Cinema workers united for a cause



In a show of solidarity, cinema workers from other countries converged for a conference in Manila to discuss problems facing the industry today. Organized by the Union Network International-Media Entertainment Industry (UNI-MEI) and sponsored by the Dutch Media Union, this three-day conference—scheduled from October 10 to 12—is specifically targeted to meeting the needs of freelance workers in the cinema industry.

Delegates from Indonesia, India, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia, and host country—the Philippines—attended the opening ceremonies held at the Bayview Hotel along Roxas Boulevard. The delegates from Thailand were unable to make it to the first day because of the political instability in their country but they are expected to arrive before the end of the conference.

The UNI-MEI Freelance Film Production Workers' Conference in Manila this year has the theme: "Making a Living Making Films in Asia/Pacific." In line with this, various speakers were tapped on the first day of the conference to discuss the situation regarding freelance cinema workers.

Jim Wilson, director of UNI-MEI, noted that the objective of this conference is "not to create something, but to bring you [cinema workers] together." He expressed his desire to expand their goal next year: to bring the discussion to a higher level (referring to policy makers) and a lower level (referring to crew members and even musicians). Wilson summarized by saying that: "UNI-MEI insists that there should be equal opportunities for everyone."

As for the Philippine situation, National Artist for Film Eddie Romero took note of the ambivalent feelings of legislators toward filmmaking. "Filipino movies occupied an ambiguous position in makers of public policy. On one hand, films are considered one of the most influential means of mass communication. On the other hand, in existing law, it is considered a non-essential product that purveys entertainment to the masses." According to Romero, this ambivalence is a big part of the problems facing cinema workers in the industry today.

Faced with a lack of government support, Filipino cinema workers took it upon themselves to unite and assert their rights. United Cinema Workers of the Philippines president Joel Lamangan narrated how four thousand cinema workers trooped to an auditorium in October 2004 to organize themselves and elect their first set of officers. Two years later, the famed director laments the deplorable working conditions of the numerous cinema workers. "It may be a protracted struggle, but at least we have started. We might not see the fruits of our labor in our lifetime but we are starting," states Lamangan, in his speech about the point of view of Filipino film workers.

Carlos Siguion-Reyna, chairman education committee of the Directors' Guild of the Philippines, believes that "it is in our cultural interest to retain the ability to tell our stories." In an interview with YES! Online, the director emphasized the protection of the local cinema industry despite the onslaught of globalization. "It is important to have an industry to tell our stories. Do we leave it to Hollywood to tell our stories? It's not our point of view...it's not our perspective," points out Siguion-Reyna.

Through this conference, it is hoped that important issues such as the working conditions of cinema workers and the protectionist measures for the local cinema industry become a priority among policymakers and filmmakers alike.

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