In a matter of a few days, the 2022 edition of the MetroManila Film Festival will open in time for Christmas.
Eight films will be competing not only for the awards (to be announced on the 27th of December) but for their share of the box office at that time of the year when no foreign movies are showing in MetroManila cinemas. The trophies annointing the best of the lot are important but not as much as the receipts to be earned throughout the duration of the festival.
Mayor Joy Belmonte excitedly announced that this is the year of "revenge moviewatching." After three years of relative confinement because of the pandemic, now people have flocked to malls, tiangges and public arenas as if trying to retrieve what was stolen for thirty-six months from their lives. Despite the threat of yet another worldwide surge as evidenced by what is present progressively happening in China, people are brave enough to flock and congregate with some choosing not to wear masks as if to announce to everybody that things are back to 2019 normal and has had enough of the inconveniences of being cautious about that virus.
Let us hope that this is more than just positive thinking.
The point is that the results of this year's MMFF is critical. Why? Because it will determine the fate of an entire industry that has stagnated if not atrophied as a result of the pandemic. The number of cinemas have been cut down to a substantial size throughout the COVID era because people were not allowed to watch movies. But now that they have opened the doors of moviehouses to audiences, people have not returned to their usual habit inasmuch as the way people live has so drastically changed because of the pandemic.
There are serious points to consider as to why the success of MMFF will be an uphill battle.
First, even if cinemas have now opened --- not as many people have chosen to enjoy their movies in theater venues. Of course it is so sad to think that the cinematic experience can be replicated anywhere even if you have a 72" TV screen glaring at you in one of the corners of your Batcave. Cinema is meant to be a collective experience --- a sharing of a common moment in a simulated and temporary community that is immersed in darkness while being suspended in time and space. No home theater set-up can duplicate that but ...
Second, after almost three years of being locked up in our houses with minimal exposure to the public for precautionary reasons --- we got used to this way of life. Yes, there is that urge to go out and do revenge shopping, revenge restaurant eating, revenge spelunking --- but still the pandemic has rearranged the way we perceive life and how to deal with each and every day. This includes the way we are entertained.
This leads to the third and perhaps more important point.
The price of movie tickets has escalated for reasons that are validated by theater owners. Even if the number of movie goers have so greatly diminished, the overhead cost of operating a cinema remains the same. Now with the cost of regular tickets in the MetroManila area costing over three hundred pesos and over two hundred fifty in provinces, the cost of watching a movie seemed to have gone beyond the reach of the regular Filipino moviegoer.
Since cinemas reopened only a handful of movies have proven successful: "Doctor Strange", "Top Gun: Maverick" and other franchise movies that demand the full cinematic experience to appreciate. Again, these are movies watched by those who can still afford the tickets. And as a sidebar, not all foreign films shown here make money as well.
Which leaves us to the fourth point.
The regular Filipino moviegoer --- he who would shiver with pleasure watching the Star Cinema romcoms or the antics of Vice Ganda or the latest adventure of another incarnation of Coco martin --- may no longer afford the price of movie tickets. Well, yes. Christmas is that time of the year when it is assumed that people have money to burn for guilty pleasures such as spending an entire day watching movies.
The question is : this year, will they? Will they spend their limited cash in watching a movie?
Another point to note is that there was a time when people literally binged in watching as many entries of the MMFF as humanly possible. That is, after one screening --- the entire family or the lovey-dovey couple who run to the next cinema outlet to catch another one of the festival entries.
But this year --- can they still afford it? Can they still afford to watch more than one movie to feel the frenzy and excitement of a festival of entertainment possibilities?
Or will they just choose one --- or at most, two movies to more or less complete the Christmas experience?
Lastly, will they think that the movies are worth their P300+ per ticket?
Will the movies tickle the fancy and generate enough interest and curiosity to convince people to go out of their houses and spend money on movies to celebrate Christmas?
Or will they opt to keep their alternative forms of entertainment --- such as Netflix, Viu, HBO Asia, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus or Vivamax? Will they still opt to stay at home, spend their money on other essentials rather than to brave the traffic and the chance of being exposed to the virus by cavorting with the public?
How MMFF 2022 will fare should also determine the fate of Filipino movies next year? It will also ratify if indeed the pre-pandemic star system still exists or has the closure of a major network franchise and the rise of streaming redefined popularity and its peso equivalent in commercial returns.
So many questions will be answered and we have to wait for the first week of January of the new year to know where and how Filipino movies can survive if not evolve in the post-pandemic scenario.