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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 23, 2013

Indie Films And The Critics: Are Award-Giving Bodies Like The Urian And Young Critics Circle Really Helping The Obscure Films That They Choose To Win?

NOMINATED as best picture in the recent Urian Awards are ten indie films: Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Dilim ng Gabi, Baybayin, Bwakaw, Colossal, Diablo, Florentina Ubaldo CTE, Mater Dolorosa, Oros, Posas, Thy Womb (Sinapupunan), with “Paglalakbay” chosen as the winner. We really don’t know why they have so many nominations (10, all in all), but among them, only Bwakaw and Thy Womb had a theatrical release. The others are entries to indie filmfests like Cinema One and Cinemalaya and were shown to a very limited audience. “Paglalakbay” was one the entries in Cinema One last year, but it didn’t win there as best picture. Their big winners were “Catnip” and “Pascalina”, which were both ignored by the Urian.

In the Young Critics Circle, the winner is “Qiyamah” by Gutierrez Mangansakan. Our first reaction upon learning about this from Facebook is: “Ano yon?” We don’t even remember it being shown anywhere. We Googled it and learned it was an entry in the Sineng Pambansa in Davao in June of last year.


We know critical taste is not in tune with that of the public, (which is the reason why Wenn Deramas will always be considered by critics as a hack, his P300-P400 million blockbusters like “Praybeyt Benjamin” and “Sisterakas” will never win awards, and why critical approval rating will always deviate from the general public’s approval rating) but lately, the choices of the critics are really becoming more and more obscure (we didn’t say absurd, huh.) So how do you explain this gap between critics and the “masa” audience?


Critics, of course, are elitist in their orientation. They’re more well informed about the elements that go into filmmaking and are more concerned with the quality of form and content merging into a fine film that will stand the test of time. The public just wants to be diverted, entertained, have a good time and they look at critics as snobs who often dismiss the audience and the public’s preference. Their tastes will never meet and the two of them seldom reconcile in making a film both a critical and a commercial hit, even in the cases of fairly well made mainstream films last year like “I Do Bidoo” and “The Mistress”.

We believe that film criticism flourished and had its peak in the mid-70s when there were a lot of credible reviewers, like Nestor Torre, Mario Hernando, Ricky Lee, Doy Del Mundo and the late Pio de Castro, Hammy Sotto and Manny Pichel. They formed the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino in 1976, a landmark year in local films that produced classics like “Insiang”, “Ganito Kami Noon”, “Nunal sa Tubig”, “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos”, “Minsa’y isang Gamu-Gamo”. The Manunuri gave out the Gawad Urian as an alternative to the FAMAS.

They even have a regular column then in the popular “Expressweek Magazine” edited by Ricky Lo where the members rotate in writing their contributions weekly.

Among them, only Nestor continues to write in the Inquirer. Mario H. is now with the MTRCB while Ricky has become a respected scriptwriter and Doy, a scriptwriter-director. Sad to say, new members who were recruited for writing good reviews stop writing after they become Manunuri members, like Christian Guerrero and Paul Salas, who eventually resigned.


Now, even major newspapers no longer have regular film reviewers, unlike in the 70s and 80s when even fan magazines have regular review columns. The Urian is still giving out awards but, sadly, none of its members are actively writing film reviews in any regular widely read outlet and the Urian only comes alive when giving awards. These days, award-giving bodies have become dime a dozen since even universities and colleges now give out their own awards. Local awards-giving has definitely lost is luster as the public no longer believes in it, what with many people believing that awards can be bought by the highest bidder.

Of course, this is not always true, especially in the case of the Urian, but it also doesn’t help them that the one sponsoring and helping them mount their awards nights is Cinema One, which also airs it on their cable channel on a delayed telecast. This is okay if Cinema One is not active in producing films, but it is, and Cinema One movies have won several times in the Urian, like “Damgo ni Eleuteria”, “Paglalakbay” and “Mater Dolorosa”. Admit it or not, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, simply because the Urian should be like Caesar’s wife, which means that they should be above suspicion. In this case, they’re just like the PMPC Star Awards which is perceived to be ABS-CBN/Star Cinema territory since most of their winners in their TV and movie awards are shows/films made by the said companies, which also help them with their awards night and airs it later on ABS-CBN.

Members of the Young Critics Circle are said to be members of academe, just like members of other award-giving bodies like Gawad Tanglaw and Pasado who are mostly teachers. But you don’t get to read their reviews in newspapers or magazines. And the name Young Critics will eventually be a misnomer as we don’t think they’ll be forever young, unless they have found the proverbial fountain of youth.


Even local producers no longer give importance to movie critics like they used to when lines from written reviews were quoted in newspaper ads to entice moviegoers to watch a film. Now, who cares whatever a reviewer says about a movie? Reviews don’t really matter as reviewers don’t have any clout anyway.

In this era of blogging, anyone and everyone who has access to a computer can be a film reviewer. But local moviegoers also don’t care as they don’t purposefully turn on their laptops just to read a movie review on line. And sadly, a lot of those who write blogs do not even have a good mastery of the English language and their distorted grammar often just give us a headache.

Lately, though, the way the critics groups have totally rejected mainstream films released to wider, broader audiences to favor films only they themselves have seen and nobody else saw, has become truly quite disturbing. Are they really helping the movies that they choose to win? Are they really helping the local film industry at all?

If you’d study the indie films that reaped awards in recent years, like “Damgo ni Eleuteria” (which we personally like), “Tirador”, “Shieka”, “Himpapawid”, etc. none of these films got a wide release even after winning awards. For that matter, Lav Diaz is one of our best known indie filmmakers and his 4 to 8-hour films have won accolades abroad, like “Ebolusyon”, “Death in the Land of Encantos”, “Melancholia” and the recent Cannes Filmfest entry, “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan”. But sadly, they were never shown in our commercial theatres and only a handful of avid cineastes saw them. The most familiar Lav Diaz films remain to be his “pito-pito” flicks “Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion” and “Hubad sa Ilalim ng Buwan”.

It’s really a wonder that Lav can still get financial backing for his projects that smell like box office flops from the start. As a filmmaker, we’re sure he still dreams of having his films being seen by more local viewers. The same goes for Brilliante Mendoza, who has won a best director award at the Cannes Filmfest, but whose films remain to do dismally at the box office when released in commercial theatres, like “Serbis”, “Kinatay” and “Thy Womb”. In the end, what kind of achievement can you claim from winning awards here and abroad when the general viewing public, your very own kababayan, is ignorant of your works?