Is the Cinemalaya Politicized?
Political consideration could threaten the very ideals why Cinemalaya has been established.
Eugene Domingo, the Best Actress winner for the People’s Choice Award on the recently ended Asian Film Derby for her movie “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” (The woman in the Septic Tank) could have been the inspiration behind the creeping politicization of the Cinemalaya. The Cinemalaya is an organization which seeks to safeguard the freedom of expression thru the making of indie films. The Cinemalaya also aims to amass film enthusiasts thru its promotion and distribution. In its six year history, however, as the Cinemalaya begins to see the fulfillment of its objective, it is now seduced by political consideration which could threaten the very ideals why Cinemalaya has been established. Indie films made under the auspices of the Cinemalaya through the years earned critical acclaimed locally and internationally. Brilliante Mendoza for example, won the Best Picture and Best Director award at the Torino Film Festival in 2006 for his film Manoro (The Aeta Teacher) and subsequently, he also won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for his film “Serbis”. T
he film “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Olivares”, (The Blossoming of Maximo Olivares) likewise, had been a finalist in different international film derby, and won the Best Feature Film and the Best Actor Award in some. Because of these internationally acclaimed films, the Cinemalaya, gained recognition and regarded as a beacon of hope for the nearly dying mainstream movie industry. Those personalities in the mainstream movie industry – actors, and others, took an interest to get a ride on for the exposure, convinced to do an indie film though with small pay. Likewise, unknown actors and directors of the local indie film who obtain a marquee broke into the mainstream - Coco Martin is one. In the 2011 Cinemalaya’s film competition, an indie film entry “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” which starred Eugene Domingo, catapulted into the cusp of Cinemalaya’s coveted glory. Not only that the film garnered critical acclaimed but also the film is a smash box office hit - a rare twin combination to hit a home run.
The film won major awards in different categories, became the Philippine’s Official entry in the 2011 US Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and the first ever in the history of the Cinemalaya that an indie film grossed 38.4 million, locally. Inebriated perhaps by the big success of the “Ang Babae”, in the 2012 New Breed Category film competition, when the Cinemalaya selected the ten final film entries which will get its 500,000 funding grants, politics worked out in the sidelines. The grant is an incentive to selected filmmaker who can produce a film which exemplifies artistic integrity, while freely interpreting the Filipino spirit and sensibilities. “MNL 143” by Emerson Reyes, was one of the 10 films chosen as finalist. Robie Tan, head of the Seiko Movie Production before and now Cinemalaya’s festival monitoring head, did not like the lead casting of “MNL 143”, originally envisioned by the filmmaker for Alan Paule and Joy Viado. Robie Tan pushed for Victor Neri and Francine Prieto, instead. Emerson Reyes objected, and didn’t compromise. So, Laurice Guillen, Cinemalaya’s head, penned a letter dropping off “MNL 143” as finalist citing that the lead actors envisioned by Emerson Reyes for his film is “not suited to the material”. The ruckus questioned the word “malaya” (free) embodied in the Cinemalaya’s name.
It is also in contrast with the organization’s missions and objectives which is giving the filmmaker the full freedom of how they will create and interpret their own film. Furthermore, the episode seems to indicate that Cinemalaya, also, is reeks of politics. Perhaps, for Robie Tan, he is in good faith in just wanting to duplicate the success of “Ang Babae” to put Cinemalaya’s fund grant to optimum use for “MNL 143” by pushing the lead casts other than what Emerson Reyes wanted for his film. But in the case of “Ang Babae”, the choice of Eugene Domingo as the film’s lead star conformed to Marlon Rivera’s envision for his film.
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