Saturday, June 04, 2016

AMPAS should invite these Filipino filmmakers to be members

In an official memo released on 22 January this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced that they will be stepping up their efforts to diversify their membership. This came in response to the latest wave of criticisms regarding the Academy being a predominantly white (94% as of 2012) and male (77% as of 2012) organization, which was ultimately manifested in a completely white slate of nominees for the acting awards (the shut-out for Idris Elba in the Supporting Actor category is particularly egregious).

As part of this laudable campaign for membership diversity, the Academy vowed to "supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity."* Global cinema powerhouses like France, Italy, Germany, China, and Japan are the most likely to benefit from this, and any fan of international film will be delighted at seeing such screen icons as Isabelle Huppert, Gong Li, and Takeshi "Beat" Kitano become members of the Academy. But if the desire for diversification and globalization is sincere, then the Academy should also turn to smaller industries that have nevertheless had a rich history of cinema both within and outside their territories.

Movies have been made in the Philippines since 1897, and then in 1919 the first film made by a Filipino (Dalagang Bukid by Jose Nepomuceno) was released. With stalwarts like Gerardo de Leon, Manuel Conde, Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal (both deceased) leading the way, the Philippines went through two recognized Golden Ages of cinema before the slump of the 1990s and the early 2000s. Now, a burgeoning market in indie and digital films has allowed the country to return to the international scene with a very strong presence in recent years in Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and other major film festivals.

If AMPAS were to ask the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP, the organization that sends our official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category every year) for a list of names that they should invite to join their rank and file, it would be a prime opportunity not only to contribute to the outcome of the annual Oscar race but also, more importantly, to reward the efforts of some of our luminaries in uplifting Philippine cinema. Here's a list of those filmmakers that I believe should make the shortlist of FAP in such an event:


Brillante Mendoza. This should be a no-brainer. He has enjoyed more exposure and success in international film festivals in the last 10 or so years than any other Filipino filmmaker, even going so far as to win the Best Director award for Kinatay in Cannes in 2009. With his latest (Ma' Rosa) having bagged Jaclyn Jose the first Best Actress award for a Southeast Asian, he deserves to be invited to become a member of AMPAS with or without the 22 January memo.

Lav Diaz. The other very prominent figure in international cinema is Lav Diaz, known as much for his films' long running times as for his austere but powerful imagery. His Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan was a favorite of many cineastes last year and may have been the country's best shot at the elusive Foreign Language Film nomination in recent memory. This year, Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis competed for the Golden Berlin Bear and won the Alfred Baur Award. Many fans of foreign cinema see him as a true, uncompromising visionary.

Mike de Leon. His last directed film, Bayaning 3rd World, was released in 2000. However, his contributions to the Second Golden Age of cinema in the Philippines are much known and still revered to this date. Itim, Kisapmata, Batch '81, and Sister Stella L. are among the best Filipino films of all time. An invitation to the membership of AMPAS will be a fitting tribute to this true master of film.

Peque Gallaga. Gallaga has not made a great film in decades, but he was largely responsible for bringing prosthetic-heavy horror films to a respectable level (primarily with the classic Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise) and, most importantly, he brought to audiences Oro, Plata, Mata, a true masterpiece. If only for that, his name deserves to be put in any shortlist of the country's best directors.


Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. The brilliant del Mundo is the most frequent collaborator of de Leon, having penned the script for his best films including Kisapmata and Batch '81. He also wrote the screenplay of Lino Brocka's Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, probably the most highly regarded of all Filipino films.

Ricardo Lee. He has written some of the all-time best Filipino films, including the masterpiece Himala directed by Bernal as well as his other films and several by Brocka and Marilou Diaz-Abaya, another major player in the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema. He is still very active in the industry and is undoubtedly one of local cinema's most awarded writers.

Michiko Yamamoto. Many of the most heralded Filipino films both locally and abroad were written by Yamamoto, one of Philippine cinema's most consistent and intelligent screenwriters. These include the gems Magnifico, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (a Best Foreign Film nominee in the Independent Spirit Awards of 2007), Norte, On the Job, and Honor Thy Father.

Armando Lao. Mendoza's films aren't really praised primarily for their writing, but their consistently strong showing in international film festivals is undoubtedly due in no small part to that element. Aside from his collaborations with Mendoza, Lao also wrote the script for other festival circuit favorites like Pila Balde and Kubrador.


Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos. The two biggest actresses of Philippine cinema, bar none. Undoubtedly, Aunor has had greater exposure to international audiences (not only with the seminal Himala but also recently with Mendoza's Thy Womb), but both deserve to be recognized as the pillars of the film acting profession. They have worked with the best directors of the country, including Brocka, Bernal, and de Leon, and they have remained significant and popular until now. One other important reason why the FAP should submit both their names: doing so would satisfy both ultra-passionate groups of fans (the Noranians and Vilmanians).

Charo Santos-Concio. Santos-Concio deserves a place in the Academy in either of two branches: the Actors branch or the Producers branch. As Chief Content Officer of ABS-CBN Corporation, one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the Philippines, she has producing credits on over 300 films. In her heyday as a film actress, she worked with the best, including Brocka and frequent collaborator de Leon.

Mercedes Cabral. This amazingly genuine and effortless actress may very well be the Philippines's "indie queen," having appeared in over 50 independent films since her debut in Mendoza's Cannes entry Serbis. Since then, she has impressed audiences in Kinatay, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, and Thy Womb and has even starred in Park Chan-wook's vampire film Thirst.

Joel Torre. For a while, he was typecast in the role of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. He has since become known for less than sympathetic roles in dark, gritty films, including the much praised On the Job. His contribution to the local film and television industry has been significant. Having worked in international productions like John Sayles's Amigo and Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy, he is no stranger among Hollywood actors.

Sid Lucero. Perhaps the most talented actor of his generation (not surprising given his pedigree; Batch '81's Mark Gil is his father and the respected actress Bing Pimentel is his mother), Lucero has broken into the international film scene with a string of indies, most prominent of which is Diaz's Norte. He recently won the Best Actor award in the 19th Los Angeles Comedy Festival for the film Toto.The sky's the limit for this brilliant actor who always seems to make intelligent choices with his films, and adding him to the Academy membership will also add youth (he is only 35) to its roster.

Coco Martin. Mendoza's oeuvre is known almost as much for his muse Coco Martin as it is for its artistry. This charismatic young actor is mostly working in television now, but there is enough recognition and residual goodwill for him in the international film industry to justify an invitation to the Academy.

Jaclyn Jose. No one expected it, but Jose did it: she won the Best Actress award in this year's Cannes Film Festival over favorites Isabelle Huppert, Marion Cotillard, Kristen Stewart, Ruth Negga, and Charlize Theron. She is the first Southeast Asian actress to net that prestigious prize. The win is very unlikely to translate into an Oscar nomination for the same performance, but perhaps an invitation to the Academy would be reward enough? She's a respected veteran of the film industry.

Others for consideration: Erik Matti (director, On the Job), Raymond Red (director, Anino), Amado Lacuesta (writer, Working Girls, Macho Dancer), Hilda Koronel (actor, Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang), Christopher de Leon (actor, Ganito Kami Noon...Paano Kayo Ngayon?, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang), Bembol Roco (actor, Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag), Eugene Domingo (actor, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, Barber's Tales)


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