It took years to do it, but the good news coming from China is that its homegrown movie productions have finally become more popular, and made more money at the box office than blockbusters from Hollywood, which have traditionally ruled the roost for a really long time.
This is great news because it happens so rarely. Most of the time, big American films beat the local competition like heck, since “colonial mentality” is alive and kicking not just in these parts, but practically everywhere else.
So how did the Chinese film industry finally pull it off? Instructively, by not trying to beat Hollywood at its own “blockbuster” game, but by focusing on its own stories, which affected and appealed to Chinese filmmakers in a personal way, thus adding a unique element that “generic” Hollywood hits couldn’t match.
Well, hooray for those gifted and savvy Chinese filmmakers for proving that Hollywood’s generic gambit isn’t the only game in town!
So, how can filmmakers in other countries make Uncle Sam cry “Uncle!?” By similarly discovering their own key advantage and connecting with local viewers heart-to-heart, unlike the big, brash imports, which have great but impersonally generic production value going for them.
How does that translate and parse in the Philippines? Granted, we’re more cluelessly “colonial” than some, but we shouldn’t try to compete with the competition from overseas on point of budget and sheer production values. Rather, we should tell our own stories our way, by keeping it personal and felt.
This is no easy shift for some Filipino filmmakers and viewers, who have been conditioned for many years to prefer “imported” entertainment above the homegrown variety. And yet, like the Chinese, we have to make it, if we are to regain the ground we lost (from a high of 200 features a year, the local movie industry now makes only 40 or so mainstream movies).
Another way out of the still lingering mainstream production slump is to make it easier for more of our “indie” productions to break into the major theater circuits, where the big audiences are.
After “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” and “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank,” the latest film that’s trying to do that is “Juana C. the Movie,” starring Mae Paner, the sassy spark plug behind the Juana Change Movement, which seeks to light a (satirical) fire under traditionally apathetic Filipinos to make them want to more actively fight corruption and other negative impulses.
It promises to be an uphill battle since many Filipinos go to the movies to escape rather than confront their problems. But, we hope that the leavening use of pointed wit and humor will make the film succeed, so other producers can similarly summon up the mojo to follow suit with their own edgy and grinningly confrontational productions.
Any and all gambits are welcome, as long as, like the Chinese, our films can end up getting their rightful share of the local film market.
Yes, we have our occasional “gay-fantasy” blockbusters, but Filipino films will never truly come into their own if we continue to appeal to the least common denominator of our viewers’ most facile, puerile and escapist illusions!