Four years in film school and this thought will come to mind: did I just witness history? Maybe that’s not the case for every film student. Maybe luck has something to do with it, or maybe it’s just the timing. During our lectures with the veteran thespian Sir Bernardo Bernardo (Manila By Night, Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis), he said that this might be the new golden age of Philippine Cinema. This was when he was fresh from Berlin with Lav Diaz. Hele had just won the Silver Bear. That Hele buzz could’ve fueled him to make his pronouncement. But he’s not wrong. The lineup of MMFF is solid proof of that.
The first words that came out of my mouth, and I think the whole nation, was: “T—–, seryoso ba ‘to?!” People might’ve said that with a thrill or with disappointment, but we all could agree that there was a moment of disbelief. No Vice Ganda, no Enteng Kabisote, and no infidelity film in sight. Did the Honor Thy Father incident from last year take a toll on them? Probably. Regardless, the decision of the MMFF committee was groundbreaking. For us up-and-comers and those from the indie scene, it sparks hope for new and innovative storylines to be heard. Filipinos are so rich in culture and possess vast imaginations. Widening the platform and giving new breath to the industry is just what we all need. But after a couple of days, the commercial veterans made the line in the sand clear. Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, and Mother Lily wouldn’t stand for it. “Christmas is not the time for indie films,” they said. “Paano ang mga bata?” they said. The last one was weird because it doesn’t take a film student to know that indie films aren’t perverts that’ll molest your children.
Their statements were annoying, that’s a given. Me? I was disappointed, but I wasn’t shocked. The industry is ruthless. That’s a golden rule for all of us studying it. One would think they’d have an ounce of respect for their fellow filmmakers/industry compatriots. But that’s just not how things work here. Their statements are far from inspiring. Rather than pass the torch, they put it in an impenetrable glass chamber. A part of me thought that maybe they wouldn’t mind leveling the playing field, encouraging them to break the barriers or the rules that the pioneers had set. Rules were made to be broken, after all. That’s how history is made.
“The film revolution is on the move and it’s happening.”
Don’t get me wrong. Indie films don’t always equate to “good,” and commercial films don’t always equate to “bad.” But what I’ve learned so far is they differ in terms of valuing the story. What disappoints people in commercial films is the product placements, the kilig porn with the love teams, the out-of-place slapstick — factors that muddle the story into non-existence. Your foundation is the story. With the story gone, everything falls apart. But this is more than just a talk of quality. What’s happening right now is leveling the playing field. Honestly, whatever happens, Vic Sotto will never lose an audience, nor will Mother Lily’s films. Commercial films will always have this form of respect in the country regardless of quality. So to see films that oppose the well-known norm, seeing fresh ideas onscreen, is life-changing. It says to us future industry movers and shakers that “kaya pala.” It is possible. This film revolution is on the move and it’s happening.
Filipino cinema has a rich and complicated history just like our nation. Life imitates art, so they say. In the early 2000s, indie films were still crawling their way to the arms of acceptance of the industry and the Filipino audience. The studio system seemed to still reign in Juan’s eye. But everything changed in the latter part of the decade, especially now with this lineup. Lav Diaz said during his talk in MINT College earlier this year that film is a young medium. The canvas is vast. It’s a medium that isn’t meant to be kept in a box. It should grow. To see it grow while you are growing not just an artist, but as a person, is monumental. Witnessing a revolution like this does that to you.