To start this blog rolling, what better way than to scrutinize the yearly festival which mainstream film industry practitioners peg as the festival that saves the nearly dying / dying / at its deathbed (choose your own era or who to believe) Philippine cinema — the Yuletide season Metro Manila Film Festival or MMFF.
This past year, we saw seven films competing for the usual MMFF box-office and “artistic merit” prizes, all produced by mainstream film companies like GMA Films, Star Cinema, Regal Entertainment, M-Zet or that Vic Sotto-owned film company, RVQ or that Dolphy-owned flm company, and the producer of the Manny Pacquiao film (I forget). Bigtime film and teleserye or telenobela (TV soap operas) stars came to grace the silver screen films as old and newer directors and filmmakers helmed the stories, special effects and other technical and artistic stuff.
But as I started conceptualizing the entry for this blogpost, I had to restrain myself because I was just asked to write an overall MMFF09 review for a publication. So to avoid redundancy, what I’m going to write here is a personalized individual review of the MMFF entries I saw over the holidays in the days to come. And by personal review, this means I will be my old usual “comic cynic cinema critic” self as I narrate to you all what I really, really, REALLY think of these films. Really, if you are not familiar with my style, then hop on over to my original blog leaflens.blogspot.com (also archived at libaycantor.multiply.com) and search the entries with the tags “cine chichirya” to read my previous short film reviews of films I saw. I plan to transfer or cross-post those old film reviews here anyway, but since I still have an ongoing saga with my home broadband service provider, that won’t happen as yet. Soon.
So for now, let’s start with an MMFF primer of sorts first.
MMFF was conceived by film industry professionals decades ago primarily to continue a rich artistic heritage of Philippine cinema which dates as far back as the early 1900s, and secondly as a way of combating a worldwide problem besetting national cinemas of non-western regions, continents or countries — the proliferation of Hollywood films which dominate domestic box-office sales and in the process marginalizing locally-produced films in their own native lands. If you think only the Philippines has this problem — and yes, it is considered a problem — then wake up and smell the celluloid chemicals. Our once prestigious national cinema has been losing this battle with products from the Hollywood dream factory ever since our economy decided to take a nosedive and do downward flips like Greg Lougainis at the Olympics, especially during the 1990s when the advent of pirated VCDs and DVDs also boomed as the Asian market crash happened. With the boom of the internet, the downloading of films became easy, and many people were content at watching films in their smaller screens than in the silver screens. And it doesn’t help that we continue to have corrupt government after corrupt government that makes our lives miserable by having inflation after inflation of whatever they could inflate, deflating our already meager sources of income which do not leave us with enough disposable income to spend on movies at the malls, and current a government that does not really uphold nor support the arts in general. So of course if we have little movie money, we spend it on surefire cinematic hits na lang, or in short, escapist Hollywood products. So if at first the MMFF was also conceived to highlight Filipino cinematic talent, that objective took a backseat to the grander objective of making Pinoys watch local films again instead of just following Hollywood films like zombies.
Hay, yes, we were once prestigious, believe me, like Cannes prestigious. If you are one of the thousands of neocolonial Pinoys who think any other foreign-made film is better than Filipino films, then let me encourage you to take a look at the history of Philippine Cinema. As early as the 1940s, our films have been featured in the western world, in international film festivals, and before the war (or do you even remember the Japanese ever invading us? Yep, pre-anime era, folks.). Or just try watching Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal or Mike de Leon films or the newer digital independent films of late and you’ll see that hey, Pinoys Got (cinematic) Talent. Huwag mo namang masyadong maliitin ang sarili mong mga kababayan, chong. We have a term for that, right? Crab mentality. Snip it away, folks! Snip it away.
