by: Maria Portia Olenka C. Placino
Filipino Film Viewing Culture
Cinema in the Philippines started in 1895 right after Manila had its first electric plant installed thus providing an energy source for film projection. Señor Pertierra presented a series of stills and chronophotographs entitled Espetaculo Cientifico de Pertierra at his salon on January 8, 1897. Real cinematograph was introduced by Leibman and Peritz on September 1897. Ticket prices were expensive at two pesos for first class seating and one peso for second class seating. Viewing during this time were restricted mostly to Spaniards and some wealthy Filipinos. (Sotto 28)
The culture of film viewing and film making did not prosper in the Philippines until the early 1900s, during the American colonial regime. Albert Yearsley converted the Orpheum, a vaudeville house into the Empire, a movie theater. Other movie theaters followed suit. Film viewing became available to more Filipinos rather than just a very select upper class. Film making on the other hand were mostly done by foreigners, particularly the Americans. Despite being part of the colonial power, the themes of the films made were mostly nationalistic and patriotic such as the life and works of Jose Rizal, the life of the three martyrs Gomez, Burgos and Zamora and the sarswela Walang Sugat.
Film viewing in the Philippines during the colonial times were exclusive to the wealthy and priviledged class. Since then, efforts were made to democratize film viewing in the country. Small cinema houses in the provinces prospered for a while but with the advent of provincialization of malls, such small cinema houses closed down. The digital age also brought about the democratization of film viewing. Films are often converted into digital media and are available for download without any charge. Such free downloads are not legally authorized but with the difficulty of the applicability ang lack of capabilities to enforce Intellectual Property Rights Law over the internet, such laws are deemed non-existent in the digital media world.
Despite the upfront image of democratization of film viewing by means of the digital media, it is still not applicable to all Filipinos. Downloading would assume that the consumer must have a personal computer or a laptop and a stable internet connection. Such materials and equipment would be expensive to begin with. Piracy of VCDs and DVDs also give the image of the democratization of film viewing. Buying a pirated DVD is much cheaper than going to a movie house, at the same time, a pirated DVD may contain numerous movies that could be viewed repeatedly. Yet, aside from the issues of quality, viewing of pirated DVDs also require a DVD player and a TV set, which would also require an amount of money to buy.
Another popular option is to buy downloaded movies over an internet shop and placing it in mp4 players, Ipods, PSP and other gadgets. Again, such purchase is cheaper than going to a movie house for a single viewing of a movie. Yet, the purchase of the gadget for quite an expensive amount of money defeat the image of democratization of film viewing.
Film festivals that are free or at least cheaper than ordinary film, particularly that of independent film could be considered as a democratization of film viewing, up to a point. Cine Europa and other foreign film festivals in the Philippines are shown for free, yet it cannot be considered as largely available to the public. Foreign film festivals are oftentimes shown for free but inside malls such as Shangri-la Plaza Mall, which is not as accessible and conducive to the Filipino masses. Filipino-made independent films shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Indie Sine of Robinson’s Galleria still fail to access the Filipino masses. The image of independent cinema also tends to intimidate, to the point that even if it is shown for free or at least comparatively cheaper, most Filipinos tend to stay clear of it.
Filipinos Filmmakers Within the Studio
Filipinos did not enter the film making industry until 1919 when Jose Nepumoceno directed Dalagang Bukid. Another notable early Filipino-made film was Miracles of Love by Vicente Salumbides in 1926. This began the trend of following the Hollywood style of film making. Nepumoceno in particular patterned after the spectacle style of Cecil B. De Mille, director of The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra and The Greatest Show on Earth. Eventually, Filipino film makers also trended after Hollywood, particularly in the studio system of production and distribution of film.
The first studio in the Philippines was established by Harris and Tate on November 20, 1933. Their target is more on the international market rather than the local one. Zamboanga for example was first shown in the United States before it was shown in Manila on 1937. (Sotto 33) The Second Golden Age in Philippine Cinema was during the domination of four studios—Sampaguita, LVN, Premiere and Lebran. They set a standard work ethic and professionalism in film making. Unfortunately, this also resulted to a safe and standard film making that heavily relies on tried and tested formulas. (Nepumoceno 51)
Though the studio system brought by the American colonial construct to the Philippines suffered a decline in the 1960s and was censored particularly during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and early 1980s, it regained power and popularity in the late 1980s up to the present time. Popular Philippine cinema studios nowadays do not stand alone as a film studio. The most prominent film studios are tied up as a film studio to a tv studio, radio station, newspapers and magazines. This set-up largely affect the promotion and popularization of a film. A film would be made, the stars would be guests in a television show, the theme song would be played repeatedly in radio, the stars would be interviewed and featured in the newspapers and magazines. Advertising of the film would also be done using these media.
With the advent of new media, the studio took marketing of their films further. Websites dedicated to the film are put up, forums are started, polls for various issues are also encouraged. The stars and the film itself are also place in a texting network. Social networking sites are also penetrated by the film, music and especially the stars. The cult of the super star is still encouraged by following them through twitter, by making a facebook fan page and other various means. This strategy brought the studio-supported stars and super-stars closer and accesible to their fans who are key to the success of the film and its other marketable bi-products.
