The state of Filipino movies

by Vladmir Bunoan,

Posted at Feb 14 2012 07:58 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2012 05:42 AM

Local film industry dying, but indie films on the rise

MANILA, Philippines – The number of locally produced films increased slightly in 2011 but is still far below the output during the so-called second “golden age” of Filipino movies in the 1970s.

Last year, 34 mainstream or studio-backed movies were released compared to only 28 in 2010, according to data from the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP). Including independently produced or “indie” films, a total of 78 Filipino movies came out in 2011, or five more than the 2010 output.

In contrast, 151 foreign films were released last year, up from 140 movies in 2010.

Despite the slight pickup, the number is less than half the industry’s output in the past decades. From 1990 to 1999, the local film industry produced an average of 136 films a year.

During the period from 1970 to 1979, considered by film buffs as the second golden age of Filipino movies, an average of 165 films were released every year, including masterpieces like Lino Brocka’s "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" in 1974, Celso Ad Castillo’s "Burlesk Queen" in 1977, and Mike de Leon’s "Itim" in 1976.

The first “golden age” of Filipino cinema was in the 1950s with movies such as "Anak Dalita," "Badjao," "Kandelerong Pilak," "Ifugao" and "Genghis Khan."

Why is film industry dying?

In his latest entry for the monthly column “Statistically Speaking,” Dr. Romulo A. Virola, secretary-general of the National Statistical Coordination Board, tracked the decline of the local film industry.

“From the 1960s to 1999, the number of local films shown in the country averaged more than 140 per year. However, during the past decade, only 732 local films were shown for an average of 73 films per year, half the average in the preceding four decades,” he said.

Virola noted that the share of locally produced movies went up from 24% in 2005 to 34% in 2011, with the average number of local films increasing from less than 60 per year in 2005-2008 to more than 70 in 2009-2011.

The increase, however, is due largely to the number of indie films being produced, which has steadily grown from only 11 in 2006 to a high of 45 in 2010, according to FAP figures.

The number of local box-office hits also slightly dipped. Virola said four out of the 10 top grossing films in the Philippines in 2008, excluding entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), were locally produced. “However, each year thereafter, only two of the top 10 were made locally,” he said.

In 2008, “A Very Special Love” topped all local films with gross revenues of P170.6 million, second only to “Iron Man.” Three other Filipino films – “Caregiver,” “For the First Time” and “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” – all topped P100 million.

Last year’s top grosser, “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon,” earned a whopping P432.2 million in the local box office, while only two Filipino films made the top 10 -- “The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin" (No. 2 with P331.5 million) and "No Other Woman" (No. 4 with P282.5 million).

Those two films also cracked the all-time top 10 films shown in the Philippines. The Vice Ganda comedy is at No. 3, while the sexy love triangle starring Anne Curtis and Christine Reyes is at No. 6.

The three “Transformers” movies all figured in the all-time top 10, with the third installment at No. 1.

Local films earn more

But while there were fewer local films shown, Virola said that on the average, local films earn about twice as much as foreign films.

Last year, 23 local films monitored by Box Office Mojo raked in more than P1.5 billion in the box office, or average gross revenues of P67.3 million per movie. In contrast, the 129 foreign films shown in the Philippines last year earned P4.48 billion or an average of only P34.7 million per film.

The figures were even higher in 2010. Box Office Mojo monitored 18 local films, which earned on average P72 million each.

Virola said total revenues from local and foreign movies comprise about 0.06% of the country’s gross domestic product based on current prices.

“Further, for every P10,000 spent by households on final consumption, around P8 went to watching a movie,” he said.

The film industry also contributes to employment generation. Based on the 2008 Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry, Virola said workers employed in motion picture and video production, animated films and cartoons production, and motion picture, audio and video projection represent about 0.10% of total employment in the domestic economy.

“If we want higher economic growth, if we want to create jobs, if we want to reduce poverty, won’t revitalizing the film industry help?” he asked.

MMFF movies

Figures from the FAP also show that the yearly MMFF during the Christmas season generates an average P500 million in just two weeks of showing – or close to 10% of the total film revenues in a year.

Only local films are shown in theaters during the MMFF.

In terms of local film grosses, the MMFF makes up one-third of the yearly total from 2008 to 2011.

Revenues from the MMFF have been steadily rising from P450.8 million in 2008 to last year’s record P636.8 million, with the 2011 top-grosser “Enteng Ng Ina Mo” raking in P237.9 million.

The “Tanging Ina” and “Enteng Kabisote” films occupy the top four spots in the all-time top MMFF movies.

“Maybe one way to rejuvenate the film industry is for the other cities to have their own film festivals,” Virola said.

And noting the success of Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and real-life couple Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo in the yearly festival, Virola even cheekily commented that “with their box office appeal and with the way movie titles are being concocted to make money, maybe next year in the MMFF, we would have ‘Enteng, Huwag Mong Sakalin ang Panday sa Kasal ng Ina Mo!’”

Fewer quality movies

Virola, however, lamented that the local movie industry has been producing films “far from the quality of those made during the golden years of Philippine cinema.”

“Maybe this is another reason why moviegoers have opted to watch television instead,” he said.

However, he also cited the poor box office performance of award-winning movies. Last year’s MMFF best picture, “Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story” made only P38.4 million, about the same as 2008 MMFF best picture winner “Baler,” which earned P35.8 million.

Then there’s the 2008 Famas best picture winner, “Katas ng Saudi,” which flopped with only P3.2 million at the box office.

“Unfortunately, good local films do not necessarily make good money,” he said.

Stop piracy

In the meantime, Virola also asked Filipinos not to buy pirated movies.

“We must recognize that the movie industry has lots of other things to offer. From generating revenues, creating jobs, recognizing and honoring the talentadong Pinoys, promoting our culture and tourism, etc., the movie industry can help our country to move forward,” he said.

While acknowledging that piracy, as well as the popularity of the television and the Internet, may have caused problems faced by the local film industry, Virola remains optimistic that the movies will thrive.

“Filipinos love to watch movies. We love sci-fi foreign movies and we also queue and pay for comedy or romantic Pinoy films,” he said, a reference to the box-office success of “Transformers” as well as the movies of actor John Lloyd Cruz.

“So, will the new movie of Lloydie and Angel Locsin ‘Unofficially Yours’ click with the Filipino moviegoers? Just watch!”