A word is worth a thousand pictures-Jude B

The OTHER Cinemalaya Filmmakers

New Breed category standing from right: Aloy Adlawan “Ang Katiwala” (The Caretaker), Eduardo W. Roy “Lola Igna” , Paul Sta. Ana “Oros” , Emerson Reyes “MNL 143”, Emmanuel Q. Palo “Santa Nina”, Marie Jamora “Ang Nawawala” (What Isn't There), Ice Idanan “Mga Sulat Para Kay C”, Darlene Malimas “Apparition”, Mes De Guzman “Diablo” and Julius Sotomayor Cena“DAYO”. Seated from left: CCP Pres. Raul Sunico, Cinemalaya Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen, Cinemalaya Foundation Head Nestor Jardin and Cinemalaya Monitoring Head Robbie Tan. Photo by Jude Bautista

Written and photographed

By Jude Thaddeus Bautista

The call for a boycott of Cinemalaya this year due to the disqualification of Emerson Reyes hurts not just the organization but also the 14 other filmmakers who are currently making their films. In the director’s showcase : “Bwakaw” by Jun Lana , “Kalayaan” (Wildlife) by Adolfo B. Alix Jr. , “Kamera Obskura” by Raymond Red , “Posas” by Lawrence Fajardo , “Mga Mumunting Lihim” by Jose Javier Reyes

Cinemalaya’s Director’s showcase category, from right: Jose Javier Reyes “Mga Mumunting Lihim”, Raymond Red “Kamera Obskura” , Adolf Alix Jr. “Kalayaan” (Wildlife), Cinemalaya Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen, CCP Pres. Raul Sunico, Cinemalaya Foundation Head Nestor Jardin and Jun Lana “Bwakaw”. Photo by Jude Bautista

In the New Breed Category: “Ang Katiwala” (The Caretaker) by Aloy Adlawan , “Ang Nawawala” (What Isn’t There) by Marietta “Marie” Jamora , “Oros” by Paul Sta. Ana and Obet Villela , “Apparition” by Vincent Sandoval / Darlene Malimas , “DAYO” by Julius Sotomayor Cena , “Diablo” by Mes De Guzman , “Lola Igna” by Eduardo W. Roy Jr. , “REQUIEME” by Loy Arcenas , “Santa Nina” by Emmanuel Q. Palo

There is absolutely no doubt that it is painful and difficult for anyone to be disqualified for any reason. Does it justify ignoring the work of the other filmmakers? Definitely not. As painful as it is for Emerson Reyes, it’s not the end of the world for him. Pepe Diokno in his column suggested several film fests abroad where Reyes can still pitch his project. Locally, Cinema One has recently doubled the seed grant to 1 million pesos, if his project is picked up. I have faith in his abilities and creativity enough to know that he can still make it work. If he gets it done with his casting choice of Allan Paule and Joy Viado then he will already have had some measure of victory.

from right: MNL 143 Producer Nestor Abrogena, director Emerson Reyes, Cinemalaya Monitoring Head Robbie Tan. Photo by Jude Bautista

By all means we should all support “MNL 143” in the same way we should support the work of ALL Filipino independent filmmakers. At the same time, we should not in any way boycott and forget the other Cinemalaya filmmakers or the ones in CINEMANILA and Cinema ONE. OR even self-produced and any other kind of Filipino films for that matter.

Transcending a Film fest

You have to wonder why there is such a huge furor over Cinemalaya on the net. This is because it has already transcended the role of a mere film festival. In a way, it has become the voice of Filipinos through film, showing who we are, our culture, the current trends and way of life especially that of the youth. Through films like, “Engkwentro” by Pepe Diokno, “Pisay” by Auraeus Solito, “Amok” by Lawrence Fajardo, “Niño” by Loy Arceñas, “Tribu” By Jim Libiran and countless others too many to mention. They have all won acclaim abroad in one form or another carrying the Philippine flag. This has been happening consistently over the past 7 years.

