Back in January 2017, Sen. Vicente Sotto III submitted a resolution to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to solve the problems he perceived from the 2016 edition of Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). He perceived that the low audience turnout of last year’s December fest, which he blamed to the removal of the commercial viability criteria, was “detrimental to the workers of the industry.” (Rappler) He suggests that to have the festival take place over the long semestral break. On May 5, 2017, MMFF announced that they will be accepting both film scripts and completed films for this year’s edition, contrary to just accepting completed works from last year’s. (Chua) This announcement resulted from studio films participating again in the upcoming fest.
Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chair, Liza Dino-Seguerra announced on a press conference last April 26 about a week-long festival for Filipino films which “emulate Filipino sensibilities and culture” to take place in August 16 to 22. The films to join the festival, dubbed as Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), will be sourced from submissions and will be screened at a maximum of 60 theaters (Film Development Council of the Philippines) which later was extended to 100+ theaters. The fest was supported by the National Cinema Association of the Philippines (NCAP) and SM Lifestyle Entertainment.
Interestingly, no one has yet to point the absurd parallelism of this. Even filmmaker Arnel Mardoquio’s open letters for Dino-Seguerra have pointed out that she’s merely protecting the “EntengKabiSotto” consciousness of the MMFF by not disclosing data on the profit of the PPP, but his letters never really extend to the connection from the two statements mentioned above (Factolerin). Mardoquio’s letter, however, opened for a discussion that could be relevant to the on-going issues on labor and bureaucracy in the film scene.
Both instances seem to serve the same end. Although FDCP do not explicitly dubbed the PPP as a fest to cater only independent works, the selection of the participant films otherwise affirms Sen. Sotto’s suggestion to the MMDA. The instance has solved Sotto’s problem without MMDA acting on it. It is as if FDCP has compromised, if we are looking at it as if we are saying that the “indies” are at the losing side of this. (It is interesting to point out that the FDCP Chair’s partner-in-life has a very close affiliation with the Actor-Senator).
But like in the 2016 MMFF, this has never been the game of the “indies” to begin with.
While the productions may have been “independent,” the distributors aren’t. Of the 12 films selected for the PPP, ABS-CBN Film Productions have 5 films on distribution (Triptiko, AWOL, Patay na si Hesus, Salvage, Hamog), Solar Films, the biggest gainer of the 2016 MMFF, has distributed 3 films in PPP (Paglipay, Pauwi Na, Birdshot), rest of the films have their own individual distributors, but all are still huge film scene players: Viva Films has 100 Tula Para kay Stella, Quantum Films has Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, Unitel has Star na si Van Damme Stallone, and PPP partner, SM Lifestyle, has its own film Bar Boys participating. One can’t really say that the others are actually independent studios. One should ask, independent of what? Viva Films has already been around as one of the larger studios during the late 80s, Solar is a major broadcast, cable and film player for decades now, Quantum films has been moving large capital swinging from Star Cinema co-productions to co-producing Film Festival grantees, Unitel has TV5-Smart capital circulating it, and of course SM Lifestyle isn’t actually what we can call as a company involved in any independent industry.
These events in the Philippine film scene further blurs the notion of what an independent work is in the public discourse. But the FDCP Chair’s agenda has been clear about this: “[PPP] aims to blur out the lines” between indie and mainstream. “Just well-made films,” said the FDCP chair. (Sallan) The campaign was successful. Either participant films from the studios are being dubbed/marketed as indie (Selim) or independently produced works not mentioning the term. It also helped promote with certain hegemonizing quality the notion of assessing films just with its form, as most reviews of films, both from critics and audience, point out how well-made a film is.
This flattening of the semiotic scope of “film,” indistinctive of its mode of production, was helped by the distribution machineries of the studios. In the end, both the regulation changes at the MMFF and the PPP served for the benefit of the bigger studios. By denying the dichotomy between the independents and the studios, PPP and its assessors deny the difference in labor required to produce a certain film. With these contradictions in mind, we are forced to ask, from where does the FDCP Chair speak when she says that she intends to “blur the lines”? Of whose interest really does another film fest serve? In the end, by aestheticizing films by assessing it as merely “films”, without acknowledging its political economy, alienates the end-product to its laborers. It isn’t much different with Sen. Sotto’s argument of films as entertainment.
Chua, Zharlene B. “Changes in the criteria for entries to 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival stirs controversy.” Business World 16 May 2017: 9/S2.
Film Development Council of the Philippines. PRESS RELEASE: FDCP Partners with Theaters to Hold the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Manila: Film Development Council of the Philippines Media Desk, 2017.
Rappler. Sotto files Senate resolution for indie film fest. 05 January 2017. 26 August 2017 <https://www.rappler.com/entertainment/news/157459-tito-sotto-senate-resolution-indie-film-festival-semestral-break>.
Sallan, Edwin B. “FDCP head Liza Diño slams critics of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.” 11 July 2017. Interaksyon. 26 August 2017 <http://www.interaksyon.com/fdcp-head-liza-dino-slams-critics-of-pista-ng-pelikulang-pilipino/>.
Selim, Chandral. “‘AWOL’ joins Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino!” 30 June 2017. Star Cinema. 26 August 2017 <http://starcinema.abs-cbn.com/2017/6/30/news/awol-joins-pista-ng-pelikulang-pilipino-26615>.