The Real Problem with Philippine Cinema Now

A Filipino film critic once said that the advent of demand for Filipino independent films in the commercial market validates the presumption that Philippine cinema has indeed entered a new golden age.

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As promising as it may sound like, this grabbed validation
feels like an opportunity without the proper context. Philippine cinema is still problematic as it always been.

Piracy reigns
The immense reliability and portability brought by the current trends in technology gave the increase in reliance on digital content amongst people nowadays. Piracy is one, if not the most rampant product of this. The crime has been so cultivated in the Philippines since the early 2000s, with unlawful distribution of films enclosed in discs.

While these physical discs can still be seen today in markets, it is the leakage of films on the internet that is getting the most eyes.
Cinema One head and film producer Ronald Arguelles shared that the economic side of a business is easily the main target of piracy.
“If there a lot of pirates here in the Philippines, that would be bad for our reputation on the business side. And lessens business overall. The small films will not be seen on all platforms. Only the big Marvel films of the Disney in this world will survive,” Arguelles said.

Arguelles added that measures by the government against piracy are rather weak.

“Their campaign in the cinemas is not that relevant. It is outdated. I mean the OMB (Optical Media Board) trailer plug that you see before a movie starts. They should be more conscious that a lot of piracy is happening online,” he stressed.

“They should act fast. Right now, we don’t know who is governing or policing piracy online.”

First day, last day
There’s no denying that going to the cinema can be easily treated as sheer expensive. With prices that range from P250 up to P500, going to see a two-hour movie really has its share of risks and hopes to go in. This is one of the many reasons why a lot of moviegoers go for the safe route, blockbusters, over a low-budget, small independent films with no recognizable star on front, prompting the cinema chain owner to ax off said independent film in the cinemas because of its poor financial returns.

This is the real issue with our own distribution of films. While there is a clear distinction between the demands of genre films to other non-commercially appealing content such as experimental films and documentaries,

The real question that must be asked about our film distribution system is to determine how to solve the first-day impact of the film when it premieres on the big screen and how to make it last for the entire week without getting everything pulled out.

“I’m a staunch supporter to move the local premiere and the first day of films from Wednesday to Friday to clearly embrace the traffic of people going to the malls as well as encourage legitimate watching,” filmmaker Babyruth Villarama admitted.

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“It’s a big blow to the producers who have invested let’s say Php 10M and just earned Php 5M on cinema. There is no further room to recoup their investment and this will impede them from producing
another film. Start-up studios face the threat of bankruptcy and it’s a blow in the industry as a whole because as you know one film can give jobs to a community.”

Championing the industry abroad

If there’s a giveaway of the current film industry in the Philippines, it’s the fact that it is getting positively noisier than before—the difference is it’s coming from overseas.

The last five years has produced awards and recognition for Filipino films that made quite a headline. Jaclyn Jose made history with her Cannes Best Actress win for ‘Ma’Rosa,’ while seasoned filmmaker Lav Diaz brought home the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival for ‘The Woman Who Left.’ The latter award has been noted as one of the three most prestigious awards for film, just a shy behind an Oscar trophy.

Last year, Mikhail Red’s sophomore feature ‘Birdshot’ was added to Netflix’s film library for online streaming distribution globally. The same goes for Raymund Ribay Gutierrez, whose film ‘Judgement’ competes for the short film category in the recent Cannes Film
Festival, marking his return to the festival since 2016 for ‘Imago,’ also a finalist on the same category.

The list goes on, and will definitely increase given our country’s active participation on the international film festival circuit. However, here lies a bigger problem: majority of us never even acknowledge it. It is truly saddening how other countries seem to recognize and honor the works of Philippine cinema, and the majority of the Filipinos the other way. Our idolization towards Hollywood blockbusters seems to hinder the hidden gem of local storytelling.

Moving forward
Philippine cinema, rest assured, is never going to be perfect, but it’s an industry that is full of hope. Young filmmakers continue to rise in with inventive content.

Kaj Palanca and Jared Joven, both seventeen years old, are making waves at the Shanghai Queer Film Festival in China wherein their short ‘Contestant #4’ won Best Film.

“[Philippine cinema] is definitely growing, especially with more stories coming out, and are about to come soon,” Joven said.

Indeed our local cinema is a growing field of creative innovation. Yes, stories are getting better and more flexible with the rise of independent film movement. However, yes, westernization still reigns. We are still living in dark times, political and culturally wise.

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Looking back, if a new golden age for Philippine cinema is far-fetched, is it still possible? There’s much room for hope, but I’ll leave that to you.

Matthew is a writer-at-large at Film Geek Guy, a blog that aims to
celebrate good and bad cinema and champion Filipino films to the
widest reach possible.

A graduate of broadcasting at Trinity University of Asia, he seeks
to bring new and worthy contributions to the falling art of
Philippine media criticism.

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