It has always been an enthusiastic feat for every cine fan of the country to traverse through the year with so many film festivals and projects to look forward to, especially in 2020 when the Philippine entertainment industry looked very promising—at least for the first two months before everything fell apart. All ongoing productions were halted indefinitely, and projects were cancelled to ride the tides of the pandemic. The industry found the bone to adjust somehow, with the boom of online streaming platforms.
Upstream, Netflix, Iflix, Cignal Play, Youtube, Apple iTunes, Google Play, and even Facebook proved to be active game players. ABS-CBN’s film restoration council also made notable rounds online when it hosted various online premieres of 4k-restored films on their Facebook page, available for everyone’s perusal for free. Netflix, Iflix, and Apple TV gained traction from Filipino viewers, with more choices of Pinoy TV series and movies to enjoy at home. With the situation growing bleaker before 2020 even ended, have we become smarter movie watchers?
‘Art for the sake of art’ no more
As state oppression and overall government-sanctioned abuse continue to hog the country, the pandemic proved one thing: we are a country governed by padrino politics, and we are doomed to go even lower. The people are now relying on watching a movie or a TV series to make up for the precarious things that happen: you take with you what you’ve seen and hope the fantasy of the technicolor screen comes to life so you get to witness the romance in your reality. We are an escapist generation; so much has happened in the past years that we just choose to live in the fictional realms of the movies we see and the TV shows we binge to no end.
The good guy-bad guy concept is already tired, and the excessive poverty porn will not help anyone understand that the struggles of the poor are of the most important yet delicate priority. In the films and shows we grew up watching, we tend to fashion poverty in the Philippines as a way to bring awareness to what reality is. But what the industry fails to understand is that it blindly uses the cultural and financial struggles of marginalized groups as a backdrop to let everyone know that they are woke enough to make a film about it. The disconnect gravely grows here; did it say something? Did it improve the viewers’ understanding of our reality? Moreover, it only answers this sole question of what did this say about you, the filmmaker? If we really want to upend the current quality of cinema in the country, the first step is to acknowledge that we put so much regard to these artists who have technical know-how in filmmaking but don’t know shit about the struggles of the everyday Filipino.
“What the industry fails to understand is that it blindly uses the cultural and financial struggles of marginalized groups as a backdrop to let everyone know that they are woke enough to make a film about it.”
Making it big at the Cannes Film Festival does not make someone an evangelical figure of cinema; it’s just an opportunity for filmmakers to garner for themselves the title of international storyteller, or just a mere intellectual jack-off that ejaculates useless (even harmful) content. Sometimes you receive one recognition and you regress into a pro-administration lapdog with a God complex. The country is teeming with this type of filmmaker who loves to prattle their beliefs through their work but forget to embody history, truth, and justice. Whatever happened to Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s thought process? To Lino Brocka’s storytelling about societal maladies?
If shit isn’t cringey enough, some of these “political” thought-makers now only rely on pseudo-activism on Twitter and Facebook, which, although helpful, is still skewed in the favor of those who can afford to have intellectual outbursts, and those who have the means and access to the internet. After all, these platforms and the power to speak in an academic tongue only serves those who are privileged enough to understand even the most basic of the English language. Who are we really ranting for: the people or our internet circle who own diplomas?
Changing the Philippines’ moviegoing sphere
The culture of showing but not telling enough has become so rampant that it’s as if current filmmakers are only producing films to expand their social standing, be a part of Manila’s circle-jerking friend groups, and make a name in the industry under the guise of “making art.” To set a social problem as a backdrop for a film is something, but to really touch on the matter and inculcate it in your art without parading the poor as mere props to stroke your aesthetic is another. Who is your art for, really? For yourself, or for the people you used as your scenery?
We are a generation constantly fucked by the government and yet we still struggle to understand that everything is political. The fact that you’re reading this in a laptop or a smartphone with fast wifi is political: how did you afford these means? Who paid for it? How can you read, and why can’t others your age do the same?
Moviegoing has a lot to do with politics, and the thought that art is for art’s sake is a regressive take to mask one’s ignorance and dismissiveness. Years after the boom of independent filmmaking in the country, we still fail to see how political apathy can cause as much harm as siding with the oppressive. If Brillante Mendoza is brave enough to think that directing Duterte’s State of the Nation Address can spread the message of optimism for the future of his presidency, then he must be too dense. The irony behind Kinatay (2009) and Ma’Rosa (2016) supposedly being about the implications of being poor in the Philippines is that Mendoza himself is a propagandist for Duterte. You try to show these stories onscreen yet you fail to address the root cause of your film’s premise, and why it is made.
You wear poverty so often in your art like a fabric so delicate it morphs into the blood of those killed by the Duterte administration as you brandish it in front of the international audience in a French countryside. What is so evangelical about his Palme d’Or win?
Post-pandemic, what we are hoping to see is a smarter moviegoing population, one that is more critical of not only the films they watch, but from whom it comes from.
Bettering oneself in the form of self-criticism
Spectatorship as an act of rebellion is not new; we have all lost the drive to produce nuanced arguments about the media we immerse ourselves in, and how it can (or cannot) affect a person’s political psyche. The pandemic pushed us to be so old and so tired and so vulnerable. What does having an opinion on a movie have to do with civic betterment? Right now we just take what we can carry to survive everyday: western comedies, slapstick humor, hell, even Vice Ganda movies that rewire our brains to accept empty humor as something that can light up the day.
But as people who can afford to pay monthly subscriptions to online streaming platforms and use them in the comforts of our home, the least we can do is use our privilege to choose more powerful media from time to time, move across the disconnect, and choose to hear what matters most: why are we still here, and what can we do to stop being here? Is writing a lengthy Facebook status enough?
By the simple act of paying attention and looking around (maybe through our smartphones’ screens, or through the TV), we are already doing so much. The whole isolation period (now celebrating its first anniversary!) showed us the ugliest sides of the government. May this force us to not only be choosy of the films we see, but also of the people who are going to lead us from 2022.
“Moviegoing has a lot to do with politics, and the thought that art is for art’s sake is a regressive take to mask one’s ignorance and dismissiveness.”
It’s never bad to idealize the experience of moviegoing. In fact, it improves the way we treat ourselves as critics and viewers. But this will never be enough. In a post-pandemic Philippines, we should be a smarter, if not angrier, mass of tired and fooled people. We could only hope that after the pandemic has shown us the reality of poor and weak governance, the big names of the industry do their part and use their platform wisely to serve those who really deserve it: the poor, the struggling working class, and the non-online population who are not on Twitter or Instagram.
If the pandemic forced us to stay inside, perhaps we can have a self-developing moment of rumination whenever we consume art: who is this for and why was it made? These questions make for better self-discussions that help us see things on a bigger scale, to go past the censored lenses we built upon ourselves to feel at ease with everything. Because everything is bleaker than ever right now, and choosing to close your eyes at such a telling time of history repeating itself is enough harm you could do yourself.