An Open Letter To ‘Kita Kita’ (I See You)

“We realized what we’ve been missing, what we’ve been waiting for, what it takes for us to willingly go to a theater and spend a little amount to treat film as an art form, an experience, and arm ourselves with so much respect to our culture and our gifts as a people.”

Dear you,

At a time when we grew tired of being bombarded with films with worn out formulas and endless sequels, you came as a delightful surprise. We felt helpless when the news broke that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) changed its format all over again and chose to revert to its old self which saw the return of familiar staples in the annual showcase. But being pulled out of last year’s roll of MMFF movies with all the controversy that surrounded it is the best thing that happened to you. 

You are an unexpected visitor in our consciousness and so, I would like you to have this that we may not forget each other as time passes by. Let me reminisce the memories we had the same way Tonyo and Lea (played by comedian Empoy Marquez and award-winning actress Alessanda de Rossi respectively) did. It’s about an hour and a half of a roller coaster ride that you and I experienced together. Let me start counting: 

One. One bicycle ride of Lea in the introduction and it hit me. I remembered a scene in the 2000 South Korean romantic television drama Autumn in My Heart where the main characters were biking on their way home from school. The background music was captivating. Lea’s vibrant face greeted us with a smile. Her eyes were magical. 

Two. Two questions popped inside my head: Firstly, did Alessandra and Empoy really act?  And secondly, is it true that they’re not friends before? It’s as if cameras were positioned in front of them and everything just unfolded, like in a reality show. It’s as if they’ve known each other so well that we felt the comfort in every pat on the shoulder, hands, and sometimes on the face. We saw ourselves in them, on how we deal with our friends and loved ones.

Three. Three elements made you outstanding: unconventional love team, cinematography, sincerity. Infested with ‘pabebe’ love teams around, the pairing of Empoy and Alessandra is something that we’ve never seen before. The visual texture of the film, the pacing, the overall mood are remarkable. As a country that has gone crazy with South Korean dramas, you captured us with pleasing imagery all shot in a foreign land: a garden with various types of flowers, plain green fields, rain. But more than these, you’ve shown us sincerity. Yes, sincerity that we’ve not felt in Filipino movies in a long time. I sensed it in every line, in every laughter whenever a joke is delivered.

Four. Four producers gambled on you. Piolo Pascual, film director Joyce Bernal, Erickson Raymundo and Suzanne Shayne Sarte made it possible for you to exist. It’s a difficult time for producing films. How many film studios have gone bankrupt in the Philippines? How many creatives and writers tried but failed? But they saw something in you. They saw your potential and cleaved to that. They’ve displayed courage all throughout the process which is a great example to us. 

Five. Five times I tried to stop myself from crying. Five times I saw those sitting at my left shed tears because of you. 

Six, seven.  Six or seven times I reminded my mother who’s in her sixties to refrain from giving her comments to some scenes for it might distract the other audience members. In the past, we would humorously tell her to not sleep inside the theater or she’ll miss the flow of events. But for the first time since she got her senior citizen I.D. card which gives her the privilege to watch movies in all theaters in our city for free, she did not fall asleep watching you. You got that hook. 

Eight. Yes, for eight instances I watched your trailers. It is also the number of times I hoped that you’ll be a blockbuster. I felt how your writer and director, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, attempted to offer us a novel recipe that we can enjoy and be proud of. And she succeeded. No pretensions. No awful chemistry. No forced twists in the story. 

Nine. You left me with nine trademarks that will forever stay with me: cabbage, teddy bear, banana, heart, bell, bowls of ramen, Sapporo beer cans, paper cranes, and baby dragonfly. You gave each of them a different meaning that has never entered our imagination before. You thought us how to look at the minute details, the small things, and know how to value them. 

Ten. Ten million pesos was the amount of money that has been spent to bring you to life. But you know what? Because of that amount, we got to see ourselves better. We realized what we’ve been missing, what we’ve been waiting for, what it takes for us to willingly go to a theater and spend a little amount to treat film as an art form, an experience, and arm ourselves with so much respect to our culture and our gifts as a people. 

