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MARIE YUVIENCO | Popcorn Fridays
The online news portal of TV5

A lot of people have been saying -- people who are in a position to say such things -- for some time now, that Philippine cinema is dead.

Competition from Hollywood is simply too fierce, not to mention piracy is rampant. Then there’s television, which offers free programming in one’s own living room. 

But perhaps the greatest reason for the death of Philippine cinema is the dearth of creative imagination. William Howard Taft once described us as a people “of an artistic temperament in the imitative sense,” a summation which says it all.

I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of local movies. Too often, I find them to be shallow and commerce-driven, especially the latter which, by and of itself, should not be taken as necessarily bad -- it is hard to penalize studios and filmmakers for keeping an eye on the bottom line because it’s a jungle out there, as audiences are fickle and it is impossible to tell which movies will sell and which will not. The few good Filipino movies do make it to the screen from time to time, but they are exceptions which prove the rule.

For that reason, I entertained some misgivings when the folks responsible for the 2016 edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival said they were changing the acceptance criteria to, among other goals, promote audience development and champion the sustainability of the local movie industry.

And indeed, the program for this year’s film fest did not include the usual suspects, hoary stand-bys like Shake, Rattle and Roll, Enteng Kabisote and Mano Po which are franchises that I am sure have their fans but which leave me numb as a moviegoer. In their stead are less star-driven vehicles and for the first time ever-ever, a documentary, a line-up which the film fest committee hopes represent a leveling-up in quality.

Quality, however, is relative.

I raised a constitutional eyebrow when told of the new criteria. Aren’t new, supposedly higher criteria just a fancy form of prior restraint? The government, I thought, had no business limiting the viewing options of the public in the name of quote-unquote quality. If the Filipino audience wants to watch mindless pap, let them. Who is the government to tell them how to spend their money anyway?

Then there’s the disconnect. 

Film critics and the general public do not exist on the same cinematic plane. They do not talk the same language, they do not share the same desires -- one camp wants to be entertained, the other wants an edifying viewing experience -- and they do not have the same vision for the industry. So to have bluestockings dictate what the people can watch for ten days during the holiday season seems to me to be an exercise in condescension, as though the average Filipino moviegoer was a child again in the first grade being indoctrinated as to the difference between Cinema with a capital C and just plain, old movies.

Word of mouth, though, convinced me to fork over a few hunnies to watch Saving Sally. 

I thought it was the one about OFWs, which used to be my advocacy hence my interest, but it wasn’t. No film critic am I, so I will restrict myself only to saying that Saving Sally validates the new rules because it captures the essence of any movie, that is, it is visual storytelling. It fuses live action with animation, and you can tell from the visuals that it was a labor of love on the part of the creative team. Production design, I thought, was a winner, and the visual effects were really impressive in their attention to detail and tongue-in-cheek humor.

What I like most about it was that it straddled the line between the passable rom-com and what I like to call a malunggay film for, you know, something you don’t really want to eat but which is supposed to be good for you. A malunggay film is one that tackles a Serious Subject or Theme that the audience does not really want to see but the watching of which is supposed to better them.

What Saving Sally wants to say is that, hey, we have great animators here, capable of generating original content, so why are we not getting the government assistance that we need, the way Japan does to nurture its native animation industry, or even China? And more than government support, we need audience support, too.

Let’s face it, the local animation industry needs all the help it can get. In macro terms, the entire Philippine movie industry needs all the help it can get. 

When we were studying labor law, we were given as an example of bagoong-making as a vital industry; we turned up our noses at this until it was explained to us that bagoong supports a lot of downstream industries such as the making of bottles, plastic caps, not to mention fishing, salt and even bottle-recycling.

The movie industry is a better example, I would think. It supports a lot of allied crafts and professions -- you only need to stay around for the credits and then you’ll see the employment opportunities the making of a movie provides. I’m not just talking of the actors and the creative team, but of the caterers, the drivers, the legal and accounting support, the tech people, the advertising, what have you.

Hollywood generates a sizable chunk of the revenues of California, so the state supports it, and I do not see why the government cannot do the same thing here.

Saving Sally makes me want to watch the rest of the MMFF’s offerings, so I can confidently say with a heart that the new rules are a success. We’ve always had our Christmas traditions so it’s about time to add a new one: patronize the Metro Manila Film Festival in this year’s edition and those to follow.

Tangkilikin ang sariling atin.

See you at the movies!