Is MMFF 2021’s early run a cautionary tale for the future of the local film industry?

Published December 28, 2021, 10:21 AM

by John Legaspi

‘Not even the big Hollywood films (like “Eternals”) are able to approximate the gross that MMFF 2021 has generated so far,’ MMFF spokesperson Noel Ferrer said

As expected, the comeback to the cinemas of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) went viral this year. Unfortunately, it trended due to unlikely reasons. Come Christmas day and photos and reports of the slow start of MMFF 2021 spread on social media, a total opposite of what happened in the past iterations of the festival, with no crowd or long queues of eager people trying to make way to score seats can be seen.

Photo from Gateway and Ali Mall Cineplex Facebook page

This online conversation about MMFF 2021 continued with many local “Spider-man” fans expressing their dismay over the delayed showing of “Spider-man: No Way Home” in the Philippines. And some of the responses are pretty shocking. Just type in MMFF on Twitter and you’ll see.

While this turnout presents the bad, MMFF spokesperson Noel Ferrer expresses that this year’s festival makes the highest-grossing day for local cinemas operators since their November reopening.

“Not even the big Hollywood films (like ‘Eternals’) are able to approximate the gross that MMFF 2021 has generated so far. (In fact, the first-day gross alone this year covered 1/3 of the total MMFF Online gross (in its entire run) last year. With more people going to the cinemas by the day, sa first [three to four] days pa lang, puwede nang malampasan ang total gross last year. Wala pang major sakit ng ulong problema sa piracy (just in the first three to four days, it could already surpass last year’s total gross. And this doesn’t even include headaches caused by piracy problems),” Ferrer said in a post.

The play between local and international films shown in the Philippines has been a topic of discussion spanning critics, cinephiles, and regular moviegoers—from what they prefer most to the quality of films being screened. Although this year’s MMFF is unlike its previous runs when it comes to ticket sales, it doesn’t really mean that the future of Filipino movies is already seeing its sunset. But there are things we could do to make it better though.

Here are some questions about MMFF 2021 we tried to find some answers to.

Do MMFF 2021 entries suck?

No. Sure there are the usual comedy and rom-com flicks in the 2021 movie roster but there is an audience for that, it’s either you like it or you don’t. Most notably, they are also Filipino-made, which helped many film creatives and industry workers make a living in this pandemic. Think of it as merging the 2016 festival with its other edition. There’s a mix of commercial movies and master creations in the line-up, like Jun Lana’s “Big Night” and “Kun Maupay Man it Panahon” by Carlo Francisco Manatad. Both have been screened internationally, with the latter even taking home Cinema e Gioventù Prize at the 74th Locarno Film Festival.

Go online?

Not only is the MMFF fighting for audience attention at the movie theaters but it is also challenged by streaming platforms. With great movie and show releases during the holidays, from Netflix to HBO Go, it is becoming hard to encourage viewers to go out, especially with the still ongoing pandemic. One Twitter user adviced that the festival should have a simultaneous virtual showcase, but we already have an answer for that courtesy of Ferrer, just scroll up.

Why MMFF only?

A Facebook post by scriptwriter and “ZsaZsa Zaturnnah” graphic novel creator Carlo Vergara sparked a conversation among his colleagues. There film director Chris Martinez pointed out that “the problem is MMFF is itself being pegged as the one-time yearly event to save the film industry,” even calling the idea “myopic,” “short-term,” and “ugly.”

There are a number of annual film festivals and screenings in the country and many even take place in urban areas. Many of these are backed by groups and agencies such as the Film Academy of the Philippines, the Film Development Council of the Philippines, and even by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Sensationalizing MMFF as the only prime event celebrating Filipino movies, though it has a history to back up its role in the film and cultural landscape, doesn’t solve many of the local film industry problems.

Have you checked out any of the MMFF 2021 movies? What do you think so far?