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01 September 2013

From "Filburger Films" to Something Radically New: What Will the New Philippine Cinema Be Like?

by Rob San Miguel

What is the “New Philippine Cinema?” Does it exist? Is it in infancy or is it wishful thinking? Filipino moviegoers are inundated with Hollywood movies.  We love them. In fact, we only see Hollywood films in our local cinemas. Mainstream Filipino films also mimic Hollywood-style narratives both successfully and catastrophically.  As a result, the eyes of the ordinary moviegoer have remained attuned to the classical narrative form.  We regard it as the standard of excellence and the way of perceiving reality.  The classical narrative remains to be the foundation of meaning in Philippine cinema.  We feed this to the viewers and in turn, they demand it. 

Certainly, some viewers get to see non-Hollywood films made available through internet downloading but we have yet to ascertain their impact on our local movies.  Perhaps, these "downloaders" of foreign films do not have much impact yet because big studios have continually produced the same kinds of films in the past ten years, and these films continue to make money, in some cases tons of money. Money is king. Period.

Independent cinema is said to be flourishing and some directors have experimented on various cinematic styles.  Some independent films have influences of Second, Third and even Fourth cinemas.  Nevertheless, independent cinemas are still restricted to festivals patronized by avid film lovers who do not mind making the extra effort to watch independently produced films during special screenings.  Some independent films have successfully crossed over the mainstream, such as “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank,”  “Bwakaw,” and recently “Ekstra," thanks to its A-list cast and aggressive promotion from Star Cinema. There you go again, big money.

However, the growth of Philippine Independent Cinema may be deceptive. Some filmmakers themselves claim that the difference between mainstream film and independent film is mere budget, and not style or discourse.  Most importantly, big studios and their dealings with local chains of cinemas around the country dictate what films will be distributed. 

Definitely, contemporary Philippine cinema does not belong in the paradigm of the Pan Asian Cinema that produces that likes of Wong Kar Wai and Park Chan-wook.  Perhaps, along with Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, we can create a uniquely Southeast Asian cinema but that is another topic. 

The question is: “What now?” Is it possible to create a uniquely Philippine cinema with its own sets of aesthetics and techniques?  Is our current cinema just like a big bowl filled with various ingredients from different cuisines but having no unique flavor?  To put it crassly, current Philippine cinema is “a hamburger, cooked Filipino style.”

Is it fair to call our current films “Filburger Films?”

Perhaps, in order to create a unique film movement, we have to examine the structure of our society. The art of filmmaking is after all a reflection of the dynamics of society. Film is a product, just one of the countless commodities of a society.

By outlining the structure of society, the true filmmaker (with emphasis on “true”) can easily pinpoint his attack. 

The Baroque / Gothic Church and the Nipa Hut: 
film architecture as symbols (From Alvin Yapan's
"Debosyon") Yapan's latest film may provide

hints on what new Philippine cinema will look like.
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Basically, Philippine society is ruled by the few. They are the military, the rich oligarchs, the media, the foreigners and the government (whose members come from the other elite groups).  All of them constitute the intellectual and economic elite of the country. They all dictate, directly and indirectly, how ordinary Filipinos should live their lives.  If you do not belong in any of these groups, you are disposable. 

(Yes, I am also aware that this essay is in English so this is also an "elitist" endeavor. Pardon me. I love irony but I digress.)

Perhaps, the spark of a new film movement will happen once filmmakers deconstruct or attack these pillars and create films outside the influence of these pillars.  Making films is like making a building. Like an architect hell-bent on creating a new structure, he must not use the same building blocks.  Gothic designs are rejected by Bauhaus style, and it was rejected by Post-modern designs. In like manner, the new film movement must reject the predominant narrative style and the mechanism that gives it value. 

How do we go about doing that? If I knew that, I would be making movies. Wait, I actually have an idea but I do not have the money.  So there you go, still trapped under the Gothic or factory roof. 

To be continued...

It is odd to use buildings as examples to describe film structures but I think it works. (1) Façade of Reims Cathedral,France [Gothic structure], (2) BauhausTel Aviv Museum, (3) Auditorio deTenerife in Santa Cruz de Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava [post-modern structure]. Images used to identify specific design and for educational purpose. RATIONALE FOR THE USE OF NON-FRE MEDIA. Click this.

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