New Breed category standing from right: Aloy Adlawan “Ang Katiwala” (The Caretaker), Emerson Reyes “MNL 143”, Julius Sotomayor Cena“DAYO”, Paul Sta. Ana “Oros”, Eduardo W. Roy “Lola Igna” , Marie Jamora “Ang Nawawala” (What Isn't There), Loy Arceñas “Requieme”, Darlene Malimas “Apparition” and Emmanuel Q. Palo “Santa Nina”. Seated from right: Cinemalaya Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen, Mes De Guzman “Diablo”, Ice Idanan “Mga Sulat Para Kay C” and Cinemalaya Foundation Head Nestor Jardin. Photo by Jude Bautista

That’s why Filipinos naturally feel that it IS the national film fest that will again put our country on the map in the realm of filmmaking. It has also created a large audience to the tune of 40-45,000 of last count, where previously there were extremely limited viewers for indie film. As Filipinos we feel we ALL have a stake in Cinemalaya. In reality it is a foundation that is privately funded. The most consistent and major donor if you will is Tony Boy Cojuangco.

The fact that a private foundation has functioned and succeeded in this manner to be considered as a national institution is already a tremendous achievement that can never be overstated. Again, one of the suggestions on the net is to have the government handle a Cinemalaya type body. Good luck with that. It will be riddled with the same problems from national government: lack of funds, inefficiency, bureaucratic red tape, corruption, etc. etc. PNoy is trying to rectify that, as of now it stands as the rule rather than the exception.

Seated from left: Cinemalaya Foundation Head Nestor Jardin, Raymond Red “Kamera Obskura”, Jose Javier Reyes “Mga Mumunting Lihim” and Cinemalaya Competition Chairperson Laurice Guillen. Standing from left: Adolf Alix Jr. “Kalayaan” (Wildlife), Jun Lana “Bwakaw” . Photo by Jude Bautista

Journalistic Hierarchy and Film’s Collaborative Nature

The bottom line of the issue between Reyes is the casting of Allan Paule and Joy Viado for their roles, to which both Robbie Tan as Festival Monitoring Head and Laurice Guillen Competition Chairperson disagreed. Tan later clarified his position in PEP.ph, saying that he was not against the actors individually but more of the combination of the two. Whether or not you agree with the outcome both Tan and Guillen have made the decision to disqualify Reyes as part of the functions of their job. There were never any personal or financial vendettas here only an honest assessment of the situation and the application of rules of what is essentially a private organization.

As a journalist who has worked for and dealt with newspapers and publications, there is one constant rule: editorial prerogative. Even as a writer having the byline on a newspaper or magazine I am NOT the final word on what gets published, hardly. The Section Editor gets to decide what corrections are made AFTER the proofreader has gone through it. Even they are answerable to the Editor in Chief or also in my case, the photo editor also has his say.

Mes De Guzman of “Diablo” in the New Breed Category of Cinemalaya. Photo by Jude Bautista

Section Editor actually gets to decide IF at ALL the article is published or NOT. Whatever they do to it is their call. That’s what editorial prerogative is. This is for one measly article for a daily. My bosses, my former bosses are ALL there for a reason. They have more experience than I do. They’ve written far more articles than I have. They would not be in the position they are in if they weren’t qualified to do so. If my work as a journalist has been edited does it mean that my right to express myself or freedom of the press has been impeded? Obviously not.

All these checks and balances exist for one measly article in a newspaper. I’m not going to elaborate how influential or powerful articles can be. Recently, PDI Lifestyle Editor Thelma Sioson-San Juan wrote about the VERY painful and difficult daily corrections, verbal and what not that she received as a young journalist. PDI Publisher Isagani Yambot, who recently passed called it her ‘6 o’clock habit’

from left: Ang Nawawala director Marie Jamora, Kamera Obskura director Raymond Red, Ang Nawawala Producer Daphne Chiu and Darlene Malimas of “Apparition”

Thelma gave a very eloquent example of editorial prerogative especially in the life of Gani Yambot in her article “The Good Soldier”, “While many today know him as the publisher who was at the forefront of causes, we saw how he was early on—a good soldier who respected and followed the hierarchy of the newsroom. (Never a democracy.) Gani belonged to the generation of journalists who respected the authority of editors in the newsroom (in his case, it was Joe Luna; in our case, it was Gani’s batch). ‘When told to jump, don’t ask why; just ask, how high!’—that was ingrained in Gani’s breed.

