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What is the Metro Manila Film Festival?

January 11, 2011

By JAHZEEL ABIHAIL G. CRUZ

2010 Metro Manila Film Festival Best Picture - Ang Tanging Ina Mo: Last Na 'To (Your One and Only Mother: The Last Movie), the sequel to the hugely successful 2003 comedy about a single mother raising a brood full of children

For expats wondering where all the Hollywood films went beginning Christmas – or were surprised at their return two weeks later – (a belated) welcome to the Metro Manila Film Festival.

The 2010 edition of the MMFF, as abbreviated, brings the festival to its 36th year. It itself had a predecessor in the pioneering Manila Film Festival, which ran from 1966 to 1974. That celebration of the Philippines’ film finest was the brainchild of then-city mayor Antonio Villegas. The Metropolitan Film Festival – now the MMFF – debuted in place of the Manila Film Festival originally as a commemoration of the third anniversary of Martial Law declaration in the country, but with the same spirit of support for homegrown cinema.

Despite the name, the festival films – in recent years, those produced by the major film outfits; indie films rarely make a showing – are actually shown nationwide. Also, it has evolved from its inception to become quite the extravaganza, as actors in participating films parade on floats to kick-start the two-week showcase. It’s not quite the Rose Parade, but the Parade of Stars is always a crowd-drawer on Roxas Boulevard.

A rundown of past winners orients one with several Filipino cinema greats, including former screen tandem Nora Aunor and Christopher de Leon, who have won the Best Actress and Best Actor festival trophies a whopping seven and eight times, respectively.  Three directors are additionally tied for the most directing trophies with three each. In addition to a truckload of information on Philippine cinema, this blog summarizes each installment of the festival, all of which can be navigated to from here.

As with anything showbiz this corner of the world it seems, controversy is second nature. The Awards Night, which occurs midway through the participating films’ runs, is a particular issue magnet. If you just so happened to chance upon the entertainment sections of dailies during the most recent MMFF, you’d have read stories of snubbed actresses and directors.

One such incident that comes to mind even smacked of international flavor: in the 1994 ceremonies, former Miss Mauritius beauty contest candidate (the Miss Universe pageant was held in Manila that year) Viveka Babajee, an award presenter, involved herself in a name-switch scam for the Best Actress plum. Unfortunately, she has since passed away.

Many – and I mean many – more controversies have surrounded the MMFF in its more than three decades of existence. Here is a quite lengthy list researched due to the latest round of controversy, which includes even the criteria by which the Best Picture is chosen (box office haul at the time of awarding, which is usually three days after the festival opening, now counts for 50 percent).

More than controversy, however, the festival endeavors to stay true to its original purpose of supporting the local film industry. Indeed, in this latest installment of the MMFF, the film RPG Metanoia heralded another milestone for Philippine cinema as the country’s first 3D animated feature (it’s one of two MMFF films I personally saw and I must say, it’s quite good, even story-wise). The MMFF might be over, but if you’re willing to sift through the language barrier and see an entire movie in Filipino, you can catch some of the films still playing at select cinemas.

Keep updated with the latest Expat Newspaper, out now.

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