The Manila Film Festival was created in 1966 by the late Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas to help local producers come up with quality movies. But the first batch of festival films came up with English titles and nary a Tagalog title was included in the batch. Lets take a look at the titles of the films film shown during that particular film festival: Triggerman, Gunfighter, Till the End of Time, Sabotage, The Passionate Strangers, Target: Domino, Flight of the Sparrow, Mr. Humble Boy, Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six and Brides of Blood Island . It was one for Ripley indeed..
At that time, the moviegoing public, specially critics, had the propensity to pass sweeping judgment to local films, denigrating them as inferior to Hollywood or foreign movies. Our local pictures were then being filmed in 45 shooting days, at a cost of more or less a million pesos compared with foreign pictures, usually filmed for more than one year at a cost of a whooping million dollars.
Nevertheless, there were times that Filipino filmmakers were able to produce films which the American critics lauded as superb and fantastic vis-a-vis the budgetary constraints and the minimal number of days to shoot the film. Apologists for Filipino films were therefore left to wonder why our local audience refuse to appreciate our local movies in favor of imported foreign films. Well-meaning publicists for local films lashed at the mental dishonesty of critics who refused to recognize the competence and ingenuity of Filipino filmmakers inspite of the favorable reviews of foreign media writers.
Since 1966, film festivals were held in June and December, both playdates anticipated by local moviegoers who were hungry for good Filipino films. From 1966 with Daigdig ng mga Api as Manila Film Festival best picture to 1974 with Ala-ala Mo , Daigdig Ko (Virgo Productions) as best picture, the Manila Film Festival actually was able to fulfill its role of generating quality films. But from 1975 to 1990, there was no Manila Film Festival. It was only revived in 1991 with Kailan Ka Magiging Akin? by Vision Film as best picture. It was during the term of Mayor Alfredo H. Lim that a scam in declaring the winner for best actor happened. It could have caused the death of the Manila Film Festival which nonetheless was continued the following year.
But in 1990, local filmmakers tried to invade foreign film festivals. The late National Artist for Film Lino Brocka made it to the Toronto Film Festival in Canada with his Macho Dancer , with then teenage actor Allan Paule in the lead role. It did not win awards in that year’s festival but the movie made ripples as the first Filipino movie to make it big in Toronto festival, also cornering distribution and video rights in Canada and the U. S. That singular movie made the foreign filmmakers aware of the presence of top-caliber directors, actors and writers in the Philippines.
Macho Dancer started a series of films showing the sensitivity of human relationships through a Filipino perspective. David Overbey, the Asian programmer for the Toronto Film Festival, never forgot that Lino Brocka movie. Several years after Brocka’s death, Overbey contacted the late director’s friends and asked them to make movies similar to Macho Dancer. Director Mel Chionglo made Sibak in 1995 and Burlesk King in 1997 to complete a trilogy for the film festival.
Sibak starred unknown Gandong Cervantes, Alex del Rosario, Lawrence David and R. S. Francisco as the macho dangers with Rey Ventura and Perla Bautista playing the parents of some of these male dancers. The film was produced by Richard Tang of Tangent Films. Sibak was brought by Vouter Barendrecht with 14 distributions territories in 12 countries with contracts running up to 1999. After these outstanding movies, more films participated in foreign festivals and won accolades for the efforts.
Meanwhile in the local front, more film festivals and award-giving affairs sprouted like mushrooms. Award-giving became a yearlong schedule because of too many groups granting awards a dime a dozen. There was the Famas Award, the Film Academy of the Philippines awards (the industry awards), the Manila Film Festival awards in June (not held this year), the Metro Manila Film Festival in December, the Star Awards of the entertainment press (with a spinoff awards that held its first award-giving this year), the Urian awards of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the Pink Festival of third sex films, the Cinemanila International Film Festival, the Cine Malaya Video Film Festival, the Cinema One originals, a festival of digital films, and many other festivals in the country that give more energy and enthusiasm to veteran film producers and the new independent filmmakers.
With the holding of so many different film festivals in the country today, one can only dismiss the fact that the local film industry is dying. For this writer, the emergence of film festivals for independent filmmakers or digital movies is enough indication that the Filipino film industry is actually getting its second wind and breathing life back to Philippine cinema.
(To be continued)