So segue naman to my own MMFF experience. Kung kaya pa ng powers mo, basa lang!
my mmff badge pass thingie, plus a movie pass sample
As I worked in the film industry right after graduating from film school in the mid-1990s, I found myself immersing in MMFF lore when our company, Premiere Entertainment Productions or PEP (originally known as Premiere Productions, one of the four pillar film companies during the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema in the 1950s), produced a Dolphy starrer with the leading lady du jour, Fil-Am pretty Anjanette Abayari, in a 1996 film originally entitled “Ang Bodyguard Kong Sexy” (“My Sexy Bodyguard”). But there was also a popular campy novelty song at that time, and our company scrambled to procure the rights to use the song and append it to our original title. Appending such ditties have been an industry practice not just in film but also in TV, especially in TV teleserye or telenobela titles, to add more familiarity and to hope that the song’s popularity will rub off on the shows/films themselves. Thus, our 1996 MMFF entry was retitled
“Aringkingking: Ang Bodyguard Kong Sexy.” Yes, you can laugh now.
our cubicle, freshening up before the parade
If you’re already familiar with the MMFF practice, then you know that in the whole of Metro Manila (and recently in neighboring provinces, and last I learned, even faraway provinces na pala), only MMFF film entries are shown for 10 straight days beginning with Christmas Day. So come December 24, there is the usual Parade of Floats/Stars (I forget what it’s called now) where the film companies prepare trucks and make floats to feature their featured film entries, while some of the celebrities of the films ride the float and wave to people watching the parade. Of course film commpany staff are also present in the floats to assist these celebrities by handing them candies to throw at the parade watchers, even other movie collaterals and merchandise such as movie posters, fans, stickers or whatever giveaways were made.
I was once such a staff, being an able-bodied, quick-thinking and fast-moving 23-year old back then, who handed a pre-pubescent Vandolph and Boy2 Quizon candies and posters to throw to the parade onlookers (dahil kung hindi, sila ang itatapon ko sa audience sa kakulitan at kaguluhan sa itaas ng float arrrgggh!!!). The ever-so-game and kind Mang Dolphy, truly a legend and icon in the entertainment industry, was happily waving to the onlookers as we strived to shield Anjanette Abayari’s already sun-kissed complexion from the afternoon December sun with the aid of what looked like a beach umbrella. Hay, those were tiring but fun times, I tell you.
PEP staff after the MMFF parade
But that wasn’t the highlight of my MMFF years. The next year was more memorable, as I was an able-bodied, quick-thinking and fast-moving 24-year old who was handpicked by PEP president Cirio H. Santiago (or Bos CH as we called him) to be part of his pet film directorial project, the remake of Anak Ng Bulkan, originally a 1950s black-and-white fantasy film starring a pre-pubescent Ace Vergel (yup, the drug addict actor) and directed by Emmanuel Roxas, the father of one of PEP’s vice-presidents (Bos CH was himself the son of PEP founders who helped making FPJ, Bos CH’s kumpare, popular during his youthful years), the updated Bulkan film featured a G.I. baby protagonist in the form of a pubescent Tom Taus Jr. featuring newer animatronics and postproduction special animation effects that animated the fictional pterodactyl-like mythical bird creature which the volcano coughed out during eruption, and set in the onslaught of the Mount Pinatubo explosion in Pampanga.
We actually had two MMFF entries that year, and the other one was the Judy Ann Santos and Nora Aunor starrer “Babae” (“Woman”) which was the pet project of Bos CH’s younger sister and the Marketing VP of PEP, Ms. Digna Santiago (whom we all call Ms. Dee). Even if I was already transferred to the Marketing Division then from being under the Office of the President, Bos CH still wanted me to be in the Bulkan team, so I stayed. So the other younger people in the office — my office barkada — were all involved in Babae, which was directed by legendary director Lupita Kashiwahara, who also directed a Ms. Dee-produced Ate Guy starrer “Minsan Isang Gamu-Gamo.” And yes, that was the year that another Bos CH’s kabarkada, Erap, decided to run for president, and he made Direk Lupita’s life hell by borrowing Ate Guy in his campaign efforts, leaving her scheduled shootings and voice dubbings hanging heheh. And of course, we all sat helpless in our office cubicles as we watched Ninoy’s direk sister angst it out while pacing back and forth as if she was staging Medea and it was already the “I will kill my children” scene heheh. Hay, those were the days…
sample movie pass. it's actually one of the earliest violence against women (VAW)-awareness films because it was done partly in partnership with the Dept. of Health
Bos CH wanted me in the Bulkan team because when I was just a month old in the company, he asked my then first boss there, Talent Division Manager Giselle Sanchez (yes, my ko-MassComm-er in UP Diliman), to ask someone to make a synopsis of the more than 150-page screenplay of Bulkan. And since Giselle was not cinematically trained to write such things, she passed it on to me, which was natural for me to do, because I was already transitioning to be a scriptwriter at that time, from my original film school ambition of becoming a cinematographer, and coming from an advanced scriptwriting workshop where we were trained by a French film school teacher and scriptwriter, who became like an older sister to me to this very day, but that’s another film story. So in short, I handed Bos CH a 4-page synopsis which kinda blew him away, I think, and immediately put me on his team and asked me to report to the first production meeting of Bulkan at his house, even if I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to do for the team. Sometimes he would ask my opinion about some things in the films story or narrative development, but I was shy to intrude upon the territory of the scriptwriter, his barkada and also the scion of entertainment giants, Jose Mari Avellana, whose parents are National Artist for Theater Daisy Avellana and National Artist for Film Lamberto Avellana lang naman noh! Itsura kong taubin siya, right? So I just kept quiet.
