Senator Tito Sotto Riles Against Filipino Indie Films

Filipino cinema gets its special week every year during the Metro Manila Film Festival, for one week movie cinemas are required to show Filipino-made films.

The MMFF occurs during the Christmas week and is a tradition for many Filipinos who spend their Christmas holidays patronizing Filipino movies with their entire families.

This makes entry to the MMFF highly coveted among movie producers, it is guaranteed to rake-in significant ticket sales for their movies and potentially become household names like the “Enteng Kabisote” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” franchises.

Which is why when the MMFF executive committee issued changes to this year’s festival format, which in effect eschewed Enteng Kabisote and Shake, Rattle and Roll from featuring, there was an uproar.

One significant change mandated that there would be no more specific section for independent (indie) films, thereby integrating them into the general fold of movie entries. But the biggest game-changer was the removal of a “commercial viability requirement”, a clause wherein movie producers had to ensure their film will attract lucrative ticket sales.

This clause in MMFF requirements often favour big-money movie producers who are tied up to big movie studios and employ big-name movie stars over small-time, independent film producers who rely on the art of film.

By removing the commercial viability clause, there becomes an even playing field for all movie producers – which paves the path for homegrown, domestic film producers to gain recognition and ensure the sustainability of the domestic film industry.

This should sound easy to understand, but a prominent Filipino senator failed to grasp the rationale behind MMFF’s new rules and called for the reverting of old festival rules.

Senator Tito Sotto voiced his concerns about these new changes and went as far as saying that independent Filipino films should get a film festival of its own to be separated from the mainstream, big-money MMFF.

The reason for this, according to the Senator, is because the new rule changes have robbed children who frequent the film festival of familiar films that gave them “a good laugh”. What is worthy of a “good laugh” is the fact that this is the same Sen. Tito Sotto who advocated for lowering the age of criminality to 9 years old – thereby making children vulnerable to harsh prison conditions.

For Sen. Sotto, the children are ripe to be charged as adults and be treated as adult criminals but they also need childish, really corny movies to ensure they get a “good laugh” once a year.

Yet what the former actor-turned-politician is not disclosing is that he does have vested interests in making sure mainstream studio films dominate MMFF once again. Sen. Sotto is the brother of actor and movie producer Vic Sotto, of Enteng Kabisote fame.

Vic and his Enteng Kabisote franchise were left out of this year’s MMFF, thanks mostly to the new rules which showcased a mostly indie line-up. The exclusion made news, especially since a longtime fixture of the festival will be absent for the first time in years.

In fact, several other regulars of the festival missed out on this year’s line-up. The absence of such films also deprived big-name movie actors of being showcased in the film festival.

Critics have argued that such move would be detrimental to Filipino cinema since movie-goers would be less inclined to watch the films, but on the contrary this would be good for sustainability to allow freshman actors to shine and be noticed by the industry.

The emergence of new film producers and new film stars thereby breaks the monopoly of the current movie “establishment”, which is why establishment regulars such as the Sotto family are so against the current changes.

Sure, the MMFF will naturally garner lower ticket sales – but this is sacrificing the short-term gain to ensure long-term survival of Philippine cinema. The added competition among film submissions also pressures producers and directors to produce better, more artistic films.

This opportunity awarded for all homegrown Filipino film producers ensures that there is a future to look forward to.

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