This year, Hannah Espia’s overseas drama Transit, the winner of Best Picture in the New Breed Category of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, was officially selected as the Philippines’ entry to the 86th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film Category. It tells the story of OFWs whose children are in danger of deportation due to the recently enacted law in Israel, told in different point-of-views.
It was a last-minute inclusion in the shortlist of possible films to be submitted to the Oscars since it was included a month after the release of the initial shortlist that includes Thy Womb (dir. Brillante Mendoza), On the Job (dir. Erik Matti), Ekstra (dir. Jeffrey Jeturian), El Presidente (dir. Mark Meily), Boses (dir. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil), Tuhog (dir. Veronica Velasco), Tiktik: The Awang Chronicles (dir. Erik Matti), Supremo (dir. Richard Somes), and Dance of the Steelbars (dirs. Cesar Apolinario and Marnie Manicad).
This article now tries to examine Transit’s chances of getting nominated, or even shortlisted in the Oscars, and even the other films shortlisted, given the chance that they were the ones chosen, regardless of my personal view of the films.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Transit (dir. Hannah Espia)
According to Peque Gallaga, the head of the committee in the Film Academy of the Philippines, the film was chosen because it is a “movie that would represent Filipinos”. The reception to the film in the country is overwhelmingly positive, receiving almost unanimous approval from the critics.
That is a good sign that we actually send a good film to the Oscars, and that it in itself would be a plus. Its international presence could be questioned, though it is not yet too late. It has already been up for exhibition in the Busan Intenational Film Festival, and again, that is a good sign that the film has international presence. It may not have the international buzz that Thy Womb and On the Job have, but that is a good start.
That is where the problem starts, for me. It does not have the presence that Thy Womb and On the Job have. Remember, Oscars is, and will always be, connected with politics. No matter how great your film is, if it is not noticed, well sorry, but you would not get a nomination. Transit is still finding its way through the film festival circuit unlike Thy Womb (screened in more or less fifty film festivals including famed Venice and Toronto) and On the Job (premiered in the Cannes Film Festival) who has already undeniable buzz.
It is still an uphill battle for Transit to wrestle in a field of almost 70 films from other countries, but given its really positive turnout, both local and international, I am quite pleased though still a bit doubting in this choice. We’ll see. And take note: I have not seen the film yet.
ADDENDUM: I have seen Transit last November 7. It is a VERY STRONG choice and quality-wise, the film should put up a fight in the Best Foreign Langauge Film category. But I still stand by my views on its actual chances of getting nominated. It’s still has longshot to in-the-mix chances.
CLOSE TO BEING CHOSEN:
On the Job (dir. Erik Matti)
This action film about the corruption inside the government and in the police received a two-minute standing ovation in its screening at the Directors’ Fortnight section in the hailed Cannes Film Festival. Like the previous film, this is a highly regarded film, receiving almost unanimous praise from viewers and critics alike. It already has enough buzz to sustain its presence. And between this and Thy Womb, it would be a more logical choice since this one is more recent; hence, still fresh in mind of the people.
I don’t buy the reasoning of Gallaga in why they chose not to send this film, saying that the film “shows the dark underbelly of crime”, and that action films tend not to do well in the Oscars.
But by only looking at the recent history of the Oscars, as long as the film has enough buzz, it would almost enough to seal a nomination (2009’s winner The Secret in Their Eyes, and 2008’s nominees The Baadar Meinhof Complex and Revanche are examples of action films making it to the nominations).
Also, one big reason why this film was not chosen is because it puts our country in bad light. It was in 2008 when the controversial Cannes entry Serbis depicting prostitution was overlooked in favour of Ploning featuring the pristine beauty of Palawan. It was in 2009 when Cannes winner Kinatay showing violence and Venice nominee Lola portraying poverty were passed over for Ded Na Si Lolo, a drama-comedy about the quirks in Filipino superstitions during a wake.
Even if in 2012, Canada sent a film about a civil war (War Witch). Even if in 2010, Mexico sent a film about poverty and human trafficking (Biutiful). Even if in the same year, Greece sent a film about a psychologically problematic couple who keeps their children caged in their houses (Dogtooth).
