Retrieving ‘people’s cinema:’ Balancing commercialization with the amplification of voices

Art by Janssen Romero/THE FLAME

DURING THE height of the pandemic, the Philippine cinema was one of the first sectors that were practically shut down, with little to no physical production and halted premieres. The crisis put an abrupt break to the communal cinema experience.

While staying at home in isolation became a new norm, many film productions took it as an opportunity to explore online platforms. This led to an exponential rise in the number of new subscribers of online streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube.

With the rapid increase in demand for movies and television shows comes the criticism against commodification and standardization of cultural content, a phenomenon that stems from the goal of some producers to come up with marketable rather than quality offerings.

Scholar accounts and audience reviews have debated about the effects of online platforms in each country, especially on policies related to producing original content and preserving film heritage.

UST communication instructor Jose Justin Mojica said films are indeed bound to become a commodity.

“Films are actually a commodity since there’s an exchange between producers and consumers. There’s nothing wrong with that since filmmaking is not exclusive to artists,” Mojica told The Flame.

Tito Quiling, Jr., a former UST communication instructor, echoed this, saying films  are “entwined with commodification.”

“Cinema is and has always been entwined with commodification. In terms of economics, producing and screening films entail exposure, longevity, and related work that involves money,” Quiling he said.

Social media and cinema

During the lockdowns, it was observed that social media platforms were showing commercial and alternative films.

Quiling said content was amplified through “exposure and recommendations” when the pandemic struck and the use of online platforms skyrocketed in 2020.

“Admittedly, and by tradition, alternative cinema has a niche within Philippine cinema for film and related artists,” said Quiling, adding that the audience is more aware of “strong works” such as those produced by Lav Diaz, Kidlat Tahimik and Raymond Red.

Mojica noted that there is faster and wider access to various styles, genres, and subject matter for film audiences in the digital space. Filmmakers also benefit when remarkable films produce comments and shares, leading to more film searches and engagements, he added.

While films are gaining appreciation due to accessibility of online platforms, Quiling said there should be a “follow-through with a better recall and appreciation from the public since it is an integral part of Philippine cinema that enriches the images of Filipino cultures.”

This may be done through posting commentaries or sharing related content about those films.

Not indigenous 

The country’s first film was shown in 1897 and resided in the super-8mm lens (super-8) cameras.

“Film is not indigenous [to] the Philippines,” filmmaker and film historian Nick Deocampo said during his talk on alternative cinema at the 2023 Art Fair Philippines last February 17.

However, Deocampo admitted that “their histories don’t get written.”

They were introduced when French brothers Auguste Marie Louis Nicole and Louis Jean Lumière invented cinématographe motion picture systems, and were recognized as among the earliest filmmakers. The patronage for local short films shot through super-8 cameras continued as young filmmakers deemed it practical due to its low cost. Deocampo’s Oliver and Raymond Red’s Ang Magpakailanman are examples of super-8 films.

However, the use of this camera was considered by foreign film industries as an amateur medium. Outside the country, films made with 16mm and 35mm lenses had received higher regard than the super-8.

Production standards are present to cater to its commodifying aspect. This monolithic form is under the industrial type of cinema. But another classification covers films that are non-capitalized in their mode of production. It is called artisanal cinema where the first local short films are categorized.

Independent film movements

Borrowing the “rhizome theory” of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Deocampo said cinema has needs and forms that are beyond the commercial mainstream. To respond to these needs, four movements have emerged in the Philippine film landscape.

The first independent film movement was before Martial Law during the 1950s to 1960s. There was a torrent of short films and documentary production, a development that heralded the so-called ‘golden ages’ of cinema

Benedicto Pinga organized the first local movement by founding the Film Society of the Philippines in 1956. Local filmmakers such as Lamberto Avellana also established their name in international competitions.

The “radical generation” in the 1970s to the 1980s saw a change in technology from celluloid to digital. This was also the time when developing the super-8 ended. The second movement came when the academe embraced alternative forms of filmmaking and universities began introducing film courses and workshops. Films made around this time were among those privately initiated and were reactions to the Marcos dictatorship.

From the 2000s to the 2010s, also called the early digital era, local voices were represented with the emergence of filmmakers from areas outside Metro Manila. This marked the third film movement.

The year 2020 was deemed as the onset of the fourth film movement. Online streaming began to be welcomed as a convenient and powerful medium.

Business as usual?

While people have the freedom to upload their films on social media, Mojica said this does not guarantee a shift from the usual commercial formulas.

“Social media is just a platform. It does not and cannot veer away from commercialized cinema because the platform doesn’t have its own content,” he said.

Quiling sees the advantage of social media to the film industry, especially in terms of promotion and viewership.

“In fact, it can be an advantage to increase a film’s exposure. Social media can help provide publication materials and traction,” Quiling said.

“You have individual feedback from viewers apart from the usual media organizations that write film reviews, packaged as promotional materials at times,”  he added.

Not just commodities 

While Quiling and Mojica agreed that cinema interweaves with commodification, they expressed hope that filmmakers would not only think of it that way.

Quiling explained that although films are initially intended for entertainment, filmmakers should also consider their secondary impacts and include “more artistic, perhaps even critical layers of perceiving stories.”

“Even with an idealistic framing, I hope it can also cultivate an understanding of the main content of Filipino films—from commercial, to independent and alternative works,“ Quiling said.

Mojica said producers “must not always see it as a commodity” but an opportunity to tell stories, educate, and explore various themes on intercultural dialogue, history, and art.

Enriching Philippine cinema

According to Quiling, there has always been a “strong intent to cultivate an appreciation for local works” and local films continue to be well received.  The “golden ages of Philippine cinema” has already witnessed how it “delve into the multifaceted lives of Filipino across different classes,” he added.

Quiling cited the works of Nicanor Tiongson, Nick Deocampo, Rolando Tolentino, Joel David, Patrick Campos, Patrick Flores and other scholars and artists who have also helped in enriching the national cinema.

“Many of these discuss the influence and significance of commercial, independent, and alternative films whose stories tread on the changing social dynamics, local customs, and traditions of Filipinos,” Quiling said.

Deocampo cited the need to address the multiplicity in cinema that commercialized cinema does not acknowledge. The education systems can reangle the focus of film culture in the curricula, he added. Instead of focusing on production, Deocampo said other areas such as theory, history, distribution, and archiving could be placed at the forefront of the systems.

According to him, alternative cinema is the ‘people’s cinema’ giving birth to a pedagogical cinema and as a revolt against commercialism,

“We fought our way through,” the film historian said.

Echoing Deocampo, Mojica said filmmakers are able to manifest their authentic voices and imagination through their medium. But he also agreed with film critic Patrick Campos that Filipinos should detach from the “nationalist” tradition.

“National cinema can then be enriched if we give more freedom to the filmmakers and embrace the emergence of new voices affected and influenced by globalization and cultural convergence,” Mojica said.  F – Samantha Z. Argonza 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Contact Us