Unlearned lessons from Metro Manila Film Fest controversies

by Karen A.P. Caliwara
Jan 9, 2016
The Metro Manila Film Festival has been around for 41 years—15 of which have been beset by controversies.

Controversies marred 15 out of 41 years of Metro Manila Film Festival.

It's like it has become a regular occurrence, a blowup that rocks showbiz every two years.

This writer is no film guru, but it was just impossible not to be disturbed by the hue and cry of producers, directors, and even actors, every time a scandal exploded.

MMFF will not be MMFF without the outrage as yesterday's issues were never wholly cleared. They just keep resurfacing.

As a concerned entity in showbiz, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) wants to know what did we ever learn from every brouhaha that had besieged MMFF?

Will the continuing issues ever be resolved?

We have more questions.

1. MMFF Jury

Who are these people? What are their qualifications? Who does the selection?

There have been claims that some jurors do not even have a film background.

Indeed, our brilliant directors cannot be faulted for balking at the idea of allowing people who know nothing about filmmaking scrutinize their works?

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Hmmm, can we ever be sure that none of the jurors is somehow related or connected to the producers or directors? READ: conflict of interest.

What will guarantee beyond the shadow of a doubt that those who select the films will stick to the criteria?

Each year, there are complaints, which are usually publicized after the selection process for the movies.

We want to know, do the major players--the organizers, producers, and directors--have a say in qualifying the jurors?

2. Selection process

Remember when Magnifico was snubbed by MMFF in 2002? The same thing happened to Thy Womb in 2012.

So, what exactly are the criteria? Who sets them? Who reads the scripts? Who determines which entries become part of the MMFF?

In 2005, then MMFF Chairman Bayani Fernando had set a "consultation" to resolve the following:

1) Should the entries be determined based on screenplay or finished print?

2) Should there be any limit to the number of entries per film outfit, including their sister companies?

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3) What would constitute a winnable film entry, should it be quality versus commercial?

That was the year Blue Moon director Joel Lamangan walked out after losing the Best Director award to Kutob director Jose Javier Reyes.

And why, for the past decade, we've been seeing the same people offering, well, nothing new, actually?

Wala ba talagang iba na sumasali?

Are the entries strictly the creme de la creme?

3. Quality of the movies

The recent festival hit the one-billion-peso mark at the tills. Bravo!

But the critics are surely grumbling.

This is not to say that funny movies will never be quality movies.

Certainly, the moviegoers are always game for a good laugh. Okay, fine.

But whatever happened to the promise to deliver films that will entertain and amaze and move people at the same time?

Through the years, MMFF's definition of "quality" has drastically changed.

Since a portion of the funds go to film beneficiaries, the more funds it generates, the more money will go to the Film Academy of the Philippines, the Motion Picture Anti-Piracy Council, the Film Development Council of the Philippines, and the Optical Media Board.

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Hence, quality means commercial viability.

And to be commercially viable, the formula includes star power.

Add the TV giant's backing or strong presence online or the money to spend on promo and publicity.

What if MMFF mandates a certain budget for promotions for all the films?

What if it rules that each entry will be given the chance to be promoted in all networks?

Might it not help address the problem of shortened period of cinema showing for non-commercial films such as Honor Thy Father?

What if Heneral Luna was one of the entries? Would people have noticed it?

What seems to be happening is that MMFF and the producers have become too formulaic in setting and dictating the standards for quality films.

Understandable, considering the risk that an out-of-the-box entry imposes.

But something has to give. As Cesar Montano recently put it, quality films have no place in MMFF.

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Filmfest films were marketed as pambata, pampamilya, and, according to critics, pang-mababaw.

Interestingly, Cesar's best films were MMFF entries: Jose Rizal (1998), Muro Ami (1999), and Bagong Buwan (2001).

All three films, including Panaghoy Sa Suba (2004), were MMFF's most-awarded entries.

But only the three were top grossers; Panaghoy Sa Suba and Ligalig (2006) were second to the last in terms of ranking.

4. Irregularities and Improbabilities

MMFF is also becoming known for saan-galing-yun decisions.

In the recent MMFF, they disqualified Honor Thy Father from the Best Picture category the day before the awarding.

In 2007, MMFF decided to just announce the winners without mentioning the nominees for each category. The awards night had to be concluded by 9 p.m. because of the festival's fund-raising concert featuring Lani Misalucha.

In 2006, MMFF decided to award the Best Picture based on its "commercial appeal."

In 2002, even director Chito Rono was baffled. Why did Spirit Warriors: The Shortcut win the Third Best Picture award if the officials had disqualified it as an official entry?

5. Awards

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Oh, this has always been the mitsa of the controversies and the cause of many walkout dramas.

Lamangan's walkout was mentioned in the early part of this article.

The cast of Dekada 70 did the same in 2002 after Lualhati Bautista failed to win the Best Story and Best Screenplay awards. Vilma Santos also lost the Best Actress award to Ara Mina.

Lino Brock was the first to do it after Burlesk Queen won eight out of ten awards in 1977.

There had been a lot of "bakit siya ang nanalo" moments as well.

One was in 1998, when Baldo Marro won Best Actor and Best Director for Patrolman.

Also controversial was when Coney Reyes and Anthony Alonzo won the acting awards in 1983, beating Karnal movie's Charito Solis and Philip Salvador.

It couldn't be just pikon ang mga tao, right? There must be a reason for the outcry.

Maybe it was not about giving awards to, as Mother Lily Monteverde described them, the "undeserving."

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We paraphrase it, maybe there are no "undeserving" recipients of awards, only "undeserving" people in the jury?

6. Funds

The issue does not end after the MMFF.

Apparently, the funds have not been reaching their intended beneficiaries on time and, according to a two-part article published on The Philippine Star, the "accounting of the festival proceeds is long overdue."

And the amount in question is P108 million, reportedly from 2002 to 2013.

Hence, in a letter dated November 9, Leo Martinez, Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) president, asked chairman Emerson Carlos of the Metro Manila Development Authority to explain the "unremitted amounts," based on the 2009 findings of Commission on Audit.

Edgardo Vinarao, director of MOWELFUND, which is one of the MMFF beneficiaries, lamented, "Why is it that while the MMFF gross ticket sales are growing, the amount received by the beneficiaries is decreasing?

However, MMFF, through its executive committee chairman Jesse Ejercito, countered that the FAP had no right "to demand an accounting of the MMFF fund."

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In an interview with the same major broadsheet, MMFF executive committee member Dominic Du added, "If I'm only helping you and you're only benefiting from what I give you, do you have the right to demand how I spend the money?

It was not the first fund-related issue.

In 2009, Bayani Fernando admitted receiving a cash gift amounting to P1.6 million from the MMFF funds.

Now all these controversies do not just cause mere headaches, but migraines--more intense, more pulsating, but what can we do?

The issues show lack of concern and respect for the people who work so hard to make films worth watching each year. The lack of vigilance is obvious among the major players who let the faulty rules and system slide year after year.

What if wala na lang sasali? Impossible. Sayang ang revenue.

What if wala na lang manood? Gastos lang naman, e. Maybe, the major players will be compelled to do a better job.

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What if wala na lang MMFF? Because someday, somehow, maybe now, we'll get tired of the long-standing hullabaloo and look for a better option.

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The Metro Manila Film Festival has been around for 41 years—15 of which have been beset by controversies.
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