A heartening trend for Philippine cinema

Gerry Plaza
SLEEPER HIT: James Reid and Nadine Lustre in Viva Films' "Diary ng Panget," which shocked pundits with a P117-M take (Viva Films)
SLEEPER HIT: James Reid and Nadine Lustre in Viva Films' "Diary ng Panget," which shocked pundits with a P117-M take (Viva Films)

The recent spate of box office wins from local studios is quite encouraging. It shows an upward trend in Philippine cinema.

Perennial top box office studio Star Cinema is still raking it in, earning billions of pesos at a steady rate of 12 to 13 films a year. The local film industry is not dead, contrary to what most pundits claim.

Lack of variety

But the utter lack of variety and volume of projects and offerings from more studios, once incredible machineries of films shown throughout the year, may have justified the pundits’ views. The ‘60s to the ‘80s saw 50 or more movies released per year. Movie outfits came up with the best productions they can think of to entertain that big market of moviegoers.

The decline in recent years stemmed from the fact that people were already entertained and satisfied with what they saw on TV. Provocative foreign films starring the more prominent actors lured Filipinos to the movie house.

Hence, producers would only look forward to Christmas, when theaters nationwide must show only local films as part of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), to avoid competition from foreign films and get the local moviegoers’ undivided attention. This way, local producers divide the box office receipts only among themselves.

“Diary ng Panget”

But now, we are seeing a very heartening trend sweeping the industry. People are patronizing more Filipino films outside the Christmas season. The best indication is the success of a sleeper hit from a non-Star Cinema studio. “Diary ng Panget” grossed P117 million, according to studio and Box Office Mojo estimates. Although Viva Films, the producer, isn’t really a startup production company being one of the famed big three studios of the 1980s to early 1990s (with Regal Films and Seiko Films), it only relied on partnerships with Star Cinema to score blockbusters in recent years.

“Diary ng Panget” featured only emerging stars outside the ABS-CBN bandwagon that leans on its TV might to draw crowds to the theaters. The production only had its millions of Wattpad followers, who may have trooped to cineplexes to see the online tale’s movie version. The most encouraging thing about “Diary ng Panget’s” success was the timing of its release. It was shown in summer, not in the MMFF. It was pitted against foreign films and won.

The best thing about “Diary ng Panget’s” success is that we see Philippine cinema flourishing. Most probably, Viva would chart more productions, get more actors, writers, directors, cinematographers and production hands to land more projects. What’s more exciting is that we could see more variety in terms of movie fare. Hopefully, the intrinsic quality we all want Philippine cinema to have in terms of creative and production value would be achieved. And hopefully, more Filipino studios will rise again to begin a new epoch in the local movie industry.

Regal Films matriarch Lily Monteverde told this blogger years back about her fears in continuing her legendary, even Herculean, effort in producing films without thinking or realizing she could earn from it. Maybe now is the time she could flash that hearty smile again.