Director Erik Matti On The Problem With Philippine Cinema: “We are all guilty”

Director Erik Matti has never been shy about his opinions and criticisms regarding the local film industry, and his recent Facebook post only reinforces this. Through a rather lengthy post he asks what is wrong with Philippine cinema today and considers what made it this way. He isn’t shy in pointing out that Philippine cinema is in crisis because it “is on auto-pilot now.”

erik matti buy bust

Courtesy of VIVA

(Is Maureen Wroblewitz The New Star in Erik Matti’s Next Film?)

While he acknowledges that the industry is incredibly busy right now, perhaps busier than it’s ever been, he questions if that is necessarily a sign of success. According to him, “everyone’s working. But the work seems to be just getting by.” By this he means that much of what populates Philippine cinema are simply rehashed ideas. From the usual love triangle dramas to the stereotypical old age stories, we are not seeing anything new in the movie house anymore. He claims that there are “no game changers looming in the horizon. No high concept fresh ideas coming out.”

Who, or what, is to blame for this? For Matti, “we are all guilty.”

(Erik Matti to make film about Mother Lily Monteverde)

But, who exactly is he referring to when he uses the pronoun “we”? He could be talking about himself and fellow filmmakers, creatives who are forced to keep their stories formulated in a volatile industry where profit is never assured but always necessary. Because of the unpredictability of audience favor, of what makes a film flop, “everyone is on desperate mode. Steady middling mode.” It forces filmmakers to play safe just so they are able to hold on to that opportunity to tell stories and continue creating worlds. They “come up with some wild original film stories only to be slowly circumcised and eventually castrated by being told to calculate the risk of stories by making it more relatable than different.”

Matti might also be referring to the audience. The people who should know better and demand greater things from Philippine cinema instead of blindly consuming media riddled with cliches and overused ideas. He questions if it is their “gauge on a good film [which] is based on the polished look of a Hollywood western film” which negatively affects the reception of local films. In the same vein, he considers that the responsibility is with the cinemas “who have found a sure hit with Hollywood and would find it to be too much work to push for local movies.”

Of course, there is a need to consider if the blame lies with those who fund (and essentially drive) these projects. Matti asks: “Is it the producers who can only risk so much and would fall back on tired stories just to not alienate the “audience they know”?” It would be unfair to expect producers to go out on a limb for fresh stories which may end up overwhelmingly harming them, after all.

Ultimately, the blame game seems to end as a chicken-or-egg question. It seems impossible to pin just one group of people as the culprit. As Matti contemplates, “Is there anyone to blame? No one? Or everyone?”

Perhaps finding a cause may not as be as important as addressing the problem, in the end. Regardless of who is more to blame it is up to filmmakers to be brave enough in their craft to truly pursue it. “Have we forgotten what we love about stories on film that we have become content with just churning out half-baked, been-there-done-that stories?” Matti poses.

(Erik Matti is Directing an Episode for HBO Series ‘Food Lore’)

He seems to reject the idea that the conundrum has left us stuck. Asking if we are simply meant to accept the dire state of Philippine cinema today he writes: “Are we saying that with all the talent Philippine cinema has, is this all we can give our audience? Or is this only what our audience wants to get from us? Or is this all the producers really care about making?

” The film industry is in auto-pilot, and people are simply allowing it to happen. “We have to admit to ourselves that our film stories have gone plateau,” Matti testifies.

He ends with his own sort of call to action: “I can’t sit still. We can’t just ride the tide and wish we end up in a good place. We’re in a state of coma now. We’ve got to find a way to move our toes on our feet to get us out of it and change the course of cinema in this country.”

What are your thoughts on this?