By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
Last week’s big surprise at the Oscars when “Parasite” won four top awards, including Best Picture, reminded me of another surprise in our own Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
In 1986, at the 12th MMFF when I was its executive committee chairman, being head of the then Metro Manila Commission right after the EDSA revolt, the awards night was quite shocking: There were no winners for four of the major awards.
Yes, the MMFF jurors that year decided not to give out the traditional awards for first and second Best Picture, as well as for Best Story and Best Screenplay, supposedly because the film entries “failed to reinforce and inculcate positive Filipino values by portraying negative stereotypes.”
In a statement read by one of the jurors, Tingting Cojuangco, the members of the 1986 MMFF Board of Jurors expressed “concern over the current state of the Philippine movie industry as reflected in the entries” which, they said, were “perpetuating commercially oriented movies.”
“It is in this light that we, therefore, appeal to the Filipino filmmakers to explore other directions of this powerful medium to entertain, enlighten, educate, and become a potent force in social change,” the jurors said.
Memories of that 1986 MMFF surprise crossed my mind as movie enthusiasts around the world got a big surprise last week when, for the first time ever, a non-English-language movie won the coveted Oscar award.
For 92 years, ever since the US-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started in 1929 with its avowed aim of “advancing the arts and sciences of motion pictures,” the Academy Award (popularly known as Oscar) for Best Picture has never before been bestowed on a film not in the English language, fueling perceptions the academy is “obsessed with English-language films made by white people.”
Thus, the spectacular success of Parasite which won not only the Best Picture but also three other major awards—for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film (formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film)—is truly phenomenal, amid the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag call for greater inclusion.
With the worldwide film industry dominated by Hollywood movies, it had seemed improbable for South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s satirical thriller “Parasite” to hit it big at the Oscars – especially because it was shot entirely in South Korea and without any American or international cast members.
An editorial in South Korea’s leading newspaper Chosun Ilbo said Parasite’s success “changed the history of Hollywood” and, with an Academy perceived to favor English-language films, it was extremely difficult “for a Korean person to win an Oscar with a Korean-language film than be awarded a Nobel prize for literature.”
For a non-English-language movie, especially an Asian film, to win the Oscar Best Picture is really incredible. In the past, the closest an Asian filmmaker could get to the pinnacle of success at the Oscars was in the case of Taiwan’s Ang Lee who got nominated for nine Oscars, of which he won three — Best Foreign Language Film for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2000, Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005, and “Life of Pi” in 2012.
And Asian representation in Hollywood films is still seldom, despite the success of “The Joy Luck Club” way back in 1993 and the more recent “Crazy Rich Asians” which featured a majority cast of Asian descent in a modern setting.
The tremendous success of “Parasite” at the Oscars is therefore historic and seen as a “game-changing” triumph. The potential for more “non-white” films to shine on the global stage has become more real. Many believe a new era has begun for Asian films, including Filipino movies.
But will Parasite’s historic win inspire the rise of Filipino films to new heights?
While the shocking surprise at the 1986 MMFF awarding ceremonies could have been a game-changer, many people think that Filipino movies in general still need to attain a level of excellence at par with international films.
Of course, many of our local movies have earned honors in many international film festivals. But our deserving filmmakers have yet to gain the level of prestige an Oscar is perceived to give. There remains a challenge to excel further, with many local films still leaving much to be desired.
Many had high hopes in 2016 when the 42nd MMFF decided that quality “Indie” films would be the entries, rejecting commercial movies of proven box-office drawers, mostly top comedians. But only P373 million was grossed in that film festival, a far cry from the P1.040-billion gross earnings from the previous year, leading to the return of commercial films.
That experience raised crucial questions: Are Filipino moviegoers solely to blame? Are the paying masses really content to “just mindlessly laugh, cry, or shiver in fear” in every annual edition of the MMFF? Are local films with social relevance, high-impact storytelling, and artistic excellence destined to be ignored by the paying public?
The issues surrounding the quality of both audience and films went viral in 2014 when multi-awarded writer and broadcaster Lourd de Veyra, in an open letter to a top comedian, said: “Puwede namang magpatawa pa rin habang nagtataas ng antas ng kalidad ng paggawa ng pelikula… puwedeng gumawa ng pelikulang nakakaaliw at pipilahan ng buong pamilya na hindi sinasakripisyo ang kalidad ng kuwento (There can be laughter while raising quality of filmmaking… entertaining movies can be made without sacrificing quality of story-telling).
Indeed, there can be good movies without mindless laughter and cheap thrills. In describing his film that made Oscar history, director Bong Joon-ho said: “Parasite is a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.”
And moviegoers ought to coax our filmmakers to excel. In her speech at the Oscars, Parasite executive producer Miky Lee said Korean moviegoers “never hesitated to give us straightforward opinion” that drove filmmakers to “keep pushing the envelope.”
Tags: Atty. Joey D. Lina