2016: Amazing year for Filipino cinema, new grounds broken
A milestone win happened earlier in the first quarter of 2016, when Lav Diaz's nine-hour epic, Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), an impressionistic interpretation of Philippine history, was awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
Several honors were accorded individual artists the following months.
Until one most momentous event occurred in December 2016, when the newly refurbished, re-energized Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was held through a rapturous welcome by the local film community, except for a few hold-overs of past regimes.
When a diverse set of film entries was presented and screened, all, but for one, were aptly considered as independent. The MMFF 2016 awards night was capped by honoring a most unlikely entry, a full-length documentary, Babyruth Villarama's Sunday Beauty Queen, as the festival best, a first in the 47-year history of the festival.
LIST: Winners at MMFF's Gabi Ng Parangal
To say that the MMFF 2016 was a game-changer is no longer contested. It was.
The change that happened was not only a response to many past scandals. But a response to the creative stasis of the festival for the last three decades.
Interestingly, in the post-EDSA era, the film community had to intervene to demand for the changes themselves. Thus, it was not the festival business as usual, because MMFF 2016 became a crusade.
Film artists were observed to support each other and their patrons and supporters participated in passionate dialogue and conversation.
The most important thing that happened was the emergence of new leaders, notably the newly installed Chair of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Liza Diño-Seguerra, who proved to be a very capable instigator, negotiator, and counselor to a lot of the film followers.
However, it was the selection of Villarama's documentary that was the real groundbreaker: both as entry and winner. The documentary was a breakthrough choice that will challenge the primacy of the fiction film, both in the market and film discourse, and raise the audience awareness for the vitality of the form.
Take note that Sunday Beauty Queen will only be the second full-length documentary ever so honored as best film; the first was Hesumaria Sescon's Yuta, The Earth Art Of Julie Lluch Dalena (1991), given the Gold Prize (equivalent to the Best Film) along with Elwood Perez's Ang Totoong Buhay Ni Pacita M (The True Life of Pacita M) by the critics group, Kritika, in 1992. (Full disclosure: I was the chair and one of the founding members of Kritika, which included Prof. Joel David, Prof. Joi Barrios-Leblanc, and a host of others).
Lav Diaz's second win last year for Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), also became the first-ever Filipino film to be declared Best Film in either of the top three A-list film festivals in the world: Ang Babaeng Humayo won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival in September.
Two most prominent acting triumphs, among a lot of winners in other film festivals, broke the ceiling, so to speak: Jaclyn Jose, Best Actress for Brillante Mendoza's Ma' Rosa at the Cannes Film Festival; and Paolo Ballesteros, Best Actor for Jun Robles Lana's Die Beautiful at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
The year 2016 also saw the publication of two important books in history and criticism: Nick Deocampo's Eiga: Cinema In The Philippines During Wold War II, a book that aims to show the Japanese wartime manipulation of Philippine movies of the period, a very rare accounting of a never-been told time of Filipino cinema; and Patrick Campos's The End of National Cinema: Filipino Film At The Turn Of The Century, a collection of essays that aim to put a light on long-standing debates in film criticism, like refusing the independent and mainstream dichotomies and dethroning the cultural myth of the golden age.
The Filipino Arts and Cinema International (FACINE), celebrated its 23rd year in 2016 with the launching of its educational component with a keynote lecture by Filipino film scholar, critic, and academic, Prof. Joel David. In the same event, David was also awarded the Gawad Lingap Sining honors.
The 2016 FACINE premiered the noted Filipino-American filmmaker Matthew Abaya's feature-length debut film Vampariah.
Lastly, in 2016, Filipino cinema also lost two of its most respected personalities: German Moreno, the star-builder, entertainer, and Lolita Rodriguez, one of the most-acclaimed Filipino actors.
Other actors who passed on in the past year included character actor Dick Israel; horror film icon Lilia Cuntapay; Nora Aunor's younger brother, Eddie Villamayor; and comedienne Joy Viado.
We hope that 2017 becomes another milestone year. — BM, GMA News
Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr, is the director of FACINE, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering emerging artists and diverse audiences to create films that speak about Filipino communities globally, by promoting cinema as a social document of Filipino culture and heritage, and as medium of artistic expression.