Last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) ran from December 25, 2016 until the first week of January 2017, and was the 42nd edition of the annual tradition to take place. Since 1975, the yearly festival has been putting the spotlight on local films by only allowing Filipino films to be screened in theatres during the duration of the festival.
However, the 42nd edition featured several significant changes to the traditional MMFF formula. Several of these stemmed from the MMFF’s new vision, which was to become “a festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development, and champions the sustainability of the Philippine movie industry.”
Perhaps most notable among the changes implemented was a shift in the criteria used to select the official entries to the film festival. Every year, several films from both big budget companies and indie filmmakers are submitted, but only eight are chosen as the “Magic 8”, the eight official entries to the festival itself. This year’s festival did away with the criteria used by previous editions which was 50 percent commercial viability, replacing it with a criteria that focused on story, audience appeal, and overall impact, as well as cinematic attributes and technical excellence.
The change was immediately felt upon the announcement of entries last November 30; several unconventional films, such as the small budget Saving Sally, or the documentary Sunday Beauty Queen, were chosen over surefire box office hits despite not being as obviously commercially successful. Sequels of long lasting franchises that were staples of the MMFF, like Enteng Kabisote 10 and the Abangers, or Mano Po 7: Tsinoy, on the other hand, were left on the outside looking in.
This new lineup was important because it signified a shift in priorities for the MMFF, honoring and celebrating not what earned the most money and generated most revenue, but what featured technical prowess and cultural relevance. In a time when the MMFF is usually dominated by obvious sequels and parodies that bring arguably little substance to the table, this year’s edition instead opted to shine the spotlight on quality films that told more relevant stories, from the lives of miners in far-flung provinces in Oro to the struggle faced by transgenders in Die Beautiful. Even lighter entries, like Vince & Kath & James received positive reviews from critics and audience members alike. Filipinos were given a reason to appreciate the film industry as a whole, and the steps it has been taking towards becoming more globally relevant–something that perhaps the previous versions of the MMFF failed to accomplish when it only featured mere regurgitations of the same old plots with only longer film titles.
The festival was not without its controversies, however, but it seemed successful as a whole in its goal of celebrating Filipino artistic excellence, with the 42nd MMFF being met with positive reactions from audiences around the country. The MMFF Executive Committee announced that the festival had reached the target gross ticket sales within a day of the its opening, and that while the festival was scheduled to last only until January 3, several cinemas held extended screenings due to audience demand. Not only did the festival showcase the best of the industry, but Filipinos granted the change a warm reception, proof that the country was in fact ready to embrace more complex and substantial films.
However, perhaps not everyone the country is ready for such a change, as it was reported that several cinemas began pulling out some of entries over the Christmas weekend in favor of more profitable showings, with indie films like Saving Sally and Sunday Beauty Queen reporting such difficulties. Some cinemas had forgone showing some of the MMFF entries completely. Meanwhile, certain famous personalities used to being staples of the MMFF began expressing their own distaste for the new lineup, with Senator Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III notably filing a resolution for an indie film fest to be held separately from the MMFF in response. Sotto’s brother starred in Enteng Kabisote 10 which failed to make the cut. Even before the Christmas weekend, just after the lineup was released, personalities such as Mother Lily Montaverde, of the Mano Po series, and comedian Manny Castaneda claimed that Christmas was not a time for indie movies, or that the MMFF was not the appropriate venue for these kinds of films.
While the MMFF is over with, last year’s significant change sheds much light as to both the positive and negative aspects surrounding the Filipino film industry. On the one hand, it is encouraging to see small budget films be given a chance, especially in the context of the film festival’s new vision to bring light to both local artistic excellence and the sustainability of the movie industry as a whole. It is even more encouraging, perhaps, to see these films do well, both in terms of box office performance and audience feedback. However, it is also disheartening to see certain cinemas and personalities disregard this shift, removing official entries to the festival and replacing them with Super Parental Guardians in what signifies a priority of profitability over cultural significance.
This year marks a start anew and the 43rd MMFF is 12 months away, but hopefully Filipino citizens can appreciate the steps being taken towards strengthening both the film industry and the country’s culture. Hopefully, this year’s edition of the annual festival is a sign of things to come, not just for the industry, but for the country as a whole.