The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is envisioned as a festival that develops and encourages the production of quality Filipino films. Despite giving artists an opportunity to showcase artistry and originality, the MMFF, in the past years, has almost always featured movies that were money-making mediocrities. The goal of the MMFF swerved from uplifting the local film industry into a means of profit maximization. Change has indeed come—well, for the Filipino cineastes, at least. We say goodbye to predictable plots, crass humor, and terrible product placements as the recent MMFF was dominated by independently produced films, with the exception of one entry. Yet, as MMFF Selection Committee Member Mae Paner explains, “’Diversity’ [was] the main attribute to this year’s entries rather than being ‘indie’.”
While some regard the recent MMFF a success, some are quick to question the capacity of these films to deliver quality content and entertainment value simply on the basis of how they are produced. Perhaps nothing represents best the portion of the population who can’t help but complain about last year’s MMFF lineup other than Senator Tito Sotto, who filed a resolution asking the Metro Manila Development Authority to form a separate film festival exclusive for independent films, citing the lack of GP-rated movies for the younger audience. “The absence of the mainstream films in the MMFF entries for 2016 was prejudicial to the regular MMFF moviegoers, particularly the children, who always look forward to these movies to bond, enjoy, be entertained, and share a good laugh with their family and friends,” Sotto’s resolution says, as if it was every child’s wish to watch Enteng Kabisote’s perpetual sequels. The motive here seems to be questionable, especially if you consider his position as Enteng Kabisote star Vic Sotto’s elder brother, who is highly affected by the festival’s reformat.
Compared to the previous years, it is fact that the recent MMFF did not gross as much, even if the eight entries did not have any foreign competitors during the two-week run. With indie films dominating the festival, it resulted in a lower audience turnout, one that could perhaps be attributed to the fact that neither Vice Ganda nor Vic Sotto were in the top-bills of any of the movies. As if competing with foreign films wasn’t hard enough, the “little” films were then peddled against major productions, which easily found bookings in theatres once they were denied entry in the festival. All this just goes to show how commercial productions do not need the MMFF to maximize profit—they are able to draw an audience at any time of the year.
After all, the success of mainstream films is a function of major companies investing in production. While big studio producers seek profit and higher percentage ratings every year, independent producers are able to earn enough to create more films. In the past years, indie films did not seem to get the same reception the way mainstream films did. Sotto, proposing such a bill, only widens the gap even further. He continues to pit the two against each other as if the fight hasn’t been going on for ages. Only recently did these independent films get the commercial release they deserve, but Sotto then goes on to question the quality of these films by asking if any of the movies were high quality—his argument being that they did not use high-end equipment.
While it is true that not all indie films are of quality and not all mainstream films are terrible, Sotto’s arguments, as he continues to antagonize independent films, are bordering on inane. His points lack even more basis, considering that there already a plethora of independent film festivals in the form of Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals, QCinema, and so on and so forth.
Whatever it is that he’s trying to pursue with this bill, he is most certainly not championing anyone else’s interests but his. The recent MMFF may have been the beginning of a complete turnaround, but it will only be able to return to its core once it no longer becomes premised on fund-raising, something that Senator Tito Sotto and the festival’s other detractors do not seem to want to allow.
The festival successfully stuck to its mission of being “[the] festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development, and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.” If our films are the lingua franca that tells the stories of the people, then the MMFF serves as a convenient medium to showcase thought-provoking entertainment. Who’s Senator Tito Sotto to say what you can and cannot enjoy on Christmas day?