Celluloid Cheer

 (Unang nailimbag ang akdang ito sa isyu 20 ng Philippine Collegian noong 12 Disyembre 2011 bilang bahagi ng Christmas Bonus ng Kultura.)

Pinakamahaba raw ang pagdiriwang ng Pasko sa Pilipinas. At mula Septyembre hanggang Enero, magkabiyak ang relihiyon at konsumerismo. Sa paglamig ng panahon at pagkislap ng mga pekeng bituin, sa pag-usbong ng mga tiangge at pagdaloy ng aguinaldo, madaling maaninag ang ipinapatampok na timpla ng kasagahanan. Ang estado mismo – sa pagtatalaga ng holiday break at pagsasabatas ng 13th month pay – ay katuwang sa ganitong tunguhin. Ngunit sa panahon na ang lahat – pati na ang kapanganakan umano ng tagapagligtas – ay may bahid ng salapi’t tubo, mula kanino nga ba dapat tubusin ang diwa ng Kapaskuhan?

Artwork by RD Aliposa and Marianne Rios

The crowd suddenly goes into frenzy as the elaborate floats start to march past them. Overlooking the crowd atop their majestic rides, Panday and Enteng, showcase their full battle regalia of bronze breast plates and ornate metal headgear while wielding their magical swords. A mobile house of horrors trails them, with an enormous white skull at its helm, carrying with it a group of up and coming teen heartthrobs and heartbreakers.

This is how some families spend their Christmas Eve, awaiting the opening of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). The filmfest, however, has not always been associated with the holidays. It started out as an annual festival of Manila-based films during the month of June. During the Marcos regime, when films were recognized as viable means of forwarding the ideals of the New Society, the government teamed up with major film producers to hold the first Metropolitan Film Festival. On September 21, 1975, the first MMFF was held, in commemoration of the third year of the declaration of Martial Law.

The first decade of the festival produced notable films such as Burlesk Queen,Insiang, and Kisapmata. It has kept this tradition of quality film-making alive over the course of the decades, and the festival proved to be a big boost for the local film industry. But by the dawn of the new millennium, film producers would see the potency of the festival as a massive income generating scheme over the holidays.

During the Christmas season, people seem more inclined to spend generously, having saved up for months on end for this one particular season. Film producers capitalize on the abundance and gaiety that is expected of the season. Today, having a film entry in the MMFF is almost sure money. During the festival, only locally produced films are shown in the cinemas over a two-week period, thereby ensuring that film gross generated over the holidays would go straight to the pockets of local film producers.

Some families have even made it a tradition to watch every film showcased at the festival. But the whole festival experience would not be complete with the mere procurement of overpriced tickets, popcorn and drinks—one also has to avail of a wide array of film merchandise, such as t-shirts, bags, caps and toys. Come New Year, children would run amuck with their Super Inday lunchboxes, Panday action figures and Enteng Kabisote t-shirts.

As such, film producers have also made it a point to create films which cater to the taste of the general populace. Over the course of the decade, the festival has seen a proliferation of family tearjerkers, action-fantasy sagas and long-standing horror franchises hosting familiar storylines and even more familiar faces. If it’s not Bossingwaving at you from the towering float, there would always be Senator Bong, Marian Rivera and Kris Aquino trying to win you over with their orchestrated holiday cheer. And to win Best Picture in the MMFF, the film must sell an impressive amount of tickets.

Truly, the festival’s tradition of showcasing the best of what the local film industry has to offer has been lost in the mire of film studio politics, the circus of showbiz intrigues and holiday money-making. The entertainment at the festival, then, can only be a version of the commercial spirit of Christmas.

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