Why Gawad Urian is a rare film awards night

Why Gawad Urian is a rare film awards night
Urian's Best Actress Charlie Dizon and Best Actor Romnick Sarmenta —PHOTOS BY BOY VILLASANTA

The Gawad Urian of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP) is a rare film recognition event in show business. Every year, the awards night of this group of critics is something to look forward to.

Since the Urian’s inception in 1976, the state of the local movie industry has always been the central and confining theme of the celebration.

“Films are judged on how effectively they fuse content and form. In the case of two films which are equally well-made, the film with the more significant subject matter is to be preferred,” according to the Urian Anthology’s Book 1, which came out in 1983.

Content and form

The criteria has long been the Urian’s gauge in film review—rain or shine, war or peace, revolution or submission, Covid-19 pandemic or healthy environment. “Content is considered superior if it is a truthful portrayal of the human condition as perceived by the Filipino, and if it deals with the Filipino experience to which the greater  number of moviegoers can relate.”

For the past 47 years, the measuring tool has never ceased to qualify. Since Philippine society continues to evolve, the Urian compass remains steadfast in directing its relevance to films.

What about form? Here are the classic cornerstones of the critics: “The form of a film is considered artistic if the filmmakers are able to use and creatively integrate the various elements of cinema—direction, screenplay, acting, cinematography, production design, editing, sound, and music.”

No matter the age of computers and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Urian has seemingly adjusted itself on the unconventionality and the experimentality of filmmaking, so long as the movies reflect the quotidian and how to right the wrong without being preachy or dogmatic in their contexts.

Or the burgeoning trade of digital filmmaking. The critics are attuned to it as long as aesthetics and redemptive values in human actions in the firmament are quite palpable.

It was the Urian that started to nominate and recognize the significance of the bests in documentary films. Later, it came out with the Best Short Film and Best Animation categories and their important contributions to the Philippine cinema industry.

The grounded filmmaker

I believe that as long as logic is prevalent in big-screen work, a Manunuri is supposedly amenable to it. To begin with, cause and effect or realism can be achieved in any motion picture if the filmmaker is grounded.

MPP members are also fallible as such, but they enjoy the plurality of ideas they come across as long as each one can sustain an argument to support one’s claim. As Gary Devilles puts it: “We may differ in our opinions but at the end of the day, there should be a consensus.”

In most Gawad Urian proceedings, we would often hear from the speeches of members and winners the presence of the word or a descriptive society, human or otherwise, as a milieu of each film, no matter the diverse genres.

This is in the middle of the glitz and glam environment accorded the demigod actors and actresses, and creatives of the extant celluloid and the dominant digital worlds. The contradiction is inevitable.

Anyway, the Urian is familiar with this confrontation and thus, combination. It is first and foremost the consciousness and primary concern of the critics, especially those with the historical materialist orientation.

Link to moviegoers

The 47th Gawad Urian was no different from past award ceremonies despite the pros and cons thrown in. I remember when the MPP  was just beginning to give out awards and its members asserting themselves independently from the more enterprising and consumerist moviegoing public and commercial film outfits in the mid-70s. This was not necessarily a reaction to the Famas which is considered to be an institution but as an advocacy of sorts.

Entertainment journalist and fashion writer Cris Almario D. would label the Manunuri as dilettante in a fanzine story.

Even among the recipients of their awards, there were dissenting opinions. But the most powerful one was when now National Artist for Film Lino Brocka himself went to the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to attend the awards night as a nominee for Best Director for his work in “Jaguar” (1979).

When he was proclaimed winner, he came up onstage, made compelling remarks about film criticism in the Philippines, and showed disgust about low critics. He didn’t even touch the trophy and left it on the podium.

It didn’t diminish, though, Brocka’s appreciation of now fellow National Artist, this time, for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera who had been an active and pivotal member of Urian. 

Since then, they and other Manunuris joined rallies and well-meaning dialogues between state authorities and activists about or against the Marcos dictatorship.

Despite the feelings of revulsion with the MPP, the organization has sustained its mission of evaluating what movies would improve human lives as a link between the film as a market commodity of human and technology resources and the moviegoer as a consumer.

Still critical

The MPP and the winners are still critical of the inhuman and unjust sociopolitical and eco-cultural conditions of the majority of Filipinos. Some are even active street parliamentarians and members of the militant Concerned Artists of the Philippines, of which Brocka and Lumbera were founding members.

Where in the world would one hear in an awards night a single speech like that of MPP President Shirley Lua, who vividly juxtaposed the meanings and dimensions of a nominated film, star, director, writer, technician etc. to the social prospects of cinema as a business and an art form?

Notably delineated in Lua’s discourse was the incoming collaboration of the academe and the Film Development Council of the Philippines chaired by Jose Javier Reyes in film appreciation to educate the audience about the importance of Filipino cinematic works and how to support them.

Dwein Ruedas Baltazar, who won as Urian Best Director for the film “Third World Romance” (Black Sheep Productions, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.) about corporate greed and exploitation, appealed for the lowering of moviehouse tickets, which drew a loud applause from the audience.

Carl Joseph Papa, director of Best Picture and Best Animation, “Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing),” was very emphatic and engaging in his acceptance speech about public support to local movies.

What also caught the crowd’s attention was the speech of James Magnaye, director of the Best Documentary Film “Baon sa Biyahe” which chronicles the plight of jeepney drivers affected by the modernization of the transport system.

Kasama po natin sa pelikula ang ating mga naghihikahos na drayber na biktima ng modernisasyon ng transportasyon (We are with our poor and marginalized drivers who are displaced victims of the transport modernization),” said Magnaye.

Winners, too

Gawad Urian
Some of the winners in the 47th Gawad Urian

Other Urian winners this year were:

Best Actress – Charlie Dizon. “Third World Romance”

Best Actor – Romnick Sarmenta, “About Us but Not About Us”

Best Supporting Actor – Ronnie Lazaro, “The Gospel of the Beast”

Best Supporting Actress – Dolly de Leon, “Ang Duyan ng Magiting”

Best Sound – Lamberto Casas Jr. and Alex Tomboc, “Iti Mapukpukaw”

Best Music – Vincent de Jesus, “Third World Romance”

Best Editing – Lawrence Ang, “The Gospel of the Beast”

Best Production Design – Eoro Yves Francisco, “Third World Romance”

Best Short Film – “Hito” by Stephen Lopez

Best Cinematography – Carlo Canlas Mendoza, “GomBurZa”

Best Screenplay – Jun Robles Lana, “About Us but Not About Us”

Natatanging Gawad Urian – Hilda Koronel

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