They say that your success banked on word of mouth. But I believe, it is because of word of heart. Our hearts finally spoke after a long time of silence and we just listened to them. You are a relief, a refreshing reminder of who we are as Filipinos. You made us believe again on our creative capacity, on our genius when it comes to storytelling, and on our distinct voice deep within us; that we may see and love even with our eyes closed.

Thank you for everything.

Sincerely yours,

Kabayan

Na-‘Kita Kita’

“Siyam na beses din akong aasa na hudyat ito sa muling pagtitiwala nating mga Filipino na kaya nating makagawa ng quality films na tatangkilikin at pararangalan maging sa international stage.”

HAYAAN MONG gaya nina Tonyo at Lea, magbibilang ako:

Isa. Isa kang rebelasyon, Empoy. Pinahanga mo kami. Matagal ko nang naisip na higit ka pa sa pagiging komedyante, isa kang artista. Naramdaman ko ‘yon noon dahil ‘ika nga nila, kapag komedyante ka, marami kang hugot, maraming pinagdaanan. Salamat pinatawa mo ‘ko sa sinehan kasama ang pamilya ko ng ilang beses. Maraming pinaiyak ang sulat mo.

Dalawa. Dalawang tanong ang nabuo sa isip ko habang pinapanood kita, Alex: una, umarte ka ba?; pangalawa, bakit parang ang tagal n’yo nang magkasama ni Empoy? Parang ang nangyari eh tinapatan ka ng camera, kinilig at lumabas ang dimple nang natural, at ayun! pelikula. Salamat sa mga patak ng luha mo sa dulo ng obra. Hanggang ngayon, hindi makamove-on yung ate ko sa napanood niya.

Tatlo. Tatlong elemento ang kapansin-pansing angat ang pelikula: unexpected love team, cinematography, at pacing. Pang-international yung dating. Salamat direk Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. Isa kang alamat! Hinangaan ko ang bawat eksena at anggulo. Nakagawa ka ng isang produkto na may kombinasyon ng lahat ng mga nabanggit na kinunan sa ibang bayan.

Apat. Apat ang producers ng pelikula: Piolo Pascual, Direk Joyce Bernal, Erickson Raymundo at Suzanne Shayne Sarte. Maraming salamat sa pagtaya. Sa panahon na nilalangaw ang industriya ng pelikulang Filipino eh naglakas-loob kayong gumawa, magisip, at magpuyat. Salamat sa pagpapanumbalik ng tiwala sa talento natin bilang mga storytellers at creators. Salamat sa respetong ibinigay ninyo sa aming mga manonood. Nabusog kami sa halakhak, lungkot, musika, saging, puso, at tunog ng kampana.

Lima, Anim, Pito. Naglalaro dito ang dami ng beses na pinaalalahanan ko ang nanay ko sa pagbibigay niya ng komento sa mga eksena. Madilim ang sinehan, maraming tao, at oo libre ang senior citizen sa sine sa Makati area.

Walo. Walong minuto bago mag-umpisa, ang haba ng pila para makabili ng cheese popcorn. Sa pagmamasid sa paligid, ilang dipa lang ang layo ng ilang tv personalities na nagaabang: Julius Babao, Bubbles Paraiso, Raymond Gutierrez. Physically fit na nga si Raymond gaya ng nabalita.

Siyam. Siyam na beses kong pinanood ang trailer. Siyam na beses din akong umasa na sana maging blockbuster movie ito ngayong taon matapos ipull-out last minute sa MMFF 2016. Siyam na beses din akong maniniwala na hudyat ito sa muling pagtitiwala nating mga Filipino na kaya nating makagawa ng quality films na tatangkilikin at pararangalan maging sa international stage.

Sampu. Sampung milyong piso ang budget ng pelikula. Inasahan ng mga producers na kikita ito ng 50 hanggang 60 milyong piso. Sa huling ulat, umabot na ito sa 200 milyong piso. Samantalang hindi ang takilya ang sukatan ng value ng isang work of art, gaya ng pangunahing karakter nito sa una, may higit pa sa nakikita ng mga mata. May ipinaramdam ang ‘Kita Kita’ sa mga manonood na matagal nilang hindi naramdaman sa ipinalabas na mga pelikula sa Pilipinas.

