The disqualification of film director Emerson Reyes’s entry to the 8th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival has created a noise in the film community, particularly among independent filmmakers and cinephiles.
An online petition pushing for reform in Cinemalaya was launched via campaign site Change.org after Cinemalaya Monitoring Head Robbie Tan expounded on why MNL 143, Emerson’s entry, was dropped from the list of finalists in the New Breed category.
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"What we want now is a dialogue actually with the Org Comm [Organizing Committee]," states Emerson in an exclusive interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) yesterday, March 8, at the Alejandra Hotel, Zobel Roxas, Manila.
"Kung magkakaro’n ng forum, ayaw naming magsalita na kami lang. We want na... both sides. Mahirap kasi na... ’ganito’ yung sinasabi nila, na ’ganito.’
"[Dapat] mag-meet. Mas maganda kung mag-meet lahat... Let’s clear things. Hindi na ito para sa MNL 143."
The 26-year-old filmmaker, who is also a teacher at the College of Saint Benilde, says that he and his producer are pushing through with the project even without Cinemalaya’s P500,000 grant.
"We’re producing this independently, kami-kami.
"So, we’re not actually planning to go back to Cinemalaya.
"We really don’t have plans of doing that. That’s far from the plan.
"What we want now is, of course, para rin sa ibang mga filmmakers na sasali sa Cinemalaya, kung ano [ba] talaga ang Cinemalaya.
"Sana magkaro’n sila ng guidelines, [maging] transparent sila sa rules.
"Kasi they were saying na we broke rules... what rules did we break?"
CASTING ISSUE. Emerson mentions that in the disqualification letter penned by Cinemalaya Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen Feleo, the Organizing Committee found his original cast of actors, Alan Paule and Joy Viado, "not suitable for the material."
MNL 143, his first full-length film, is a black comedy about an OFW who returns to the country to seek his long lost love.
In Robbie Tan’s February 24 interview with PEP, the veteran film producer specifically pointed out that the Organizing Committee thinks that the pairing of Alan and Joy "will not work."
Emerson stresses: "Sana magkaro’n ng guidelines ang mga future filmmakers... kung wala [ba] talaga silang say sa casting."
The filmmaker also urges the festival heads to be clear on who will give the final word in an entry’s cast of actors.
In the online petition tagged "Cinemalaya Foundation: Reform Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival Now!" there are talks that a dialogue with the Organizing Committee is on its way.
While he is not a part of those who are planning the dialogue, Emerson says that he will be present in the forum should it take place.
"Kasi nagiging kumplikado, e... Pasimplehin natin. Pag-usapan natin kung ano ba talaga..." says Emerson.
The said petition site, spawned by his project’s disqualification from the July 20 to 29 festival, has now become "an online venue for others to voice out their concerns."
"Hindi naman siya gano’ng ka-active as in rally-rally. Hindi naman siya [gano’n].
"We want to reform something. We want to clear things."
Emerson reiterates that Cinemalaya’s Organizing Committee should be transparent with their requirements and rules.
"Hindi naman puwedeng magdagdag ng requirements in the middle of the game."
The Cinemalaya organizers point out that because of the grant they invest in each of the entries, they should have a hand in the entries’ production plan (sequence breakdown, major cast, staff list, etc.).
Emerson counters, "Linawin nila. Parang nakakahiya naman tawagin na independent yun kung ganun. Linawin ang guidelines."
The director adds, "Yung iba pinapa-rewrite yung script. Of course, tinanggap po ’yan dahil [nga] sa script."
This does not mean, however, that he as a filmmaker is not willing to hear out the ideas of the Cinemalaya Organizing Committee.
But he points out that there is a difference between giving suggestions and imposing their choices on the filmmakers.
Emerson says, "It’s okay. Of course, we’re always open to suggestions.
"Hindi naman kami yung matitigas lang ang ulo dahil filmmakers kami. We’re not being egoistic about it.
