No, this is not going to be a blow-by-blow, shred-by-shred movie review of any if not all the entries of the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival 2012.
Now that the festival is officially over (and having published my take on the blatant commercialism that has ruled the selection then eventual success or failure of the entries), I can finally throw in my five centavos worth of opinion about the whole --- uhm, happening.
So let me begin.
1. This has ceased to be a film festival. It has become a fiesta for movies.
I have said this before in an article I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Metro Manila Film Fest is only a festival by name. It is actually a fiesta. And there is a substantial difference between a festival and a fiesta.
Although both are celebrations, a festival has more lofty goals and ambitions. Festivals are meant to pay tribute, to canonize if not bring to the fore a certain theme, goal or purpose. A festival is a collection of the best and the brightest served like a mouth-watering smorgasbord to those who can appreciate what are listed in the menu.
But a fiesta is just that. It is what it is. It is a feast where everyone can have fun, devour what he wants and have all sorts of gastrointestinal attacks at the end of the day --- and not feel any semblance of guilt whatsoever. A fiesta is meant for merriment --- and nothing more. It does not have to carry any social bearing whatsoever because its purpose is merely to generate enjoyment.
You see, Christmas time is perhaps the only time when the Pinoy moviegoer has cash distinctly dedicated to leisurely spending. Even with kids rich with aguinaldos they receive from their godparents and other benevolent relatives, it is understandable why the movie houses are literally bursting with overly-eager Yuletide revelers wanting to make the most out of the most hyped and anticipated day of the year.
So are we still surprised that we get these kinds of movies almost each and every year of the festival?
Can I be more blunt here? Let me lead to my second point.
2. Let's cut the crap: it's all about the money. (Translation: Tigil na ang mga ka-ek-ekan, ha? Pera-pera lang yan.)
The fact that the MetroManila Development Authority (MMDA) sets its goals based on the total gross earnings of all the eight pictures selected should say everything. This year, they set the goal somewhere in the neighborhood of P700M. Wow! They want to outdo each year's grosses if only to prove that the the festival mounted has proven itself more successful than the one in the most recent past.
You do not have to be a genius to read that the success of the festival is on its commercial viability and not its artistic achievements, right? In other words --- pakapalan na ng mukha at magkamatayan na --- it is all about the top-grossing movies and not the best that the cinematic arts of the Republic of the Philippines can offer.
OK. More pagpapakatotoo. You cannot achieve a P700M goal if you showed eight versions of Brilliante Mendoza's internationally acclaimed film Thy Womb. Sure, it may have warranted a five minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival at the end of the movie --- but out there in the land of Vice Ganda, an audience member shouted, "Ano ba yun? Harang!" at the end of the screening.
Another one asked, "Ano ang ending?"
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, says everything.
And being such, producers will keep on doing more of the same thing over and over and over again as long as they keep making money out of their repeated endeavors. Eh, bakit naman hindi? Why kill a goose that lays golden eggs to replace them with what? A hyperrealist painting of a gander?! Kebs ba nila, ano?
As I have said over and over again, moviemaking is an industry that is profit-driven and does not carry humanitarian or (much less) noble goals --- not unless nobility means counting cash and therefore giving the finger to everyone by saying, Who can argue with f---g success?
Even the most esoteric among us can only shake their heads and perhaps ask, "But what about our souls?" And you know very well what the producers will answer: "Kebs ba naman sa soul-soul na yan!"
Let it be known that there is no patron saint for movies in the hierarchy of the holy of the most holy in the Roman Catholic Church. Walang santong artista, walang santong direktor at higit sa lahat ... walang santong producer.
And if my hypothesis is correct, I cannot imagine any of the existing mainstream Filipino producers or studio heads aspiring to win the CNN Hero of the Year Award.
Again this leads us to another learning I have acquired but may have known all along.
3. What makes money is what entertains. What entertains may not necessarily be deliberately idiotic or stupid, but what entertains ... entertains. Period.