Filipino Filmmakers Outside the Studio
The other spectre of Filipino film making is the alternative cinema. Though Jose Nepumoceno made several mainstream films, he also made alternative films with his brother Jesus Nepumoceno. They were commissioned by the US government to make a series of documentary films. Documentaries, newsreel and travelogues were the common format or early Filipino alternative films, all of which were destroyed during World War II. (Carunungan qtd in Nepumoceno 59)
The first Philippine independent film movement were consciously practiced around the 1950s particularly with the establishment of the Film Institute of the Philippines and the conduct of the National Short Film Festival. Filipino films were promoted outside the country. Film education was also started. Benedicto Pinga founded the Film Society of the Philippines after studying film at the City University of New York. They held a competition recognizing the difference between local short films and commercial narrative film. Eventually, independent film makers managed to organize a film festival outside the country during the 1960s. The first Filipino Film Festival held at the United States was considered as a notable achievement of independent film makers. (Nepumoceno 61)
Nowadays, alternative or independent cinema differ from the mainstream cinema not so much on the content, visuals or narrative style but more on the means of production. Independent cinema basically pertain to movies made outside the studio system. A filmmaker has the option of funding it himself or finding producers and sponsors to fund the film. Because of the lack of a particular studio to produce and provide the material needs of the film, most alternative or independent cinema is low-budgeted. Though some are provided with more budget than others, monetary restriction in independent film production is not unusual.
Initially, the introduction of the digital medium in filmmaking assumes the democratization of film production. The technology is supposed to be much cheaper than an 8mm film and still cheaper than the budget consciousness 16mm film. Yet, the technology, though much easier and practical to use, proves to be almost as expensive as an 8mm film production. The rental fee of the equipment, as well as the post-production costs proves to be almost just as expensive as a regular 8mm film.
Various issues on alternative cinema also surface. Most of the independent films, as mentioned earlier, is not accessible for the majority of the Filipinos. The few that are possible to be viewed within the Philippines are either expensive or in inaccessible spaces such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, elite shopping malls and universities. The target audience of this alternative cinema are the foreign award-giving body that gives prestige to filmmakers. Thematically, this also gives a problem on issues tackled by the independent cinema. Some filmmakers refer to them as poverty porn and cultural porn. To appeal to a colonial audience, most independent filmmakers tend to reiterate the “3rd-world” conditions of the Philippines.
Filipino Red Carpet
The recognition of films were also patterned after Hollywood. The Filipino Academy of Movie Arts ans Sciences (FAMAS) was established on May 31, 1953 to honor the best films of 1952. FAMAS replaced the Maria Clara awards established by the Manila Times Publishing Company. Pareja and Dormiendo says that, “Patterned after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in Hollywood, FAMAS originally counted as members from the movie industry itself. Among the original members were directors, actors, cinematographers, scriptwriters, musical directors, sound directors, and film editors. In addition, members from the movie press, who had no direct involvement in the work of movie people, were invited to counteract possible biases expected from so-called loyalty votes of industry colleagues.” (101) Numerous award-giving bodies followed this example, mostly patterned after Hollywood award-giving bodies.
Such award-giving practices continue on to present time. Most award-giving bodies are patterned after Hollywood models. Nowadays, even the red-carpet walk is being recreated in the Philippine construct. Interestingly, there are also awars such as the Young Critics Circle that does not follow the glamour of Hollywood red carpet. Instead, the awards and citations are given in a quiet ceremony wherein members of the academic community and the filmmaking industry are present. Independent cinema’s award-giving body such as Cinemalaya gives funding to finalists to make their film, several months before the awards night. These alternative award-giving bodies are not televised and are not sensationalized. They also do not provide a mechanism for additional marketing and popularization of the films, stars, directors and those involved in the production and post-production.
Filipino Hollywood vis-a-vis Independent Philippine Cinema
Lumbera et al. cites the notable influence of the American colonial movement in Philippine cinema, “The influence of foreign films on local cinema has been perennial and strong, because the American colonial presence facilitated the entrance of Hollywood movies into the Philippines since the early decade, as well as the exposure of Filipinos to American filmmaking in the United States.” It is also noted that, “Hollywood movies influence audience tastes as well as the kind of material or stories the movies are to carry.” (80)
Filipino taste and sensibilities are trained in the Americal colonial tradition of film making. Though they were somewhat exposed to the culture of film viewing since the Spanish colonial regime, it was only accessible to the small elite population of the Filipinos. Availability of the film viewing culture did not become popular until the American colonial regime. By this time, most of the films viewed were from other countries, particularly Hollywood. When the culture of filmmaking began, also around the same period, sensibilities of Filipino filmmakers were also trained in the Hollywood style. Though innumerable films were produced that expresses the Filipino sensibilities, majority of the film reels, particularly of early films are either, missing or destroyed. This gives a research gap in the kind of of filmmaking practiced during the American colonial period.
At present time, various technology, especially that of new media makes film viewing and film making accessible to more people. Though such availability is also limited by a certain amount of money that still needs to be spent to purchase the technology, which in turn limits the access of the audience particularly the Filipino masses. The new media technology is also yet to be explored and pushed to its limitation by the Filipino filmmakers. Independent and alternative cinema is yet to be trully independent and break bonds from mainstream movie production. Independent Philippine cinema must be achieved not just in terms of independent production but also in term of subject matter and themes. Subject matter other than poverty, violence and sex should be explored and the digital media of film making used to tell stories or non-stories in a way yet unexplored or impossible using an actual film reel camera.
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