• Rhizaldy Manalo

The Sorry/Not-Sorry State of Philippine Cinema

I was the kind of guy who'd say "I hate Filipino movies". I'd happily spend my time on foreign rom-coms like 50 First Dates, or John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, however, recent events in my life made me want to shift toward watching Philippine indie movies.


I mean I've watched a whole lot of these from the funny Momol Nights, to the more thrilling turn of events in Luck at First Sight and don't get me started with the scary chills I got from watching what Bea Alonzo's character went through in Eerie.


I've started loving Filipino cinema - and I'm not ashamed to say it and because of that, I wrote this little piece to help portray what the scene has become in more recent years.


To say that "independent film making has become the soul of Philippine cinema" is certainly not an exaggeration. For years, Filipino independent filmmakers have received critical acclaim worldwide. As film festivals, competitions, and distribution channels - such as iFlix and iWantTV - have motivated young maverick filmmakers in recent years, indie films have become synonymous with creative content and perspectives for many Filipinos today.


How can one forget the story of a love between a younger man and an older woman, seemingly succeeding but doomed to fail, in the beautiful masterpiece of Juan Daniel Zavaleta, Glorius, 2018.


Can one discount the heart-felt, and trance-like coming-of-age tale for both a guy and a girl from the province - which led to one of the most romantic pieces of Filipino artistry in cinema that I've ever watched; in Jason Paul Laxamana's, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella, 2017.


Recent years have shown that Filipino Filmmakers have been focused on romance, with a dash of realism in independent cinematic culture. Gone are the days when happily ever after has become the norm; where prince charming saves the proverbial damsel in distress. Today's generation of filmmakers want to make it as is - to show the normalcy of breakups, the reality behind failed marriages, and the truth in depression after separation.


Although the Philippine indie film industry has come a long way from its early developments in the Marcos era when the realistic portrayal of Filipino society in the arts was not considered “beautiful” by the dictatorship, government support is still lacking to sufficiently help indie filmmakers.


Filipino filmmakers have a range of talent - as is evident by the myriad of local and international acclaim they receive, but they are inadequately supported especially when compared with other countries. Filmmakers have to seek partner institutions to underwrite production costs. Advocacy films are usual since sponsors more easily patronize them. Although this is not necessarily bad, it also limits the range of films produced.


The government tends to spend millions of pesos on major film productions that could otherwise produce many indie films. In the end, what distinguishes independent cinema is its priority for artistic endeavor while still being accessible to the audience. Each filmmaker attempts to show his own story in an original way.


In turn, filmmakers would rather bring their films abroad, to participate in competitions they know would appreciate their style much more, as such is the challenge faced by almost all Filipino creatives - the lack of government focus and attention. One such example - although possibly not a solid one is the independent movie Metro Manila back in 2013, which features Oscar Ramirez, a rice farmer who lives in Banaue Province with his wife Mai and their children Angel and Baby. In the aftermath of an economic crisis affecting all farmers, he relocates his family to Metro Manila in hopes of obtaining a higher quality of life. One thing led to another, and he's forced to be high-stakes security guard tempted to steal that which he protects, while his wife becomes a prostitute to help him make ends meet.



The above film, according to many critics is a prime example of an issue that plagues Philippine independent filmmaking and has become apparent especially after its emergence. The theme of poverty that exoticizes, and even exploits, Filipino destituteness. The question is whether filmmakers are producing these films because they want to reveal Filipino reality or they seek the attention of international film festivals. Context is crucial not only in conceptualizing and presenting the material of the film but also in understanding the subject position of the filmmaker.


If current indie films are to be observed, one can predict that the themes will diversify, and hopefully go back to its more idyllic beginnings. Where now, the main themes are love lost, and primal poverty, here's to hoping that they will soon be overcast by those of love gained.


Acknowledging the importance of the industry to national culture, she said that the government is looking into the possibility of exempting or reducing the tax charges of qualified indie films.


For now, let's look forward to more momentous developments in the Philippine indie cinema scene. For at the moment, what we can hold on to is the vast collection of impressive Filipino independent films and the remarkable talent of Filipino independent filmmakers and actors. They will continue making films, because creativity does not depend on material conditions, but is intensified because of, and despite, the lack of them.


Rhiz Manalo is the Managing Partner to CentrAsia Tours a Central Asia Tourism Agency, and Co-Founder, and Managing Partner of The White Dog Collective, experts in corporate and SMB digitization. He is a seasoned Digital Marketer, a prolific Blogger, career-driven Systems Architect, creative Web Designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!

Check out his portfolio here.

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