The Winners and Lessons of MMFF 2016

MMFF 2016 is about to come to a close. It's been a milestone year for the storied film festival as it returned to its roots of featuring top quality films. I can confidently say that, out of the last ten years I've been supporting the film festival, this year has been the best. Of course, such a historic year as this wouldn't be without a compelling narrative. So let's try to unpack MMFF 2016's narrative and figure out its winners and lessons.


THE WINNERS

1. THE SMALLER PRODUCTION COMPANIES

What separates MMFF from other local film festivals is how its featured films are given wide and exclusive releases during the festival's duration. This has dire implications as it somehow assures finalists extra promotion, a wider audience reach and, possibly, more earnings. And no one needs that boost more than the upstart production companies. 

It's frustrating that for the last few years, most slots went to major production companies. Just take a look at the film line-ups of the previous three editions (201320142015). Five to six of the movies came from big film outfits. Do they really need the exclusive wide release given that these companies already have bigger budgets, bigger stars and bigger political clout with theater owners? If its any indication, Vice Ganda's rejected film Super Parental Guardians is the highest grossing Filipino film of all-time. Provincial theaters continued to show Super Parental Guardians, Vic Sotto's Enteng 10 and the Abangers and/or Mano Po 7: Chinoy even when the festival started. Again do they need to be part of the MMFF?

I commend this year's executive committee for somehow balancing the scales and seriously considering the efforts of smaller production companies. If you check out this year's list of finalists, only Vince & Kath & James came from a major prod company. And it's not as if these small production companies are inexperienced and ill-deserving of their finals place. Have you watched or heard of Heneral Luna, On The Job and/or Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank? These cult hits of recent years were produced by TBA Productions, Reality Entertainment and Martinez Rivera Films respectively. And this year, these outfits took their opportunity and really showed the best that they could offer. 

The weird and wonderful vision of the Philippines by Saving Sally (source: Saving Sally Facebook Page)

One of the biggest surprises of this year's festival was Rocketsheep Productions' Saving Sally. Most Filipinos (me included) have not heard of this movie before the festival but, damn, it's one of the most visually-memorable films out of the bunch. Most people would have skipped watching it if it was just featured in Cinema One Originals or Cinemalaya because of its limited release. However, thanks to MMFF's decision to include it in the Final 8, more Filipinos (me included) were able to support, enjoy and praise it.

2. ROOKIES AND BENCH PLAYERS GETTING THEIR BREAKS

Christian Bables winning (source: MMFF Facebook page)

This year's MMFF film selections clearly lacked A-List celebrities: no Vice Ganda, no Vic Sotto, no bankable movie stars and love teams (Nora Aunor's status as "bankable" fairly debatable now). But the lack of big names did not dampen the quality of performances in the festival. Often neglected stars like Rhian Ramos, Julia Barretto and Irma Adlawan held their own in their respective movies. Rhian and Julia arguably showed their best work of their careers as Sally and Kath respectively. Relatively new performers, Rhed Bustamante (demon-child Angheltia of Seklusyon), Phoebe Walker (Sinister Sister Cecilia of Seklusyon) and Christian Bables (BARBS of Die Beautiful) stood out and were rewarded top honors for their excellent efforts. Heck even the OFWs of Sunday Beauty Queen showed more emotion and comfort on-screen than some actors and actresses with formal acting training. This year proved the deep talent pool of the local showbiz industry, it's more of fitting the right talent with the right opportunities.

3. THE MMFF COMMITTEE

Seriously, I need to tip the proverbial hat to the committee. I've been shitting on the MMFF for years for their questionable selection process and their way of handling controversies. I thought this sudden change in their selection was a direct reaction to last year's Honor Thy Father controversy (they even invited John Lloyd Cruz as part of the their Jury). Like a reverse psychology maneuver to prove a point about the festival's commercial viability. To my surprise, they really rode with it! They stood their ground after the big execs and stars pushed back. The committee didn't lack the effort in promoting the films, they even had a raffle contest (grand prize was a car). Their efforts weren't in vain as people showed up and supported the films. The gross revenue may not be comparable to previous years, but the fact that people flocked to the cinemas and continued conversations on social media should be an indication of how people are excited with this new change. KUDOS MMFF! Hope you continue this in the future.


THE LESSONS

1. "Indie versus Mainstream" is a false dichotomy spread by the powerful because their egos were bruised

Bigwigs couldn't take the hurt of being excluded from the festival so they tried to drag everyone else by demonizing "indie" films as "not family-friendly". Like I said, they don't need to participate in the festival anymore since they have the resources to have a successful independent release. They just don't like that they weren't invited to the biggest party of the year. 

Also, if they were so concerned of the Filipino family watching family movies at Christmastime, then why did they shut up once the festival started?

2. Cinema owners are more influential than you may think

A lot of people on the internet reported how cinema owners "broke" the exclusivity agreement of the festival. I'm not sure what was the specific agreements between the parties but this just shows us the influence of cinema owners. They can and will dictate what they show in their theaters and the price of each ticket. I do understand that this is still a business, they'll go where the money is. What we can do as viewers is to show up in cinemas and support these films.

3. Don't Stop Believing

This iteration of the MMFF is proof that change is possible so long as people will it. It took us a bajillion cycles, scandals, and float parades but we did it! Here's to hoping that this year becomes the new normal.