RP film industry faces great depression

By Boy Villasanta, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Jul 26 2009 12:51 AM | Updated as of Jul 28 2009 06:49 PM

MANILA - Beyond its glitter and glamor, the current state of  the local entertainment industry reflects the true picture of the nation.

It’s just the second quarter of the year and only 10 Filipino films, in 35 mm, have been screened in commercial  movie houses. In the sixties and seventies, hundreds would already have been exhibited at about this time. Meanwhile, 87 foreign films have been released so far.
 
Many digital films, 32 as of this writing, have been produced and shown regularly in a handful of traditional movie houses and non-traditional outlets like schools, museums, art galleries etc.

However, industry analysts warned, these are not bloodlines of the local film industry.
 
Jose N. Carreon, director and producer, said no digital film has ever made money, so far, compared to the conventional box-office returns in  millions of pesos.

Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association Chairman Manny Nuqui said only about 10 percent of the members of the organization have been producing films. Films meant for the movie houses are still the moneymaking enterprises and not the digital films, Nuqui added.

Some entertainment analysts already say the local film industry is dead. But analyst Pol del Mundo believes otherwise. “The local movie industry isn’t dead. We have lots of indie productions.”

Employment

Many movie extras, directors, stuntmen, artisans, big support and lead stars, are jobless, according to Pablo Vergara, vice-President of the United Musical
Directors Association of the Philippines.

Corix Mercado, 47, a veteran stuntman and a part-time driver of TV and film services, said that there are more than a thousand old hands, lowly movie workers, who are without jobs.

“Ako, nakikitira lang sa nanay ko sa squatters area, wala akong regular na trabaho (I stay with my mother in a squatters area, I don’t have a regular job),” he said wearily after realizing he didn’t have the jeep fare  to bring him home. He was going to sleep away the night in some stalls around  Tropical Hut in Scout Borromeo and Panay Avenue in Quezon City where showbiz extras mill around.

“Wala akong maiuuwi sa nanay ko na pambili man lang kahit isang kilong bigas (I don’t have anything to bring home to my mother, not even a kilo of rice),” added Mercado.

In TV, he  said, many extras are given roles but he argued that these small actors are new in the field.

There is still some good news, however. Lawyer Esperidion Laxa, director-general of the Film Academy of the Philippines, stated that a bill has been passed by both chambers reducing entertainment tax to 10 percent from 40 percent. This has yet to be signed by President Arroyo.

Censorship

In her last year’s SONA, President Arroyo exalted her administration’s educational reforms implemented by the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education. These agencies work on the development of arts and culture, among others.

Film appreciation is one course being introduced in the curriculum; it discusses the fundamental right to freedom of expression. But how many art films were censored due to the arbitrariness of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board?

“Under the present dispensation, there are many violations of civil rights such as free expression which is preserved in our Constitution. Last year alone, I was a victim of the state arbitrary regulation on my film ‘Serbis,” said director Brillante Mendoza.

Mendoza is this year’s winner of the prestigious Palm d’Or at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival for his “Kinatay (The Execution of P),” a gloomy look at corruption in Philippine politics and the military.

Controversial filmmaker Jowee Morel laments government regulation of the film industry..

“Our government agencies in the film business are very oppressive and elitist. They don’t really serve small-time film producers because of heavy levies imposed on us. Instead of encouraging the independent filmmakers, they kill their spirit by imposing soaring fees on registration for classification, for instance,” Morel explained.

Favoritism in terms of access to government funds to encourage independent filmmaking is also a sorry tale, according to Morel. “There is still red tape in the bureaucracy.”

Actress Maria Isabel Lopez is also critical of the power set up: “Pag hindi ka mag-lick ng ass of the powers-that-be, wala ka (If you don’t lick the asses of the powers that be, you’re out).”

This year’s SONA, according to Julie L. Po, chairman of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), will once again challenge  the rights and responsibilities of artists by the administration allies  who are invoking House Bill 1109.

The bill, according to Po, can further undermine our national identity and culture as it will also allow foreign ownership of mass media, schools and advertising firms.

“It is a sell out of our national patrimony and economy. If we have too much poverty, our culture, the entertainment industry is affected,” said Po.

The provision which restricts the ownership of the mass media and advertising industries to Filipinos, as invoked in the 1987 Constitution, was removed from the bill.

“Ang mangyayari n’yan, mas maraming escapist na entertainment like Cinderella ang mapapanood sa TV. Ngayon ngang hindi pa approved ‘yong bill, escapist na ang napapanood natin sa TV, what more kung foreign controlled na ito? (We will have more escapist entertainment. As it is, that’s what we see on TV, what more if mass media are controlled by foreigners?)” explained Maria Victoria Deocampo of CAP.