Was it sheer blind obedience? Not really. It was more out of a sense of respect not only for the individual editor, but more so, for the years of professional expertise and wisdom that the position represented. It was born out of the desire to learn—and to pay one’s dues.”

Jun Lana “Bwakaw" from the Director's Showcase category. Photo by Jude Bautista

IF there is a system of checks and balances for a mere article in a newspaper shouldn’t there be some system of ‘editorial prerogative’ in film? As an organization Cinemalaya thought of putting this very difficult task to Robbie Tan and Laurice Guillen. No matter what your opinion is on their body of work their experience cannot be denied. The disqualification of Emerson Reyes, however painful and difficult, was an exercise of THEIR editorial prerogative.

In a film, there is so much more at stake. There’s a collaborative nature in film, which well obviously has inputs from several people not just the director. In this case Reyes was working in the framework of not just funding but the whole process and system of Cinemalaya. It is extremely naïve and misinformed to believe that the director is the FINAL word in ALL aspects of the film especially in the case of a Cinemalaya entry. You’re not only carrying the name of your own film but that of the festival. Based on the success of Cinemalaya films abroad so far it’s a system that works.

Chemistry in the Romance Genre

The storyline of MNL 143 is based on an OFW who comes back in search of his childhood love. There’s a strong romance element to it. Both Alan Paule and Joy Viado are performers and actors who have proven themselves with their work. Joy has been cast in TV5’s “Bagets” and so many other movies and TV series. Alan Paule also has a long list of TV and film work such as “Mundo Man Ay Magunaw” in ABS CBN. The way that Tan explained it to Mell Navaro in the PEP.ph article, it was a question of the chemistry between the two as a couple that was very much in doubt.

In the romance genre at least chemistry between the lead actors is a must. The most recent example that comes to mind is “The Vow.” Rachel McAdams has been cast in arguably the most successful romance films the past years: “The Notebook”, “The Time Travelers Wife,” “Midnight in Paris.” She’s a guaranteed draw for romance films.

Emerson Reyes of "MNL 143" can still definitely make it work.

Paired with her for “The Vow” is Channing Tatum more known for the recent GI Joe films. On paper it looks like a good pairing. In reality the chemistry was far inferior than McAdam’s previous pairing with other leads such as Ryan Gosling and Eric Bana. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly echoed my own assessment: “The two stars look dewy and glossy and unexceptional, bound together less by chemistry than by the ministrations of a hard-working costume designer.”

It’s a lot less about their abilities as individual actors as it is being cast together in an onscreen relationship. Will it be believable? Will they have that elusive and almost impossible to define ‘chemistry’? Casting isn’t an exact science, so you have to take into account what you DO know about them. One of these is their previous work. Based on the experienced judgment of Robbie Tan there will be no onscreen chemistry between the two. He may have surmised that the bulk of Viado’s work has been in comedy and Paule actually started out and became famous with gay roles in “Macho Dancer” in 1988 and “The Masseur” in 2005.

Theoretically, ANY actor can inhabit any role and do well in it. But based on facts that you know and have there is NO hard evidence to support that they will have onscreen chemistry. Incidentally, Tan has worked as executive producer for the past 3 decades, including Brillante Mendoza’s “Foster Child” which has won awards at the Brisbane, Durban, Cinefan awards abroad. Locally it has reaped awards at FAMAS, Golden Screen, Gawad Urian and even the Young Critic’s Circle.

This isn’t to say that Tan is infallible. What is sure is that his and Guillen’s decision was part of the system of checks and balances within Cinemalaya. Theoretically the director makes ALL of the creative decisions in the film. But based on the reality of having to manage, fund and create a real venue for Filipino independent film there has to be a certain amount of control for organizers. It is far from perfect but it doesn’t mean you have to malign, destroy and discredit Cinemalaya just because you disagree with its decision. There are a lot of other filmmakers who will be affected.


