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No Filipino movie has ever won an Oscar

Published November 22, 2021, 10:16 AM

by Rica Arevalo

And yet this year, just as Hollywood is rooting for Asian representation and the Academy Awards is actively inviting Filipino filmmakers, the Film Academy of the Philippines did not send an entry

The elusive gold statuette trophy of the Academy (Oscar) is still a dream for the Philippines. Never in the history of Philippine cinema has any local film got nominated as a finalist for the Best International Feature Film of the Year.

‘Genghis Khan’

The great Manuel Conde’s biopic Genghis Khan (1950) was the country’s first Oscar submission. Since then, the Philippines has been submitting entries. Why is the Oscar important to any country?

The Best International Feature Film of the Year is a nod to a country’s culture and national identity. We realize that even if we live thousands of miles apart, we as nations share the same values, hopes, and failures through cinema. Federico Fellini’s La Strada won the first Best Foreign Language Film in 1957.

‘La Strada’ won the first Best Foreign Language Film in 1956

On the list of the highest-grossing local films at the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) with over ₱500 million box-office receipts are Fantastica (2018), Gandarrapiddo: The Revenger Squad (2017), Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2019) adapted from Korea, Beauty and the Bestie (2015), The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin (2014), and Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy (2013). Most are light comedies, solely for entertainment targeting Filipino families during the Christmas season.

But do we send these box-office hits to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization that hands out the Oscars? The answer is a big no.

I remember the late National Artist Eddie Romero heading the selection committee for the Philippine entry for the Oscars and he would tell me about the heavy deliberations among the members trying to marry Philippine culture and international appeal.

The past decade we sent A-rated films like Bwakaw in 2012, Transit in 2013, Norte: The End of History in 2014, Heneral Luna in 2015, Ma’Rosa in 2016, Birdshot in 2017, Signal Rock in 2018, Verdict in 2019, and Mindanao in 2020. These stories help define our national cinema.

‘Mindanao’

‘Bwakaw’

The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) has the Oscars Assistance Program to support the country’s official entries in their promotional campaign with a one million pesos fund allocation. The past recipient was Brilliante Mendoza for his films Ma’Rosa and Mindanao.

Recently, Oscar winners of Asian descent were embraced by Hollywood. Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite (2019) was the first South Korean film to win the Palme d’Or, and four Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards. It made history by being the first non-English film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

‘Parasite’

The South Korean veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung got the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari (2020).

Beijing-born Chloé Zhao, who directed Nomadland (2020), won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Director, the second woman to win after Kathryn Bigelow.

Hollywood is embracing stories from Asia. This year, we have two films that were feted in prestigious film festivals, On the Job 2: The Missing 8 directed by Erik Matti and Kun Maupay Man It Panahon (Whether the Weather is Fine) by Carlo Franciso Manatad.

The Missing 8 premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival where the Volpi Cup for Best Actor was awarded to John Arcilla. Kun Maupay Man It Panahon aced the Cinema e Gioventù Prize from the Conscoso Cineasti del Presente Junior Jury at the 74th Locarno Film Festival and Manatad got the Best Director award at the London East Asia Film Festival.

Looking at the 94th Academy Awards of Merit, the AMPAS changed its rule to accommodate more countries this pandemic. It states: “The unprecedented coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic mandated the closure of commercial motion picture theaters worldwide. Country-selected films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available through a reputable commercial streaming distribution service or video on demand may qualify for Awards consideration in the International Feature Film category for the 94th Academy Awards.”

Negligence excuses no one, even during a pandemic. Take a bow, Film Academy of the Philippines.

Each country is allowed to submit its best film for the year. The official submitting body recognized by AMPAS since the early 1980s is the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP). For the upcoming Oscars, the deadline to submit the names of selection committee members and film materials has lapsed on Nov. 1, 2021.

It is very clear from the AMPAS website that the Best International Feature Film of the Year award is for a country: “The Academy statuette (Oscar) will be awarded to the film and accepted by the director on behalf of the film’s creative talents. For Academy Awards purposes, the country will be credited as the nominee. The director’s name will be listed on the statuette plaque after the country and film title.”

What is the Philippine entry to the 94th Academy Awards? The answer is none. When Hollywood is rooting for Asian representation and the AMPAS is actively inviting to the Academy Filipino filmmakers like Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, PJ Raval, and documentary filmmakers Baby Ruth Villarama and Ditsi Carolino, among others, the FAP did not send an entry. “We couldn’t do the Oscars and Luna this year,” says a FAP insider.

The Oscar nomination-less record continues for the Philippines. If records are correct, it would be the first non-submission from our country since 2005.

Negligence excuses no one, even during a pandemic. Take a bow, Film Academy of the Philippines.

Banner photo by Don Emmert/AFP

 
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