We are what we watch

“Film as a form of art serves as a catalyst for the audience to take a sound look at what’s going on, to reflect, to empathize, and to act for personal and social development.”

WHEN DID you last watch a locally produced film in a theater not so much for the stars who are in it as for its story, production values and technical excellence?

While the country goes through national cleansing from illegal drugs and criminality fueled by “The Duterte Revolution,” as termed by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has revealed its own version of metamorphosis. As bravely announced by University of the Philippines professor Nic Tiongson, eight official entries were named, which the members of the MMFF board unanimously chose for the public’s viewing pleasure.

Surprising for me was the exclusion for the first time in the festival of “Enteng Kabisote” and “Mano Po,” which are on their tenth and seventh installments this year, respectively. That’s right: tenth and seventh. MMFF Goliaths “Mother” Lily Monteverde and “Bossing” Vic Sotto were shocked and frustrated. But should they be?

I visited the MMFF website and read its mission: “A festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development, and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.” And here’s its vision: “To develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, and to promote the welfare of its workers.”

Where is “Filipino artistic excellence” in a film that you expect to showcase, for the nth time, the same old formula: scenes of running, shooting and fighting fantastic creatures and other beings? Where is “quality Filipino films” in movies that time and again use the defense “Christmas is for kids” to justify poor storytelling and absence of creativity?

Are some of us that dumb that they make do with eating the same Noche Buena and Media Noche every MMFF season, with recycled concepts and forced twists in the script?

Renowned astrophysicist and thinker Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “If there is a country without art, it’s not a country I want to live in. If there’s a country without science, you’re living in a cave. We measure the success of a civilization by how much … how well they treated their creative people.”

When I heard this, I remembered what Lily Monteverde had said: “You know, there is a time for the indie movies, but not the Christmas season. Christmas is for the family.” Are we treating our creative people rightfully if we seclude them from a festival over which she has been reigning as a queen for a long time? Isn’t that a degrading statement to indie filmmakers, who mightily try to survive in a country that has a trifling regard for the beauty of the arts and quality films?

So far this year, I’ve watched only one Filipino movie. A colleague invited me to join her family one Friday evening days before my birthday in July to watch a historical drama based on the memoirs of St. Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. I was thrilled and curious.

“At last! A sensible movie!” was my reaction when the plot summary was introduced. “Ignatio de Loyola” kindled hope in me that Filipinos are too capable, competent and imaginative to be dismissed from the international stage. Truth be told, most of the mainstream movies shown after the blockbuster “Heneral Luna” in 2015 were not outstanding.

Are we not tired of the trend of our local films that, by just the title, reveals what the stories are, the flows of events, and their endings? Boy meets girl. Flirtation. Betrayal. They hook up even if one of them is in another relationship. Beach scenes. Sensual exchanges. Bodies colliding. Morning kiss. Characters dressed in white clothes. Reality kicks in. Guilt enters the picture. The forbidden relationship has to end. One asks for forgiveness. To move on, or to hold on? Frustration. Car accident. Amnesia. Final kiss. 5 seconds. Happy song. 20 seconds. The end. And the bloopers, for the members of the audience to believe that they had a great time.

Film as a form of art serves as a catalyst for the audience to take a sound look at what’s going on, to reflect, to empathize, and to act for personal and social development. We’ve heard the saying, you are what you eat. But isn’t it true that we are also what we watch? If we’re just content to spend our time watching rubbish posing as films and not have the curiosity to look beyond the horizon for better fare, maybe we deserve the chaos we’re in right now—a forgetful and gullible nation.

We have an opportunity in the coming MMFF to experience an unforgettable Noche Buena and Media Noche of high-caliber films. Let’s embrace the chance. It could be that the decades of slavery to mediocrity are gone, and we are independent, at last!

(This piece has been published in Young Blood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 15th of December, 2016.)