November 21, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Changes in criteria for entries to the 2017 Metro Manila Film Fest stir controversy


The executive committee (Execom) of the country’s largest film festival, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), has released in full the film fest’s rules and regulations reflecting the changes brought upon by last year’s controversies.

Controversy and the MMFF are nothing new -- in fact, one might safely say that no year goes by without a controversy erupting before, during, and even well after the fortnight-long festival.

The 2017 edition of the MMFF, which will run from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7, 2018 will see the return of film scripts being accepted for entry consideration, alongside completed full-length features. In a break from previous years, the festival’s Execom in 2016 only accepted finished films as entries instead of accepting entries based on their scripts alone. The change was made in a bid for the festival to show only “quality Filipino films.”

The return of the film scripts was initially pointed out by Ronald Arguelles, channel head of Cinema One, who announced in a Facebook post on March 10 that the MMFF will be going back to screening just the scripts of prospective entries as had been done in previous iterations of the festival.

“It’s not true,” said Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) President and CEO Mary Liza Diño-Esguerra -- who is a member of this year’s Execom -- in the March post’s thread. “We are still finalizing committees. The rules committee was barely finalized. We have yet to discuss about any rule.

“Do you think we’re going to let it happen? Please give us some credit,” Ms. Diño-Esguerra added in response to a comment which said that script submissions smacks of the festival going back to its old ways.

Ms. Diño-Esguerra’s comment notwithstanding, the MMFF on May 5 announced on its official Facebook page that it is accepting film scripts and completed films in what seems like an attempt to compromise.

BusinessWorld asked for comments on the issue from the FDCP and from the festival’s spokesperson Noel Ferrer but has not received a reply.

Four film scripts and four completed films will be accepted, provided that the scripts and completed films will “have its Philippine premiere screening at the MMFF,” says to the rules and regulations posted on its page.

“One technical preview and a maximum of three non-revenue promotional previews prior to the premier screening are allowed, subject to full disclosure to the MMFF Execom,” said the document. The disclosure must be made 15 days prior to the intended date of preview.

This clarification is meant to avoid situations where some MMFF entries were allowed into the festival despite being previously screened in festivals while others were not.

Last year, films like Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful were allowed to compete in the festival despite having been screened in international film festivals -- something Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father was not allowed to do during the 2015 festival as the film was disqualified for Best Picture consideration because it had premiered at the CinemaOne Originals film festival the same year.

The MMFF explained in its May 5 post that the acceptance of the script-only entries was a decision made “after months of thorough and careful evaluation and deliberations, including dialogues with the different industry stakeholders,” and is “based on the stated objectives of the 2017 MMFF to pursue both artistic excellence and audience appeal that can equate to more benefits to its target industry beneficiaries.”

But its return was not warmly welcomed, at least on the post’s comment thread where people pointed out that it signals the re-introduction of franchise films to the festival.

“Somehow one gets the feeling that they’re trying to accommodate those who were left out on last year’s film festival,” said a John Terrence Kelly on post’s thread.

The 2016 MMFF was bereft of the usual festival franchises, such as the fantasy series Enteng Kabisote and family drama Mano Po, as that year’s Execom and its selection committee focused on “quality” over “commercial viability” as qualifications for entries. The result was a festival lineup consisted of almost entirely of independent films.

The absence of the money-making franchises, known for contributing most of the MMFF revenue each year, resulted in a Senate resolution in January by Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. The senator -- who is also an actor, comedian, singer, songwriter, and TV host, and whose brother, Vic Sotto, is the star of the Enteng Kabisote series -- noted that one of the major changes the MMFF underwent in 2016 was the removal of the “commercial viability” criterion, which contributed to the “absence of mainstream films in the MMFF entries for 2016, [which] was prejudicial to the regular MMFF moviegoers, especially the children.”

He went on to suggest the creation of a separate film festival specifically for independent films during the week-long semestral break in October.

The move was panned by film industry members. Critic, writer, and academic Nicanor Tiongson, who was a member of the 2016 selection committee, said in a Senate hearing in late January that the separate film festival would be “superfluous.”

The lack of “commercial” films hit the festival hard in the pocket. The 2016 MMFF earned P413 million as of January 2017, compared to the P1.20 billion it earned the year before.

The lower earnings, Mr. Sotto pointed out, was detrimental to the film festival’s many beneficiaries which includes Mowelfund (the Movie Workers’ Welfare Fund, Inc.), which is entitled to 35% of the film fest’s profits. Another 35% goes to the Presidential Social Fund, while the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines get 10% each. The Optical Media Board (OMB) and the Anti-Piracy Council get 5% each.

Regardless of the changes in MMFF’s financial success, FAP President Leo Martinez noted at the senate hearing that the beneficiaries only get 1% of the gross receipts which they have to share amongst themselves.

The commercial viability clause, was not removed “per se...[as] it would be quite difficult, if not impossible [to know] which films can be considered commercially viable,” said Rochelle Ona, executive director of the festival, during the senate hearing.

She added that “story, audience appeal, and overall impact” composed 40% of the 2016 criteria for choosing an entry.

The other criteria that year were: story, audience appeal, and overall impact (40%); cinematic attributes and technical excellence (40%); global appeal (10%); and Filipino sensibility (10%).

This year, a new term, “commercial appeal,” was introduced and was given a weight of 40% of the criteria for judging entries, alongside artistic excellence (40%); global appeal (10%); and Filipino cultural and historical values (10%).

The addition of “commercial appeal” seems to be in response with the “removal” of “commercial viability” as one of the criteria during last year’s festival. This, as the MMFF Execom responded favorably to the recommendation made by Senator Grace Poe, the chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, to include “cross-section of the society” to decide what makes for audience appeal and commercial viability.

“What we pointed out was the removal of the ‘commercial viability’ criteria by the selection committee. They replaced it with audience appeal, but what is audience appeal? It’s very subjective. That’s why we said that the executive committee [and the] selection committee should be composed of people from different sectors,” Ms. Poe said during the hearing.

The new Execom -- whose composition was also met with controversy when it was announced in March as it removed previous members, educator Edward Cabagnot and film director Moiral Lang -- recently introduced to its ranks a 24-person committee including a representative from the mayors of Metro Manila, a representative from the theater operators, and a representative from film distributors. -- Zsarlene B. Chua