The 49th edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is all set to unfold December 25 of this year, with 10 films vying for assorted festival prizes and awards.
It used to be limited to eight entries but the flood of submissions was such that the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which manages the festival, decided to add two more entries.
MMDA acting chair and MMFF concurrent chair Don Artes announced there were a total of 26 total entries. “It’s a record number for script submissions.”
Lawyer Artes is elated that the chosen films featured the country’s top actors.
This year’s selection committee is headed by veteran industry practitioner Jesse Ejercito and director Roy Iglesias.
Ejercito replaced veteran actress Boots Anson Roa-Rodrigo who begged off as she was in the cast of one of the entries.
The lucky 10 chosen are said to represent the best of films produced for the year. They include:
Becky and Badette (The Ideafirst Company), written and directed by Jun Robles and starring Eugene Domingo and Pokwang;
Broken Hearts Trip (Smart Films Productions), directed by Lemuel Lorca and starring, Jaclyn Jose and Christian Bables;
Firefly (GMA Pictures), directed by Zig Madamba and starring Alessandra de Rossi, Euwenn Mikaell, Yayo Aguila, Cherry Pie Picache, Miguel Tanfelix, Ysabel Ortega, and Dingdong Dantes;
Gomburza (Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc.), directed by Pepe Diokno and starring Dante Rivero, Cedric Juan, Enchong Dee, and Piolo Pascual;
Mallari (Mentorque Productions), directed by Derick Cabrido and starring Janella Salvador and again, Piolo Pascual;
When I Met You in Tokyo, directed by Conrado Peru, Rommel Penesa and Christopher de Leon (JG Productions). It stars Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon;
Family of Two (Cineko Productions, Inc.), directed by Nuel Naval and starring Sharon Cuneta and Alden Richards;
K(Ampon) (Quantum Films), directed by King Palisoc and starring Beauty Gonzalez and Derek Ramsay;
Penduko (Sari Sari Network & Viva Films), directed by Jason Paul Laxamana and starring Matteo Guidicelli and Cristine Reyes; and
Rewind (ABS-CBN Film Productions, APT Entertainment and Agostodos Pictures), directed by Mae Cruz-Alviar and starring the husband-and-wife team of Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes
The idea for a Metro Manila film festival actually started in 1966 when then Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas inaugurated the Manila Film Festival in the summer, just in time for the celebration of the city’s foundation day in June.
Its main objective was to get Filipino films screened in first-run theaters which at that time only catered to American films.
Beginning 1966, the Manila Film Festival became the harbinger of modest, yet exceptional films—Daigdig ng Mga Api (1966), Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak (1967), Manila, Open City (1968), Patria Adorada (1969), Dimasalang (1970), Cadena de Amor (1971), Elias, Basilio at Sisa (1972), Nueva Vizcaya (1973) and Alaala mo Daigdig Ko (1974).
The movie festival was so successful that by 1975, it expanded its reach to include other Metro Manila cities. From that year onwards, it became known as the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), officially opening on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and ran until the first week of the New Year.
The first few years of the festival yielded cinema gems, with film watchers calling the festival output as the “second golden age of Filipino cinema.”
The most awarded films would survive the years and lived up to the standards of seasoned cineastes, with such entries as Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), Insiang (1976), Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976), Burlesk Queen (1977), Rubia Servios (1978), Atsay (1978), Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979), Langis at Tubig (1980), Ang Panday (1980), Kisapmata (1980), Bona (1980), Himala (1982), and Karma (1986), among others.
The MMFF also brought out the best films of directors Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike De Leon, Eddie Romero, Celso Ad. Castillo, and the now National Artist for Film Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Jose Rizal, Muro-ami and Bagong Buwan).
Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? won the top prizes in 1976—Eddie Romero (Best Film), Christopher de Leon (Best Actor), and Lutgardo Labad (Best Music).
GROSS VS. ART
As quality films remained top newsmakers of the festival, the need for commercial income slowly began to outshine artistic consideration.
A keen observer of the festival goings-on put it bluntly: “But like all endeavors, where politicians and their numerous cohorts are involved, the MMFF’s reason for being was too good to last. Through the years, the event gradually evolved into a purely moneymaking venture. Quality became an afterthought—starting in the mid ’80s—as the festival’s screening committee put more emphasis on a film’s potential to make money.”
In 2013, the MMFF top grosser was a movie titled, My Little Bossings. Film critic Philbert Dy called the film, “an insult” that “shows pure contempt for its audience.”
