Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Come Christmastime, a long-standing tradition for most Filipino families is to make their way to the cinemas to see and experience the entries to the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). The holidays pave the way for local films to be shown all over the country with no direct competition for foreign box-office draws. Theaters, except specialty screens like IMAX and 4DX cinemas, are mandated by law to only exhibit films that are a part of the festival lineup.
Before the MMFF moved to its holiday time slot, it was first conceived by then-mayor of Manila Antonio Villegas as Manila Film Festival, a 12-day event from June 12 (Independence Day) to June 24 (Manila Day) reserved only for Filipino films. Back then, Decembers were reserved for big Hollywood movies and bigger budgeted Filipino fare from Sampaguita Pictures, Lea Productions, and FPJ Pictures. The first incarnation of the MMFF was halted in 1973, the year after martial law was declared. In 1975, it was revived as the first Metro Manila Film Festival.
Ed Cabagnot, a film professor and former member of the MMFF Executive Committee pointed out the two main objectives of the MMFF when it first started: as a means to give local cinema a needed shot in the arm and to encourage the creation of excellent Filipino films. These days, not counting the 2016 incarnation of the festival, the MMFF is known for big-budgeted commercial fare that tries to attract the biggest box-office draw possible.
How did the Metro Manila Film Festival go from an exhibition of Filipino history and culture to a commercial bonanza that it is now? CNN Philippines Life surveys a few film professionals working in the business today to identify the problems and issues that plague the MMFF today and how the industry can move toward achieving a fair and balanced film festival in the future.
Those who agreed to answer the survey are the following:
Ed Cabagnot, professor at the UP Film Institute and former member of the MMFF executive committee
Tristan Zinampan, editor-in-chief of Film Police Reviews and contributing writer for ScreenAnarchy.com
Wanggo Gallaga, scriptwriter and teacher at College of St. Benilde
Jane Torres, producer for Star Cinema and independent film productions
Chuck Gutierrez and Babyruth Villarama-Gutierrez, editor, producer and director of MMFF 2016 Best Picture winner “Sunday Beauty Queen”
We reached out to other filmmakers, producers, and film distributors but they declined to comment on the matter.
Below are responses of those who are part of the survey.
What are the problems with the current Metro Manila Film Festival?
Cabagnot: The first three decades of MMFF saw the likes of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, Eddie Romero, Celso Ad. Castillo, Peque Gallaga, Mario O'Hara, Marilou Diaz Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Lupita Concio Kashiwara, and other acknowledged Pinoy auteurs lending their vision to some of these decades' finest cinematic efforts — backed up, of course, by both mainstream/indie producers who weren't just out to make big bucks but were on the hunt for prestige projects to line their vaults.
But sometime in the early years of this century, the MMFF tenor shifted. Some production companies went all out for the box office kill, but without any loftier intentions.
The "some" became the rule by the early 2010s. Titles featuring top box-office drawers, with some modicum of "production value" (think sloppy, “puwede na” special effects, etc.), and lesser narrative crafting (think assembly-line, "bumenta ‘to noon, bebenta muli ngayon" tropes).