Part 2: DIGITAL CINEMA IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Role of Information and Communication Technology in the Area of Arts, Culture and Heritage: Digital Cinema
Eloisa May P. Hernandez
In the face of constant invasion of high-budgeted and well-marketed Hollywood films, Filipino films remain important to Filipinos and watching films remain as one of the favorite activity in the country. The Metro Manila Film Festival still commands the attention of the general populace in spite of the constant controversies surrounding it and the persistent calls for its abolition. Fully cognizant of cinemas hold in the public imagination and the role of cinema in the country’s development, the Philippine government lends it support to Philippine cinema through various institutions such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). The Philippine government created the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) through Republic Act 9167, “An Act Creating the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Defining its Powers and Functions, Appropriating Funds Therefore, and for Other Purposes.” Film’s role in national development is clear in the mandate of the FDCP, “the State, as a policy, recognizes the need to promote and support the development and growth of the local film industry as a medium for the upliftment of aesthetic, cultural and social values for the better understanding and appreciation of the Filipino identity.” FDCP envisions “a flourishing professional and united Philippine film industry that produces and promotes high quality films which encourage social and cultural transformation and is viewed by a wider audience.”
Film, together with television, video, radio, entertainment software, internet activity sites, electronic media advertising, and other entertainment activities, has also been identified as part of the creative industry under the category of audiovisual and new media by the United Nations and is included in the UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics. In a paper prepared by the Institute for Labor Studies , film (along with radio, television and other entertainment activities, figured prominently as part of the creative industries at an annual average of 36,373 workers or about 21% of average total employment in community, social and personal service establishments for the years 1999, 2001, and 2003. The importance of cinema in national cultural and economic development is evident.
Regrettably, Philippine cinema has long been hailed as “dying” or “dead” but from impending death, there are signs of recovery. Digital cinema technology, together with ICT, is at the heart of it, breathing new life to a sluggish film industry. From a robust industry that consistently produced around 120 films a year for wide theater release, Philippine cinema has experienced a steady decline in film production since 2001. Records from U.P. Film Institute show that the industry only produced 103 films in 2001, 94 in 2002, 80 in 2003, 55 in 2004, 50 in 2005, and 49 in 2006. Several factors are blamed for the decline in production such as rising cost of raw film stock, taxes, and the constant influx of Hollywood movies.
Digital cinema in the Philippines has grown leaps and bounds for the past few years. Due to the unprecedented growth of digital cinema in the Philippines, it has created new modes of distribution and circulation, distinct from the Philippine film industry’s Hollywood patterned modes of distribution and circulation. Digital cinema, part of the so-called “digital revolution,” has been hailed as the way to liberate filmmakers from the hegemonic grip of Hollywood and similar film industries. According to Jeffery Shaw in Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary after Film, “the hegemony of Hollywood’s movie-making modalities is increasingly being challenged by the radical new potentialities of the digital media technologies.”
2005 was a banner year for digital cinema in the Philippines with the establishment of two major film festivals dedicated solely to digital films – Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals. The 1st Cinemalaya: Philippine Independent Film Festival in 2005 featured nine digital feature films and six digital short films with Pepot Artista of Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr. winning as Best Picture feature category and Joel Ruiz’s Mansyon winning in the short film category. The most successful entry though was Aureus Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (APMO for short, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) which won numerous awards in international film festivals. APMO was subsequently transferred to 35mm and had a relatively successful commercial theater run. It earned Php 800, 000.00, the highest first-day gross of for a digital film, and more than P2 million in its first week with only 14 prints
The 2006 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and Competition featured eight digital feature films and ten digital short films with Michael Sandejas’ Tulad ng Dati winning in the feature category and Rommel “Milo” Tolentino’s Orasyon winning in the short film category. Though the Cinemalaya entries did not really enjoy commercial success and only APMO was able to have a regular commercial theater run and critical success, the film festival and competition still provides Filipino filmmakers an avenue to explore narratives not usually explored by mainstream films.
Cinema One, the country’s popular Filipino movie channel on cable TV supports digital filmmaking in the country through its Cinema One Originals where several selected film projects are commissioned and given a substantial production grant to encourage the creation of full-length digital films. Cinema One Originals is a project of Creative Programs Inc., an entertainment subsidiary of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media conglomerate. Cinema One gave production grants to film projects such as Dennis Marasigan’s Sa North Diversion Road, Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes’ Sandalang Bahay, and Topel Lee’s Dilim. Now on its 2nd year, Cinema One originals also started to give awards beside the seven production grants. The finalists are assured of theater screenings and will air on cable TV’s Cinema One channel. Huling Balyan Ng Buhi directed by Sherad Sanchez won the 2006 Grand Prize winner.
Cinemanila International Film Festival, the country’s longest running film festival, has also instituted a digital film competition in 2005 with Digital Lokal: Cinemanila Digital Film Competition with eight entries with the first place going to Aureus Solito’s Tuli, second place to Ramon De Guzman’s Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong and third place to Briccio Santos’ Ala Verde Ala Pobre. The 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival in 2006 reaped six films for the Digital Lokal competition with Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro winning the top prize and Khavn dela Cruz’s Squatterpunk winning the Jury Prize.
The digital technology has allowed budding filmmakers to experiment and to tell stories otherwise ignored and marginalized by studio films. The technology has allowed filmmakers to make their films without huge budgets and studio financing. Filipino digital filmmakers of note include Lav Diaz (Heremias, Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino), Khavn Dela Cruz (Mondomanila, Squatterpunk), Raya Martin (Bakasyon, Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo, Indio Nacional) and John Torres (Todo Todo Teros, Salat, Tawidgutom). Digital films such as Jeturian’s Kubrador, Torres’ Todo Todo Teros, Mendoza’ s Masahista and Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros have reaped awards from international film festivals.
Part III. VIRTUAL FILM COMMUNITIES to follow.
Commissioned by the DOST, Presented at the ICTD4 Roundtable Discussion, Vigan, Ilocos Sur, January 30, 2007. Published in the book The Role of Information and Communication Technology in Digital Cinema. Information and Communication Technology in Philippine Art, Heritage and Religion. Department of Science and Technology in 2008.