Philippine cinema despite the pandemic

INDUSTRY DIRECTION This week's Philippine Panorama goes behind the scenes of the local film industry. Cover design by the author

A year ago, at the height of the current health crisis, a couple of my friends in film were distressed as productions, like many other businesses, had to shut down due to lockdown. Shoots were ceased, movie theaters closed, and jobs were lost. Box office losses amounted to at least ₱11 billion in 2020. Even before the pandemic, the Philippine film industry had seen a constant and drastic dip in viewership. The quarantine period was a death blow.  

In a conversation with Filipino director Eduardo Roy Jr., which also took place last year, he mentioned that the best things to do at the time were to bank ideas and concepts, create opportunities in other fields, or find alternative projects. Among his words back then, which make a lot of sense now, were, “Even without cinema, there are other platforms like television and digital.”

Contrary to how COVID-19 crippled local productions, international streaming services boomed as consumers had more time in their hands to watch shows online. This is a good thing, of course, as video streaming platforms are additional venues for film releases. In fact, Roy’s Lola Igna (2019) and Pamilya Ordinaryo (2016) started screening on Netflix from June 2020.

IMMORTALIZING CULTURE Director Elvert Bañares on the Calinog set of Sa Paglupad Ka Banog with Keilah Blair Dordas

Despite the displacement of production staff and companies, the local movie scene was not entirely at a loss. Local films were recognized in international festivals. Director Joseph Mangat’s Holy Craft won the Docs-in-Progress Award at the Cannes Docs also in June.

In August, director Avid Liongoren, creator of the multi-awarded animation film Saving Sally, received the Open Doors Locarno Development Support Grant worth 14,000 Swiss francs for Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah vs. The Amazonistas of Planet X. Likewise, Filipino auteur Lav Diaz won best director for Lahi, Hayop (Genus Pan) at the Orizzonti or Horizons section at the Venice International Film Festival.

Currently, Philippine cinema is arguably in a better shape. Production companies are slowing but surely moving again. Take, for instance, director Elvert Bañares, who had been shooting his cinematic translation of Sa Paglupad Ka Banog (The Flight of the Banog), based on a Panay Bukidnon epic.

ACTION-PACKED PINOY ANIMATION Scene from the trailer of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah vs. The Amazonistas of Planet X

We greeted 2021 with another win at an international film fest. Director Rafael Manuel’s Filipiñana won the Silver Bear Jury Prize for short films at the 70th Berlinale, one of the world’s biggest international film festivals.

Today, the industry has set its sights on recovery. For one, the Cinemalaya 2021 short film category entries have been announced. The prominent film festival for indie films is on its 17th year. For the second time around, it will be held online in August.

Film finalists are Enrico Po’s Out of Body, David Olson’s The Dust In Your Place, Kevin Jay Ayson’s Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa, Shiri Francesca De Leon’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi, Kevin Mayuga’s Ate OG,  Jonnie Lyn Dasalla’s Namnama en Lolang, Kyle Nieva’s Kids On Fire, Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit’s Maski Papano, Myra Aquino’s Beauty Queen, Arjanmar Rebeta’s An Sadit Na Planeta, Ralph John Velasco’s Kawatan sa Salog, and James Fajardo’s Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things.

FAITH CREATION The documentary Holy Craft explores a Catholic figurine factory in the Philippines (Photo by vy/ac productions)

The annual Locarno Film Festival held in Locarno, Switzerland also kicks off this August.

The official selection of films and directors has been recently released. There are a few Filipino titles that have made it to one of the longest-running international film festivals in the world.

The Philippine film industry has been busy. And yet, its survival depends most of all on the support of consumers. We Filipinos should watch local content with as much enthusiasm as we do our beloved K-dramas, animes, and Hollywood films.

Kun Maupay Man It Panahon (Whether the Weather is Fine) by Carlo Francisco Manatad competes at the Concorso Cineasti del Presente (Filmmakers of the Present Competition). It is the sole Filipino film selected for the competition dedicated to emerging directors all over the world.

Aswang by Alyx Ayn Arumpac makes it to the documentary segment, while short films Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss by Sonny Calvento and Next Picture by Cris Bringas will be screened at the non-competitive Open Doors Screenings.

Three Filipino producers are also participating at the Match Me! Program of the festival, a three-day program where 24 selected upcoming producers try to find potential co-producers, sales or funds, and companies through a matchmaking service and a series of professional lunches with industry key players. The three are Heaven’s Best Entertainment’s Sarah Brakensiek for the project Kathoey, Epicmedia’s Patti Lapus for the project Goliath, and 108 Media’s Micah Tadena for the project Inherit.

It is clear that the Philippine film industry has been busy. And yet, its survival depends most of all on the support of consumers. We Filipinos should watch local content with as much enthusiasm as we do our beloved K-dramas, animes, and Hollywood films.