Cannes entry puts spotlight on Philippine indie films

Manila  - The Philippines' movie industry is abuzz with excitement with the surprise entry of an independent Filipino film in the main competition category of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year.

Serbis (Service) is the first full-length film from the Philippines to compete in the Cannes since internationally acclaimed director Lino Brocka's Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim
(My Country: Gripping the Knife's Edge) made it to the 1984 competition.

While independent films are still largely ignored by ordinary movie-goers in the Philippines, the indie genre has become the "in thing" in the country as movies like Serbis gain international acclaim and generate worldwide interest.

Industry experts noted that indie filmmakers produce more movies now than mainstream studios, which have been saddled by huge losses due to piracy, high taxes and stiff foreign competition.

Brillante "Dante" Mendoza, director of Serbis, said indie filmmakers have taken the lead role in reviving the Philippine film industry as budding directors turn to the genre because they would need less money to produce.

"It's very accessible. You just go out, write your script and shoot the film," said Mendoza, who has directed and produced a total of seven indie films since 2005, most of which have won several awards abroad.

"You don't need a production team," he added. "You don't even need actors, just as long as you have your camera."

But while the indie industry is flourishing, the main problem is getting the audience, Mendoza noted, lamenting that Filipino movie- goers are so used to big-production movies that showcase their favourite stars.

"Realistically speaking, indie films don't have commercial value because we don't have the famous stars, we don't have the formula story and we don't have the money to promote the film," he said.

The 47-year-old director said he has been going to Philippine schools to prod students to patronize Filipino films, especially local indie productions.

"What we are doing is going straight to schools and talking to the students and showing our films to the students," he said. "We want to raise their awareness on indie films."

Mendoza stressed that he does not discourage people from watching mainstream movies, saying, "If in a month you're going to watch three movies, then watch two Hollywood or local mainstream movies and then watch one indie film."

"That way, you get yourself entertained and then you also watch something for your soul," he added.

Vicmar Turtal, an official of the Philippines' Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, said indie films could eventually replace mainstream cinema amid a moribund movie industry.

He lamented that many major studios in the Philippines are no longer producing new movies because it has become too expensive.

"On the first day of showing of most movies, one can already find pirated copies of the film in the streets," he said. "No one is going to the theatres because they just watch out for the pirated versions. This is a business, so why would anyone invest in something that is losing?"

From a high of 200 films a year during the 1980s, the country's film industry was down to making a total of new 56 films in 2006 and around 30 in 2007.

Industry leaders say the Philippine film business is the most overtaxed in the world, pushing up the prices of watching movies in theaters.

While the country still has the highest level of theater admission in South-East Asia, it registered the steepest drop in movie-goers, from 131 million in 1996 to 63 million in
2004.

Mendoza said the country's movie industry, including the indie genre, needs the support not only of the Filipino moviegoers but also of the government.

"We need major support of the government," he said. "If the government can support athletes and spend millions on their training, why not give a bit of attention to filmmakers?" (dpa)


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