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(From left) Former 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Executive Committee (ExeCom) members Roland Tolentino, Ricky Lee, and Kara Magsanoc Alikpala. (Photo from Tolentino's Facebook account)
(From left) Former 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Executive Committee (ExeCom) members Roland Tolentino, Ricky Lee, and Kara Magsanoc Alikpala. (Photo from Tolentino's Facebook account)

2017 MMFF: Commerce over creativity (yet again)

Alvin Dacanay Before I ForgetThe 43rd Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) may be less than six months away, but it has already found itself embroiled in yet another controversy. As of this writing, it appears there is little chance of it dying down anytime soon. 

As everyone knows by now, the controversy began when festival organizer Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced on the MMFF’s official Facebook page on June 30 the first four official entries of this year’s edition, based solely on their scripts.

These are Almost is Not Enough, to be directed by Dan Villegas and starring Jericho Rosales and Jennylyn Mercado; Love Traps #Family Goals, to be helmed by Antonio Y. Reyes and topbilled by Vic Sotto and Dawn Zulueta; Ang Panday, which will star Coco Martin, who’ll also direct it under his real name Rodel Nacianceno; and The Revengers, to be made by Joyce A. Bernal and to be headlined by Vice Ganda, Daniel Padilla, and Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.

“Our selection committee had a difficult time choosing, given the quality of (the) films. We have to thank them for their exhaustive and thorough deliberations,” MMDA General Manager and MMFF Executive Committee (ExeCom) Chairman Thomas “Tim” Orbos said in a statement on the festival’s Facebook page.

According to an Interaksyon report, the chosen scripts bested 22 other entries. These include director Erik Matti and screenwriter-wife Michiko Yamamoto’s Buy Bust; the screen version of Rolando Tinio and Ryan Cayabyab’s musical adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, titled Ang Larawan, the Musical; the film adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s prize-winning crime novel Smaller and Smaller Circles; and Eric Cabahug’s Palanca award-winning screenplay for Deadma Walking, which is now in production.

Disappointment

Industry insiders and observers who supported the refreshing changes that marked last year’s MMFF voiced disappointment over the announcement, in some form or other.

Among them are prize-winning screenwriter Ricky Lee, academic Roland Tolentino, and broadcast journalist Kara Magsanoc Alikpala, who resigned from the MMFF ExeCom on the same day the selected scripts were announced, and after the outspoken Matti wrote in a Facebook post that they would.

“After several meetings and deliberations, we resigned because the MMFF 2017 ExeCom took a different direction, by putting too much emphasis on commerce over art,” the three said in part in a joint statement on Facebook last week.

“Our resignation had little to do with the first four selected MMFF 2017 entries. We had expressed our intention to resign long before the announcement of the first four entries was made,” they added.

“Some quarters in the ExeCom insist that only big film studios can produce a blockbuster. We believe that producing a box-office hit and creating (a) quality film is not exclusive to big film studios, nor to independent film outfits. All excellent Filipino films deserve all forms of support,” the former committee members said.

‘Not happy’

For her part, another MMFF ExeCom member, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Chairman and CEO Liza Diño, said in part on her Facebook account that, although she was “not happy with how (the) MMFF is shaping up this year,” she does “understand where each sector is coming from.”

“Filmmaking is a business as much as it is an art. The hardest part is to find the balance so we can serve both of its purpose,” she added.

The FDCP chief also said that, despite the artistic gains notched by the 2016 MMFF and the wide range of accessible and commercially viable films it featured, the “numbers didn’t support that. (P400 million) is not enough to sustain a (film) industry.”

“In a country where we only have an annual average of 20-percent audience viewership, they need that Christmas revenue in order to recoup their losses,” she added.

“I am choosing to STAY, despite the conflicts that are happening within. I know it’s always going to be a question of integrity, so for that, I salute Sir Ricky, Sir Roland and Miss Kara. But this is bigger than myself. As head (of the FDCP), I have a duty to serve the entire industry,” she added.

As of this writing, a fourth MMFF ExeCom member has left the panel. Tolentino reported on Friday night that Quezon City Film Development Commission Executive Director Ed Lejano has also resigned. He is yet to explain his resignation publicly, but it’s safe to assume it’s for the same reason cited by Lee, Tolentino, and Alikpala in their statement.

The way things are developing in this year’s MMFF, it appears that anything is possible now. That anything can happen, though not necessarily for the better. For one, the announcement of the first four entries may dissuade other directors and producers, especially independent ones, from submitting their finished films for consideration for the last four slots. What for, they may ask, if the selection committee—who are in it, by the way?—prefers blatantly commercial movies over indie features?

What’s not possible now, it seems, is returning the MMFF to the notion of what a film festival truly is: a celebration of challenging and exciting filmmaking at its best. Fortunately, the country now has several festivals—the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, Cinema One Originals, ToFarm Film Festival, and now the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP)—that embody that idea more. They deserve more of our support, which the MMFF no longer appears interested to attract.

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