Where I hear there’s a film festival going on, I always thing that the movies that will be featured in them will be of some high quality or experimental or something that will push the boundaries of what film making is all about. They can be good or they can be bad. But I always expect the films during a film festival to be creative in some way. And last year, it looked like the Metro Manila Film Festival was going to do just that. In fact, 2016 heralded the very first time I willingly chose to watch a film during the MMFF. That movie was Saving Sally. In fact, I did an entire review of Saving Sally just because I think people deserved to, at the very least, be informed that something unique in Philippine cinema was being played in cinemas that time.
With that being said, while most of the films from last year’s MMFF were critically acclaimed in one form of another, most of them failed abysmally financially. To get an idea of how poorly ticket sales were, all of the eight films from last year’s MMFF raked in a total of 373 million Philippine pesos. That’s not bad for two weeks, right? But those numbers pale in comparison to the 2015 box office take of just over a billion Philippine pesos. To add insult to injury, that figure is just for the top four biggest earners of the 2015 Metro Manila Film Festival!
Because of this, the MMFF board revamped their criteria once again for what films will be entered this year and, wouldn’t you know it? They decided to bring back the commercial appeal and viability item that was removed the year before. And with that decision, the floodgates for poorly crafted films that are only there because they have big named stars involved and just for the mass audiences who want those couple of hours of escapism into stories that don’t attempt to tax the brain with things like plot and character development are back into this year’s MMFF list of films.
However, I do kind of understand why they had to go back to their old “let’s just put out crappy money making features” rules and regulations. I don’t think many moviegoers know that some of the proceeds and profits of the MMFF film entries go to the workers unions and stuff like that. So there is actually a need for them to make a huge profit. The movie studios and the actors take a huge chunk of the profits from the ticket sales, of course. And, since there aren’t foreign movies during the MMFF to “interfere” with ticket sales, this is the time where local movie studios can maximize on their return on investment; all they need to to is to make sure that their movies will satisfy the lowest common denominator so they can tick off that “commercial viability” category. And local movie studios have had a lot of practice with that for the past, what, decade or so?
If it sounds like I’m upset with the return of the MMFF’s status quo of just crapping out dumb movies, I am. In hindsight, it was terribly naive of me to think that local moviegoers that loved the “old” way would be okay with the more intellectual and creative direction the Metro Manila Film Festival board members were going for. But it’s sad to think that, after just one year of my actually wanting to watch a MMFF movie like Saving Sally, we’ll be re-experiencing the dregs we had to go through before. And I’m not the only one as some of the MMFF board members have tendered their resignations because of the “commercial viability” criteria returning with a whopping 40% of what will make a movie eligible for this “prestigious” film festival.
But all that’s water under the bridge because it looks like they’re going to push forward with this now and, possibly, forever. The thing is, I don’t really like that these crappy movies that are just meant to capitalize on the lack of foreign films during the time to be a part of something that’s supposed to be a “film festival.” I mean, would you see a movie like the MMFF’s top gross film, Beauty and the Bestie, in something like Sundance or Cannes?
I really believe calling the Metro Manila Film Festival a legitimate “film festival” because of the quality of films that are included. The entire MMFF was created and envisioned to promote Philippine cinema and to declare to the world that the country can produce high caliber movies that we can show to the world and be proud of. And the world will look at these movies and say that, yes, the Philippines can make some fantastic films.
But this isn’t going to happen anymore with the return of the “commercial viability” thing. So, why are we calling it a “film festival” anymore? Why not just rename the Metro Manila Film Fest to something else?
Whenever I see a film is a part of a “film festival,” I do expect something thought provoking or expect to either be wowed by how good the films are or sneer at how pretentious they are. But the films were going to get this year and every year after this one aren’t going to be that. So, it makes sense to me to stop calling it a “film festival” because these movies are not to be celebrated for their high quality for the simple reason that they aren’t. The people saying that they are are just fooling themselves or these people are part of the problem as to why we can’t have an MMFF with good movies.
Call the current iteration of the Metro Manila Film Fest something different that is more suitable to what these films are trying to do: make a quick buck and take advantage of the lack of foreign films. Since the MMFF happens during the Christmas season, which Filipinos love, they can call it something like the “Christmas Cinema Celebration” or something along those lines. They can be creative and it would be a great way to rebrand themselves and get away from all of the people crying out that the MMFF only produces garbage like My Little Bossings.
The Metro Manila Film Fest already has a stigma of letting crappy movies in already. They might as well own it all the way. But stop calling it a “film festival” already. Because if it is, it’s a really crappy “festival” that’s totally not festive but filled with misery.
What’s your take on the “commercial viability” returning as part of the Metro Manila Film Festival criterion? Let me know in the comments section below!