Eye To The Telescope: Defying Local Digital Cinema October 2, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Essay, Noypi.
Digital Cinema: Running its way to success, will it beat the mainstream?
In Tilman Baumgärtel’s seminal essay, The Downside of Digital, he points out: “digital movie making is not magic pixie dust, and might actually be bad for Philippine cinema.” Citing ten reasons to reinforce his assertion, he concludes that “digital cannot adequately depict the Philippine night… In no other area does digital cinema look as poor as in such night scenes, and there seems to be little improvement in this area, thus depriving Philippine cinema of one of its most important characteristics.”
I can even imagine tears in those statements. As a visiting professor in the UP Film Institute, Mr. Baumgärtel might have seen a lot of “sloppy” films made by his students, or even by our local filmmakers, for him to come up with these arguments. If his article has a visual representation, then it would be a clock with impaired hands, a fractured disposition of irony, as it should be the one to remind us of time. It already faded.
But our filmmakers should also take heed. A certain tendency of Philippine cinema (inherited by digital filmmaking) is excessive honesty, unaware that too much honesty is dishonesty as well.
There is completely nothing wrong with doing what you want, but doing what everyone else is doing is quite a different story. Some of our passionate directors, and student filmmakers as well, are unintentionally coming up with works that are skeletally-similar, it feels like a hundred bucks of feeble déjà vu. You take out the skin and muscles, you’re left with the brittleness of their stories. You squeeze their blood, you wrestle with their indulgence in form, as if not everyone has seen City of God or Pulp Fiction.
This is not to generalise the independent film industry in particular — in fact, mainstream films deserve contempt — but to progress means to accept critical judgment. In perspective, the mainstream isn’t concerned about criticism — it can stand on its own by determining the preference of moviegoers, which more often than not is a euphemism for insulting their intellect and underestimating their capability to feel a varied range of emotions. It exists without our consent. The independent film industry, on the other hand, deserves criticism because it is the only movement capable of delivering the reform that this industry needs. As film and criticism go hand in hand, we are to produce not only a handful of exceptional works but a pool of talented writers as well.
When Mario O’Hara’s Babae sa Breakwater was shortlisted in the Cannes Film Festival three years ago, the attention was not as noisy as when Foster Child did last May. The noise was understandable and expected, as local digital films (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Kubrador, and Kaleldo) continue to reap awards from film festivals abroad. Sadly, the warm reception, extensive news coverage, and positive reviews (whoever thought this formula is also a jinx) didn’t help — Foster Child suffered the same fate as Babae sa Breakwater’s — both ships sank in local shores.
Babae sa Breakwater stood against Seiko Films’ Liberated and Star Cinema’s My First Romance during its weeklong release. Foster Child kicked off this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival along with films in exhibition and competition. O’Hara’s film, released in local theaters before its exhibition during the Director’s Fortnight, was unsurprisingly a commercial failure. Pitted against two studio releases, people flocked to see Heart Evangelista giggle and Diana Zubiri undress her undies. Babae sa Breakwater was left to O’Hara’s few, avid followers. Even those few people who had seen it were describing it as “dreadful” and “nonsense.” Fresh from winning international accolades, Foster Child was released on the third week of September in SM and Ayala malls. Three days after, it was pulled out in its supposed week-long run. ‘Only a few people are watching it’ is an understatement.
I admire the producers of these films not only for their intentions but also for anticipating the consequences of their decision to show them locally. It is quite obvious that “Hey, it’s impossible to reach the hundred-thousand mark,” and I sympathise with their qualms toward the Filipino audience, that other people seem to appreciate our films better than us, us who should know better, us who should support our own. On this note, I wonder: Is it the films or the audience? Are local filmmakers working so hard only to be ignored by the viewing public? Aside from being a medium of self-expression, what is the purpose of filmmaking if not to reach a wider audience? Are filmmakers supposed to watch their films along with their actors and crew, and laugh and weep and jump at their own excitement or loss?
It is painful to see a beautiful film not seen by a lot of people. But what is more agonising are the thought and reality that these local films, early enough to be considered “masterpieces,” are not seen by the Filipino audience. Likewise, no matter how great a film is, if it has no other film of similar grain to accompany it, it will not fare well. Incidentally, the law of contrast doesn’t work here. People hold tight to their hundred bucks, expecting to be thrilled or at least entertained. Better reserve it to the tried and tested than risk a day’s earning to a probable disappointment. Most people would rather pay to meet Harry Potter or Optimus Prime than Katharine Luna or Cherry Pie Picache. The first pair is far more exciting, if not enthralling, I suppose. A mentality quite difficult to shake off.
It seems contradictory but local moviegoers should also be credited for digital cinema’s boom. It is rewarding to observe that in the last few years (digital filmmaking’s peak years), they have not only increased in number but also in interest in sound judgment. Blogs that range from “angaleng ni Juday, period” to detailed reviews akin to Oggs’ Movie Thoughts are all over the Web. Producers no longer need to force us to see their films; our discretion is far more different than before, more specifically in the 90s when watching films was such a luxury we only see them during Christmas. Now, we see films with less hesitation. Films are shown not only in malls that harbor extreme capitalism but also in small auditoriums, art galleries, cafés, missionary schools, and wherever open spaces are available — a projector, a white concrete wall, and a DVD player are all that’s needed. It even seems that everyone is excited for the next screening. We are given not only more options, but also venues, and how we need a lot of them! The success of the industry is brought about by massive production of films, whether released commercially or not, and digital technology served as a catalyst. In a movement that some critics are tempted to tag as the “Third Golden Age of Philippine Cinema,” our “doctors” have just arrived on time to treat the “patient.” Now that it is not far from impossible to release one Filipino film every day, focus on quality must be a priority.
With digital filmmaking, anyone can call himself a director – in the same way that bloggers consider themselves writers. The past three years is a witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall — the once indestructible concept that defi(n)es the line between the endowed and the unprivileged — and proves that a camera is as accessible to a director as a brush and palette to a painter. Every young filmmaker is infected by the Nouvelle Vague spirit: cinephilia, passion, and individuality. As postmodernism progresses, we are caught up in the dilemma of knowing and not knowing. And if indie filmmakers are serious enough to go beyond their “alternative facade,” they should insist in refining their stories, employing basic lighting techniques, and directing with maturity.
As what Paolo Villaluna argued in response to Mr. Baumgärtel’s words, blaming the medium itself is indeed moot and academic. Like we should imprison all the bombs and fighter planes used in suicide attacks and not the mastermind himself. Having seen Raya Martin’s Maicling Pelicula ng Ysang Indio Nacional, John Torres’ Todo Todo Teros, Jade Castro’s Endo, and a handful of outstanding, not to mention groundbreaking, films made this year — Philippine cinema is having a blast — and enjoying it. Now is the best time to make films. Luckily, we no longer need divine intervention.