Emerson Reyes's entry to the 8th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival was dropped from this year's New Breed category finalists.
MNL 143 was disqualified by Cinemalaya's Organizing Committee, which saw its casting of Alan Paule and Joy Viado as "not suitable to the material."
Reyes's entry, which would have been his first full-length film, is about an OFW who comes back to Manila as an FX driver in search for his long lost love.
MNL 143 will be replaced by Gino Santos' entry, The Animals, a film that studies the lifestyle of society's elite.
In a letter addressed to MNL 143 producer Nestor Abrogena dated February 27, 2012, Cinemalaya's Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen Feleo wrote:
"Following consultations on your entry between Mr. Emerson Reyes and Monitoring Head, Mr. Robbie Tan, we were informed that you were fixed on the original casting of your two leads, which we had pointed out were not suitable to the material.
"There is never any directive given to the finalists on who to cast—only our guideline as to how to cast. The basis of our interest in casting is that we want competence, suitability to the role, and greater audience acceptability.
"In our briefing, it was emphasized to the finalists that all requirements that are to be submitted for the corresponding grant releases will have to be approved and accepted before any fund release is to be made. This is also provided for in our MOA.
"We have always treated our finalists as partners, and as such, mutually look out for what is best for each project. But in the case of MNL 143, not heeding Cinemalaya's advice shows a one-sided effort—only on our part—to achieve our objectives.
"Constrained therefore by a conflict of interest and by the provision in the MOA, the Cinemalaya Organizing Committee collegially decided on February 8, 2012 to exercise its prerogative and disqualify your entry from competition."
When PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) contacted MNL 143 director Emerson Reyes regarding this issue, he sent an email stating:
"The papers are with Atty. Chel Diokno na po...And I was advised not to talk muna po regarding the issue. Will update you po. Thanks."
In a separate phone interview, Direk Emerson admitted: "Itutuloy ko po ang film."
WHY MNL 143 WAS DISQUALIFIED. To expound on the committee's decision to disqualify MNL 143 from the film competition, PEP.ph contacted Cinemalaya Monitoring Head Robbie Tan.
In an exclusive interview last Saturday, February 25, 2012, at Starbucks Corinthian Hills, Quezon City, the veteran film producer explained why the screening body did not favor the original casting of the said entry.
"We did not like his casting... We believe na hindi magwu-work."
According to Tan, the pairing of Alan Paule and Joy Viado, considering the premise of the film—a man in search of his long lost love—will not work.
"So, dun sa aspect na yun, may romance angle, di ba?" says Tan.
"'Pag may romance angle, at least, kahit papaano, importante yung chemistry nung dalawang artista.
"So, dapat yung chemistry nun, dapat magwu-work."
The former executive producer of Seiko Films emphasizes that he does not doubt Alan Paule's and Joy Viado's capabilities as artists.
"I don't have anything against Alan and Joy," states Tan.
"They're very competent. Very!
"In fact, I like Alan very much sa mga performances. I'm very impressed...
"Magaling, magaling si Alan. He's very mabait and a darling to work with.
"I've been using him sa mga mainstream pictures ko... and ang manager niya, for me, [is] one of the best kasi very supportive."
Alan is being handled by talent manager Ed Instrella.
Tan also feels strongly about Viado's talent: "Joy is the same. I've been watching her. She's an excellent singer! And as a comedian, magaling siya."
Despite his aforementioned sentiments, Mr. Tan maintains the committee's dissent with the "stability of the chemistry" of the pair.
He stresses that it was not an easy decision for them to disqualify MNL 143.
"It's very hard. Alam mo, it's very hard to disqualify. Very hard kasi naumpisahan na namin, e.
"Imagine, I've read the script... tinrabaho ko na... Tinitingnan pa namin yung plot!
"E, bakit kami magtatanggal? Especially [kung] alam namin [na may] promise."
According to Tan, also among Cinemalaya's founding members which includes Laurice Guillen Feleo, the festival grants P500,000 to each finalist they select.
This is the reason why he and the committee are bent on overseeing the success of each film entry.
"E, ganun naman talaga 'pag meron kang binigay na pera, hindi ba? At least you have a say, di ba?
"Kami, ang ultimate goal namin kasi, [is to make sure] magwu-work at gaganda ang project.
