Our Local Cinema: Reaching Out to a wider audience

Films from Davao block screening 8th Mindanao Film Festival  (photo by Ryan delos Reyes)

After a block screening of Davao-made films during the recently-held Mindanao Film Festival a friend of mine texted me that she had enjoyed the local films she was watching. “Nag-enjoy ako sa mga palabas.”   Her  friend was part of the cast in one of the short films and had decided to watch the block along with her friends.

In another memory, about two years ago, I dragged some of my media colleagues to watch some Cinemarehiyon films (then hosted by Davao City) one of the films they managed to catch was Sherad Sanchez’s “Balangay.” Watching a Sherad Sanchez film is a rather memorable or notorious cinematic experience depending on how well you understood or appreciated it. 

“Ano ba yang pelikula na yan?” Ranted one of my colleague, I tried to explain to her that this film has been critically acclaimed and had been exhibited in several international film festivals, this way I tried to appease her as she was blaming me for dragging her to the cinema and watching the film which she did not understand had wasted three hours of her time.

These instances serve as polar opposites of our regional cinema and best describes the dilemma of festival organizers and prime movers.  Whether to become an honest venue of artistic expression thru the medium of indie filmmaking or to go try and attract a growing audience, an audience still heavily accustomed to watching mainstream Hollywood or Filipino films.

The answer it can be both. How? By just becoming as diverse as possible, never limited to a particular set of film aesthetics or discourse , it should be respectful and nurturing of each filmmaker’s/producers’ cinematic works.

I was watching an entry at a film festival of a local university, it was rather a long short film, basically a love story about two lovers drifting out of love, calling it quits and moving on. The text in the ending credits announced that it was inspired from a true story. During the open forum, the filmmaker on the verge of near tears said it was from his own experience and that making the film was his way of coping from his heartbreak.

How could you not love a film which is spoken from the heart, The beauty of regional filmmaking is that the makers have raw but powerful concepts of their films, primal artistic instinct at best, this combined with passion to make films and run festivals have resulted in Davao being one of the active filmmaking centers in Mindanao.

Thus our film community must never transform into an arthouse clique or a laboratory for clones of mainstream flicks. It should freely reflect our creative ideals, dreams, influences, experiences and aspirations.

We must never alienate the audience and we must also not alienate potential filmmakers, it is thru a welcoming and supportive local cinematic community which can nurture the growth we have experience in the past years.

More filmmakers would mean more audiences but that equation would only be realized if you coaxed them to come out of their shells. - During the 8th Mindanao Film Fest we had the internal organization tagline, Your Film, Your Festival. We mandated participating filmmakers to intensify marketing initiatives as part of their responsibilities in joining the festival, for the filmmakers to bring in the crowd instead of relying largely on the organizers to market it.

The initiative netted some gains, attendance to the festival  increase compared to the previous years, flurry of activities in social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and blogsites  generated significant interest.

“O maraming tao.” Tito Marlon told me  during the screening of the Davao Block where we nearly filled the cinema. Tito Marlon, the father of high school barkada and the manager of the Gaisano Mall Cinema who had been actively supporting local indie films particularly the Mindanao Film Fest since the earliest inception had pointed out the lack of promotion and marketing initiatives from the filmmakers during the previous years. “Kahit ano pang ganda ng palabas mo, pag wala ring nanonood, wala rin.”  He reminded me in one of our meetings.

Following the successes of film festivals like the MFF we must follow it up with a sustained year-long activity to keep the interest from waning. This means film screenings, workshops, social media activities,  as of this writing I have been invited to a local indie film event  dubbed as the Sulay Sulay: Pasalida sa Davao which showcases several short films from Dabawenyo filmmakers which is hosted by Sa’Less Moozika , a rock bar located at Sales Street.

Alyssa is Typing 

There are some screenings of local films held at the cinematheque, which thankfully is exposing a growing number of audience to World Cinema and hard to find Filipino movies from indie films to revered classics.  But the more important tangible benefit of having a cinematheque is a venue for showcasing locally-made indie films just in case the filmmakers don’t have the resources to have it shown in the malls.

The challenge for us particularly in the Davao filmmaking community is building our audience and capturing it. I believe there are still a large audience out there.

A couple of years ago I once got to talk to one of the leaders in the Chinese community in the city. He surprised me by saying that every year he goes to the Gaisano Mall cinema just to watch the Mindanao Film Festival films along with his family, he was asking me what films would I recommend to him in the MFF because he would be watching it.


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