In 1997, the film industry in the country was still churning out a respectable output of 187 films but from that year onwards, it was all downhill.
There were 147 films in 1998, 118 films in 1999, 86 films in 2000, 94 films in 2001, 91 films in 2002, 82 films in 2003 and 52 films in 2004. As of October this year, there were only 37 local films already exhibited.
A confluence of reasons caused this alarming downtrend in film production. The catalog of reasons includes high taxes and the prohibitive cost of production as well as talents fees of superstars, formidable competition from foreign films, television, cable and video products, piracy and the discouraging economic situation.
There are exorbitant taxes on the importation of raw film stock, on every material bought, rented or hired in production, on the processing of prints, and on the films’ distribution and exhibition.
National Artist for Film Eddie Romero had an explanation for this. He said that under the tariff code adapted during the American regime in the early 1900s, movies were classified as a non-essential enterprise. The situation has remained and been retained ever since. He added that movies are lumped in the same category as cockpits, horse racing, alcohol, cigaret and massage parlors.
Films, in other words, must be given the same official recognition that has long been accorded to the press, radio and television by amending the Internal Revenue Code to reclassify film production as an essential industry.
Director Romero concluded: This will free the film industry from all taxes and other impositions that have severely restricted its progress for more than 85 years.
But there are other problematic realities that confront us today. Many theaters had closed shop nationwide as the era of the cinemaplexes gained foothold. We have been harping for too long about the perennial problem of piracy. There are other peripheral problems but they also contributed to the present malaise where we find the local film industry now languishing.
These include the stiff competition from TV, cable and video. Films now play second fiddle to these entertainment outlets. Actors and actresses now regard TV as their main source of assignments and income. The professionalism of filmmakers and workers has also changed, albeit on the negative side.
After going through the negative or minus factors that caused about the film industry’s decline, let us focus on the plus factors or the few bright notes and signs that augur for a possible renaissance in Philippine cinema. Hoping for a Third Golden Age might seem far-fetched at this point in time but the challenge is there for us to face and surmount.
We can admit that yes, indeed, Philippine cinema is dying. But it is not dead. But it will really be a heck of a formidable task reviving it.
The filmmakers, the craftsmen and technicians, the performers, the producers cannot do it by themselves. Government must step in and help. And ultimately the movie-going public must support everything.
But indeed there are a few bright and encouraging signs. And the brightest light at the end of the tunnel is the over-achievement made by video (digital) films in the realm of Philippine cinema.
There is literally an outburst of video full-length feature films and these films have broken grounds by breaking out of the narrow confines of the independent film circuit. With film production programs like Cine Malaya, Cine One and Cinemanila, independent video films have really broken down barriers and were exhibited in film festivals abroad, some even garnering awards.
Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was adjudged best film in the Montreal Film festival in September. Masahista won an award in the Locarno Film festival. Four films made in video have been rated by the Cinema Evaluation Board (formerly the Film Ratings Board) entitling them to rebates during their commercial run. These included Santa Santita (rated A), Mga Pusang Gala (rated B), Pinoy Blonde (rated B) and Ilusyon (rated A).
Video films are also shown in some theaters in their video format. Though the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the UP Film Institute are the major venues for these showings, even commercial theaters are now exhibiting these video films without the need to transfer them into 35 mm prints.
There is a growing number of video film directors, mostly from film schools like UP, La Salle , Ateneo and UST, among others.
But things are picking up in the mainstream film production as well. In reality, some mainstream films were shot in video and transferred to 35 mm prints for their theatrical release. These included Santa Santita and Pinoy Blonde , both rated by the CEB.
Today, there is a flurry of shootings of film projects for the 2005 Metro Manila Film Festival.
What are the other bright points?
The encouragement of quality films is ongoing. We have at least seven award-giving bodies at present, including the Luna Awards of the Film Academy of the Philippines , the FAMAS, the URIAN, the Star Awards, the Golden Screen Awards, the Catholic Mass Media Awards and the Young Critics Circle.
The Cinema Evaluation Board of the Film Development Council of the Philippines is still rating films to entitle them to a 100 percent rebate of amusement taxes if rated A and 65 percent if rated B.
The government is doing its share through such agencies as the FDCP, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
In the crusade against film piracy, the new Optical Media Board has intensified efforts to lessen if not totally eradicate the piracy menace.
The country’s legislature is crafting various bills to lessen taxes imposed on the film industry and to provide subsidies or other support programs to benefit the industry.
But National Artist for Film Director Eddie Romero still emphasized that aside from re-classifying film production as an essential industry in the Internal Revenue Code, a new law must be enacted to require all movie theaters to collect an additional two pesos for all tickets sale on the exhibition of all local and foreign films.
Director Romero explained the mechanics of this proposal. He said that these collections will be remitted to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts which will establish an endowment to be called the National Film Development Fund. He added that producers of advertising or promotional short films be required to contribute a substantial fixed amount to the Fund for every movie commercial produced on film or video.
Thus an intensified effort to win back the local moviegoing public to patronize local films as ardently as the decades of the 70s to the 90s is imperative at this point in time. The need to open markets abroad must be a priority consideration of our producers. Professionalism and the resolve to craft quality films that approximate international standards must be instilled in most if not all the craftsmen and technicians in the industry.
Films are mirrors of present-day realities as well as troves of our historical identities. Like the other arts that preceded it—literature, music, painting, dance and stage—films bare the soul and spirit of a particular country and its people.
Saving Philippine Cinema is not only imperative at this point in our history. It must be a national commitment, a firm resolve.