More than being just another award-giving group in the film industry, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Manunuri) is a corps of critics who review and recommend films for their commercial and artistic values to serve the best interest of Filipino moviegoers.
Since it was established in 1976, the Manunuri has changed shallow notions of what Philippine cinema is about and has pursued its mission consistently, as gleaned from the 45th Gawad Urian at the Cine Adarna, University of the Philippines’ Film Center, in Diliman last Nov. 8.
The group gave nine of the 15 Urian awards to the internationally acclaimed Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti’s “On the Job: The Missing 8,” a story of the local media’s crucial role in the political landscape of a town in the Philippines, where a journalist investigates the disappearance of his colleagues and the murder of a publisher-editor of a community paper.
According to the Manunuri’s criteria for Best Film, Matti’s film “reflects the creative integration of the elements of cinema to an eminent degree.”
“Films should be judged on how effectively they fuse content and form,” the Manunuri said. “The content of the film is considered effective if it is a truthful portrayal of the human condition as perceived by the Filipino experience to which the greater number of moviegoers can relate.”
“OTJ: The Missing 8” also garnered awards for Best Director (Matti), Best Actor (John Arcilla), Best Supporting Actress (Lotlot de Leon), Best Supporting Actor (Dante Rivero), Best Screenplay (Michiko Yamamoto), Best Editing (Jay Halili) in a tie with “Walang Kasarian ang Digmang Bayan” (Gerone Centeno and Jay Altarejos), Best Music (Erwin Romulo, Malek Lopez and Arvin Nogueras), and Best Sound (Corrine de San Jose).
The other awards were for Best Actress (Yen Santos in “A Faraway Land”), Best Cinematography (Carlo Canlas Mendoza in “Big Night”), Best Production Design (Whammy Alcazaren in “Kun Maupay Man It Panahon”), and Best Short Film (Arden Rod Condez in “Dandansoy”).
Filipino animator Roque Federizon Lee, also known as Roxlee, was presented the “Natatanging Gawad Urian,” or the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Just for entertainment?
Despite the Manunuri’s avowed social responsibility, the sad reality is that most Filipinos fail to grasp the critics’ objectives because of the lingering orientation that watching films, along with their subliminal effects, is simply for entertainment.
And how can one ignore the fact that the likes of actors Joseph Estrada, Lito Lapid, Ramon Revilla and his son and namesake Ramon Revilla Jr., and Robin Padilla won by wide margins in past nationwide elections because the voters, mostly of the hoi polloi, believe that their screen heroes are actual saviors who can, as political leaders, deliver the nation from oppression and injustice?
As critics, the members of the Manunuri aim to “examine Filipino films, bolster the interest of the masses and the Philippine film industry, study and celebrate the achievement that will help define the good Filipino film, and cultivate the knowledge and skills that the film medium was designed for.”
For them, the cinematic work is “a medium of communication and expression of our culture according to the standards and conditions of filmmaking in our country.”
Thus, the Gawad Urian is a social responsibility to the Filipino people.
Mirroring social realities
Sadly, however, the Gawad Urian is still mistakenly likened by most Filipinos to the Famas or Star Awards. Movie awards are still considered glitz and glam, hardly for enlightenment and social change.
Evidently, it is predominantly in Gawad Urian that an atmosphere for and occasions of protest and truth-telling occur.
At the Manunuri’s recent awards ceremony, Altarejos, in his acceptance speech for winning Best Editing in “Walang Kasarian ang Digmang Bayan,” gave voice to certain realities, saying that the film nominees mirrored Philippine society and its quest for reforms.
Altarejos didn’t mince words. “Filipinos have undergone this deal, not only during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte but also since the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.,” he said. “It’s saddening that after the [May] elections, we didn’t talk about EJK (extrajudicial killings)! We talked about Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. but we didn’t talk about EJKs.”
Matti had spoken about the relevance of his film even before it was shown at the 78th Venice International Film Festival. In more ways than one, he said the Philippines is what it is today because of corrupt political leadership.
Boy Villasanta writes a column for the weekly OpinYon (https://opinyon.net). —Ed.