Welcome changes in the Metro Manila film fest

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RISKING conflict of interest, Sen. Tito Sotto has filed a Senate resolution calling on the Metro Manila Development Authority to restore the commercialist nature of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) by avoiding a repeat of the recent 2016 edition in which mostly independent movies form the competition lineup.

In effect, Sotto is saying that “indie” movies should not be allowed anymore to the MMFF so that only commercial movies, like the vacuous “Enteng Kabisote” franchise usually produced for the MMFF by his brother, Vic Sotto, and his cronies like Orly Ilacad, would be shown in the MMFF.

The senator’s brother had previously gloated on social media that while his “Enteng” installment in the 2015 MMFF enabled the festival to generate a billion pesos, the 2016 festival made “only” P300 million.

Vic Sotto was obviously hurting from the fact his latest “Enteng” movie didn’t make it to the 2016 lineup. But the movie was shown before the festival and it didn’t make as much as before–it made “only” less than P100 million. And this was the time when Filipinos had just received their Christmas bonuses.

But of course it would have made far more had it been shown in the MMFF which is actually a form of protectionism for Filipino movies: there’s no competition with foreign movies. Which brings us to the question: why should cretinous movies such as “Enteng” and those starring Vice Ganda be “protected”? Why should the MMFF protect garbage? (Why of course the MMFF is the one in charge with garbage collection and disposal?)

That is why the 2016 edition was a breath of fresh air to wipe away the smell of garbage generated by previous MMFFs. The usual shallow movies produced by big studios were finally excluded in the recent lineup of the MMFF, bringing much satisfaction to film enthusiasts who thirst for a quality and not commercially-driven film festival.

For the festival’s 42nd year, the MMFF executive committee applied major changes on the selection criteria, including the scrapping of the commercial viability criterion. Commercial viability, which covered 50 percent of the previous years’ criteria, outweighing other criteria that actually concern the films’ cinematic excellence, is a measure of the entries’ profitability.

As a result, films produced by independent outfits dominated the Magic 8.

And the changes were justified because of the graft and corruption that attended previous editions. Garbage in, garbage out!

In 2015, the MMFF faced ticketswapping allegations and controversies on Erik Matti’s entry “Honor Thy Father,” which was pulled out from some cinemas on the second day of the festival and disqualified from the Best Picture and other awards—an issue that resulted in a probe of the festival by the House of Representatives.

Another scandal erupted when Dominic Du, a member of the 2015 MMFF executive board, was proven to have a conflict of interest with two entries: Dan Villegas’ “#WalangForever” and Randolph Longjas’ “Buy Now, Die Later.” It was revealed during the House probe on Matti’s film that Du’s company, Axinete Digicinema, promoted the films.

Several sectors as a result demanded reforms in the MMFF.

“Rather than promoting film as a social tool that can educate the audience and help them understand their own society, culture, and history, the festival operates according to the dictates of the culture industry and capital,” the University of the Philippines Film Institute said in a statement earlier in 2016.

As a result, the MMFF executive committee headed by chairman Emerson Carlos had the festival vision revised.

The new vision looked at the MMFF as “a festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.”

Other major changes in this year’s edition include a new submission requirement that is restricted only to finished films, a reorganization of the MMFF board of directors and the discarding of the New Wave section—a separate lineup that used to be exclusive only for independent film entries.

The changes paved the way for the much-improved 2016 edition. Not only did the changes blur the distinction between mainstream and independent films, but it also raised the standards of the festival as both kinds of films equally fought for the final competition lineup.

Since low-budget indie movies were shown in the MMFF, the final MMFF take of P300 million is big. The MMFF execom in fact said the festival earnings met the target set by the MMFF.

But obviously the earnings aren’t big enough for industry bigwigs like the Sottos and Mother Lily Monteverde of Regal Films, who are now claiming the MMFF should go back to being a commercialist fest since its aim really is to raise money for movie worker’s welfare and social security. But why should moviegoers raise money for the welfare of movie workers? Why should they be penalized and forced to watch shallow movies to aid movie workers given slave wages by Mother Lily and other studio bosses? A film festival should showcase quality Philippine cinema, not the cinema dull-witted of Vic Sotto and Vice Ganda.

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