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We might have just won our first victory in ages for Philippine cinema.
The Metro Manila Film Festival has announced some major changes for MMFF 2016. Case in point:
…”There is a value system shift from box office consideration” to the following criteria, doing away with the 50% given to commercial viability:
- Story, audience appeal, overall impact (40%)
- Cinematic attributes and technical excellence (40%)
- Global appeal (10%)
- Filipino sensibility (10%)
Previously, the other criteria – apart from commercial viability – included story, creativity, writing excellence, innovativeness and thematic value (40%) and Filipino cultural and historical value (10%), as reported by PEP.
Some of their other changes look pretty positive.
I had a lot of feelings over MMFF 2015. Last year was the year where pretty much everyone got fed up with the bullshit that perpetually surrounded the MMFF. In addition to the habitual shafting of excellent films in favor of the usual drivel, digging around deeper revealed how the MMFF was marred with scandal. As such, many of us rejoiced when Congress abolished all committees. Some of us were even hoping that we wouldn’t have to suffer through an MMFF 2016.
I’m cautiously optimistic now. I’ll explain why by looking at some of the highlights from the press release.
I have no idea what they mean.
The new vision statement says that MMFF 2016 envisions itself to be “a festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.” It’s mission statement says that it “aims to develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, and to promote the welfare of its workers.”
What I’m weirded out by is this insistence on “excellent films that also do well in the box office”. I’m also side-eyeing the criterion for “Filipino sensibility”. Global appeal might just be a matter of execution, but their definition of Filipino sensibility is vague. Can we even have a unified sense of a Filipino sensibility that won’t alienate communities wholesale? In my experience, what tends to be championed as traditional Filipino values too often include justifications for sexism, homophobia, racism, and bigoted behavior.
They do better with their parameters for artistic excellence:
Story, audience appeal, and overall impact, which takes up 40% of the criteria, refers to the “overall excellence in storytelling, measured by how successfully a film transforms its artistic vision into a vital […] engagement with its audience,” as said in a press release.
…Until you take a close look at the rhetoric of MMFF 2016’s committee members. They have nice buzzwords like “engagement” and “connectivity”. There are also motherhood statements on “universal appeal”. All of that buys into the clunky separation between high and low culture. Such a dichotomy doesn’t help anyone. It intrinsically implies that smart, “serious”, “artistic” things don’t appeal to a larger audience, while light, non-serious, non-artistic things are for the masses. That’s kind of like saying that most people are stupid.
(Some of us – myself included – are occasionally inclined to believe that. I acknowledge, though, that thinking that way is NOT cool.)
So, yeah. Cautious optimism, it is a thing.
One might say that I ought to withhold judgment, and see how MMFF 2016 goes. I feel, though, that strong definitions are really important when it comes to evaluating art. We need to have a clear idea what our agenda is here. We also need to acknowledge that agendas define everything. For one, we all need to keep in mind that at the end of the day, recognizing a film with an award speaks volumes about what we consider to be important. Bringing titles to the forefront will always involve pushing other works to the fringes. Movies are powerful cultural artifacts because they’re capable of imparting messages about what matters to us. Their potential as educational tools is highly undervalued, especially since there also exists this strange idea that entertainment and instruction cannot go hand-in-hand.
The truth of the matter is, they’re intimately entwined. We shape our narratives, and our narratives shape us. Even the “dumbest” movie says something about a people, or about people in general – and its viewers take a part of that with them. I don’t think MMFF 2016 acknowledges that. I think it’s still more interested in what sells over what deserves to be noticed.
See you guys come Christmas. At the end of it all, I would like to see MMFF 2016 succeed.