That thing called Pinoy Cinema
Once upon a time, Philippine cinema meant either one of two drastically different things.
First of all, the movies are usually formulaic romances, inane comedies or loud horrors bankrolled by the few mainstream studios that are made specifically for the consumption of Filipinos whose main aim in watching movies is escapism. Then comes the bleak, socially relevant films, directed by internationally famous filmmakers like Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza. Produced on a shoestring budget, they premiere in respected international film festivals, but are usually left unseen back home, as the general population has had enough of misery in their everyday lives to allow it to invade their choice of entertainment.
Nevertheless, as early as eleven years ago, local film festivals like Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals have been producing films with very limited seed money. As a result, a crop of new talent and visionary ideas cropped up and local cinema started to expand to include stories, characters, and settings that aren’t explored either by profit-oriented studios or film festival darlings. While not exactly new since the Philippines during its many golden ages of cinema have featured creative variety, this recent burst of films tackling different topics from something as lofty as upper class angst to something as mundane as profound heartbreak has caught the imagination of the Filipino audience. Moreover, actors and actresses, whose creativity were stifted by playing soap opera stereotypes, have seen these new films as the perfect avenue for them to hone their craft.
The past few years have produced blockbusters out of independently produced films that didn’t rely heavily on formula. Antoinette Jadaone’s THAT THING CALLED TADHANNA, which Cinema One Originals produced for 2 Million pesos (about 16,000 euros) but starring very bankable actors, became a surprise hit, ushering in a string of films that tackle romance in the non-fairy tale way that most Filipinos have gotten used to. Emboldened by what seems to be a local audience that is willing to try new things, Jerrold Tarog and his enterprising producers bravely released HENERAL LUNA, a historical drama that was more a cynical portrait of the Philippines than a mere pageant of costumes and motherhood statements, and were rewarded with respectable profit.
CHANGING PARTNERS by Dan Villegas (one of the producers of TADHANNA) and PLEASE/CARE by Giancarlo Abrahan, both produced under the mantle of Cinema One Originals, are examples of the kind of Philippine Cinema that gives importance to both the filmmaker’s vision and the audience’s expectations. The former, a cinematic adaptation of a well-regarded musical play about four May-December romances that seem doomed to fail, tackle homosexual relationships with hardly any trace of sensationalism. The latter chooses a spunky octogenarian as a lead, reinventing familiar comedic and dramatic tropes to expose hard-hitting truths about the Filipino family. A few years back, no local producer would dare risking capital on musicals about breaking up or a drama about a grandmother wanting a divorce. In fact, a few years back, there were claims that Philippine cinema is dying, if not already dead. Vibrant, diverse and constantly evolving, Philippine cinema is definitely thriving.
Oggs Cruz, CinemAsia advisor