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MMFF grossed P1 billion: Revenge of the moviegoers

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Jan 12, 2024 5:00 am

That the now-extended Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) of 2023 grossed a total of P1 billion for its Dec. 25 to Jan. 7 run is very telling. It’s a win for the producers and actors of the films. It’s a win for the Filipino moviegoers. It’s a win for the Philippine film industry that has been in dire straits for many years now because many have turned into couch potatoes by opting to watch movies on streamlining platforms, the latter made more popular by the pandemic.

It may be too early to celebrate but the P1 billion earnings, which are double last film festival’s total tab of P500 million, are a telltale sign that the 49th MMFF has hit the correct formula: give the public quality films and they will watch them in the theaters. They will patronize Filipino movies even with the steep prices of the ticket, between P300 and P800, depending on which cineplex you watch in. Then again, the showing of MMFF films is timed for the season of plenty.

This year’s festival boasts a harvest of 10 quality films: Firefly, Rewind, GomBurZa, Mallari, Becky & BadetteWhen I Met You in TokyoFamily of TwoPendukoKampon, and Broken Hearts Trip.

Though I have yet to see the last three, I can say that the narratives of the first seven movies that I saw shine with their own merits. They’re a mix of drama, fantasy, horror, and comedy—the usual fare of the festival to cater to all audiences—but each movie is like a tasteful ingredient in a well-baked cake.

Each film tells a story of hope and courage. Some are outright tearjerkers with substance while others are sac-bursting delights, again, with substance. Eugene Domingo and Pokwang are a hilarious act in a well-penned and well-directed Becky & Badette. It’s a commentary on the LGBTQ community and on people’s lives in general.

The MMFF this year did not carry the sure blockbuster flicks of Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto, whose silver screen presence always resulted in top-grossing films, albeit criticized many times for their substance and quality or lack of them. The 2019 MMFF, for example, with eight entries, included the movies of Vice Ganda (The Mall, the Merrier) and Vic Sotto (Mission Unstoppable: The Don Identity), and earned a gross of P955 million, according to an online report.

Their absence at this year’s MMFF is proof that the festival can still draw audiences to troop to theaters—without the slapstick. Okay, Becky & Badette has a little of that, but the movie is a sincere narration of life.

This year’s MMFF surely gave due recognition to the movie-going public by treating them to quality films. No more pabebe (cutesy) movies simply because the audiences deserve more. Quality, being the operative word, should be the only benchmark now and forever in Filipino filmmaking. Long overdue!

If there’s one clear reason why people—including children who enjoyed magical reality in Penduko and Firefly (I saw them lining up in Alabang Town Center, Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, SM Santa Rosa and SM Calamba)—watched movies during the festival, it is because they knew they were watching all good films. Pwede naman pala.

If there’s revenge travel after the pandemic, there’s also revenge movie-going. They laughed and cried and got terrified during this revenge. Many hopes were raised—that maybe, the producers will feed them with good, sincere films from now on. They will come to the cinema. Iba pa rin ang big screen.

“The financial success of the festival in spite of the steep price of admission may mean that the audience is giving the industry the benefit of the doubt. That they are going to the movies even if there are cheaper forms of moving-image entertainment is telling the industry that the audience expects something more than the usual fare,” says Patrick Flores, professor of Art Studies in UP and co-founder of the Young Critics’ Circle.

Indeed, the 10 entries to this year’s MMFF are more than the usual fare. Firefly is a sincere coming-of-age tale that illuminates life and death. Rewind, as I wrote last Friday, is a pause with God. GomBurZa, although it essayed only everything I learned from my History professor in UP, is a historical drama that is almost subversive, if only we heed the chant of the movie’s theme to resist subjugation. A Family of Two is a heartfelt discourse on a mother-son relationship. When I Met You in Tokyo presents a moving discussion of love between two elderly Filipinos in a foreign land. Mallari is fate, faith and madness rolled in a good horror story. (I will endeavor to watch PendukoKamponBroken Hearts Trip next.)

“We just hope the industry does not exploit this optimism and widens the leeway. It could also be that the movie-house experience offers something more memorable than what is available on social media, streaming services and mobile phones. This makes sense in the experience economy. Or it could be that the audience has changed,” Flores added.

Cinema Evaluation Board chairman Christine Dayrit said, “Aside from churning out quality movies this year, the P1-billion success of the MMFF in the box office can also be gleaned from the keen yearning or longing of the people to watch films in the cinema. It has been a long time since people had the chance to do this—without a facemask. They had to content themselves with cable television and other forms of social media.”

Christine added: “It’s heartwarming to note that in the Philippines, quality, thinking films can make money.”

Commercial viability is always factored in when outfits make films—simply because filmmaking is a business. In the process, quality is oftentimes disregarded in achieving the totality of many films. This year’s MMFF proves that commercial viability can also mean quality films.

Will the 2024 MMFF—and the succeeding film festivals—be the same?