With Leila de Lima’s questionable arrest & news outlets like CNN, New York Times, & The Guardian blocked from accessing a White House press briefing, it hasn’t been a great week. But that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the bright side, because it is the only way to keep me sane. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.
I can say without any doubt that Filipino independent cinema has made a space for itself in our cinematic ecosystem.
This is all thanks to Filipino indies gaining critical acclaim here & abroad, multiple film festivals acting as grant-giving bodies for many independent filmmakers which are shown in certain malls in the country, & a small but growing audience actively seeking them, helping create positive word-of-mouth. Pop-up screenings, legal streaming sites like iflix & Hooq, & alternative venues like Cinema ’76 Film Society & cinematheques by the Film Development Council of the Philipines, a government agency focused on the growth & propagation of Filipino cinema, continue to show the breadth of our indie scene. Few independent movies even become influential blockbuster hits like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank), That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Fate) – which kickstarted the whole hugot & heartbreak trend – & Heneral Luna. Mainstream Filipino studios are even hiring indie directors for their movie projects. Even with all the controversy that erupted in Metro Manila Film Festival 2016, majority of the films in the lineup were independently produced.
We even had two of Lav Diaz’s movies secure distribution in our malls thanks to Star Cinema, one of which is a treatise on the Filipino psyche – mixing Filipino myths, history, & Jose Rizal’s literature – done in his usual slow, spare style of filmmaking that runs for 8 hours & 5 minutes long with majority of its screenings selling out. That is something you don’t see everyday.
Yet that space is always threatened.
Just look at what happened with I’m Drunk, I Love You. It was screened in more than 60 cinemas nationwide on its first day. By the end of the first week, it was down to 10 theaters in the whole country.
To be honest, this movie is lucky compared to the others. Indies would be lucky to survive in a single theater for a week. Malls are eager to remove them from their lineup that if they don’t earn enough money, they will not hesitate to remove it on its second day; making it nearly impossible to create word-of-mouth. While we do have alternative venues for indies, they’re not as widespread or easily accessible for everyone, especially if you live outside Metro Manila. And not all campaigns to stop indie movies from being pulled out of theaters have worked out. Just look at #SavePatintero & #SaveSBQ.
But it was frustrating to see this happen to I’m Drunk I Love You. It also had the potential to break out in to the mainstream, because it was a story about a woman forced to deal with her feelings for her best friend now that they’re about to graduate. It’s a great movie that captures the vulnerability in its title with the help of an outstanding performance from Maja Salvador & an amazing soundtrack. It was even pulled out of malls where it was performing decently in malls like Glorietta, which is probably caused by old-fashioned practices. Positive raves from critics & audiences are starting to pour in from social media, which can help lure people into watching it.
Thus #SaveIDILY was born. Outrage & disappointment poured throughout social media from people hoping to see the film, people who want it to survive a little longer, & the stars of the movie themselves.
And that gambit worked. Last Friday, on its tenth day in theaters, the movie was screening on more than 70 cinemas & continued to have sold-out screenings throughout the weekend.
This was a step in the right direction. People made their voices were heard & rallied around a small-scale Pinoy indie, proving detractors wrong about its marketability & a slap in the face of mall owners & mainstream producers who continue to undermine its existence. Every success emboldens indie producers to bring their work to a bigger audience, which diversifies the kind of movies shown in our theaters. That’s how we got at this point: the commercial & critical successes of Pinoy indie movies planted a seed that continues to bloom to this day. That’s not even counting the controversies like how Honor Thy Father’s disqualification for Best Picture on MMFF 2015 was part of the reason we got a reformed yet still contentious Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) last year.
There are still lots of systemic problems needed to be solved in order for Pinoy indie movies to continue to flourish & the theaters showing I’m Drunk, I Love You just dropped to 20 cinemas thanks to Logan. But for now, let’s savor the fact that a well-deserved indie movie got to stay a little bit longer in theaters & continue to grow its audience. So what if it lost a lot of theaters? We can just bring it back! We’ve done it before & we can do it again.