I have to admit that I have never been a fan of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), which was launched more than four decades ago and which leaves moviegoers no choice but to watch locally made movies beginning every Christmas Day up to Jan. 7 the following year.
The festival supposedly gives awards for well made films, but the only important thing is the gate receipts of each entry.
Year in and year out, it seems that cinephiles are “treated” to the usual movies like the Enteng Kabisote, Panday (sans FPJ), and Shake, Rattle and Roll series. The few good films that do not find a large enough audience are dropped by the movie theaters like proverbial hot potatoes.
This was proven yet again this year when Ang Larawan (The Portrait) was axed after only one day. Good thing I got to watch this instant classic, based on a story by the late National Artist Nick Joaquin. As of this writing, 15 theaters of the SM malls have opted to replace the musical with more low end fare like the newest Panday film.
I can’t say enough of Ang Larawan. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Based on Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino and translated into the national language by another late national artist, Rolando Tinio, it is as good as it gets.
The only other recent local film that matches up with it is Luna, the well-made movie about Gen. Antonio Luna that is so good that I had to buy a copy. I plan to do the same with Ang Larawan. If it’s ever shown in the US, please watch it. You will not be sorry, I promise.
It’s far from perfect, but the movie has so many strengths that those imperfections can be ignored. Maestro Ryan Cayabyab composed the music and his is in fine form.
As for the stars, a few are noted stage thespians, but the rest are artists of TV and film, with one lead star – Rachel Alejandro – better known as a singer, but who acts like a veteran pro.
Chairman of the MMFF Board of Judges this year is Rep. Karlo Nograles, fresh off his successful steering of the national budget in Congress.
Why this young lawmaker as a filmfest judge?
I’ve met him a few times and he comes across as a renaissance man with a variety of interests, not the least of which is art.
He told me that in his view, the Filipino film industry “has made great strides in polishing some of our graphics,” particularly fantasy films. I have to agree. Not only in fantasy films, but also in historical ones like the abovementioned Luna, and another one coming soon about the boy-general Gregorio del Pilar. A short feature in the making of the latter film shows that technically, our movemakers have what it takes to create visually stunning works that take us back to another time or place.
Last year, indie films made a splash in the MMFF. This year, Nograles said he saw the effort of the big producers to strike a balance between indie and commercial films.
Happily, the lawmaker agrees with me that “focus should be on making more quality films rather than pandering to what the market seems to want.”
The possible senatorial bet in the coming mid-term elections is aware of one of the weaknesses of the industry. Good stories normally do not get fundings from big outfits who focus on the marketability of the “artistas” rather than the story, he said.
For now, this filmfest reverts back to the same crowd-drawing formula that made huge money in the previous years, according to Nograles.
We’ll see this as the current template for future MMFFs, he added.
Let’s see if the big producers are willing to stick their necks out once in a while and go for quality rather than commercial success. Let’s face it. Our indie films have made waves abroad, but our star-studded movies only cater to the local market. Shame, huh?
There are other issues, of course. In my book, the greatest living Filipino director is the now retired Mike de Leon. He was supposedly planning on coming out of retirement to direct on entry for the MMFF, but backed out because he had issues with corruption. He probably means the unequal treatment of quality films as against commercial movies.
He may be right, considering what happened to Ang Larawan.
- Published in Beting Laygo Dolor