THE Manunuri, of course, refers to the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), which this writer chairs for this year. The critics group is considered the premier critics group in the country, and also the oldest.
This time of the year, from May to July, is the busiest for the critics. The screeners would have been gathered by May and until June, more screeners are sourced whenever necessary.
There is so much mystification in film criticism and being a film critic that, whenever there’s a chance, I like to describe and explain a bit what goes on in our meetings.
Like any group, we have meetings for socialization. We do have our own share of celebration. Contrary to what many people think, we’re not paid for our job. We all work outside being film critics. We teach in schools, with some of us having held positions as chairman of academic departments or deans of colleges of social sciences. In my case, I maintain a column for this newspaper, which helps me communicate my position about films and other matters related to the art and business of cinema.
In the papers I’ve delivered on film criticism, I have said over and over that the task of the film critic is a lonely one. While other people go home after watching a film and proceed to other acts or thoughts, we critics need to stay with the film, We need to re-view it. It pays, therefore, to belong to a group where one can discuss one’s take on particular films.
Where does film criticism for the Manunuri begin? It begins with a film and ends with a film.
The many film festivals and film concourses in the country helps. We try to watch all films shown during film fests. In most cases, one of us is asked to serve in the jury, in which case we’re assured of one member having viewed and reviewed a complete set of films. If not as jurors, we sit as member of the short-listing committee for films applying for entry into a film festival. In our meetings, we report on films we watched as jurors. We start making a mental short list of films to be considered. Remember, we are talking of some 50-plus short and full-length feature films, not to mention the documentaries.
Adding to the bulk of the list of films we need to consider are the film festivals happening outside Metro Manila. For the last three years, there has been a rise in regional cinema. As a member of the Executive Committee on Cinema for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, I get sure access to regional films. Many of these regional films figure as major entries for the Gawad Urian, the annual awards night we hold.
By March the meetings we have take on the format of a planning for the Gawad Urian. But before the awarding, we schedule meetings for the short-listing of films, the nomination night and, finally, the voting for winners.
The short list is never final. So long as the winners are not yet decided, the short list remains an open document, with no gatekeeper at all. When other films are remembered and vetted as worthy for consideration, the list can be expanded. The short list, therefore, is created to facilitate deliberation.
By April, or even as early as the first month of the year, screeners start trickling in. Producers and filmmakers voluntarily send their screeners. We start to gather them. We make copies of the screeners and distribute them to members. Everybody gets a copy even if he has seen the film already. The screeners act like a guide to the very rabid discussion that takes place in May and June.
By June we are swamped with screeners. By this month, we talk about films that matter. One member calls them “major”. These are films with impressive cinematography, screenplay, direction and performance. We also label films that stand out for performances of leads and supporting players, despite certain flaws. This year we had our nomination night in June. It is usually a long night for us. There was a year when we ended at two in the morning. This year, we finished at one in the morning.
How do we conduct the nomination?
Things begin with a small piece. As we are all teachers, we are experts in the use of paper and documentation. We prepare the small pieces of paper that are distributed to each of the member. The dining table is cleared and, there, we write our choices on the tiny sheet of paper.
We have different approaches to the nomination. There was a time when we deliberated on the merits of each film listed. That was tedious. This year we had some 20 films considered. Each time a category was mentioned, we scanned the list and talked about a film and its particular strength. The first category considered was Best Sound, at which point we called attention to a film with a creative use of sound. We talk, for example, how a film made use of silence as counterpoint to the noises created. After discussing certain films, we start voting. If a film is not mentioned, this doesn’t mean one can’t vote for it in terms of the category at hand.
We consider next, Best Music.
This should interest budding film critics: by the third category, Best Production Design, members are showing their own interest in certain films. When a film, for example, is not gaining the needed number, a member continues to push for it by writing down its name. When this happens—and it happens—a lot of teasing takes place, pointing, let’s say, to the questionable taste of a member.
By the time the category of Best Cinematography is reached, certain films begin to stand out. At this point, however, no mention of Best Film nominations is made. We sort of let the listing flow by itself. Personally, I find this almost laidback attitude to allow the best of the best to surface sheer fun. It is also a kind of discovery.
The discussion continues for each category. Passionate modifiers fly when Best Screenplay is tackled. The story being the spine upon which a film stands, the exchange can assume the air of a debate.
After the whole nominations are completed, we look back to find out if we had neglected certain films. When a film that in discussion was deemed major fails to land in certain categories, we go back and discuss it further.
By the way, one member reads the criteria for each category. We know them by heart but we still read the criteria to systematically remind us of our standard. Another member reads the vote. Two members tally the points. The chairman gets to keep the small sheet of paper on which are written the choices.
The voting is not done in secret; in fact, members have to sign at the bottom of each sheet of paper.
We will choose the winners in July, a few days before the Gawad Urian, to be held on July 20 at a place to be disclosed later.