"We just want it to be a dialogue na hindi porke nag-suggest kayo, kailangan naming sundin.
"Suggesting is different from imposing."
SCREEN TEST, DISQUALIFICATION LETTER, MOA. Trouble came in for MNL 143 upon the presentation of the original cast.
Emerson and his producer, Nestor Abrogena, were requested to submit a screen test of their original cast.
"Sabi [namin,] ’Yes, Sir, magsa-submit kami...’
"Hindi pa kami nagsa-submit, sabi agad sa amin na disapproved yung casting.
"So, bakit pa kami magsa-submit, e, kung disapproved na pala without them seeing it, di ba?"
Emerson also addressed the issue regarding the disqualification letter that was requested by Nestor himself. This was disclosed by chairperson Laurice Guillen Feleo in a press conference last March 6.
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Emerson clarifies: "Yun namang issue na sinasabi na my producer is asking for disqualification letter, he’s not asking for a disqualification letter because we want to be disqualified.
"Sino ba naman ang gustong ma-disqualify? He is asking for a disqualification letter... It was just being prudent.
"Siyempre, producer siya, e. Trabaho niya to compile everything.
"Kasi kami, dumaan kami sa process na... nag-submit kami formally, nag-submit kami ng mga requirements.
"So, sana naman kung magdi-disqualify kayo, hindi naman dapat kuwentuhan lang na disqualify na kayo.
"Dapat everything should be formal. Kasi, I think, SOP [standard operating procedure] yun."
Emerson also reveals that the Cinemalaya Organizing Committee did not sign the MOA [memorandum of agreement].
"Sila, hindi sila pumirma... If you treat your filmmakers as partners, siyempre dapat naman mag-sign din kayo.
"Hindi naman puwede na kami lang... Anong ibig sabihin nun? Bakit kami lang ang nagsa-sign?"
ON ALAN PAULE AND JOY VIADO. Amid the unsettled controversy within Cinemalaya, Emerson is focused on finishing MNL 143.
"Right now, I’m actually focusing on the film," he says.
He and his team have in fact began working on the pre-production of the project and have had two shooting days with Alan Paule.
They are slated to have five more shooting days.
Inquired about his persistence on his original cast, Emerson elaborates, "I wrote the material for Alan.
"Tinaylor-fit [tailor-fit] ko yung role sa kakayahan niya as a good actor [at sa] capabilities niya."
In a portion during the one-on-one interview, Emerson recalled that he was impressed with Alan when he had the chance to work with the actor in the past.
"I’ve worked with Allan in one of my short films.
"Nakita ko yung gusto kong acting sa kanya. Yung very subtle, pero makikita mong... andun siya sa character, e. Napaka-professional niya...
"Parang hindi siya nagkamali, e. May role sila... kasama naman niya dun is Ms. Beverly Salviejo.
"Minor role yun, pero parang nag-usap lang kami nun through texts and phone calls. Pagdating niya... game, shoot, tapos!
"Parang walang kahirap-hirap sa kanya. Nagtatanong lang siya ng ’Okay ba yun, Direk? Dadagdagan ko pa?’
"[Sabi ko,] ’Sige, ano na lang, take two na lang for safety [shot].’
The director likewise tells of his first two shooting days with Paule for MNL 143.
"Sa buong shoot namin, parang isang eksena yun na 15 minutes na kumakain lang sila, 15 minutes na nagkukuwentuhan.
"Isang beses lang siya nagkamali. Yung pagkakamali pa niya, e, super minor na nabulol [lang] siya sa isang word.
"Buong shoot yun. Isang beses lang siya nagkamali."
On Joy Viado, the director mentions that he thought long and hard before deciding who to cast as the female lead actress of MNL 143.
"The idea of Ms. Joy Viado, nanggaling sa malaking brainstorming ’yan, e...
"With the production team, ang sabi ko, ’Kailangan natin mag-isip who will perfectly fit the character of Mila,’ which is the name of Joy Viado in the movie.
