Quo vadis, Philippine cinema?

20150227_154035Today, I heard one of the most revealing truths about Philippine cinema. It’s not dead or dying. It is just, well, polarized.

As I endured the cold Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium at the De La Salle University, Filipino director and professorial lecturer Jose Javier Reyes warmed up the place with his no-holds-barred talk about Philippine cinema and movies. There is apparently a distinction between a film and a movie; the latter is a product that is meant to be sold. Speaking before students, faculty and guests at the 1st DLSU Communications Conference, Reyes began his exposition with questions about the top grossing films in the Philippines. Then, he went on to reveal how much money did the Metro Manila Film Festival make–it was about PhP 1.1 billion. And the top grossing films? Let’s just say, they are mostly romcoms, produced primarily by a dominant studio, which also happens to be producing the most popular stars in movies and on television.

Reyes’ talk focused on how BIG studios today dictate how movies are made, and how economics play a big part in the distribution and production of these movies in cinemas. Contrast that to indie films which, by the way, is not a genre but a business model that simply means films not produced by BIG outfits. The success of English Only, Please and the recent That Thing Called Tadhana–films which Reyes dubbed as “maindies,” have succeeded despite it being produced by smaller outfits.

Indie films are often misconstrued as art or experimental films that only the intellectual moviegoers appreciate. Unfortunately, many Philippine indie films don’t have the marketing muscle and distribution that BIG studio-produced films have, thus are often not making enough money, or worse, forgotten and pulled down from cinemas after less than a week of public showing. Think of Bwakaw.

Reyes argued that Philippine cinema is polarized between movies that are produced as products that sell versus movies that are made by independent outfits that are often only seen in Cinemalaya or, rarely, in short-runs in local cinemas. The top-grossing films in Philippine cinema of all time are produced by BIG studios that feature popular celebrities (who mostly got popular on television), and a well-known director who has mastered the kiliti of the masses. Every year, this has been the case, until some films like English Only, Please break out of the mold. English Only, Please is a romcom that is independently produced. It has also won awards, and has made its producers money, according to Reyes.

The truth is, Philippine cinema does not need to be mind-numbing and crass to be able to make money. There are good films out there–many are even winning awards abroad, but since BIG outfits control the distribution and cinemas, the audience only get to see films that are formulaic.

Reyes stressed that films can and should entertain. But, as it entertains, it should also INNOVATE, REDISCOVER, and REDEFINE Philippine cinema. Innovate perhaps in terms of distribution and production (there’s always digital media waiting to be tapped). Rediscover means the industry being able to figure out ways to showcase local indie filmmakers in cinemas or via digital distribution. Redefine: This is an area where Reyes gets fired up: Philippine movies shouldn’t be classified as indie or mainstream. There should only be one: Philippine cinema, just like Bollywood.