By Vince M. Ragay
As a participant in the ongoing Digital Cinematography Workshop hosted by the Film Academy of the Philippines through a grant by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, I have come to recognize the depth of interest and commitment of those who see this field as a rich source of artistic and commercial expression. One wonders where all these people have been all this time and how come they have crept out only now from oblivion (my own oblivion, of course) to try to make a difference in what many tout as a dying industry. If it is truly dying, how did these people with so much talent and experience survive? For how can one sustain enthusiasm in something that cannot even bring you the least satisfaction, say the monetary kind? And to think that many of them have been practitioners in the industry for many years. They lived with and live because of the industry and now gasp with it at its demise. So to hear them speak out lovingly of their chosen craft and share their visions for it cannot but lead you to admire their invincible idealism and heroism.
There is hope even in the darkening world of movies.
Beyond hoping though, this singular event only proves how artists cope with any kind of situation by their love for the craft. Dreamers feed on their dreams and so relentlessly pursue their craft by conquering their human instincts which others would otherwise allow to conquer them.
We know that ours is a country teeming with great musicians and singers, and TV proves that obvious fact. Serious film-making, however, has not truly made a great impact in our national consciousness because of the greater attraction of Hollywood films and the stagnant quality churned out by local producers. Other Asian nations have shown us that you don’t have to be in Hollywood to make great films. Or, for that matter, that we should always follow Western economic models to become a developing country.
Quality represents one prized value that seeks to rise even in the most ordinary thing or the simplest of human activities. And so we see it and continually seek it out in the products of the likes of Bruckheimer, Spielberg and even Disney. That it has almost exclusively hypnotized our minds to end up preferring Hollywood films, somehow helped to bring the local film economy to its knees. Under the shadows of internationally acclaimed films, our own producers strive to un-strangle themselves to bring enough breath to our struggling industry. Honestly speaking, even the hype created by the new digital-cinematographic format has not effectively captured the imagination of our movie-going masses. This is so for several reasons.
Firstly, the phenomenon has been limited to activities, again, within Metro Manila. This reinforces the criticism leveled against “imperial Manila”. Although some of these films end up being shown nationwide, the hype created by holding festivals (in the land of fiestas, is there any other way to catch attention?) is lost for other reasons that follow. And so, secondly, such films which do carry great potentials in terms of technical as well as artistic experimentation, lose out to the more socially-safe and commercially-acceptable formats the masses are used to; that is, soap opera, slapstick-comedy and action movies. The trails left by FPJ, Dolphy and Nora Aunor seem like ghostly paths that still mesmerize many of our baby-boomer producers.
Likewise, our moviegoers share in this sentimental affinity to our collective “bakya-crowd” (now more appropriately referred to as “celebrity-driven”) mentality in film production. As children, we all went through such a phase (how many people have swooned at FPJ and Susan Roces or at Gretchen and Piolo films?). But we know that there will always be Brockas who will break out of the mediocre mold and bring fresh perspective and maturity to this latently multi-dimensional art-form. Yet, so far, they are and they will always be more of exceptions that the rule. For such is the law of genius – the stars explode in brilliance just before they expire. But why can’t genius burn brightly like the sun? Humans that we are, we would soon take it for granted like we do the sun and prefer to dwell in the night.
Finally, money drives the engines of this industry from the very start of production through mass-media promotion and until a movie still has the power to attract buyers in its CD/DVD reincarnation. This is more so in the case of Hollywood films than in locally-made films. Why? Because quality attracts gold.
Not to be overly materialistic, quality also brings pleasure. And movies are all about pleasure. Money is secondary. Or, it should be. Well, at least, to a boy who has just learned to discover the joys of watching a movie, this is true. The fact is that we have all lost the innocence that comes with appreciating and creating works that bring lasting pleasure. We produce music now with the expectation of getting that platinum album (which really means sales). We discover talents now in the hope of building up the next Sharon Cuneta or Richard Gomez (which actually amounts to box-office hits). And so, we make movies now so we can drive the engines to continue to bring the gold in. The real artists have been overrun by business people. Oh, yes, there is also pleasure in this money-chase. Ultimately, we end up pleasing the big stars with their high fees and the public with their one-and-a-half-hour escape from their problems.
However, in our blind pursuit for short-lived pleasure, we lose our innocence. The main reason we say that ”they no longer make movies the way they used to” is because a big part of ourselves longs to return to that childhood innocence when we considered movies not as mere fantasy or make-believe but a genuine part of ourselves where we genuinely experienced how it is to be a true hero, to taste real adventure, to feel genuine love and to live boundless life. Movies reflected our noble desire to be more than what we were. Movies were a kind of school that produced men and women of integrity. Today, movies tend to make us feel less than what we are. So much emphasis on technology and artificiality has led us to replace the real inner beauty that refreshes with the fake outer glamour that merely titillates.
Finding pleasure is a natural human function. How we go about doing it determines the kind of society we live in. For pleasure is not simply a biological need like eating. Animals also eat and some, like pigs, find pleasure in doing so all day long. Even goats have to sit still to chew their cud. So, we certainly would not eat when we are already filled. Yet, how many cars must a popular actor have before he starts giving back to the people by charging lesser fees? How many houses should our producers buy before they begin reducing their take? But like Fray Butod, many of our run-of-the-mill producers and third-rate actors cannot have enough of killings in the box-office. Their desire for more – coupled with their desire for more of the usual things — has done more to bring down the quality of local films and leading people to patronize Hollywood films. We cannot expect people to buy cheap, flat-tasting tuto-turo food when one can have clean, good-tasting MacDonald’s hamburger?
But we all know that turo-turo food is as nutritious or even more so than hamburger. We only need to package that which is intrinsically good with enough creativity to attract more people. A new generation of film-makers whose innocence (lack of greed for money and power) and creativity (surplus of technical skills, idealism and quality-life values) can spell the difference in the film industry as well as in other areas of our common life. Hopefully, this small but noble step taken by FAP will help create more awareness and thus help launch that much-awaited birth of that generation.
So, we keep dreaming good things for our country.