The rebirth of the Famas

Famas, the Philippine film industry’s oldest award-giving body, has long been regarded as having diminished credibility and significance. When it started in the 1950s, the Famas was composed of prize-winning writers and A-list movie columnists, but its very membership has come into question through the years.

But lest we forget, this is actually the same award-giving body that has honored some of the most indelible performances in Philippine film history.

Some of the most respected actors in the industry like Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Eddie Garcia, Gloria Romero and Vilma Santos have won in the Famas. Thespians that have gone ahead, like Dolphy, Lolita Rodriguez, Rita Gomez and Charito Solis, all have had their Famas moments, too.

Over its checkered history, specifically during the early-1990s up to a few years ago, the Famas would sadly be marred by all sorts of controversies—vote buying, politico-producer-actors sweeping the awards, studs and starlets getting back-to-back wins, ham actors from major studios taking home trophies, and many other incomprehensible results and unfathomable decisions.

We recall a stage mother of yore who accused some members of the organization of allegedly accepting a bribe to make her child star daughter win. Alas, the little girl went home empty-handed post-awards night, without a Famas trophy to regale her mother’s friends with.  It reached a point where it became a yearly pastime among entertainment-industry practitioners to anticipate the next blunders Famas would commit, from nominations collectively met with raised eyebrows to blatantly undeserving winners. The body would become a butt of jokes, perceived as an empty spectacle.

Just when showbiz buffs and industry insiders had all but given up on the Famas, it sprang a surprise this year with a kickoff event to announce its nominees. People were taken aback, even shocked, by the roster of nominees in the major categories. But it was a good kind of jolt.

Except for the Star Cinema-produced Love You to the Stars and Back, the Best Picture picks are acclaimed indies like Balangiga, Birdshot, Paki and Respeto, among others.

There are 10 Best Actor nominees and it was definitely a treat to see the likes of Noel Comia Jr., the boy boxer wannabe in Kiko Boksingero; Nonie Buencamino, who gave an incisive performance in Smaller and Smaller Circles; Bembol Roco, who gave a deceptively quiet, yet heartbreaking, performance as the returning father in the touching family drama What Home Feels Like; and Justine Samson, the boy discovery from Balangiga, among the nominees. The aforementioned are names that are not exactly awards bait for award-giving bodies that give more premium on popularity and visibility.

The Best Actress category is as hotly contested, with heavy favorites like Joanna Ampil for Ang Larawan, Angeli Bayani for Bagahe and Iza Calzado for Bliss. Nice surprises who are looming to be the underdogs include Max Eigenmann for Kulay Lila ang Gabi na Binudburan pa ng mga Bituin and Dexter Doria for Paki.

However, two of the finest performances by a lead actress last year, Eula Valdes as the maternal hitwoman in Neomanila, and Mary Joy Apostol as the quiet rural girl who learns to fight back in Birdshot, are conspicuously missing in the list.

The Best Supporting Actor race is predicted to be a toss-up between Dido de la Paz for Respeto and Jess Mendoza for Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig, who were also said to be the biggest contenders in the same category at the last Cinemalaya. It was also truly satisfying to see Cebuana actress Chai Fonacier of Respeto and the underrated Yayo Aguila of Kiko Boksingero in the Best Supporting Actress category.

What spelled Famas’s complete turnaround is having respected screenwriter Ricky Lee at the helm as head of the selection committee. Lee personally handpicked the members of his screening and selection committee.

While some quarters, obviously sourgraping, are said to be not happy with this rebirth and redemption of Famas, this development is certainly a step in the right direction. Dissenting opinions, especially the ones that are duly substantiated and well-thought-out, should be given weight. The differences in opinion and points of view only make the practice of handing out awards something to ponder on, most notably in an era when award-giving bodies have been greatly perceived as a dime a dozen.

And just like that, thanks to industry icon Ricky Lee and his jury members, prestige is back in the Famas once more.

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With more than 20 years as a lifestyle and entertainment journalist, Ricky Gallardo is also a businessman. Equipped with decades of advertising experience, his interests include arts, cinema, fitness and communications.

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