"Wala naman kaming pine-favor na stars or actors to cast."
Tan recalls cautioning MNL 143's producer and director. He told them that if they want to stick to their initial casting, they can go ahead without Cinemalaya having a hand in the funding of the project.
Despite Tan's warning, the director and producer of MNL 143's decided to insist on having Alan and Joy as their lead stars.
In the end, the Organizing Committee chose to disqualify them on such grounds.
Tan, however, mentions that filmmakers who participate in Cinemalaya still own their films:
"Dito, ang mga filmmakers, sila pa rin ang may-ari. They own the film. Except that we want to have a say in how it should be done."
PROCESS OF SELECTING CINEMALAYA ENTRIES. Robbie Tan, who has been producing films for 30 years now, describes the rigorous process of screening about 200 plus full-length narrative entries each year that they must consider for the Directors' Showcase and New Breed categories.
For the latter grouping, they selected 50 entries, narrow it down to 25, and finally choose 11.
According to Tan, these 11 finalists have to comply with requirements before being granted P500,000. Such requirements include the production plan (a list of the technical staff such as the Director of Photography, Assistant Director, Musical Director, likewise the final script, sequence treatment, schedule, etc.).
There is also a need for the finalists to give details regarding their counter-financing.
Tan elaborates, "We're only giving a grant of P500,000. So kung ang project nila would be, let's say 1.5 million [pesos], they have to tell us where they are getting the one million [pesos]."
Such is the nitty-gritty of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.
"Yung lahat ng yun, binubusisi namin," states Tan.
"Tinitingnan namin kasi kung okay yun, [kung] workable... we see to it that the project will work.
"That's the reason why Cinemalaya [has] nice products naman. Magaganda...
"Ang tao... may kumpiyansa sa Cinemalaya it's because we're able to turn out products that are good and naging significant... napapalabas sa mga major festivals abroad...
"Basically, yun ang ginagawa namin. Kaya we're very careful and meticulous.
"At the same time, ang monitoring team namin, [naka-]support talaga kami sa filmmakers.
"Kasi maraming mga filmmakers, minsan... they're still... they're new graduates... it's their first film, so they're not aware of mga certain things that they have to do in order to do to make a significant film na magwu-work."
DEALING WITH CONTROVERSIES. Cinemalaya will have its 8th edition from July 20 to 29, 2012.
Perhaps among the prominent independent film festivals in the country, it cannot be helped that it becomes embroiled in controversies from time to time.
"It's part of the job," remarks Tan. "Kasi kami, we cannot let things pass naman just because we want to get away with intrigues.
"Kasi we're supposed to protect Cinemalaya, we protect the standards."
Tan's job as Monitoring Head is a laborious one.
"Kaya naman ako nilagay [dito]... it's because alam nila, ako, I'm mabusisi at saka hands-on ako.
"Saka diretso ako. Very frank and straightforward ako. Wala nang paliguy-ligoy...
"Parang sa... 'di ba sa school may mga teachers na ang istrikto?
"And then ultimately, 'pag nag-graduate ka na... 'Ay, love ko si ganito, gusto si ganyan [kasi] ang dami kong natutunan.'
"And I'm sure through sa process na ito, maraming filmmakers will learn from me, consciously or unconsciously.
"And I don't know if they will thank me. Yung iba naman ay nagpapasalamat naman kasi kami naman [naka-]support, e."
For the 8th Cinemalaya, the other finalists in the New Breed Full-Length Feature category are: Ang Katiwala (The Caretaker) by Aloy Adlawan; Ang Nawawala (What Isn't There) by Marietta "Marie" Jamora; Oros by Paul Sta. Ana; Apparition by Vincent Sandoval and Darlene Malimas; Dayo (Alien) by Julius Sotomayor Cena; Diablo by Mes de Guzman; Lola Igna by Eduardo Roy Jr.; REQUIEME by Loy Arcenas; Santa Nina by Emmanuel Palo; and The Animals by Gino Santos.
The five finalists in the Directors Showcase are: Bwakaw by Jun Lana; Kalayaan (Wildlife) by Adolfo Alix Jr.; Kamera Obskura by Raymond Red; Posas by Jeffrey Jeturian; and Mga Mumunting Lihim by Jose Javier Reyes.