"Nung... lumabas yung pangalan na Joy Viado, parang, ’Wow! Yun na yun, yun na yun. Ito na ’yon, ito na ’yon, perfect, perfect!’
"At siyempre, yun nga, may suggestions [from the Cinemalaya Organizing Committee]. Hindi naman... ’pag [may na-suggest], hindi naman agad-agad na ’Ay, ayaw namin, ayaw namin!’
"Siyempre, pinag-iisipan din namin ’yan.
"Pero as a director, I think that Joy Viado will work for it."
He addresses the Cinemalaya heads: "You know, if you’re giving freedom, if you’re saying that you’re independent and you’re giving freedom, I think kung magkamali man ako, I think that’s part of the freedom."
The festival’s Organizing Committee suggested a few actors to replace Alan and Joy.
Emerson conveys, "May lumabas na [mga] pangalan na Victor Neri, Francine Prieto, Jean Garcia... marami.
"Pero I have nothing against those actors. Wala naman akong [sinasabi] na hindi nila kaya, e. It’s just that I think Alan and Joy will be perfect for the role...
"Sana... maintindihan nila na... yun yung iniisip ko. Nothing against [the] actors na sina-suggest nila."
Emerson mentions that it was difficult on their part to even suggest actors to replace Joy.
"With Ms. Joy... nag-suggest din kami ng ibang actors. ’Tapos... hindi ko rin kaya talaga...
"Matagal ko ring pinag-isipan yun na Joy Viado. Siya talaga dapat. Siya talaga yun, e. Siya talaga yun."
HALT THE "STAR SYSTEM." While Emerson has been creating short films, animated films, and documentaries for the past eight to nine years since his college days as a Multimedia Arts major at the College of Saint Benilde, he is still considered "young" by Cinemalaya’s top chiefs.
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To this, he says with a smile, "Oo, bata pa talaga ako. Pero... I think, yun yung maganda...
"Yun yung goal n’yo [Cinemalaya] in the first place. To have filmmakers produce the film of their dreams.
"Hindi naman namin sila binabalewala, hindi naman kami nagmamatigas lang ng ulo.
"Pero siyempre, yung maturity [ko] at yung chemistry [of the cast] wala rin namang makakapagsabi niyan, e.
"Bakit, yung bang mga names na sina-suggest nila, nakagawa na rin ba yun ng film na sila ang bida?
"Yung chemistry, sabi nga ni Sir Alan, napapag-aralan naman ’yan."
The independent film festival has been organized by the same people who have been running Cinemalaya for the past eight years now, does he feel daunted by this fact?
Emerson expresses, "Alam naman natin yun... Hindi naman natin maikakaila yun siyempre.
"Marami rin namang filmmakers ngayon na [sa] Cinemalaya nagsimula na may mga pangalan na ngayon.
"Yung mga filmmakers, thankful din naman sila sa Cinemalaya kasi nabibigyan ng audience.
"Pero sayang kasi na ang ganda na ng venue, nahahakot na yung mga tao na manood, e. So sana ang [ayusin] ng Cinemalaya...
"Mawala na yung star system, na dahil sikat yung mga naka-cast dun, ay papanoorin."
Emerson stresses that underutilized actors who are equally talented should be given a chance to star in Cinemalaya’s film entries.
"Ang maganda kasi dun, nae-educate din yung ibang mga tao at nabibigyan din ng chance yung ibang mga actors and actresses na makagawa ng film, na maipakita rin yung talent nila kahit hindi sila ganun pa kakilala.
"Pero siyempre, ang dami nating talented actors dito sa Pilipinas, sobra. Yung iba hindi pa lang napapansin kasi hindi pa nabibigyan ng chance.
"Ang Cinemalaya, ang ganda sana niyang venue. Sana mabigyan ng chance yung ibang actors. Kasi may audience na sila.
"’Pakita natin na hindi lang sila ganito yung magaling. Ito sila... mga taga-theatre na ito, magaling din ito."