Philippine Cinema Is Growing Fast

“We have two thriving industries in terms of community – art house and commercial. The commercial industry, ever since, has been serving the local audience. But now, the consciousness and the initiative to make films that will travel and will be more internationally appreciated has already started,” Diño said. 

The Philippines’ art house cinema, has been gaining ground in the international scene through film festivals in the past couple of years. Lav Diaz’ eight-hour Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlinale in 2016, Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa competed in Cannes in 2016 and came home with the best actress award for Jaclyn Jose who played the lead role. Anino sa Likod ng Buwan (Shadow Behind the Moon) earned Jun Lana the best director award at the International Film Festival of Kerala and in 2017, Raya Martin’s Smaller and Smaller Circles made its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival.

In the last 15 years, Filipino films have been “traveling” more and have international film festivals to thank for it. However, not much has changed when it comes to improving the overall perception of the Filipino film industry. “In big festivals like Berlin and Cannes, the Philippines is still a novelty.  It’s not seen as the Philippines if it’s exploring the issues of the middle class or if there are no dirty slums,” Diño said. An award-winning actress herself before being appointed as the head of the film council, Diño is an advocate of diversity in film.

I think it’s because we are looking at a market that has that kind of sensibility. That’s why films coming out from the Philippines are exploring one type of theme. We’re not saying this is not the reality, but what we’re saying is this is not the only reality. We should not stop offering and presenting different kinds of Philippines.” 

From the partnerships she has been working on, Diño says that bigger festivals tend to champion certain directors who now have a name for themselves like Lav Diaz or Brillante Mendoza. Their cinema has particular characteristics that tend to focus on the country’s harsh realities.

Diño maintains that filmmakers, as artists, have a free hand in turning the stories they want to tell into movies. “That’s who they are and that is how they will present their realities,” she said. “It’s good that these kinds of films are given attention. But what is the goal? To represent the Philippines in the best way you can. So if we have filmmakers that are championing that, we should also give them the platforms and opportunities to show those films.”

The resurgence of the indie film scene started with local film festivals providing funding. This means the budget is limited for films making their way internationally. Diño says the challenge now is making films that are technically sound. “We have very good raw materials and stories but the production value is very low because the budget is low. That has to change.”

She adds that focusing on the artistry and the technical investment on Filipino films can go a long way – especially in film markets like in the Berlinale where Filipino movies are a rarity but continue to get picked up. “The opportunity is there. We’re bringing back this knowledge to the Philippines and telling them there is a market for their films. Our filmmakers just have to find a way to meet the standards and the technical things they have to follow.”

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