We can keep on yakking and even gagging about the franchises that have been around since Herbert Bautista was a gangly post-teen actor fighting manananggals ...or when Tweetie de Leon was the original Faye to the ageless Enteng Kabisote ... but still. What can make producers stop these various franchise if they still make money?
Is it really a crime to show installments of the same franchise after the administration of six Philippine presidents? Well, why not?
There is a law banning illegal drugs, unlicensed firearms and human trafficking ... with proposals of curbing cyberbullying but definitely no legislator has even dared to propose any law on either houses banning movie franchises that have become part of Philippine Christmas traditions like selling rice cakes outside Churches or going caroling to raise funds to buy queso de bola for Noche Buena, right?
So again, let us spare ourselves of the hypocrisy.
Even though we summon the angels from the heavens above or the demons down under the seas, we will still have the franchises going on and on and on as long they yield profit. And, by law of man, reason and especially capitalist economics --- there is nothing wrong with that. This is called Free Enterprise.
Let's deal with this --- although we can keep on dreaming about the Perfect World.
And part of getting to that Nirvana is if and when the franchise entries wane in yielding profitability to that the producers finally admit that those happy days are over and it is time to tap into new formulas to be able to get back the big bucks.
The same goes for power combinations of stars with outstanding box office potential.
Of late, there is that elite roster of Pamaskong Handog stars who dominate the box office harbatan and therefore end up with prime projects or land atop of those slow-running floats down Roxas Boulevard a few days before Christmas, waving to fans and quipping those familiar lines, "Inaanyayahan po namin kayo na manood ng ..." The drawing power of above-the-title stars is of utmost importance whenever a project is launched throughout the year but more so during the Metro Manila Film Festival.
Just like the franchises and the formulas, you can expect the same stars over and over and over again --- until the die is cast. Their presence will be assured as long as people buy tickets to projects with their names attached to them. Never mind if the performer has an acting talent calibrated to the square root of zero --- as long as mabenta, puwes ibabalandra. Di ba?
What's so hard to understand about that? What's so stupid about that? It's all about people selling ... and people buying people as well.
Since we are on the subject of people, then let us segue way to another important learning.
4. It is all about the buzz. It is about being talked about ... it is about media space.
In a crowded season where everyone who can make money wants to make the most cash out of the moneyed roaming around wanting to get rid of their thirteenth month salary or the generosity of Kris Kringle, you have to be noticed.
Let me repeat that: media attention is everything. It is not only about all the drum beating or who the f--k won the Best Float, it is about grabbing the attention of a rich limited to market to go watch your entry.
Fact: A person spends at least P150 - P180 for a movie ticket. That means a couple, who we shall arbitrarily name as Pepe and Pilar, would already dole out P300 - P360 just to see a movie of their choice. Add another P200 for transport money and, say, another P300 - P500 for snacks or a dinner. In other words, Pepe and Pilar would spend as much as P1060 and as little as P800 for a single movie adventure during the season.
At that amount, how many movies can the couple watch within the two week window of the MMFF where no foreign films are booked for showing? Of course, there are the diehards --- the cineastes or even the self-flagellants who feel a masochistic tinge in watching all the entries --- but these are more exceptions than the rule. They are, so to speak, not the normal every-Juans.
The everyday eager beaver moviegoer can only endure three film screenings in a single day --- not unless he or she is undergoing a personal crisis therefore warranting a total withdrawal from the real world. Watching more than three entries of the MMFF in a single day is tantamount to being a step behind attempted suicide. Maybe after watching three films, he or she would have opted for suicide instead ... but then by that time he or she is already thinking of something else rather than ending one's life.
Given the limitations of economics, Pepe with or without Pilar may watch as many as five to as few as a single film in the entire festival. So it cannot be helped that some films will make money while others won't.
Let's get to the really ugly facts now.
5. What really matters in this festival is who makes the most money and not what is the really Best Picture.
Right from the start the press releases are about who made it as the Top Grosser. Which of the eight films reaped the greatest amount of ticket sales on the first day? Who followed as second ...? Or third? How far is the distance in figures between the leader of the pack with the next in line?