Clearly, the committee does not want to send a film that negatively represents Philippines, no matter how close the chance of getting nominated are if those films were sent. There goes the reason.
Thy Womb (dir. Brillante Mendoza)
Nora Aunor’s much-awaited comeback film about a Badjao midwife who looks for a second wife for her husband after failed attempts of bearing a child. Its international presence is unquestionable, given how much the film is really out there (more or less fifty film festivals worldwide really means it has established foothold in the international film scene).
Two things I would want to point out why it was not chosen.
First, the buzz was just really all about Nora Aunor. Not that it is not important – she is one of the best actresses in the country, if not actually the greatest actress ever in Philippine cinema, though fans of Vilma Santos will certainly contrast that. She is getting awards here and there, and that is a really big push for the film. However, it may seem that all the buzz is just for her. Is it a negative thing? Maybe not. It does help to build up steam for the film, but hype suggests that the film is less regarded compared to performance.
Second, the director – Brillante Mendoza. He’s the festival darling abroad. However, due to the topics he tackle in his films like poverty, prostitution, terrorism, and other negative conditions in our country, the committee who chooses the entry may not find his films suitable to “represent Filipinos”. And they think the film is an “ethnic” one. One question – SO WHAT? Are we ashamed of how “ethnic” our culture are? I’m sorry, but that ethnicity that is present in the film is a mark our being as Filipinos. If they want to send entries that are evidently showing the richness of our culture, then here is the most qualified film.
I GUESS, CONSIDERED AS WELL:
Ekstra (dir. Jeffrey Jeturian)
From another screen legend, this film is about a bit player and her experiences in the set, from actors with high demands to dueling directors, and even the unjustly treatment of the bit players. With Vilma Santos in top billing, this film immediately became one of Cinemalaya’s most hyped films, and it seems that it paid off, receiving much acclaim. It also had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is a very strong start for it.
However, being a comedy that it is, its chances are really divisive, just like every comedy film that is a contender to the Oscars. Plus, it satirizes the industry where the members of the Academy are in. 2011, eh? (That year’s entry Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, is a satire of filmmakers who aim to make the ultimate poverty porn).
Hence, the film could have been lost in the mix if this one was chosen.
El Presidente (dir. Mark Meily)
This epic film about the life of Philippine hero Emilio Aguinaldo has swept almost all of the awards in the country. That could have made it enough to become the country’s best bet for the award. However, its actual reception is mixed, and it does not even have presence abroad – a glaring proof that being the most awarded film does not immediately translate to being the best.
It could have been a good submission, since the Oscars occasionally go for historical/period films (last year’s A Royal Affair, 2011’s In Darkness, 2010’s Outside the Law, and 2009’s The White Ribbon, are just some of the examples), but given the critical reception it had, it is quite doubtful that it would make it, though I can see this film as our submission due to the said reasons.
LONGSHOT ALREADY, BUT STILL, MAYBE:
Boses (dir. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil)
One of the surprise inclusions in this shortlist. It is a film about a child and music, which is an interesting case because the Academy occasionally go for films with a child as its central character, and films about music, well, have a more or less good reputation in the history of Oscars. It is also about domestic violence, which could make it a hot topic in the selection process. It also has strong response from critics, making it a confident choice.
However, things must also be considered about the politics that surround he film. It is a small film that had its premiere way back in 2008, in the Cinemalaya that year. It also does not have any strong buzz to support the film. My fear is that it might only get in the mix once it was already submitted, and with that, the Philippines might get ignored again just because of that consideration.
Tuhog (dir. Veronica Velasco)
Again, another surprise inclusion in the list. The film is a drama-comedy about three lives connected to each other literally when an accident causes them to be impaled by a steel bar. It is a surprise because it is not like anything that has been included in this shortlist, as far as I can recall. The film received good reviews, but it in the most political sense, the film is nowhere near “awards-bait”. It is a comedy (again, that’ something that must be noticed), and also, though popular in the country, has not received any presence outside the country.