Other critics also panned the film, saying My Little Bossings was barely a movie; more like an extended advertisement for the roster of products endorsed by its producers (Kris Aquino and Vic Sotto) and stars (Bimby Aquino and Ryzza Mae Dizon).
“It doesn’t even attempt to hide the product placement within the context of a plot-driven scene,” said Dy.
Journalist and poet Lourd de Veyra wrote in a hilariously pained open letter to “Bossing” Vic Sotto on Spot.ph: “Hanggang ganito na lang ba?… Hindi kami nagbayad ng P220 para bentahan ng pancit canton, tinapay, sabong panlaba, cough syrup, at kung ano-ano pang produkto ang ine-endorse ninyong dalawa ni Kris Aquino. Ganoon na ba kayo ka-desperado? Hindi naman siguro.”
This year, the summer edition of the MMFF lured far superior entries than its Christmas edition namely: About Us but Not About Us, directed by Jun Lana; Apag megged by Brilliante Mendoza, with fairly entertaining movies—Here Comes the Groom, Pagputi Na Ang Buhok Ko, among others.
The most talked about and most widely reviewed entry was Lana’s About Us but Not About Us.
By a stroke of excellent writing and direction, Lana produced a masterpiece exploring the characters’ past and present without flashbacks thrown in.
There is no doubt About Us but Not About Us was the best entry in the 2023 Summer Metro Manila Film Festival.
Best director and best screenplay awardee Jun Lana reflected on how the film came about: “In the past, I always try to think of my audience every time I make a film. Not with this one. My only goal was simply to save myself. I was going through a lot and was severely depressed to the brink of suicide. Ashamed to ask for help from anyone, I turned to the one thing that has always given me comfort: writing. For three straight days, I wrote without a break, remembering and acknowledging many traumas that stifled me much of my life, including being molested repeatedly as a child. Part fiction, and part confessional, the film allowed me to expunge my demons, come to terms with my dark past, and take full control of my narrative.”
Last year’s 48th MMFF started with a bang, with the eight lucky entries making a pretty strong showing at the box office. It meant live audiences were back with a vengeance.
The lucky eight entries were: Deleter (Viva Communications), Family Matters (Cineko Productions), Mamasapano, Now It Can Be Told (Borracho Film), My Father, Myself (3:16 Media Network), Labyu with An Accent (ABS CBN), Nananahimik Ang Gabi (Rein Entertainment Productions), Partners in Crime (ABS CBN Film) and The Teacher (Ten17 Film).
But on the fifth day before the New Year, the box-office gross of the festival pointed to the more commercial films lording it over those with obvious artistic merit.
The initial, unofficial box office results were in favor of the Vice Ganda and Coco Martin starrers, Partners in Crime and Labyu with an Accent, respectively. The two films were closely followed by Mikhail Red’s Deleter and Nuel Naval’s Family Matters.
Last year’s most widely viewed by both seasoned and layman critics was no doubt Family Matters. It added 140 more theaters due to its strong box office clout.
Critics said the film possessed a taut and well-fleshed out screenplay by Mel del Rosario, with sensitive direction by Nuel Naval. And what a cohesive acting ensemble!
Why the film was not even nominated for best film and its acting ensemble totally ignored was a big question mark.
This is a perfect example of the film fest jurors totally isolated from the viewing public’s choice and with critics in perfect agreement with audiences.
But as they say, each according to the juror’s taste. In the end, audiences will have the final say.
How will this year’s MMFF edition turn out?
Will it amass the income it lost during the pandemic?
Will it yield another cinematic gem?
In 2011, the MMFF yielded P5 billion in revenue, when it ended its two-week run.
Despite the bigger earnings, the number of quality entries nosedived with comedians lording it over the awards night for films that gave comedy a tired, old, if embarrassing, image.
Whatever happened to the past editions of MMFF that turned out cinematic gems like Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal and Muro-Ami, which made the Filipino filmmaker at par with the world’s best?
Abaya caught the tail-end of the era of Filipino auteurs (film directors with a distinctive style), represented by Brocka, Bernal, Romero, Gerry de Leon, among others.
Of that period of Filipino filmmakers, Abaya had this to say: “They had creative autonomy from their producers for as long as they could collaborate on one thing that was of common interest which was casting. Then the director was pretty much left to execute a film according to their creative judgment and those directors were very well respected.”