Indie Films 101

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    “FILMMAKING is alive and well in Mindanao,” declares Rudolph Ian Alama, festival director of the Mindanao Film Festival (MFF), which is held every first week of December at the Gaisano Mall Cinema, its home since the festival’s inception.

    Alama said that fi lmmaking is slowly growing in Southern Mindanao. “Since 2006, there is at least one full-length indie fi lm being produced in Davao Region,” he said. “Most productions are funded by public and private grants.”

    “I think the indie fi lms in Davao can be compared to that of a plant that is in the stage of growing,” explained McRobert Nacario, a Davao cinematographer who was involved in “Qiyamah.”

     “The growing is good and should be watered every now and then. I am hoping that more people would watch indie films, especially those done by people from Davao.” Watching movies is one of the favorite pastimes of Filipinos.

    Having one of Asia’s earliest fi lm industries, the Philippines remains undisputed in terms of the highest level of theater admission in Southeast Asia. But over the years, the fi lm industry has registered a steady decline in the movie viewership from 131 million in 1996 to 63 million in 2004.

    According to the statistics by the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB), while the average annual number of locally-produced films from the 1960s to the 1990s was over 140, the average number of local films in the first decade of the 21st century went down to 73.

    Foreign fi lms, mostly from Hollywood, dominated mainstream cinema and fewer than twenty quality local films were being produced and shown yearly. Many producers and production houses later stopped producing films after losing millions of pesos.

    But a new sense of excitement and trend enveloped the fi lm industry with the coming of independent movies.

    Indie films are not made by mainstream movie fi lm productions and not made in the mainstream movie studios.

    Rather, as its name says, it is a film production that is independent of the influences, powers and authority of the mainstream ones. In 2005, only one indie film was shown in comparison to 52 mainstream movies. But in 2011, the number of indie film shown shot up to 44 films compared to 34 mainstream movies.

    This boosted the average number of local films from less than 60 movies per year in 2005 to 2008 to over 70 in 2009 to 2011. Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, a founding member of Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, said mainstream movies are market-driven, which means the fi lms produced are meant to be sold to a target market, with profit as the bottom line.

    In comparison, indie films are vision-driven. “They follow the vision of a writer and a director, which oftentimes is the same person, and the filmic style supports this vision,” explained Tanya L. Mariano in an article which appeared in “Handbook Philippines.” “These typically run on tiny budgets taken from different sources that are usually personal contacts of the filmmaker.”

    “In my case, I had to maintain friendly atmosphere to people who I think can help me fund my fi lm project,” said Albert Egot, Jr., a Davao-based indie fi lm director whose “Gugma ni Pilo” (Love of Pilo) was shown at the 8th Mindanao Film Festival.

    “‘Independent’ doesn’t just refer to slowpaced, gay-themed, or socially relevant films,” Pepe Diokno, who did “Engkwentro” (Clash) in 2009, explained in a piece published in “Philippine Star.” “The last few years have seen a rise in indie comedies, action flicks, love stories, horror thrillers, and even period dramas.”

    Alama pointed out that those from Davao or other parts of Mindanao, the main focus “would be more on diversity particularly in building regional film industries or movements.” As he puts it, “The mainstream kasi is manila centric.

    We need films that tell the stories of other parts of the Philippines.”

    So, what lies ahead? “I’d like to think that after 10 years, the number of indie films to be produced each year will double if not triple,” Nacario said. “This will happen only if the audience is ready to watch indie films and supports the filmmakers.

    Because I think that would be the basis of the producers to invest on an indie film. By that time also, the moviegoers have already learned to scrutinize as to what the movie really is all about than just being spoonfed as to the events of the movie.”

    Meanwhile, Hannah Espia’s “Transit” is the country’s entry to the 68th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.

    Cinemalaya’s best picture winner, it was shot in Herzliya, Israel and tells the story of Moises (Ping Medina) and Janet (Irma Adlawan), two overseas Filipinos who are forced to hide their respective children (Marc Justine Alvarez and Curtis-Smith) after learning of the government’s plan to deport children of foreign workers.

    “We are very happy for this consideration for the Oscar’s! Transit was a fi lm made with a lot of passion and heart,” tweeted Paul Soriano, executive producer of the film.

    Will the Philippines fi nally get an Oscar nomination – if not the prestigious trophy itself! – in the derby? If it happens, thanks to indie film.

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