MANILA, Philippines - It’s only the year, the faces and the names of participants to the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) that change, but the essence and politics of the event remain the same.
Controversies and issues have been rocking the MMFF, year in and year out. It’s the struggle to perfection that makes the difference.
It is formerly known as the Metropolitan Manila Film Festival. Now, Philippines has been affixed to the title to signify a never-ending tension and contradiction among classes, interests and motives in this commercial event masquerading as an art venue.
Its pursuit to an ideal filmmaking ground had begun when the late Lino Brocka, National Artist for Film, questioned what he perceived as uneven, arbitrary and even “malicious” judging from among the members of the jury.
In 1977, Brocka fielded his festival entry, “Inay,” top billed by veteran actress Alicia Vergel, against other masterpieces by noted directors such as Celso Ad. Castillo (“Burlesk Queen” starring Vilma Santos ) and Mike de Leon (“Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” featuring Christopher de Leon and Hilda Koronel).
National Artist for Theater Rolando S. Tinio was the chair of the panel of judges for that year, and most of the major wins were given to Castillo’s film.
Brocka had read it as a biased judgment and protested against it on the night of the awarding ceremonies at the Metropolitan Theater.
He was infuriated and had thrown invectives at Tinio not necessarily because his “Inay” didn’t earn any major recognition, but because the competency of de Leon in technical acumen wasn’t noticed.
Years after the controversy, Brocka was still talking about it with gusto.
“Mahusay ang direction ni Mike de Leon, bakit hindi man lang siya na-notice?” asked the progressive filmmaker.
Noranians vs Vilmanians
MMFF also became a showdown between Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos’s films.
Aunor’s “Atsay” and Santos’s “Rubia Serbios” were contenders in 1978. In the succeeding, selective years, many of their films were in competition like Aunor’s “Himala” and Santos’s “Haplos” in 1982.
In 1978, only the best performer award was given, which sent many anti-Aunor sectors to protest. When Santos won best actress for her performance in “Imortal” in 1989, Noranians were very angry about the decision.
Noranians and Vilmanians trooped to wherever the awards night would be held to rally behind their idols, and cheers and jeers hovered in the ground and in the air.
In 1983, controversy swirled after Coney Reyes-Mumar won best actress plum for “Bago Kumalat Ang Dugo” and Anthony Alonzo bagged the best actor award for the same movie, besting screen acting greats like Charito Solis for “Karnal” and Phillip Salvador and Vic Silayan for “Karnal,” respectively.
Willie Milan defeated Brocka in the best director category and many questioned the standards used by the jurors.
In 1986, best story and best screenplay awards were not given to any entry. According to one of the members of the jury, socialite Tingting Cojuangco, “no one of the seven entries deserved the awards.”
In 1988, stuntman and character actor-turned-filmmaker Baldo Marro won best actor for “Patrolman,” which also won him the best director award. He bested prizewinning director Chito Roño (“Itanong Mo Sa Buwan”) in the division, sending uproar from well-meaning critics and regular local film observers.
In 1992, dark horses, newcomers and even recycled stars won major prizes in the fest. They were best picture “Andres Manambit: Angkan ng Matatapang,” an Ike Jarlego, Jr. caper, which won best director from Viva Films; Kimberly Diaz as best actress for “Totoy Guapo”; she tied with Gina Alajar for “Shake, Rattle & Roll IV”; and Sylvia Sanchez for “Takbo, Talon, Dali” as best supporting actress.
The results could only elicit questions and doubts from among show biz denizens who were rooting for either the competing entries or just didn’t believe in the choices of winners.
No best film award was bestowed in 1994 and again, Kimberly Diaz grabbed the best actress honor for “Lucas Abelardo.” Roi Vinzon won the best actor award, with Teresa Loyzaga as best supporting actress for the same film.
No best director plum was awarded, which again sent howls of protests from the movie press, artists and film buffs alike.
Trophy from Recto?
Actor Cesar Montano raised his points in not a few MMFF awards night, especially when he said in 2001 that, “we can all just order trophy from Recto,” referring to the inconsistencies in the judging.
Montano, lead star of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Bagong Buwan,” was disappointed when the film failed to get the best picture and best director award.
In 2002, stars from Star Cinema’s "Dekada 70" walked out of the awards night after Lualhati Bautista failed to bag the best story and best screenplay awards. What made it even more controversial was when the film's lead star, Vilma Santos, was beaten by Ara Mina in the best actress category.
In 2005, director Joel Lamangan also walked out of the event after he failed to bag the best director award for his film, "Blue Moon."
The award was given to "Kutob" director Jose Javier Reyes. In the same year, Regal Films's matriarch Lily Monteverde voiced out her disappointment as she lamented that some winners in the festival were "undeserving."
In 2006, Star Cinema wrote to then MMFF chairman Bayani Fernando to point out that "Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo," which featured Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo, should have won the best picture trophy and not Vic Sotto's entry, "Enteng Kabisote 3."
In 2007, the MMFF faced another controversy when its organizers announced the winners, without even mentioning the nominees for each category. The MMFF organizers explained that they were in a hurry, saying the event had to end at exactly 9 p.m. to give way to Lani Misalucha's concert.