It could have been a cute submission to the Oscars, but its chances of standing out is a real longshot. It must also be noticed that its lead actress, Eugene Domingo, was also the lead actress of the 2011 submission Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, which was not included in the Oscars’ shortlist.
Supremo (dir. Richard Somes)
Another film by another hero, this film is about the famed icon of Philippine revolution Andres Bonifacio. As much as it did a bit better than El Presidente in terms of critical reception, that film practically drowned this film of any chances of winning because that one is the more known “hero” film shown last year.
Also, it is indeed a smaller film than that film which would make this film too small for the field of 70 submissions, thus the film might get ignored as well. In a weaker year, this could do as a submission, but definitely, this is not the most well-known in this shortlist, and that is a big factor, I tell you.
MY GOSH, WHY:
Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (dir. Erik Matti)
This is a questionable inclusion, for me. While it is a well-received film, it is indeed a popcorn film that does not really do well in award giving bodies just like the Oscars. It is about aswangs, which would make it a very hard sell to the foreigners (2011’s Zombadings would have been a really deserving contender had it not been about the gay culture, that is so Filipino-centric). It does not even have presence in film festivals overseas.
And honestly, this is not the kind of film that you would send to the Oscars. And if the committee wanted to go for films “that would represent Filipinos”, would they go for a film featuring flesh-eating Filipino monsters? I don’t think so.
Dance of the Steel Bars (dir. Cesar Apolinario and Marnie Manicad)
Another Dingdong Dantes starrer. Could someone actually explain me the reason for the inclusion of this film?
It received mediocre, even negative reviews, it did not do that well in the box-office, it was not present in ANY film festivals abroad, it did not even receive awards here in the country, and the topic itself is not really the most interesting one to submit to the foreigners. I just don’t understand the inclusion of this film in this shortlist, more so that there are more logical films to be included in this shortlist.
Aparisyon (dir. Vincent Sandoval)
Another film from Cinemalaya, albeit from last year, I’m surprised that this was not noticed because it got a release just this year, enough to be fresh in the memory of the committee. It has high amount of praise and acclaim behind it, it has been in several international film festivals abroad, and it has its fair share of nominations from award giving bodies from here and there.
Honestly, I’m most surprised that this did not make the shortlist and a film like Dance of the Steelbars did.
One More Try (dir. Ruel Bayani)
Now, you can argue that this is also a surprise omission, not because it is a great film per se, but because it is a melodrama that they might have wanted to consider. It continuously earned awards, most are for its lead actress Angel Locsin, and it is quite a known film. It also tackles a controversial issue that might make it enough to create buzz.
Sana Dati (dir. Jerrold Tarog)
The omission of this one also surprised me, since that it has its release this September, making it eligible for the shortlist, it has a really positive buzz behind it, and it already has film festivals abroad. Sure, it is not the most “socially relevant” film ever made, but the buzz suggests that this is one of the best films this year, or maybe in recent years. They should have taken note of that.
Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (dir. Antoinette Jadaone)
Don’t get me wrong. I know the film is too small for it to even be noticed by the Oscars. But look at this: it has international presence (it premiered in the Busan Intenational Film Festival, just like Transit), it has a really positive critical response, and it is, again, like Ekstra, about the industry of the showbiz. For me, it would have been enough to consider this film.
The Strangers (dir. Lawrence Fajardo)
This one, for me, is a surprise omission, not because it is exactly a really notable film (some would say this is), but because in the last years, the shortlist always include a Star Cinema horror film that was an entry in the Metro Manila Film Festival (2012’s Segunda Mano and 2011’s Dalaw are proofs, though both starred Kris Aquino).
There you go. I hope I was able to notice the multi-faceted politics of this selection process. I haven’t seen Transit, that’s why I was personally rooting for On the Job and Thy Womb to be selected. But there you have it – the committee has selected Transit, and what we can all do is to support that film in the Oscars. The Philippines have been constantly producing really great film, and it really deserves international recognition, aside from the Oscars. With that, good luck, Philippines! 🙂