Then with morbid and even malicious snickering, the punch line ends with which film will land at the bottom of the heap.
Even before the festival officially started, bets were up on which of the films will make the most money and not which of the selected entries represent the best in Filipino filmmaking.
Maybe even before we go as far as that, what is equally curious is what transpires right at the very beginning. Note that producers do not even submit finished entries but screenplays to the Selection Committee of the MMDA for consideration. The members of the said committee do not see finished films but the blueprints of what the producers intend to offer.
Added to that, a list of stars attached to the project is required plus the director and the production to insure quality control ... but, more so, the commercial viability of the project. Right from its inception, the films selected are based on what would readily sell in the two weeks where the audience is moneyed and all hungry for any form of entertainment.
Thus, it is not surprising that franchises take preference over new movies. Because these projects have yielded profitable results, the same producers will keep coming back because they have the handsome track record to comply with all the requirements of the MMDA as well as delivering the impressive digits.
On the part of the government, they are assured that these producers will have movies to show on the appointed deadlines because the studios have earned their own handsome keep in the past years. And what is the best time for the local companies to make money than the highest of the peak seasons of the year without any foreign competition?
Remember all those weeks when nothing is showing in the local movie houses except The Avengers, Harry Potter and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2? Well, now is the time for sweet revenge --- since all these movies --- even the ones most anticipated by the movie-driven crowd (Les Miserables, Zero Thirty Dark, The Life of Pi) will have to wait until mid-January in order to be shown on the local screens.
Let it also be on the record that the only reason why Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb got into the Magic 8 was because Unitel Films' Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang backed out and by this time Mendoza's film has had international screenings (with the accolades mentioned earlier) in various respectable film festivals. Otherwise, Mendoza's work would not have stood against the Enteng or the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise --- and the newly established comedy concoctions from Star Cinema and its studio partner, Viva Film, under Wenn Deramas.
Thy Womb --- in the context of the so-called festival --- is a fluke. It was meant to give a tag of prestige to the two week commercial orgy. The eventual box office results proved this to be so.
Another clarification: ER Ejercito's El Presidente was there not only because of Mark Meilly (who megged Baler in the same festival just recently and gave Anne Curtis her Best Actress Award) but because of ER Ejercito. With all due respect to the intentions in even producing such a film (glossing over the equally important questions of authenticity, historical accuracy and even accusations of perfidy and mangling of facts about Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna), not even the epic proportion and expenditure that went into the making of this movie stood a chance against the juggernaut of the major studios and their publicity machineries.
This should easily explain the next last point:
6. It's going to be like this all over again next year, Folks.
We will have: (a) the same producers (b) the same franchise entries --- more or less (c) the same actors and actresses (d) the same parade of floats (e) the same box office race-to-the-finish and (f) the same of more of the same and even more. So don't even expect any major changes.
The MetroManila Film Festival is no longer the same celebration of Filipino films that gave local cinema enthusiasts, historians, archivists --- or scholars films like Celso Ad Castillo's Burlesk Queen, Eddie Romero's Ganito Kami Noon, Papaano Kayo Ngayon?, Marilou Diaz Abaya's Brutal and Jose Rizal, Mike de Leon's Itim and Kisapmata and so many more.
Those days are over.
The moment the organizers included commercial success as a criterion for selecting the Best Film of the Festival, not only the baby but even the mother was thrown out of the window with the bath water. The whole focus and purpose of the festival have been re-defined and changed.
O, sige! Prangkahan nang talaga, ha? It has become a karera ng paramihan ng kinikita. It is nothing different from a major horse race at the San Lazaro Hippodrome or a derby at your favorite cockpit in Culi-Culi, Pasay City.
That is why there is so much caterwauling been done about the padding of box office results overflowing from all sorts of sources in the internet. There is no doubt about who topped this year's karera ng pabonggahan since the Presidential Baby Sister is not going to keep quiet about the success her project achieved in the most contested race of the year.
