Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino versus independent cinema (an analysis in two parts)

by Arnel Mutia Mardoquio*

▶︎ This series is not a criticism of the directors and films that were part of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018: they are the only reason we should even support this festival at all. Many of this festival’s films were made by filmmakers molded and cradled by independent cinema; it is undoubtedly these films that bring honor to the PPP.

On a superficial level, the PPP’s declarations of wanting to support the industry of independent cinema makes it an honorable project. But close scrutiny reveals otherwise. In fact, on its second year what has become clearer is how its motivations are bound to the interests of capital and its control of the film industry. The new rules of PPP 2018 are designed by the whims of greedy big business, which deliberately ignores small producers, capitalists, independent filmmakers, and even, film workers in general.

PPP stands against all that independent cinema is about, and as such we need to critique it for what it promises to do and what it actually does. What we seek to analyze here is the relationship between a cultural government agency and big business. That is, this relationship between the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), which uses public funds to serve the interests of theatre operators, film distributors, and big-time studio producers.

We are all witnessing this unfold: where the meaning of independent cinema is being dissolved by the efforts of greedy film capitalists who work towards continued control over the film industry. It took almost two decades before big business found the right formula, and now they have found it: with PPP, they are not only profiting from independent cinema, they are also using the productive human resource and talent of our independent film workers, all for their personal gain.

Ultimately, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is a festival for greedy capitalists, who have found a perfect ally in Liza Diño-Seguerra, chairperson of FDCP. This alliance started in December 2016.

From MMFF to PPP: different festivals, same sh*t

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is not an idea that fell from the skies, nor one that came from the head of Diño-Seguerra. This is a festival designed by capitalists so that they can use government funds – taxpayers’ money – to earn millions on films and filmmaking. To support this assertion, a quick overview is needed so we might understand the political character of this festival.

PPP finds its roots in the Metro Manila Film Festival of 2016. The MMFF of that year was a historical moment in which independent cinema successfully asserted that access to the market is a basic right. We saw the extraordinary power of indie films in MMFF 2016, and we saw how it could ably navigate and triumph within the film industry. This was that one moment when the market was truly democratized, as the playing field widened to include independent films. Ninety percent of films in that festival recouped their investments, and collectively these films earned P500 million pesos.

The joy was short-lived though, and this would be the first and last time indie films would be given this opportunity.

This moment for independent cinema at the MMFF 2016 also intensified the rift between commercial / mainstream cinema and independent cinema, and what we saw on full display was this: the gatekeepers of the film industry are no other than the studio-based producers and theatre associations. To these people, independent cinema are gate crashers to the market, bit players who, by a a rare stroke of luck, are able to get through and enter the territory of the MMFF market. It was clear that to these big capitalists, independent cinema is a threat to their monopoly over the film industry.

Film’s big business realized they needed to consolidate their power. They quickly cut off the influence and control of the progressives in the MMFF 2016. They got the FDCP on their side, which was easy given the gullibility of its leadership. These capitalists used the FDCP chairman, so they could manipulate and consolidate power within the festival. They quickly returned MMFF to mainstream / commercial cinema.

But this was not enough for these capitalists anymore. They wanted independent cinema, too, and they wanted a platform that they could use to bring this to the market. While indie films are push brands, it was now also clear that they could earn money from these films. They needed to get in on the profits.

This is the context of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. This is where we can begin unpacking the real character of this festival. Last year, on its first year, its greed became clear inside and outside the cinemas. This is not a surprise if we consider how big business – the gatekeepers of the film industry, the ones who have consistently disenfranchised independent films from the market – turned independent cinema into a business opportunity. That they had the help of Diño’s leadership at the FDCP is what makes for the political character of this festival.

It is also why it is important to discuss why this festival exists at all, and for whose benefit.

When capitalists use indie cinema, public funds

We remember clearly how greedy capitalists manipulated, controlled, and used PPP 2017. A studio-based film producer pretended to be an indie film outfit, and put out cash on a movie that became an official PPP entry. From the first to last day of the festival, this film was the only one that was assured of strategically located screenings. This was the only one given proper and plenty of screening times. On the first day of the festival it earned almost P100 million pesos.

The rest of the independent films didn’t do as well. FDCP Chair Diño had dragged them into a playing field that was unfair and unjust, within a corrupt film market. She kept repeating the principle of “matira ang matibay” – survival of the fittest. She insinuates that in order of a film to earn, it has to use the formula of the market.

And yet in the beginning, she was sweet-talking independent filmmakers by saying that PPP was a good platform for independent cinema. This is based on her simpleton assessment that since it is cinemas that we lack but sorely need, here is a way for us to get those cinemas for indie films.

We of course heard nothing from Liza Diño about how PPP 2017 was effectively a platform against indie filmmakers, in favor of greedy capitalists. What we did hear were her declarations of the festival’s success. She said that’s just the way things are: some films lose, some films win. These statements are enough for us to surmise that the FDCP Chair stands strong in a belief that effectively maligns the spirit of independent cinema.
In this sense it is no surprise that the policies of PPP 2018 now blatantly favor big business, and strengthen the monopoly of theatre associations in the Philippines. This year’s festival does not even pretend anymore that it is at the service of independent film producers and filmmakers. Instead it highlights how indie cinema is disempowered by this industry.

This is PPP. It is no different from MMFF. The existence of these two festivals are not normal, as these are borne of the questionable relationship and collusion between monopoly capitalists and the destructive cultural state apparatus that is FDCP, under the leadership of one Liza Diño-Seguerra. ***

Arnel M. Mardoquio is a filmmaker and cultural worker from the regions. Originally written in Filipino and posted on Facebook on August 17 2018, this piece has been translated and divided into two parts by gaslight.online with his permission.