Philippine Independent Cinema
Since the mid-2000s, images of nationalist histories, informal urban settlements, provincial indigenous communities, or more recently, affluent Manila youth cultures, have played on metropolitan screens across the globe, winning international acclaim for Philippine cinema as a nationally bounded category.
Edinburgh International Film Festival Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara calls the Philippines “the single most exciting country in the world of filmmaking today,” while Singaporean film curator Philip Cheah enthuses that the “Philippines today is THE leading Southeast Asian nation in terms of independent filmmaking and emerging talents.”
Brillante Mendoza receives a standing ovation at Cannes for Foster Child (2007).
Similarly, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts advises viewers of its 2012 Philippine cinema screening series, “You may not have heard yet that the Philippines is happening. It’s time you discovered it. This is a showcase of new cinema from one of the most exciting independent film scenes in the world.”
Lav Diaz has been one of the most successful independent filmmakers to emerge, though his career started prior to the independent film resurgence with 2001’s Batang West Side. His films are aesthetically uncompromising, usually shot in black and white and up to eleven hours long. This trailer is for Norte: The End of History (Lav Diaz, 2013). Loosely based on a Dostoyevsky novel, in color, and only four hours, the film is was able to find an international DVD distributor through art house outfit Cinema Guild. It made several critics “best of” lists for that year.
Despite their international fame, the films associated with the country’s filmmaking resurgence have had relatively few opportunities to play for local audiences. This is due partly to state censorship, particularly during the regime of former President Arroyo, as well as a lack of screening venues outside the country’s mall multiplexes. As the independent film scene grew in 2007, filmmaker Redd Ochoa noted, “One problem is that only a handful of movie theaters in the Philippines show independent films…Finding a venue to play a low-budget film in Manila is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Since then, several exhibition venues have opened, hoping to provide distribution outlets for potential local audiences. However, many of these venues’ lifespans have been brief. So, five years later, producer Moira Lang maintains that due to the dominance of the SM corporation’s mall multiplexes and studio conglomerate ABS-CBN, independent filmmakers are still “like gatecrashers” in local exhibition. Lang describes the need “to improve this marketing and distribution situation” as the most pressing issue facing filmmakers in the Philippines today. As is often the case in countries with few financial or infrastructural resources, local circulation and the implicit vision of a national audience that accompanies it remain a key problem that filmmakers discuss. The high profiles of independent films’ success on the international stage only highlight this issue, as prominent works making the rounds in foreign festivals often find their travels stalled on local shores.
Despite this lack of avenues for distribution and exhibition, the numbers of independent films made continues to increase. The proportion of independents went from 24% of locally produced films in 2005 to 34% by 2011. But, although the share of independent films produced has risen, the financial feasibility of the film industry as a whole remains unstable. A Philippine Statistics Authority study released in 2012 states that only two of the top ten highest-grossing films of all time are Philippine produced (The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin [The Unbeatable Private Benjamin], Dir. Wenn Deramas, 2011; No Other Woman, Dir. Ruel S. Bayani, 2011). Both are from commercial studio Star Cinema—the others are Hollywood blockbusters.
30: “Overview: New Filipino Cinema,” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Encounter: Engaging the Social Context, June 2012, http://www.ybca.org/new-filipino-cinema (accessed June 2012).
31: Ruben V. Nepales, “Redd Ochoa is hopeful about RP’s indie scene,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 August 2007, http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/entertainment/entertainment/view/20070824-84554/Redd_Ochoa_is_hopeful_about_RP%92s_indie_scene (June 2012).
32: Raymond Lee, Zombadings question and answer session, Southeast Asian Film Festival, Singapore Art Museum, March 2012. Lee has since changed her name to Moira Lang.
33: “Movie spending contribute 0.06% to GDP-NSCB,” Rappler, February 13, 2012, http://www.rappler.com/business/1505-movie-spending-contribute-0-06-to-gdp-%E2%80%93-nscb
34: Dr. Romulo A. Virola, “Now Showing: Panday nag-shake, Ratle and Roll,” Philippine Statistics Authority, National Statistical Coordination Board, 2012. http://www.nscb.gov.ph/headlines/StatsSpeak/2012/021312_rav_mpg.asp