An Update on Philippine Cinema

The Philippine cinema industry hasn’t bounced back since 1986. An average of 166 movies were made annually in the 1970s; this fell to 142 in the 1980s. This year, only 90 films are expected to be made. And of the total, a critic estimates that only 5 percent pass “reasonably high standards of art excellence.” 

This September marks the 100th year of Philippine cinema. CCP’s Encyclopedia of Philippine Art: Film lists 90 movies from 1919 to 2017 deemed notable, out of the thousands that were churned out. The golden years of film (in the 1950s and 1970s/80s) have been followed by doldrums.

The industry hasn’t bounced back since 1986. An average of 166 movies were made annually in the 1970s; this fell to 142 in the 1980s. This year, only 90 films are expected to be made. And of the total, a critic estimates that only 5 percent pass “reasonably high standards of art excellence.”

This year, Wikipedia’s “List of Philippine Films” reveals that 82 films have been shown as of this month. The major production outfits are still Viva Films (with 9 films), Regal (8), the newer outfit Black Sheep (6), and Star Cinema (4). Newer ventures using the TV streaming technology have emerged, with iwant producing 7 movies and Netflix producing 1 movie. Ten indie films were produced under Cinemalaya while Sinag-Maynila made 5.

Films’ gross receipts are highly skewed. Hello, Love, Goodbye (dealing with the lives of OFWs) broke box-office records with PHP 800.6 million. The four next top-grossers were Alone/Together (PHP 370 million), Eerie (PHP 201 million), Just a Stranger (PHP 100 million), and Clarita (PHP 70 million). The rest in the top ten are Family History (PHP 40 million), Kuwaresma (PHP 38 million), Between Maybes (PHP 31 million), Ulan (PHP 27 million), and Sakaling Maging Tayo (PHP 15 million).

Notable is the long tail of 72 films that, by September, are non-hits. Between September and the Metro Manila Film Festival in December (the blockbuster season), is a long season of drought.
I have seen 6 films so far this year. They are all technically good, although I found most of the subjects and treatment too light. It is paradoxical that on its centennial, the industry produced its biggest grossing film, able to compete with Hollywood blockbusters, and yet so many other local productions are languishing.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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