Bos Ch (left) and direk Jomari during a production meet
But Bos CH really want me involved, and found Bulkan-related things for me to do (even if Ms. Dee was also pulling my arm to write her Babae press releases, as I was her official press release writer naman talaga for all films). In the end, I became the Bulkan “product placement girl” who scoured the script looking at possible scenes and shots to insert possible product placements which we could then offer to the products’ companies as a kind of paid advertisement (whether in cash or in exchange deals which means they give us some non-cash thingie in exchange for having their products “casually” advertised in our film). So if there’s a scene where the boy protagonist was searching for the flying creature bird in the dark using a flashlight, insert Eveready batteries and flashlight here. You get the drift. If you think this is weird, take a look at Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut “Lost In Translation” where an actual credit for a product placement person was listed. But back here at home, we don’t credit such jobs, but such jobs are done anyway.
Since I also had filmmaking background — and since I expressed to Bos CH and to VP Roxas that I want to train as a cinematographer pa rin somehow — they put me in the team the VP for Television Boots Anson Roa was making, the team that will do the TV special of The Making of Anak ng Bulkan. But another actor’s offspring was our director and someone else was scriptwriter of that project, so I ended up as the cameraperson of the behind-the-scenes (BTS) footage and the assistant of the editor in editing the TV special. My film school barkada, Hech, whom I convinced to apply in PEP, too, was on board the Bulkan BTS special, too,while he was not busy being Ms. Dee’s handpicked staff for the Babae project. Yes, if I was like Bos CH’s pet that time, Hech was Ms. Dee’s. I guess it’s the first time they interacted with youngsters who was so gung-ho about films and filmmaking like they were, and were educated in it to boot, and who had exciting ideas like they did. Yes, it was a dream job all right. And the Santiagos were dream bosses, their eccentricities included. It
also helped that there are other UP-bred people aboard the marketing team, like fine arts grad Carlo, our graphics and poster whiz, and Ene, our resident artistic babaeng bakla publicity and promotions person, together with other cool people like Ms. Dee’s assistant Nette and marketing person Che, and a host of other youngsters like us. Boy those were really the days.
that's me lugging the vhs cam (!) to shoot behind-the-scenes Bulkan footage
So what happened was, I was in the float of Bulkan babysitting Beth Tamayo and Tom Taus Jr. while the rest were in Babae. That was indeed very fun. We had the giant replica of the mechanical bird creature on the float, and it was a hoot!
Times change, I guess. People don’t really go out of their way to see this parade anymore, except for a few. I saw the MMFF parade footage in showbiz news and attendance was really dismal compared to a decade ago. But it’s good that people still go out and watch movies, if we look at the ticket sales of the movies. But the ticket grosses should alert producers to sit up and take notice of what people really want out of the film industry. After all, it’s no joke to shell out 145 pesos for a film and it’s even frustrating if the film turns out to be a dud.
Hm, did they? Let’s see. Wait for my reviews.
Ito muna for now. Buena mano posting lang for the new year. And if you’re curious about the months-long absence, it’s because it was only lately that I had my home landline and broadband connection restored after my city was gravely hit by Typhoon Ondoy last September 2009.
Ah yeah, Philippine telcos. That’s for another post in my other blog. Abangan!