6 responses

  1. Very well said bro. This should be published in a newspaper. hehehe. Honestly. My encounters with Robbie Tan were really short ones and I can’t remember what we talked about. I’ve heard of these casting conflicts a long time ago from directors and actors who were really dismayed of the system.
    Even those who win awards in the past were–in my opinion–not deserving. Though I don’t question the acting ability of Ina Feleo, but how many times did she win the best actress awards? Di ba?
    Another was Pepe Diokno’s “Engkwentro”. It only got a special mention award but a few weeks later, it won two major awards in Venice International Film Festival, the oldest and one of the most prestigious in the world. Odiba. So Cinemalaya is not the end of it all. I used to be so critical of Cinemalaya but I realized if we weigh the pros and cons, I believe Cinemalaya has contributed a lot to the growth of Philippine cinema. I still look forward to its weeklong run. I’d camp out of CCP if only not to miss anything. If there are conflicts like the recent one, eh di ayusin na lang sana pero not to abolish Cinemalaya. Why burn the whole house just to kill a rat? Tama ba? hehehe. Abolish Robbie Tan siguro. Banish him from Cinemalaya. Or get a new set of decision makers. Just like in any contest or film fest, there is changing of the guards di ba. So there. Mabuhay ang Cinemalaya!

    March 14, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    • Thanks for the comment Totel! I appreciate it especially from you as contributing editor to Free Press and writer in PDI. I personally haven’t heard of other conflicts with Robbie Tan other than this one.

      I’m glad you mentioned Ina Feleo Because I saw BOTH her award winning films Endo (2007) and Sanglaan (2009) and that’s when I became a fan of hers. The consensus then was that she was deserving of both awards. Fast-forward to 2011 Ina won a Best Female Dancer Award at the Cheonan World Dance Festival in Korea. She won it as part of the very prestigious Bayanihan dance troupe.

      Her accolade in Korea was a great indication of Ina’s talent, discipline, dedication and hard work. Dance is a way of communicating using one’s body. Acting is very similar in that respect. It was a good validation for her. By now no one doubts her talent and skills as a performer. She’s also nominated for an ENPRESS award for her performance in Marilou Diaz Abaya’s film “Ikaw Ang Pag Ibig.”

      For ENGKWENTRO, I along with Axl Estein thought it was Best Picture material. Then it got snubbed in Cinemalaya. Although jurors Aruna Vasudev and Lito Zulueta felt it wasn’t technically up to standards. Axl and I loved the long take, chaotic look and music of the film. But both jurors were able to explain well WHY in their judgment it didn’t deserve an award. Venice was a great validation for ENGKWENTRO.

      This only shows that even giving out AWARDS is NOT an exact science. What’s clear in the case of BOTH MNL 143 and ENGKWENTRO is that the jurors and Robbie Tan used their own experience and judgment to make their decisions. It doesn’t make them infallible, but they did what they thought was right at the time they made their judgment.

      That’s why editorial prerogative is an appropriate analogy. I believe the article above should be published in the front page of a newspaper. You said so yourself it should be in a newspaper. But that’s NOT up to YOU or me. That’s up to editors, that’s their job, their decision. I respect and admire ALL the editors who have published my work in the past that includes YOU Totel. But just because you decide NOT to use my story or hack it to pieces doesn’t mean I start an Internet mob against you. IF you read Thelma’s article she explicitly writes about the TRADITION of print journalism vs the ‘urge’ of writing in bloggers. I don’t think you can or SHOULD penalize Robbie Tan just for making a painful decision, which he made in his best judgment.

      March 15, 2012 at 7:30 AM

  2. I think that is a wrong analogy. the Inquirer is a business. Protecting certain investments and advertisers.

    But Cinemalaya is not a business. Editing an article is different from telling a writer how to write, which side to take, what angle to focus on.

    It is supposed to be independent. If it is okay with you to compromise your vision to the whims of Robbie Tan and still call yourself “independent” then we just have to agree to disagree.

    And i think defending Robbie Tan on the chemistry issue is missing the point. It’s not about whether Joy Viado and Allan Paule would look great on screen, i think the issue is, why does Robbie Tan have a say in the first place?

    March 15, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    • Hi Nico!