But who indeed is #2? Did Enteng really slide to #3? Oh, no ... so who made money ... and who didn't? So why is there all this so-called padding? Why is it so important that Sisterakas should displace Pribeyt Benjamin as the biggest grossing Filipino movie of all time?
But this should easily slide into the next learning.
7. This festival is all about the positioning of producers and stars in the hierarchy of the entertainment universe in this country.
That is why the battle is bloody ... dirty and creating havoc not only in the ticket booths but in social media.
Since the film festival has become an extension of the network wars between the Kapamilyas and the Kapusos, the diehards could not help but plunge straight into the action and the argumentation, bashing each other out in debates and allegations as to truly rules supreme in the arena of Philippine media.
The Kapamilyas have three entries: Sisterakas (with Viva films), One More Try and the Star Cinema released entry by Quantum Films, The Strangers. (Also note that all the stars of The Strangers, directed by indie megman Lawrence Fajardo, are exclusively Kapamilya talents.)
The Kapusos have Si Agimat, Si Enteng Kabisote at si Ako (co-produced with APT Films, Octo Arts Films, Imus Films) as well as Sosy Problems.
That leaves only three other entries which are not directly linked to the two major networks: these are Regal Multimedia's Shake, Rattle and Roll XIV, Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb and ER Ejercito's El Presidente.
Looking at the final ranking of all the movie entries should reveal the advantages if not the necessity of being linked with a tv network if you want any return of investment whatsoever. But then again, if you are knowledgeable about the industry, will you still be surprised?
In this country, television and films have become one and the same. The two media have merged to have one platform feeding the other --- so it is not surprising that the aesthetics of living room entertainment has been brought to the big screen. More curious is how television has become the most effective (or believed by some to be the one and only) means of marketing and advertising your film.
At the cost of hundreds of thousands of pesos for tv spot or placement on prime time, how can a small-time start-up producer afford such marketing and sales expenses? Simple: merge with a major network as your tv partner --- at the cost of your commercial and cable tv rights (for all eternity as in forever and ever) as well as your video rights as well.
It's a take it or leave it situation. And if you don't take it, chances are, you are going to bring home gravel instead of gold.
Since we are on the subject of profitability, then let us save the best for last.
Let us shatter some myths about the Metro Manila Film Fest.
8. Not all the movies that make it to the two-week festival make money. Chances are only the top three take home good money while the remaining five either break even or end up with the fate of most local films released on regular playdates.
Pep.ph, the entertainment portal of local entertainment news, released a flash report quoting a filmfest insider confirming what other producers have been saying all along. In this year's filmfest, only two films are assured of making money. These are Sisterakas and One More Try.
Even Enteng Kabisote (according to the insider) still needs to make more money in order to break even because of the cost of the three stars who were part of the movie. But maybe this does not take into consideration that two of the stars --- Bong Revilla and Vic Sotto --- are also producers of the movie.
But the truth still remains. Only very few of the entries really bring home the bacon. Most have to settle for drippings. And why? Because, as in the festivals of the past, only the top three or four (depending on the cost of production) will make the producers' purses fatter.
This is also the reason why certain producers are categorically pissed off by all the bloated figures thrown around the internet as press release. Brilliante Mendoza was the first to vehemently react to figures stating that Thy Womb has already earned P24M whereas in reality (and Direk knows the figures straight from the producers' mouths) the Nora Aunor starrer did not even hit the P3M mark in the middle of its second week run because movie houses have pulled out their screenings to be replaced by either Sisterakas, Enteng or One More Try.
Another producer was also so angry at the internet release stating that one of the entries already earned P74M whereas the truth is that it had not even garnered a gross of P15M. How would the producer explain this to investors when the such disinformation is being spread in the net?
Why do they even do it? That is really quite simple to answer. It makes the festival look extraordinarily successful to flash all these figures. It gives the impression that moviehouses already caved in by the sheer number of Filipinos feverishly seeking seats to fill up the screenings. But the truth is only a handful of the entries truly make it --- and this has been a known fact for years.
