Film festivals have become a part of Pilipino culture, traditional events awaited with great enthusiasm like the coming of a town fiesta or someone else’s birthday. People in Manila and the nearby towns and cities are fortunate to eagerly await for the parade of stars on the opening day of the festivals and line up the streets to welcome and cheer their favorite movie idols riding on well decorated floats. The best float is awarded cash incentives of enormous amount which vary for every year to serve as incentive to all the people involved..
Film festivals usher a great opportunity for the film buffs to watch at least seven or at most ten films starring their favorite actors and actresses. At least the movie-going public is assured that the films competing in the festival are of cinematic quality, guaranteed ensemble performances and unquestionable caliber of the directors and producers.
The Manila Film Festival really began on June 1966 when Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas initiated the holding of the film festival in his attempt to encourage Pilipino producers to make quality pictures and to assure public patronage of these locally produced films.That year there were only two movie houses in Manila showing Pilipino films– Life theater along Quezon Boulevard and Dalisay theater along Rizal avenue. The other theaters in downtown Manila– Lyric and Capitol in Escolta, Universal, Avenue, State, Galaxy (where I saw the epic The Ten Commandments), Forum, and Odeon all along Rizal avenue and Cinerama, Times and Boulevard on Quezon Boulevard– were all showing Hollywood produced movies. Even Gala which specialized in the staging of burlesque shows ran English films in between breaks. But Globe, Center and Illusion exhibited Tagalog films in double programs. But quality Tagalog films produced by Sampaguita Pictures, LVN Productions, Tagalog Ilang-Ilang, and small outfits like Everlasting Films usually had their first run at Dalisay and Life.
During the June 1966 First Manila Film Festival, Daigdig Ng Mga Api of Cinemasters Inc. Phil. romped away with the best picture. Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak of Nepomuceno Productions starring the late Charito Solis was the 1967 best picture. Manila Open City also of Nepomuceno Productions was the 1968 best picture. Patria Adorada of JE Productions was best picture of 1969. The following year, 1970, saw Dimasalang of Junar Productions as best picture. In 1971, Cadena de Amor of Lea Productions was best picture. Junar Productions’ Elias, Basilio and Sisa was the 1972 best picture. Nueva Vizcaya of Roda Films Productions was the 1973 best picture. The 1974 best picture was Alaala Mo, Daigdig Ko of Virgo Productions.
In the next fifteen years, between 1975 to 1990, there was no Manila Film Festival. The festival was resumed in 1991 during the celebration of Araw Ng Maynila which fell on June 24, the feast of Saint John with Kailan Ka Magiging Akin of Vision Films as best picture. The following year, 1992, the best film was Cordora (Lulutang Ka Sa Sariling Dugo) was adjudged best picture. In 1993, Dolzura: Dahil Mahal Kita of Octoarts Productions was the winner of the best picture award. Maalaala Mo Kaya of Star Cinema Productions was the 1994 best picture and Sa’yo Lamang of Regal Films was the best picture of 1995.
The 1995 Manila Film Festival was the most controversial film fest because of a scam involving prominent figures in the film industry. It caused the film career of a very popular actor involved in the scam who unashamedly cried infront of TV cameras during the investigation. A well loved talent manager was slapped conviction by serving in a community service work. It was the death of the film festival, so everybody in the industry thought. The popular actor, now living in another country, the controvesial talent manager and some other movie personalities during the awards night were involved in the switching of envelopes containing the name of the real winner. But that is now water under the bridge.
In the mid-70′s, the Big Four composed of Sampaguita Pictures, LVN Productions, Premiere Productions and Libran Productions were the dominant film producers. It was a common observation among them that during the Christmas season, hordes of moviegoers flocked to theaters which made the holidays the highest grossing playdates of the year. Since Sampaguita Pictures and LVN Productions were managing the two big theaters for Tagalog films, Life and Dalisay, their films were shown exclusively in these theaters. But on Christmas of 1965, Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas of Manila issued an ordinance imposing the “No Standing Room” rule in all theaters in Manila.
The late Doc Perez of Sampaguita Pictures made a move to counter the “No Standing Room” policy of the city of Manila, instead to put into practice the requirement of Section 18(m) of the Republic Act # 409 widely known as the Revised Charter of the City of Manila . It was clear in the said Law that moviehouses should at least show 10% of films locally produced. This ran counter with the strong Hollywood lobby.
Because of the difficult reasons at hand and in time with the Araw Ng Maynila celebration, Mayor Antonio J. Villegas passed an ordinance creating that day as an exclusive day for showing only local films.
In February 1966, Mayor Villegas met with the members of the Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association at Casa Marcos in Roxas Boulevard . Atty. Espiridion Laxa was then the president of the association. For two weeks, in time with the Christmas season, only Tagalog films will be shown in all movie houses in Manila The plan was accepted by the whole PMPPA with great unanimous jubilation.
But few members of the association had reservation over the prospect of a successful festival. Can all the producers provide copies of their films to all the moviehouses in Manila ? Another problem was the fact that at that time, there were moviehouses which had already scheduled imported films for exhibition in the coming weeks.
The next step for Mayor Villegas was to call for a meeting with the PMPPA and all the theater owners headed by Johnny Litton, Don Marcos Roces, Don Ernesto Rufino, Bobby Yang and others. Mr. Litton disagreed to the idea fearing that the local producers might not be able to comply with the requirements. They were not sure if the Tagalog film audience will patronize the local films. This had never happened before.
Mayor Villegas offered a compromise agreement. He said he will pull out all the Tagalog films if the people will not troop to the moviehouses to patronize them and replace them with English films He also promised to suspend the provision of Republic Act # 409. Media people were organized to drumbeat the festival, in their columns, over the radio and television programs. Days before the parade of stars, media men invited everybody to watch the parade of stars on the eve of the festival. There was an uproar and shouts of jubilations as the parade snaked through the streets of Manila starting at the Luneta Grandstand, through Escolta to Recto Avenue , through Quezon Boulevard and back to the Grandstand. It was a roaring success and the Mayor realized he was right after all.
Then Vice President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Jun Aristorenas, Jing Abalos and Jess Lapid rode their well-shaped horses with the Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas leading the parade in his decorated tiburin. The rest is history.
(To be continued)