      Thank you for commenting. I’m really glad that you took the time to comment and I encourage an open discussion without necessarily disrespecting people. I’m sincere in thanking you because I just saw a facebook comment with two lines quoted from the piece above and BULL**** underneath it. Having an intelligent conversation with someone who is unable to express or explain WHY they disagree with you is difficult, if not impossible. So again thank you.

      For me the analogy of editorial prerogative is very appropriate, it applies with ALL publications not just PDI, whether it’s a newspaper or magazine or even PEP.ph which also has their own editors. When you read an article you see the byline of a writer, you naturally assume that he or she is primarily responsible for everything that’s in it. What I’m saying is while that person wrote it there’s a WHOLE system of checks and balances that it goes through, namely the editors, proof readers, even publishers. Gani Yambot was said to have made grammatical corrections as PDI publisher. (Other publishers would not bother with that anymore and correctly delegate that task)

      If an editor decides to NOT publish your story, he or she does NOT have to explain why. That is the PREROGATIVE or choice that is inherent to that position. That person HAS to BE there in order to maintain the goals / interests of the organization / publication where the article will come out or be published in. That’s a very similar function of Robbie Tan as the Cinemalaya Monitoring Head. He MONITORS and looks over the decisions and work of the filmmakers including casting.

      The reason I quoted Thelma Sioson San Juan very heavily is because she has an APPRECIATION for THAT tradition, for THAT process of having editors with 20-30 years more experience going over HER work. She saw Gani Yambot as the Good Soldier who obeyed because he wanted to pay his dues, to pay respect for those who had gone before him.

      We ALL think and believe that Cinemalaya has become that national institution for Phil. Independent Cinema. But the truth is it’s a privately run foundation. IF you can understand and appreciate THAT process of editorial prerogative, you will ALSO understand WHY Cinemalaya as an organization NEEDS that process of ‘editorial prerogative.’ That’s WHY Robbie Tan has that Monitoring Head title. That’s WHY Laurice Guillen is assigned as Chairman of Competition.

      If there IS such a process for one article shouldn’t there be the same kind of processing for a FILM where so much MORE money, time, resources are at stake? Especially if that director is making a FILM under the auspices of the Cinemalaya film fest? The festival organizers are responsible for the exhibition etc of that film, there’s ALOT at stake for them.

      Theoretically the director is the last word on all creative decisions on a film. IN reality that’s NOT the case. That’s how it’s supposed to be IN THEORY. In reality, the director’s decisions are influenced by the producers, writers, cinematographers even by the cast. That’s the COLLABORATIVE nature of film making, whether you are “INDEPENDENT”, commercial mainstream, network, Mother Lily or what have you.

      The analogy of Editorial Prerogative is PERFECT in this case because we ALL know that casting and even AWARDS are NOT an exact science. IF you think about it NO ONE is really right and wrong. That’s why I wrote that Emerson can still make it work with his casting choices if he wanted to. In fact Chuck Gutierrez of Voyage studios has already informed me that they will be co producing MNL 143 with Reyes. I honestly and sincerely hope they can make a great film. I promised Chuck that I’ll help promote it.

      Robbie Tan in his best and experienced judgment thought that it should be a different casting choice. it’s a very similar system with print editors, the publication of stories and how they will come out is based on THEIR best judgment. The writer with the byline STILL writes the story, but the publication, editing, proofreading is dependent on a whole team of people ALL of them using THEIR best judgment.

      Since it’s NOT an exact science we can only rely on experienced people. Tan has been producer since 1978, even before Emerson Reyes was born. Even THEN I never said Tan was infallible. I only attempted to explain what MAY have been going through his head, disagreeing with the casting choice. What is sure is that the decision was part of the checks and balances in place FOR Cinemalaya. IF you don’t understand and appreciate the process of checks and balances and believe that the director is the end all and be all of ANY film then that’s when people call for a boycott, a desire to lynch Robbie Tan etc.

      March 17, 2012 at 8:57 AM

  3. Realistically there are several ways of looking at this. I support Emer’s move, as it his right. And if casting choice is integral to his vision, so be it. Vision shouldn’t be tampered with, IMHO. Unless you’re on a work-for-hire assignment for a major studio and being paid a handsome salary. The ins and outs of the MNL 143 are knottier than the press releases lay it down.

