Online petition launched over Cinemalaya controversy

Posted at 03/05/2012 12:31 PM | Updated as of 03/05/2012 6:14 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- An petition on social action platform Change.org has been launched after Emerson Reyes' entry to the 8th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and Competition was disqualified from the list of New Breed Category finalists.

Cinemalaya's organizing committee has disqualified "MNL 143" late last month, saying that the casting of Alan Paule and Joy Viado were "not suitable to the material." The entry tells the story of an overseas Filipino worker who returned to the country in search for his long lost love.

Nestor Abrogena, the producer of "MNL 143," said it is no longer going to compete in the independent film festival.

"We would like to put an emphasis that going back to compete as a finalist for Cinemalaya 2012, is not in our options, as we intend to move on and make our film outside," Abrogena said in a statement released over the weekend.

"What's happening now is beyond our personal search for justice to the plight of 'MNL 143.' It's already a fight for free cinema. Reforms within a festival that presents itself as steward of indepedent filmmaking, that hopefully will be realized soon through a unified stance," he added.

Finalists in the New Breed category each receive a seed grant of P500,000 from the Cinemalaya Foundation.

Adrian Mendizabal, editor-in-chief of Indiocine, a non-profit journal on Philippine cinema, believes that the disqualification is "unjust."

"We simply can no longer keep our silence and close our eyes while blatantly unjust acts are being done to filmmakers who only have their vision and soul to share to the country," Mendizabal said in the petition.

He added that Cinemalaya's move has "earned criticism from many members of the film community."

The online petition had 84 signatures as of posting time, with most of them explaining why they decided to give their support to Mendizabal's cause.

"What good is an independent film festival if isn't really 'independent?'" Macky Macarayan said.

"The Cinemalaya committee should not meddle in the casting of Cinemalaya entries. It's beyond their call. It's the director's call who knows best what is good for his material," Arsenio Liao said.

"We need to respect the vision of Filipino independent filmmakers because they don't do it for the money," Jennifer Sackett said.

"Ang Babae sa Septic Tank" dominated the 7th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and Competition last year after it bagged five awards in the New Breed category. These are Best Film, Best Actress (Eugene Domingo), Best Director (Marlon Rivera), Best Screenplay (Chris Martinez) and Audience Choice Award.

PH film industry 'dying'

Today's local film industry is a far cry from the second "golden age" of Filipino movies in the 1970s, when masterpieces such as Celso Ad Castillo's Burlesk Queen" attracted both film buffs and ordinary moviegoers.

This as producers, out of a fear of having a flop, churn out the same hit movies featuring the same set of popular actors.

"Let's face it. The economics of our country pushes Filipinos not to prioritize local movies in our budget, much more socially responsible movies," Enrico Santos, head of the concept development group and new media for ABS-CBN Film Productions Inc., said at the 7th Pinoy Media Congress held last week.

"Kahit maganda ang storya, may aral, pero di sikat ang artista, 'di kikita ng pelikula," he added.

As a result, movie outfits try to strike a balance between depth and feel-good entertainment, which usually involves the glitter of famous actors.