Then why do producers even come back knowing that it is indeed a kamikaze move to dare join this festival of giant producers salivating for the Christmas market? Simple. Because this is the only time of the year when one's investments stand greatest chances of hitting the jackpot. The only problem for a newbie or a small time producer is that you are dealing with media giants --- and they ain't gonna do a soft shoe dance to avoid stepping on you.
What is that saying about being on the way of elephants on a stampede mode? That should be food for thought.
So after all these realizations, what have I concluded? Well, here goes:
(1) I am not being jaded. I am just being realistic. Money is being made out of this festival ... and the government, the producers together with the popcorn vendors will continue to milk the Christmas market for every centavo they can get.
(2) It is no longer a question of the quality of films ... but rather what sells. It's like comparing a fastfood meal to a gourmet feast. After a while, you realize that audiences just want to have their stomachs stuffed to fill the hunger and that they couldn't care less with the nutritional value of what they are eating. Come to think of it, they will go for what they think is safe, familiar and tried and tested rather than experiment because of the premium they give their P200 ticket.
So there. They will not spend time pondering on the pain of Nora Aunor's barrenness as she looks for a second wife to bear the seed of her husband --- they would rather fall off their chairs laughing at Vice Ganda in his outrageous/outlandish outfits as he exchanges barbs and punch lines with Ai-ai de las Alas.
(3) Can we cut the crap about giving trophies to Best-This-and-Best-That?
Hey, look ... there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money or having two weeks of fund raising for the government and the movie industry. Remember that line from Field of Dreams? Build ... and they shall come. And if they keep on coming, eh, di sige na lang nang sige.
But let's not dress up in fancy clothes and troop to Meralco Theater to hand out trophies to the best of eight movies when right from the very start it was all about fattening the cows, right?
This even has got nothing to do with allegations of plagiarism, movies shown which were incomplete because of lack of shooting days, directors wanting their names struck out of the entries because of this or that ... or even Wilma Doesnt winning Best Supporting Actress over Janice de Belen, Cherry Pie Picache, Gina Pareno and Lovi Poe. (Note: She was given the award, she did not ask for it. Ask the jurors, not the awardee, OK?)
(4) There is nothing wrong with two weeks of purely commercial Filipino movies. Let us just not make any pretenses about what it really is.
After all, a commercial movie need not necessarily be stupid, insulting to the intelligence of the audience or just plain and simple non-recyclable trash. A good commercial movie can be entertaining (as movies are designed to be, in the first place) while at the same time serving more than just two hours of mind-numbing escapism.
If Filipinos want to be entertained, then it is their right to do so ... but, please, please ... let's get real. These are movies, OK? They are not films ... and this is a fiesta. A happy occasion. Not a showcase. And there is nothing wrong with it. We cannot go on blaming the producers for allegedly keeping the audiences stupid. Maybe they choose to be that way. Or maybe it is because they should be slowly made aware of other options ... like movies/films are different from television and that, like cinema ... Filipinos can be something more.
In the meantime if Filipinos choose to watch these movies, then let that be so. Better than condemning the greater number is to understand why they have become this way ... or if there is a need to change them from thinking in this sort of manner.
If there are those who feel insulted, violated and short-changed by this circus ... then wait. Just wait. There are film festivals like Cinema One Originals, Cine Manila and the much-anticipated Cinemalaya. Let's all wait for July, OK? Let's all meet at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and other related venues where we can see the stuff we are craving to devour.
In the meantime, this year's MMFF has come to a close.
Those starved for foreign movies will all rush back to the cineplexes to catch the nearly three hours of Les Miserables, the poetry of Ang Lee's The Life of Pi and Katheryn Bigelow's most talked about Oscar Best Picture contender, Zero Dark Thirty.
Hanggang sa susunod na taon, mauulit at mauulit muli. Pustahan tayo?