    But, different strokes for different folks, and there are some who might equally deplore the sort of interference the committee conducts, but find some form of workaround. To be blunt about it, it’s really finding ways to make the committee believe they’re getting their way, but for the most part, the filmmaker ends up getting theirs more, to varying degrees. Kanya-kanyang diskarte kung baga.

    That’s the thing, though. Cinemalaya has represented itself as a grant-giving body, like the FDCP, like the NCAA. And the need for workarounds, particularly in the area of creative interference, shouldn’t exist.

    So it really boils down to misprepresnetation in the end. Nobody faults Star Cinema for controling the destiny of their films,not even the filmmakers, as that’s what they signed up for. If Cinemalaya had said, from the get-go, that they were like Star Cinema, only at one third the budget and without the perks then everything would , potentially at least, be alright.

    March 17, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    • Hi Dodo!

      I am flattered that you’ve commented here. I’m just glad that you actually read the article above. The last time we saw each other was in the .MOV film fest awards in UP Film Institute, if I’m not mistaken. That’s what I love about the Internet; we can have an open and frank exchange of ideas without necessarily getting pissed off. We don’t even have to agree; as far as my blog is concerned all I want is a civil discussion of issues.

      You made an accurate description of what goes on when filmmakers find some sort of ‘work-around’ when dealing with the committee. The difference is for me I think that the ‘creative interference’ is unavoidable for the simple fact that it’s a privately funded film fest. It has it’s own screening committee and rules in guiding or monitoring the filmmakers. It attempts to give as much freedom as it can in the context of what Cinemalaya is. That’s why for me the analogy of editorial prerogative is apt.

      You brought up Star Cinema, that’s a great way to compare and contrast them. Normally they’d choose or prioritize a director who has worked with ABS CBN before but they do sometimes once in a while also hire a director from outside. Whereas, in the New Breed category of Cinemalaya they make the conscious decision of choosing newer directors, those who have NOT made more than 3 feature films before. In the Director’s showcase, it’s for the filmmakers with at least 3 feature films under their belt. It wouldn’t matter if they were from GMA, TV5, and Regal etc and even Star Cinema.

      There’s also a far wider range of subjects that Cinemalaya has dealt with as opposed to the films that Star Cinema has produced. To be sure films like “Busong” by Auraeus Solito, “Dinig Sana Kita” by Mike Sandejas, “Panggagahasa Kay Fe”, “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa” both by Alvin Yapan and Alemberg Ang, “AMOK” by Lawrence Fajardo, “Jay” by Francis Xavier Pasion, “Engkwentro” by Pepe Diokno or even “Halaw” by Sheron Dayoc and so many countless others would NEVER have been produced in a system like Star Cinema. All of the titles mentioned have either participated in or won awards from Cannes, Venice, Busan etc.

      IF Cinemalaya is just as controlling, commercial or creatively stifling as Star Cinema WHY have they created a vastly different set of films? The proof is in the pudding, I submit nearly all the films produced in Cinemalaya as evidence. While there may be less money put up by Cinemalaya, there’s certainly more creative credibility. People like Jeremy Segay from Cannes Film fest, BIFF programmer Cho Young Jung and many other Festival programmers from around the world have come to Cinemalaya because they want to see the next big Filipino film/s.

      We BOTH agree in supporting Emerson Reyes, neither of us, no one wants him to be disqualified. But based on the experienced and best judgment of the Monitoring Head Robbie Tan the casting issue was enough for the entry to be disqualified. He did so not out of spite or a personal vendetta but because he believes it was the difficult but right decision. No one should lay blame on him for doing something HE believed was right as his position required.

      Should we forget, trivialize, discredit everything that Cinemalaya has achieved and stood for the past 8 years because we disagree with Robbie Tan’s decision? I don’t think so. Should we forget, boycott, trivialize and discredit the work of the 14 other filmmakers in Cinemalaya this year? Certainly not. I already promised Chuck Gutierrez of Voyage Studios, co producers of MNL 143, I’ll help promote that film, I’m sure that you will too.

      March 18, 2012 at 2:17 PM

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