts cursing Manila traffic or the telecom company that I use for my cellphone or about how random strangers go up to me and call me fat.  Maybe I should just learn to hold back and think before I pound on the keyboard to express my thoughts --- because, honestly, does the effing world really care about what I think?

Maybe I should also be just a bit more careful about making statements, throwing allegations or even giving an opinion when nobody is asking.  After all ... there is such a thing as oversharing.  Worse, there is also a condition that can be overbearing.,

3.  I take promises with a grain of salt --- and not be devastated when somebody whose words of honor turns out to be just a lot of words not worth honoring.

It happens, right?  In the course of every year you come across people who will throw their arms around your shoulders, pat you on the head and make all sorts of promises short of insuring a good window seat on the first vehicle to be used in the Rapture.

But for some people, palabra de honor (or word of honor) is just a lot of words.

Some people will tell you things you want to hear, promise you jobs and even call you good. But the point is that --- they are just making you feel good and hopefully vulnerable and gullible to whatever it is that they will ask from you in the future.  And you, being that bright eyed bushy-tailed mammal of gullibility, will succumb to the charms and actually believe in the promises made by the demigods.

It would have been so much better if they just told you that the deal is off --- but for a great number of them (especially in my business), they simply fade away ... hoping that by some freaky law of physics you will also be sucked into another dimension.

So next time, the adage "To see is to believe" still works and should be the mantra of those perennially victimized by the bullcrappers --- who just happen to be the money bags and are riding the fancy cars. Which actually means you cannot tell them to "Goeth thee and fornicate with thyself !"  (Translation: Go f--k yourself!) because despite the fact that they are either congenital or professional liars --- they just happen to be your employers.

Call it sad reality.  We come across a lot of species in any line of work. You just pray that the law of karma.

4.  I will not allow others to set my limitations: fail or succeed, find out for yourself.

The rule is simple: be selective of the opinions/judgments/assumptions others give about you and what you can do.

Another rule to literally etch into your brains: People have their own motives which may or may not be for YOUR best interest ... so be on the lookout for yourself.

People will always judge you based on their own limitations --- but that does not mean that their assessment is necessarily true.  Maybe it is, maybe it is not. But go find it out for yourself.  Never let other people put the locks on the gates of your life. Other people's assessment are meant to be just that --- estimates and approximations.  

But nobody can qualify and quantify your life better than yourself.  Which leads us to ...

5. I will always have the courage to do something I never even imagined of doing.  I will always have the enthusiasm to surprise myself.

Never be complacent, never be smug.  Never ever think that what you have in the here and now is all that you are meant to have.  This has got nothing to do with the acquisition of material wants and needs --- but the enthusiasm, the excitement to gain newer experiences in life.  

This means being brave. The difference between bravery and stupidity can be as fine as a single strand of hair --- but then again, it is better to be stupidly brave or bravely stupid than to be a slug waiting for something to happen in order to affirm that there is still life flowing in one's circulatory system.  Nothing is more pathetic than somebody who chooses to just lean back and let the world make decisions for him.

Sometimes life can be so frustrating that letting your fate run its course can be quite a comfortable option.  But then again that is only a respite and never the solution, So it's good to have this deadline, telling yourself that you have to make a decision ... and when you decide, then go for it.

One thing that I have learned after six decades of human existence is that there is great truth in the saying: You can't have everything.  It is because you will not be given everything that you want that you learn to appreciate the some things that have been handed to you ... and to aspire to have something more than just any thing.

And this also leads to another very important mantra to engrave on my forehead:

5. I will never take myself much too seriously to think that the world cannot go on spinning without me. I will always arm myself with a high tolerance for laughter.

Oh, come on. There is no such thing as the perfect life, the perfect year, the perfect day. There will always be something to screw you up --- and you will be given a very important choice: will you be upset or will you fix the mess?

More often than not,  you get really upset (and start ranting/raving in the real and virtual worlds) only to realize that such explosions of energy and emotion do not really solve anything.  They are just very good opportunities to make a spectacle of yourself ... or to provoke people to think that you have crossed your sanity line.  Then, if you want anything really done ... or any real change to happen, you realize that you have to do something.  And that is finding a constructive way to fix the mess.

That is why I always believe in the power of laughter.  Sure, it gets really bleak at times and you get to do really strange things in your moment of abandonment.  But chances are ... when you look back and you already have that objective distance about the sad turn of events, you will laugh at yourself for all the crazy things you thought were so significant at that moment. 

Problems come and go. Some are serious, others are made worse by worrying or letting your imagination run wild about where to go and what to do.  But in the end, you will know what to do and you can only do that when you don't take your problems too seriously to lose your sense of perspective.  And that perspective can only come with a clearer mind that is usually accompanied by staying calm ... or just being capable of laughter.

More often than not, our problems look much larger because we imagine them to be so. But facing them head-on with no sense of entitlement and a calm sense of ease will change the way you view anything, anyone anywhere with a more positive and creative light.

And lastly ...

6. I will constantly remind myself that it is not only about me.

Nope. It is never just about you.  There are always angles to every story and the only way to understand life, events and even people who you wish were fertilizer is to have the broadness of mind and kindness of heart to realize that they too have their own point of view.  You may think that your nemesis is the ugliest, meanest and most worthless creature on the planet that should best be left as a statistic, but that ugly, mean and maybe not exactly worthless creature also has his own life and perception of you.

Maybe the biggest problems of 2016 is that the world has become so divisive.  People --- regardless of race or creed --- became so obsessed with territoriality, with insisting that issues are reasons enough to divide the world into us versus them.  We have forgotten that the world is not about tribes ... but how we are meant to work at the understanding of one another.  That is why we somehow wish 2016 will end so that we can have the excuse to have a new beginning.


Every year is a new beginning. We are not sure what 2017 will bring but we can at least try to still remain positive about our own lives and the fate of the world in general.  With all the hardship and tears that 2016 brought, there is no other way but up.

So bring on the New Year.






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