Philippine film industry eyes new stage

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 15 2009 10:41 AM | Updated as of Oct 15 2009 09:02 PM

BUSAN - A new wave of independent Philippine cinema has had critics buzzing at festivals around the world this year but now industry veterans say it is time to win over audiences as well.

"In the Philippines at the moment we have solved one big problem -- the technology is available and we can make the films," says director Raymond Red.

"We also have all this attention and we have won awards. But the next stage is to capture an audience. We have to find where we are going to show our films and we have to know who will be there to see them."

Red was a pioneer of independent cinema in the 1980s and 90s and was the first Filipino awarded at the Cannes Film Festival when his short film "Anino" (Shadow) won the prestigious Palme d'Or in 2000.

He has been at the 14th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) in South Korea this week showing one of his earlier works -- 1993's "Sakay" -- as part of a retrospective featuring 11 independent Philippine films.

Red says the attention on the films this year has been a little mis-directed.

"People are talking about a revolution in Philippine cinema," he says.

"But the revolution is really just about technology. We were before shooting films on Super-8, and our country has a rich history in films and a history of screening films at large festivals that dates back to the 1970s.

"But now digital technology means anyone can shoot a film.

"Our young filmmakers need to ask themselves why they are making movies -- whether they shoot on digital or on their mobile phones. And they need to ask for whom are they making them."

It has already been a big year for the Philippine independent film industry.

Before PIFF, Brillante Mendoza won best director at Cannes in May for "Kinatay" (Slaughter). That was followed by Jose "Pepe" Diokno's "Lion of the Future" award for "Engkwentro" (Clash) at the Venice Film Festival last month.

But while international festival programmers have been falling over themselves to screen films from the country, US-based producer Roger Garcia says the arthouse Philippine scene needs to find a broader audience at home.

"The main problem facing all these indie filmmakers is distribution," says Garcia, who helped Red with his latest film "Himpapawid" (Manila Skies), which is in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival starting Saturday.

"The Philippines is still an active film-going country and local blockbusters vie with Hollywood films for box office dollars.

"But there is unfortunately little space in the market place for these films, even those like Mendoza's.

"I think the current crop of indie films on the festival circuit shows talent but the films are sometimes regarded as somewhat exotic or esoteric for a fairly exclusive cognoscenti."

However, Garcia points to the success of events such as Manila's annual Cinemalaya festival held in July and the new funding opening up for young filmmakers on the heels of the international festival plaudits.

"What might happen next is that indie Filipino cinema could reach a kind of critical mass, a momentum which would then generate more general interest."

The word around PIFF this year is that Giuseppe Bede Sampedro's "Squalor" could well walk away with the festival's premiere prize, the 30,000-dollar New Currents award, to be announced Friday.

Set in the Manila slums, it shows how lives intersect in a crowded metropolis and Sampedro says the challenge now for the new generation of Philippine filmmakers is to live up to expectations.

"The world is watching us now," he says. "So while this is a good thing, we have to keep making films that will keep people interested."